Lecavalier to play 1,000th career game today

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The No. 1 pick of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft will make history this afternoon.

Vincent Lecavalier — captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning — will play in his 1,000th NHL contest when the Bolts take on the Islanders in a matinee affair.

“I’m excited about it, but you don’t take it for granted,” he told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “When I came in (to the league) at 18, I wasn’t telling myself I was going to play 1,000 games, because you never know what’s going to happen.”

The 32-year-old was taken by Tampa Bay at the ’98 draft and has spent his entire career with the organization, putting him in some distinguished company among players that have played 1000 games with the same franchise.

Notables include Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio (Detroit), Stan Mikita (Chicago), Gilbert Perreault (Buffalo), George Armstrong (Toronto), Henri Richard, Bob Gainey, Jean Beliveau (Montreal) and Denis Potvin (New York Islanders).

Current active players that have accomplished the feat include Jarome Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson, Patrick Marleau, Patrik Elias and Chris Phillips.

Now one of the oldest players on the Lightning roster, Lecavalier is looked upon for veteran leadership and experience — though that doesn’t mean he’s not a vital on-ice contributor.

Bolts head coach Guy Boucher praised his captain for being in fantastic shape to start the year, impressive given that Lecavalier didn’t play during the lockout.

“It’s the best shape I’ve seen him in,” Boucher said following Tampa’s 6-3 season-opening win over Washington. “The league has changed. For the big guys who didn’t necessarily have great speed, that’s a tough thing. They have to elevate their game.

“Not many guys all of a sudden can have jump and speed at that age. Vinny just did that now.”

Update: NHL.com’s Dan Rosen provides this unique factoid:

Welcome Nick Holden to the trade rumor mill

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Last summer, when Nick Holden was traded from Colorado to the Rangers, Patrick Roy called Alain Vigneault to say, “You just got one of my better defensemen.”

Now it seems that Holden may be on the trading block again.

From the New York Post, in the wake of Mika Zibanejad‘s contract extension:

The Blueshirts are projected to start the season with just $445,556 of cap space if they carry eight defensemen (including Alexei Bereglazov) and 14 forwards (including Andersson and Boo Nieves with Jesper Fast on IR). The Rangers are expected to attempt to deal defenseman Nick Holden ($1.65 million) in order to bulk up in the middle, if possible.

Holden played 80 games for the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals with 23 assists. The 30-year-old is signed for one more year before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

If Holden is traded, the Rangers could go into next season with a top four of Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei. That would leave Marc Staal, Bereglazov, Anthony DeAngelo, and perhaps even Neal Pionk to fight for minutes on the bottom pairing.

What’s unclear is Holden’s value on the trade market. After all, the Rangers only gave up a fourth-round draft pick to get him from Colorado. Has his value risen significantly since?

Johnny Hockey: ‘I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong’

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Johnny Gaudreau made headlines last week when he went on Philadelphia radio and said it would be “sweet” to play for the Flyers one day.

Gaudreau — a South Jersey native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, but currently stars for the Calgary Flames — has now been offered a chance to clarify a few things about that interview.

“I think if you ask any player in the NHL if they’d like to play in their hometown at some point they’d all say it would be pretty sweet,” Gaudreau told the Courier-Post in a Q&A. “You’ve got friends, you’ve got family, you’ve got kids you went to school with, you’ve got teachers, you name it. You’ve got people that will be supporting you. The people support me down here, like it’s crazy down here. I’m just really fortunate they follow me up in Calgary.

“I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great city and they’re so passionate about our team. It’s a real hockey city. I really enjoy it up there, don’t get me wrong, but I think if you ask any player if he wants to play in his hometown they’d say it would be pretty cool to do that.

“I’ve still got five more years on my contract and who knows…if we’re playing well up here in Calgary I could end up staying another four or five years there because I love the city so much. It’s tough to have all those articles come out when it’s something so small, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

It’s certainly possible that Gaudreau opts to explore unrestricted free agency when his contract expires. But he doesn’t have that option until 2022.

For now, Gaudreau’s excited about the next few years in Calgary, where the Flames are trending the right way, possibly soon into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Related: Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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Save for the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 looked a heck of a lot like the Penguins of 2015-16.

Both those teams won the Stanley Cup, of course.

But the Pens of 2017-18, while still boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, will have to attempt a three-peat without some key pieces from the 2017 run.

Gone are Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey, the latter of whom proved a savvy pickup by GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline.

It’s also possible that Matt Cullen opts for retirement.

True, the Penguins added Matt Hunwick in free agency, and they don’t expect to be without Kris Letang again next spring.

But for goalie Matt Murray, winning it all in 2018 seems a larger challenge.

“Obviously it’s not easy to win at all in this league, especially with the salary cap and the turnover that teams go through. Last year we were lucky that we didn’t lose too many guys and we had a lot of the same guys come back,” Murray told SooToday.com.

“This year it’s a little bit different. We lost some key pieces and we’re going to have a new look going into this season. But I think we’ve added some key pieces as well and I think we’re in really good shape. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but I think if there’s a team that can do it, we can do it.”

For any team that loses important players, the key to success is usually found in the organization’s youth. Enter forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. If those two can become contributors by the playoffs, it would sure help.

Rutherford will also have to come through by finding a new third-line center. That’s no easy task given the importance of the position. Bonino was a tremendous bargain for the Pens, but he’s in Nashville now.

Related: Pens can’t ‘panic’ to replace Bonino

Report: Bruins avoid arbitration with Spooner

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Heading into today’s arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner was reportedly looking for a $3.85 million dollar deal. On the other side of this equation, the Bruins were only willing to offer $2 million.

With that kind of gap, it seemed almost certain that this dispute would be settled by an arbitrator, but the two sides have reportedly met somewhere in the middle, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman is reporting that the two sides have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal worth $2.825 million.

Spooner finished last season with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old scored two less goals and 10 less points in 2016-17 than he did the previous year.

There’s no doubt that he has plenty of offensively ability, but consistency in his own end has always been an issue (just ask former head coach Claude Julien).

If Spooner can put it all together this season, he’ll be able to earn a much bigger pay day next summer.