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Four key position battles for ’14 Winter Olympics

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With news of a working understanding that NHL players will participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics, we thought it’d be a good time to start looking at the fight for jobs in 2014.

Why four? Because the games are every four years, and I couldn’t come up with a fifth.

Who’ll be Canada’s  starting netminder?

While the state of Canadian goaltending is hardly in flux, the current choices for No. 1 do come with question marks…

— Roberto Luongo, who led the country to gold in Vancouver, was resigned to a backup role with the Canucks.

— Carey Price struggled mightily for Montreal down the stretch and into the playoffs.

— Cam Ward suffered a season-ending knee injury in March.

— Marc-Andre Fleury has been benched in favor of Tomas Vokoun.

— Martin Brodeur will be closing in on his 42nd birthday.

Other candidates — Mike Smith, Corey Crawford, Brian Elliott — have been mentioned, but they’re considered peripheral contenders at best.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun is pushing Braden Holtby for consideration, but that seems like a longshot.

Who’ll be Finland’s starting netminder?

Almost the polar opposite situation from Canada’s — it could be argued Finland has the best goaltending depth in the world right now:

— Tuukka Rask, who just posted arguably the finest regular season of his career.

— Antti Niemi, who just received his first-ever Vezina nomiation.

— Pekka Rinne, who finished third in last year’s Vezina voting.

— Niklas Backstrom, who tied for the NHL lead in wins (24) this year.

— Kari Lehtonen, who posted back-to-back 3o-win seasons from 2010-12.

No shortage of quality candidates to choose from, and this list doesn’t even include Miikka Kiprusoff.

Who’ll be Team USA’s head coach?

The smart money is on Pittsburgh’s Dan Byslma who, since taking the Pens gig in 2009, has:

— Posted a 201-92-25 regular-season record (.671 winning percentage).

— Qualified for the playoffs every year, won Stanley Cup in 2009.

— Captured Jack Adams in 2011.

Despite that resume, Bylsma will have challengers for the gig.

New York’s John Tortorella and Philadelphia’s Peter Laviolette will likely be in the mix, as both have coached at the national team level in previous years.

Jack Capuano, coming off a highly-successful campaign with the Islanders, will also garner some consideration, as will Jackets bench boss Todd Richards after orchestrating a tremendous playoff push in Columbus.

Who’ll play defense for the Russians?

According to NHL.com, there were just nine Russian defensemen in the league this year — Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Slava Voynov, Fedor Tyutin, Alexei Emelin, Dmitry Kulikov, Nikita Nikitin, Anton Volchenkov and Dmitry Orlov.

It’s an odd group, age-wise:

— Gonchar (39) and Markov (35 in December) are old.

— Orlov (22), Kulikov (23) and Voynov (23) are young.

— The guys in the middle are…nothing to write home about.

There were signs of trouble on the Russian blueline during the ‘1o winter games, when the roster included three KHL defensemen (and a fourth, Edmonton’s Denis Grebeshkov, who would soon join them.)

Team Russia proceeded to allow 13 goals over four games, including seven in a quarterfinal loss to Canada.

Therrien refutes report that Price is likely done for the season

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Contrary to a report by La Presse newspaper, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien says that Canadiens goalie Carey Price could still play again this season.

“We know what’s going on with Carey,” Therrien told reporters today. “It takes more time, obviously, than we were expecting. Like I said, he’s working extremely hard and he’s put in a lot of hours to make sure that he’s going to make that comeback. The fact that he’s working extremely hard is not to make sure that he’s going to look good this summer on the beach; he wants to come back and play for the Montreal Canadiens.”

That being said, Price does not appear close to a return. He’s yet to practice with teammates. He’s yet to even skate in goalie gear.

The Habs have 27 games left to get back into a playoff spot. They close out the regular season on April 9, less than two months from today.

Related: With Price possibly done for the season, Scrivens has Dubnyk-like opportunity

With trade deadline approaching, Canucks announce Edler out 6 weeks, Sutter 6-8 weeks

Washington Capitals v Vancouver Canucks
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The Vancouver Canucks announced today that they’ll be without defenseman Alex Edler (fractured fibula) for six weeks and center Brandon Sutter (broken jaw that required surgery) for six to eight weeks.

So basically those two are gone for the remainder of regular season, save for possibly a few games at the tail end of the schedule.

For a bubble team that doesn’t boast a ton of depth, the injuries are significant. Edler leads the Canucks in ice time, averaging almost 25 minutes per game. Sutter, arguably their best defensive center, already missed a big chunk of games earlier in the season following sports-hernia surgery.

But GM Jim Benning still isn’t giving up on the playoffs. Yesterday, he went on Vancouver radio and suggested the Canucks could actually be buyers at the trade deadline.

Benning only has a couple of weeks to decide what to do with pending unrestricted free agents defenseman Dan Hamhuis and winger Radim Vrbata. The trade deadline is Feb. 29.

The Canucks, currently just two points back of Nashville for the final wild-card spot, have a pair of winnable games coming up. They host Toronto Saturday and Minnesota Monday.

Related: Preds entering key (and tough) stretch before trade deadline

Jets activate Pavelec from IR, send Hellebuyck back to minors

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Winnipeg’s goalie of the future is off to continue his development in the AHL.

On Friday, the Jets activated veteran netminder Ondrej Pavelec from injured reserve and, in a subsequent move, sent rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck back to their affiliate in Manitoba.

Hellebuyck, 22, arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare, having starred for Team USA at the 2015 Worlds while being named an AHL All-Star as well.

This was his first-ever stint with the Jets, and it went OK — Hellebuyck posted an 13-11-1 record, .918 save percentage and 2.34 GAA — but he did struggle of late, getting hooked in two of his last three outings.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Pavelec.

His numbers prior to getting hurt weren’t any better than Hellebuyck’s — .906 save percentage, 2.82 GAA — and there will be considerable rust to knock off, given he’s been out since late November with a knee issue.

There’s also the long-term implication.

Pavelec, a lightning rod for criticism over the last few seasons, has one year left on his five-year, $19.5 million extension, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July of ’17.

It could be his last season in Winnipeg (assuming he’s not bought out of the final year of his deal), which makes one wonder what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has in store.

It’s also worth noting there’s a third goalie in this equation: Michael Hutchinson, who’s a pending RFA.

Kuznetsov passed concussion test, expected to play Saturday

Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, from Russia, celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Washington. The Capitals won 5-3. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Feel free to breath a sigh of relief, Capitals fans — Evgeny Kuznetsov is okay.

“During the end of the third period, Evgeny underwent and passed all tests pertaining to the league’s concussion protocol evaluation,” the Caps said today in a statement. “We expect him to take the morning skate tomorrow and play against the Stars later that night.”

Kuznetsov left last night’s game versus the Wild in the third period after appearing to take the butt-end of Mikael Granlund’s stick to the face.

Kuznetsov leads the Caps with 54 points.