Vancouver Canucks v Colorado Avalanche

Avs to make O’Brien a healthy scratch — again


Colorado coach Joe Sacco has told the Denver Post that defenseman Shane O’Brien would be a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game when the Avs take on Columbus Thursday night in Denver.

O’Brien, 29, hasn’t touched the ice this season, a strange development considering the Avs made him one of their biggest free-agent priorities this summer, inking O’Brien to a three-year, $6 million deal prior to him hitting the open market.

According to Mike Chambers of the Post, O’Brien “does not appear out of shape physically,” and is saying all the right things as he tries to get back in the lineup.

“Obviously, the coaching staff feels like I don’t give the team the best chance to win right now. It’s never fun,” O’Brien explained. “All you can do is continue to work hard, wait for your chance to get back in there, and when you do, you have to play well.”

Sacco has gone with the same six-man defensive rotation in both games this year: Erik Johnson, Ryan Wilson, Ryan O’Byrne, Jan Hejda, Greg Zanon and Tyson Barrie.

That’s left O’Brien in the press box with fellow defenseman Matt Hunwick — but, on Thursday, Hunwik will make his season debut against the Jackets.

Given O’Brien’s notorious party-boy reputation (see here), it’s easy to speculate why things have gone they way they have in Colorado.

But to say he’s reverted to his old ways might not be accurate — last November, he was profiled in a glowing Post article about his maturation into the “ultimate Avs teammate” that included the following from Sacco:

“He’s been a real nice addition to our lineup. He plays hard and plays within himself,” Sacco said. “Shane’s a little bit older now (28), a little bit wiser. I had a good talk with him at the start of the year, and he just wants to play hockey now. Every player at the start of their career probably does something they wish they could take back. I don’t even know all the stuff that happened there, but you hear stuff. He’s been great here, and I see no issues as far as that side.”

It’s a situation worth monitoring moving forward. After Thursday’s game, the Avs head out on a four-game road trip that includes a stop in O’Brien’s old stomping ground — Vancouver — on Jan. 30.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.