Sportsnet writer stands by Luongo-to-Toronto statement despite Canucks’ denial

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Canucks GM Mike Gillis told Team 1040 in Vancouver that Roberto Luongo’s fate hasn’t been decided — but you didn’t think that’d be the end of the story, did you?

If you’re just joining us, Sportsnet’s John Shannon recently asserted that a trade to send Roberto Luongo to the Toronto Maple Leafs is done. Even after Gillis issued his denial, Shannon isn’t backing down.

“Obviously, neither team confirmed my story, nor should they,” Shannon wrote on Sportsnet. “Quite frankly, without a CBA in place, trades can’t occur, and team officials publicly discussing any player transactions would result in some sort fine from New York.

“However, I have been told that the next time Roberto Luongo plays in the NHL, he will play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is from a reputable source. End of story.”

Shannon doesn’t know who will be heading the Vancouver Canucks way, but the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox reported that Tyler Bozak might be the centerpiece of a Luongo deal.

In Toronto, Bozak has a knack for slipping into the role of top-line center, but that’s because Toronto has lacked top-tier talent up the middle. However, if James van Riemsdyk is able to successfully shift to center, then their first-line center problems could be solved.

If he’s dealt to the Canucks, Bozak would likely slide into the role of third-line center, which is both a position that needs filling in Vancouver and one he’d perform admirably in.

Most importantly, the deal would get Roberto Luongo’s annual cap hit of $5,333,333 through the 2021-22 campaign off Vancouver’s books and give the Toronto Maple Leafs a proven number one goaltender to go along with James Reimer.

Johnson’s shot at Duchene makes lack of Colorado return a bummer

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Through a rare scheduling quirk, Matt Duchene‘s first game as a member of the Ottawa Senators against the Colorado Avalanche was both a letdown and a case of instant gratification.

The Senators faced the Avs on back-to-back games on Nov. 10 and 11, Duchene’s debut contests with Ottawa. That’s really something, but those contests took place in Sweden, so fans – and former teammates, honestly – were deprived of the spectacle of seeing Duchene return to town.

Barring a highly unlikely trade or an equally unlikely meeting in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (hey, the Avs are doing a better job holding up their end of the bargain in that regard), Duchene won’t play in Colorado as a member of the opposing team until 2018-19.

That was already a bummer, even before Colorado extended its scorching run to nine straight wins. That missed opportunity for drama and entertainment stings more today, though, as Erik Johnson took a swipe at Duchene without using his name, as NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski reports.

“The way things went last year, I think the easy thing to say would have been, ‘It’s not working here, let’s go somewhere else, let’s jump ship.’ The character guys and the core guys in this room said we want to figure things out here in Colorado and make it work,” Johnson said, via Sadowski.

Zing.

Again, Johnson didn’t add “Right, Matt Duchene?” at the end, so perhaps there’s plausible deniability right there. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Johnson wasn’t taking a shot at, say, Mikhail Grigorenko, though.

It’s disappointing that we won’t get to see those two teams play in North America until next season, but at least Erik Johnson provided the in-real-life answer to a “subtweet” on Matt Duchene, eh?

(Hot take: the NHL needs more smack-talking moments like these, even if names aren’t always named.)

In case you’re wondering

Duchene now has 13 points in 29 games with the Senators heading into Saturday’s action, numbers that lag behind his Colorado work (including 10 points in 14 sometimes-awkward games with the Avs in 2017-18).

That said, Duchene has been heating up lately, generating at least one point in four of his last five games (three goals and four assists for seven points during that span).

Samuel Girard has nine points (all assists) in 31 games with Colorado after generating a goal and two assists in five contests for Nashville. Girard has three assists in his last five appearances for the Avs. He also has seven assists during Colorado’s nine-game winning streak, even with more modest ice time than he first received with the Avalanche.

Kyle Turris‘ numbers are most relevant to Sens fans, but nonetheless: he’s been slowing down a bit with Nashville lately, yet he still has 19 points in 29 games as a member of the Predators.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Are boiling-hot Avalanche for real? We’ll find out soon

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If the Colorado Avalanche’s New Year’s resolution was to never lose again, they’ve been sticking to it so far.

With a 3-1 win against the New York Rangers today, the Avalanche are undefeated in 2018 (7-0-0), and that’s not even the extent of their ridiculous winning streak. They’ve now won nine games in a row, with this run stretching back to an overtime win against Toronto on Dec. 29.

The Avalanche are now at 26-16-3, a resounding rise from being under .500 not that long ago (they dipped to 12-13-2 on Dec. 7).

About two weeks ago, PHT glanced at the Avalanche when their winning streak was at five consecutive victories.

Since then, they’ve tacked on four more wins, outscoring opponents 15-6 during that span. It’s not as if they’re facing cupcakes, either, as these last four teams (Stars, Ducks, Sharks, and Rangers) are either in playoff position or are battling hard for a spot.

Many of the same things continue to go right for the Avalanche.

  • Nathan MacKinnon continues to battle for Hart recognition: MacKinnon scored a goal and an assist against the Rangers today, giving him 23 goals and 59 points in just 45 games this season. This is already the second-best total of his career, and his peak of 63 points isn’t far away. One could probably assume that Nate-Mac is more intrigued by the possibility of flirting with a 100-point season than any of his previous marks.

MacKinnon’s point streak now spans the Avalanche’s nine-game run: eight goals and 11 assists for a blistering 19 points. He’s currently ranked second in scoring with 59 points, just two points behind Nikita Kucherov‘s 61.

  • Jonathan Bernier is also leading the way: Remember when Bernier was going to be the next big thing?

Instead, he’s quietly showing why scouts were once so excited about him, and you wonder what the pending UFA ($2.75 million cap hit this season) might net the Avalanche if they’re not sold on his future. With injured would-be starter Semyon Varlamov only signed through 2018-19, Colorado has some questions to answer. That said, it’s a lot better to have multiple options in net than none.

Bernier is now on an eight-game winning streak and has won nine of 10 games. Bernier has an absurd .957 save percentage in seven January appearances.

The two have even combined for some highlights, conveniently enough.

Now, there are some caveats.

The Avalanche have played nine of their last 10 games at home. Only the Rangers have seen a more home-dominant start to 2017-18, as the Avs have played 26 games in Colorado versus just 19 on the road.

Starting Monday, the Avalanche will essentially see their schedule reverse:

Mon, Jan 22 @ Toronto
Tue, Jan 23 @ Montreal
Thu, Jan 25 @ St. Louis
Tue, Jan 30 @ Vancouver
Thu, Feb 1 @ Edmonton
Sat, Feb 3 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Feb 6 vs San Jose
Thu, Feb 8 @ St. Louis
Sat, Feb 10 @ Carolina
Sun, Feb 11 @ Buffalo

You could extend the tough times to about a month, really.

So far, the Avalanche are 18-7-1 at home and just 8-9-2 on the road. Of course, they’ll now be going on the road with a rejuvenated Bernier; with that in mind, maybe this stretch of away games will merely give the Avs a chance to drive home the point that they’re a true contender?

It’s already been a marvelous turnaround for this group, as they basically exceeded their atrocious 2016-17 season at the midway point of this one.

Much like MacKinnon in trying to do far more than merely set career-highs, the Avalanche don’t need to settle for moral victories right now. They’re getting plenty of actual victories, especially lately.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What happened to the Los Angeles Kings?

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They were doing so well, those Los Angeles Kings.

And it wasn’t that long ago, either.

Back on Jan. 4, these same Kings were tied for the second spot in the whole of the Western Conference. Hell, they were knocking on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s door at the summit of the league.

That night, the streak began.

Now, the Kings are fresh off their latest defeat, a narrow 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night. It was Los Angeles’ sixth straight loss and their second to the rival Ducks in less in a week.

But why?

Why has a team that looked so dominant prior to this fallen off a proverbial cliff so quickly?

Perhaps fans could blame Jonathan Quick.

He’s lost his past five starts now, allowing three goals or more in four of them. But while his numbers might be in a little bit of decline, it’s hard to pin the Kings’ woes on a man who’s sporting a .924 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average.

We must look deeper.

There we find some issues with getting the rubber puck in the back of the net.

When the streak began, the Kings were scoring. They posted three goals in each of their 4-3 losses to the Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators – tight games that may have gone another way depending on a bounce or two. But since then, they’ve scored two, one, one and one in their past four, respectively.

Winning hockey games where you score one goal and expect your goalie to stop a barrage of shots is, well, nearly impossible in today’s NHL.

The lack of scoring is perhaps the Kings’ biggest problem. They simply need more of it.

They’re a team that ranks among the top in goal differential. They have a starting netminder that gives them a chance to win nearly every night.

Yet, when Anze Kopitar registers just two markers in 15 games, it’s not exactly helping. And when a resurgent Dustin Brown stops surging with just three goals in his past 16 games, it’s not helping. And when 18-goal man Tyler Toffoli has one goal in his past seven games… you get the picture.

Scoring is a must. No one needs to be told this, let alone the Kings who have won a couple Stanley Cups in recent years.

The good news: those scoring slumps likely won’t last.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

A look at the potential suitors for Evander Kane

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Evander Kane‘s time is apparently up in Buffalo.

And on the surface that seems kind of puzzling.

They have a clear asset that likes to score — and can score (because everyone likes to score) — seems invested in the team and the city and has no clear desire to move.

What more could a general manager want?

Apparently four pieces – draft picks and prospects, likely.

Jason Botterill may be asking the world, but as TSN’s Darren Dreger pointed out, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Still, it’s just a tad odd from a team that hasn’t drafted or developed all that well to be wanting more things they can use to struggle at drafting and developing. What happens if Alexander Nylander doesn’t pan out? Kane is a proven commodity that would like to see the Sabres grow.

Cap issues are certainly a concern, and it’s likely that Kane will command more than the current $5.25 million that he’s been earning since the days when he was with the Winnipeg Jets.

But you’d think a team looking to build around Jack Eichel would want to keep in place some pieces that make their young superstar better.

Alas.

If Kane is to move at or before the trade deadline, he’s likely heading to a contender as a rental player.

For Kane, this would soften the blow of having to move away from a place he’s happy to be.

Kane has never played in an NHL playoff game before. And for a guy who’s enjoyed the spotlight over his career, he likely won’t have any qualms about playing on hockey’s biggest stage.

So who might be his potential suitors?

The easy guess here would be teams sitting in playoff spots that could use a shot of adrenaline in the scoring column.

Of the 16 teams currently occupying spots, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the San Jose Sharks are the lowest scoring with 126 goals for apiece this season.

The Blue Jackets are getting Vezina-caliber goaltending once again this season from Sergei Bobrovsky and San Jose remains one of the better defensive teams in the league after adopting the age-old policy that defense wins championships.

Whether or not those two teams are willing to make the kind of concessions that Botterill wants will depend, largely, on whether they can make a deep push and if they feel that time is now.

San Jose might even want to retain Kane’s services long-term if the fit is right.

Of the remaining 14 teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be in the mix (even if they actually aren’t).

The Pens are right up against it on the cap and would have to dump something to make room, but it’s no secret they’d like to part ways with defenseman Ian Cole.

Perhaps the Los Angeles Kings would like to throw their hat in the ring.

The Kings are sitting on a six-game losing streak where they’ve scored very little and could use the shot in the arm to regain a playoff spot in a Pacific Division where it’s up for grabs.

Could Kane and the money phone make a splash in Vegas for a couple months? The Golden Knights have cap room, and if they’re going to turn into buyers ahead of their playoff push, Kane could boost an already high-scoring offense. But Vegas isn’t jeopardizing its future to meet Botterill’s demands.

Hell, it’s unlikely any of these teams meet that asking price. It simply needs to come down (perhaps a first-rounder and a prospect with a pick that has conditions strapped to it?).

Regardless of the return, the process will be interesting over the coming weeks.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck