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PHT’s top 13 of ’13: Vancouver’s goaltending soap opera

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It captivated fans of professional hockey for months — in fact, longer than an entire year.

The Vancouver Canucks goaltending saga that began in April of 2012 — when Cory Schneider was put into the starting role ahead of Roberto Luongo — came to a dramatic end, well, once the 2013-14 regular season got underway in October.

The controversy itself, though, ended at the 2013 NHL Draft, when the Canucks dealt Schneider to the New Jersey Devils in return for the ninth overall pick, which turned into Bo Horvat.

The day before the draft, news broke that Schneider, a former first-round pick of the Canucks back in 2004, was indeed available on the trade market.

For the better part of a year, rumors swirled that Luongo, tied into a 12-year, $64 million contract, was going to be traded. He was not.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis had exhausted all attempts to move Luongo, who had a no-trade clause in his contract. On trade deadline day in April, Luongo was suddenly taken off the ice in the waning minutes of practice to Gillis’ office inside Rogers Arena to waive his no-trade clause.

Speculation was rampant, but no deal was ever completed.

It led Luongo to give an emotionally charged press conference later in the afternoon in which he uttered the now famous phrase, “my contract sucks.”

Gillis tried to throw water on Luongo’s comments after, when he met with the inquiring minds.

“When you have a day like this where your whole life could be turned upside down, then you speak to you guys (media) right after, I think there’s an opportunity for things to be said that in the clear light of day might not be reflective of how he really feels,” Gillis told reporters.

At the end of Vancouver’s season, when the Canucks were swept out of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks in the opening round, Gillis said it was “unlikely” Luongo would be back with the team, as another off-season approached.

Luongo is back, although he did leave Sunday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets with a lower-body injury and is currently listed as day-to-day.

But it took a considerable effort from Gillis and even new head coach John Tortorella to prompt Luongo to come back to Vancouver, a city he thought he would no longer be calling home.

“We have a really good relationship. It isn’t strained or adversarial at all. I think he’s going to be fine. He’s a consummate professional,” said Gillis over the summer. “Roberto will be our No. 1 goalie. I feel very optimistic about it.”

Luongo did finally make his decision. He announced it in a televised interview with James Duthie of the NHL on TSN panel just prior to Canada’s Olympic orientation camp in Calgary.

“I … moved on personally,” Luongo said during the interview.

The 34-year-old Luongo currently has a record of 16-9-6, a goals-against average of 2.24 and a save percentage of .920. If healthy, he’s also in the running for Canada’s 2014 men’s Olympic ice hockey team.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.

Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

Hey now.

As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

Sounds like a guy to watch.

Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

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TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

Team Europe had other plans.

The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

“I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

They do now.

A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

“He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

“We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

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