Radim Vrbata

‘Yotes talking extension with Vrbata, got ‘great value’ on current deal

The Phoenix Coyotes have entered contract extension talks with forward Radim Vrbata and, based on GM Don Maloney’s statement, Vrbata should be in line for a tidy raise.

“He’s been a very good player for us and we’ve had great value for what we’re paying him,” Maloney told Fox Sports Arizona. “I feel like we’re always fair in our contracts — my idea of fair and other camps’ idea may be different — but when you look at his numbers, he’s probably earned more.”

Vrbata, 32, is in the final year of a three-year, $9 million deal with an average annual value of $3 million. While Maloney’s assertion is rare for a GM — who openly admits he got a steal of a deal? — it ultimately rings true.

The skillful Czech finished second on the team in scoring last year, with 28 points, and finished 11th in the NHL in goalscoring in 2011-12, with 35.

(To put that number in perspective, it was more goals scored than Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan and John Tavares).

Vrbata’s goals were crucial scores as well. He tied Tampa Bay’s Steve Stamkos for the league lead in game-winners (12), pushing Phoenix to its first-ever Pacific Division championship.

Vrbata sounds as though he wants to stay in Phoenix and, after briefly leaving the organization to sign in Tampa for the 2008-09 season, realizes the desert is a good fit for him.

“Phoenix is the place where I’ve had the most success, where we like it as a family and where I like it as a hockey player,” Vrbata explained. “All the people around the team, Tip, Don, Shane (Doan) and the players, they make it a great situation for me.

“I wanted to be here even when the ownership situation was in limbo. With this new ownership group in place, it makes it even more appealing.”

With Jonathan Bernier sputtering, we’ll meet Garret Sparks

Garett Sparks
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You can’t blame Mike Babcock for siding with the relatively unknown when the other option is Jonathan Bernier, a goalie who’s 0-8-1 so far in 2015-16.

With that in mind, meet Garret Sparks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected starter for Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Sparks was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) in 2011, a guy who was off to a great start in the AHL. That much wasn’t lost on Babcock.

Let’s face it, though; this is as much about the Leafs’ other two goalies as it is about Sparks (whose name inspired a very obscure reference in this post’s headline).

In Bernier’s case, there’s an “enough’s enough” feel:

Meanwhile, James Reimer‘s not quite healthy enough to play yet, so the window of opportunity is open for Sparks … a little bit.

Sparks will get a chance to make an impression, even if it’s just a small one.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.

Latest report leaves Carey Price’s injury timeline fuzzy

Carey Price
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There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.

So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.

Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.

(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)

Lightning lament life as a .500 team

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have plenty of time to rise above mediocrity, yet it still must be deserving to finish at .500 for two straight months.

After last night’s 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders, that’s exactly where they find themselves:

Record at the end of October: 5-5-2

Record at the end of November: 11-11-3

As of this writing, the Lightning found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It all stands as a pretty tough thing for the reigning Eastern Conference champs to swallow.

The uncomfortable-yet-vital question is: can the Lightning break out of this funk?

Looking at their schedule, it won’t be easy, at least not right away.

They crawl through California during a three-game road trip to start December, and they also face six of eight on the road from Dec. 2 – 18.

The Lightning soak up home dates to finish 2015 after that, but what damage will be done by then?

Frankly, the Bolts will need to dig deep to break this pattern. If nothing else, they’ve fought with their backs against the wall before.