Going back to juniors: Wild’s Dumba, Flyers’ Laughton

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It’s decision time for the junior-eligible players getting work in the NHL and two of them are headed back to the CHL today.

The Philadelphia Flyers announced that forward Scott Laughton is headed back to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals after playing in all five of the team’s games. Had he played against Tampa Bay tonight he would’ve played the full season in Philadelphia and burned the first year of his entry-level contract.

With Danny Briere back in action and Zac Rinaldo likely returning this week and Tye McGinn playing well, it didn’t make sense to keep Laughton around to play minimal time.

The Minnesota Wild followed suit in doing the same for defenseman Matthew Dumba as they sent him back to the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. With the Wild getting rookie Jonas Brodin as well as Marco Scandella back from injuries, their defensive depth was more than sufficient.

Dumba did impress Wild brass with his ability to adapt quickly, but burning the first year of his contract wouldn’t have made much sense. We will miss our new favorite last name/number combination. Maybe Dumba-55 will be back next season.

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”

Slumping Wild bring Eriksson Ek over from Sweden

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Well, this sure is interesting.

Joel Eriksson Ek, one of Minnesota’s most prized prospects, has been brought back to North America after spending the majority of this season playing for Farjestads in the Swedish Hockey League.

And according to the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo, he might soon join the Wild.

More:

[Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau] said he didn’t know if the plan was to yet start him with Iowa or Minnesota, but I can’t imagine the Wild would recall him if the plan wasn’t to eventually have him in its lineup here.

In fact, he could be on the ice for Wednesday’s practice.

Sources close to Eriksson Ek say he’s flying from Karlstad to Germany to Chicago to here. Can’t imagine he lands and is put in a car to Des Moines, but we’ll see if they do want to give him a few games there.

Eriksson Ek, 20, appeared in nine games for the Wild earlier this season, and acquitted himself well offensively — two goals and five points. But by the end of his stint, he was reduced to fourth-line minutes and sat as a healthy scratch before the club decided to return him to Sweden.

Interestingly, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher suggested Eriksson Ek’s strongest attributes translated well to the NHL level.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player. If anything, going back and playing on the bigger ice and handling the puck and making plays would enhance his long-term development.”

It’ll be curious to see if Eriksson Ek — the 20th overall pick in ’15 — developed the way the Wild hoped. He had 16 points in 26 games for Farjestads, and could certainly provide an injection of energy, something the club needs desperately.

Minnesota is 3-10-1 in March, and has fallen way back of Chicago for first place in the Central Division. What’s more, the Nashville Predators have surged to within six points of the Wild for second place, which is a stunning turn of events (on Feb. 28, the Wild were 15 points clear of the Preds.)

The Wild have two home games this week: Tonight against the Caps, then Thursday against the Sens.

With Lehtonen’s strong finish, is Niemi done in Dallas?

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The Stars have spent the last two years working with their oft-criticized two goalie setup.

Could the experiment soon be over?

Over the last month, the club has played Kari Lehtonen almost exclusively — he’s been the goalie of record in 10 of 12 games, including six straight — and has performed well. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s second star of the week, and has a .926 save percentage in March.

According to the Morning-News’ Mike Heika, this might be foreshadowing Antti Niemi‘s departure.

I think they have lost all faith in Antti Niemi and they want to see if Lehtonen is worth keeping next year.

I’m still not sure if this is proving they should keep him, but it makes the decision to get two new goalies more difficult.

A lot will depend on whether or not they acquire a goalie in trade before the NHL buyout window (which opens June 15) closes June 30. If they make a trade or two, that will possibly push them to buy out Lehtonen and Niemi.

I think it would be tough to buy out both and have no goalies in house on July 1.

The guess here is Niemi will be bought out for sure.

Niemi is in the second of a three-year, $13.5 million deal, one that carries a $4.5 million cap hit. Per CapFriendly, a buyout would cost Dallas $1.5 million against the cap through 2019.

This season has been a struggle for the 33-year-old. He’s posted an 11-11-4 record with a 3.35 GAA and .892 save percentage, and that came after a fairly mediocre first year in Dallas. Though he won 25 games and appeared in five playoff contests, Niemi never posted a save percentage above .905.

If the plan is to keep Lehtonen and move on from Niemi, it’s fairly safe to assume GM Jim Nill will acquire a goalie to work in tandem with the former.

And this is where things could get interesting.

This summer’s UFA goalie market will be flush. Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott, Mike Condon, Scott Darling and Chad Johnson are all currently without contracts for next season, and the prospect of joining the Stars has to be enticing. There is playing time to be had, and Lehtonen — who turns 34 next season — only has a year left on his deal.

Report: U.S. women to vote on deal to avoid worlds boycott

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USA Today, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that USA Hockey has struck a tentative four-year deal with members of the U.S. women’s national team that would avert a boycott of the upcoming world championship in Plymouth, Michigan.

The players are expected to vote on the deal today. No financial details were reported. The players have been seeking a living wage.

The U.S. is scheduled to play Canada on Friday at USA Hockey Arena.

Update:

Read more:

USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage

U.S. women say they’ll boycott worlds