Feb. 28 looms large for O’Reilly, Avs… and any team looking to acquire him

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Interesting note here from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun about the pre-deadline, uh, deadline for Colorado and RFA center Ryan O’Reilly:

Circle Feb. 28 on your calendar. It’s as of that date that the trade freeze lifts on Ryan O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche can move the star player if it wishes to do so. They weren’t allowed to trade him for 12 months after matching Calgary’s offer sheet last Feb. 28.

There are several teams we’ve spoken to over the past week that are eagerly anticipating Colorado’s decision on O’Reilly. Do they move him or keep him?

If the Avs do put O’Reilly on the trade market (and again, we don’t’ know if they ever will), there would be at least a dozen teams interested. One of them would likely be the Vancouver Canucks, who are said to covet O’Reilly and have depth at defense, which is what the Avs would be looking for. Food for thought…

O’Reilly, who sat out half of the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign embroiled in a contract squabble, recently said he wants to remain with Colorado.

“I like it here. I want to play here. I want to stay here,” O’Reilly said, per the Denver Post. “But it’s just stuff you can’t control right now. It’s easier when you don’t have to worry about that stuff and just play the game, but I don’t control it. I just stay out of the business side ’til the season is over.”

According to the Post, both O’Reilly and the Avs have agreed to play out this season and discuss a new deal in the summer. Tied with Matt Duchene for the Colorado lead in goals (with 16), O’Reilly is in the final of a two-year, $10 million deal with a base salary of $6.5 million this season, meaning the Avs will have to qualify him at $6.5 million to retain his rights — should they not work out a new deal before July.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Colorado has tremendous depth down the middle with Duchene, O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny, but Stastny is unrestricted at season’s end and in the midst of a stellar campaign (34 points in 43 games) which netted him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

That said, O’Reilly has successfully transitioned to the wing this season and could move there permanently if the Avs want to retain all four centers for next season.

“I feel comfortable on the wing now,” O’Reilly explained. “Within our system, Patrick [Roy] does a good job of letting everyone know what they’re supposed to do.

“It’s been great playing for him this year, for sure.”

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.