Looking forward to the top UFAs of 2013

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By most accounts, next summer’s unrestricted free-agent class is stronger and deeper than the current one. With that in mind, let’s look at pending UFAs who, if still available and healthy, should draw considerable interest. (Of note, we’re not including current RFAs that could become UFAs, e.g. Shea Weber.)

Corey Perry (Anaheim) – Based on the contracts Ryan Suter and Zach Parise just signed, the 2011 Hart Trophy winner is set to cash in big time. Granted, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get one of those long-term, front-loaded deals, as those are sure to be addressed in the new CBA. Perry will also want to improve on last season’s offensive totals (37G, 23A) and get them more in line with the ones he racked up in 2010-11 (50G, 48A).

Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim) – Perry’s running mate, the big playmaking center already has Leafs fans thinking he could be the No. 1 center they’ve been looking for in Toronto. The Ducks will obviously want to bring both Perry and Getzlaf back; whether they can afford to is the question. (“I think it’s imperative for the hockey team [to get them signed],” GM Bob Murray said recently. ”We’ve reached out to the agents and that will be an ongoing process. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. But we’ve reached out to both sides.”)

Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia) – The 30-year-old power forward is coming off a career best 37-goal season, and as of now the Flyers have cap space to get something done. However, that could change quickly. Bobby Ryan has expressed a desire to be traded to Philly, Wayne Simmonds will need a raise, Kimmo Timonen is a pending UFA, and if Weber becomes available, GM Paul Holmgren is sure to be an aggressive suitor.

Jarome Iginla (Calgary) – He’s not getting any younger, but the Flames’ captain scored 30-plus goals for the 11th straight season in 2011-12. If the 35-year-old wants to leave Calgary for a contender – and as we all know, that’s a big if – teams will be lined up to bid on his services.

Alex Edler (Vancouver) – Sometimes he plays like a Norris Trophy candidate, other times he really, really doesn’t. Regardless, his 49 points were tied for sixth among NHL defensemen. The Canucks already have four d-men under contract until at least 2014-15 for a combined cap hit of $17.9 million, and they’re another team that’s expected to push hard for Weber. Plus, Alex Burrows is a pending UFA and deserves a steep raise. If GM Mike Gillis could trade Keith Ballard, it would make it a lot easier to reach a deal with Edler. What won’t be easy? Trading Ballard.

Mike Fisher (Nashville) – If there’s one guy the Predators should be able to lock up, it’s Fisher, aka Carrie Underwood’s husband. But if Fisher doesn’t feel like he can win a Stanley Cup in Nashville, you never know what he’ll decide. Every hockey player wants to win a championship, and Fisher hasn’t done that yet.

Patrik Elias (New Jersey) – It’s hard to picture the 36-year-old in anything but a Devils uniform considering he’s never worn another one. Elias is also a two-time Cup winner, so he can retire in peace when the day comes. Still, nobody wants to play for a loser, and after watching Zach Parise walk away, the Devils’ future is anything but clear. New Jersey’s other pending 2013 UFAs include Travis Zajac, David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus.

Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota) – In case you didn’t hear, the Wild just increased its payroll rather significantly. It also recently re-signed Backstrom’s backup, Josh Harding, to a three-year deal. Add it up and the 34-year-old goalie may not fit in the team’s future plans. Backstrom’s save percentage was a respectable .919 in 2011-12. A repeat performance in 2012-13 and teams in need of a starter will have to look his way. (Assuming Jimmy Howard re-signs in Detroit, other pending UFA goalies include Mike Smith, Kari Lehtonen, Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore and technically Tim Thomas.)

Michael Ryder (Dallas) – Only 10 players scored more than his 35 goals last season. Ryder was also one of the Bruins’ top offensive contributors during their 2011 Cup run, with 17 points in 25 playoff games despite seeing limited minutes. Of course, the Stars will likely do their best to re-sign the 32-year-old for a few more years given their aging group of forwards that includes two 40-year-olds in Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr.

Joffrey Lupul (Toronto) – The seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft got his career back on track last season, scoring 25 times and adding 42 assists playing on a line with Phil Kessel. The Leafs will want him back, but with Randy Carlyle behind the bench, will Lupul feel the same way? The two didn’t exactly see eye to eye during their time together in Anaheim.

Honorable mentions: Andy McDonald, Stephen Weiss, Ryane Clowe, Derek Roy, Nathan Horton, Ian White, Tobias Enstrom and Clarke MacArthur.

Flames sign free agent defenseman Josh Healey

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The Calgary Flames announced on Saturday that they have signed undrafted free agent defenseman Josh Healey to a two-year entry level contract. He will join the Stockton Heat of the AHL for the remainder of this season on an Amateur Tryout contract before his entry level deal begins next season.

Healey, 22, has spent the past four seasons playing for Ohio State and has developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters and most physical players at the NCAA level.

“Hits too hard for college,” is how one NHL scout described his play back in February.

That style of play has resulted in him getting himself into hot some water in the form of several ejections and suspensions over the past two seasons.

Along with his willingness to play a physical game, Healey’s offensive game took off a bit during his junior and senior seasons, including the 2016-17 season when he finished as the top scoring defenseman on the Buckeyes with 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 35 games.

In 133 games over four years at Ohio State he has accumulated 212 penalty minutes, leading the team by a pretty wide margin the past two years.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.