TGIF: Four NHL games to watch this weekend, and the Super Bowl

9 Comments

Halford note: This is usually Brough’s bag, but he’s en route to Sochi so you’re stuck with me. Let’s do this.

Saturday: Philadelphia at Los Angeles (4 p.m. ET)

Dry Island reunion party! Though to be fair, only a handful of Flyers remain from the team Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were dealt from three years go, so it’s more like a get-together luncheon than full-on reunion. Probably still be open bar though. Anyway, I mentioned this on Twitter last night but it bears repeating: Claude Giroux’s back-check (sorry, “back-check”) on Daniel Winnik’s shorthanded goal wasn’t the best:

Saturday: Ottawa at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)

Battle of Ontario! Still fun to watch, but this rivalry has lost its edge in recent years. There used to be a time when Sens-Leafs would guarantee either a bench brawl, spitting allegation or a Toronto player taking out one of Ottawa’s Swedes (be it Tie Domi on Magnus Arvedsson, or Mark Bell on Daniel Alfredsson.)

Of course, Ottawa’s Swedes also had a history of taking out Toronto players. *cough* Alfredsson on Darcy Tucker *cough*

(BTW, the fact Tie’s Domi hit on Martin Havlat is basically footnote here illustrates how dirty this rivalry used to be.)

Saturday: Chicago at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

I should stop writing every intro this way! But in this instance, the exclamation point is warranted — ‘Hawks-Sharks is a really good matchup. The ‘Hawks skunked the Sharks 5-1 in San Jose in the first meeting this year but the Sharks returned the favor three weeks ago, winning 3-2 (in a shootout) at the United Center for their first victory in Chicago in three years.

There is an issue at hand for San Jose, however. With Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture out of the lineup, the team is struggling to score:

source:

For you math majors, that’s seven regulation goals in six games. Yeah, the Sharks ran into a brick wall named Ben Scrivens in Edmonton, but they failed to do much against Calgary (the NHL’s third-worst defensive team) or the Jets, who allow 2.87 goals per game.

Sunday: Detroit at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET)

NBC’s Game of the Week! (Can’t stop, on a roll.)

Here’s a question: Could any team be less enthused about NHLers participating in the Olympics than Detroit? I know the Blues and ‘Hawks are sending 10 players to Sochi compared to Detroit’s nine (now that Johan Franzen is out), but the Blues and ‘Hawks are somewhat healthy whereas Detroit is like one big human bruise. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are banged up, Jimmy Howard’s knee has been an issue and Alfredsson turned 41 in December. If there’s one team that could use a break to recharge the ol’ batteries and gear up for a playoff push, it’s the Wings. Instead, they’re sending over 39 percent of their active roster to Russia for two weeks.

Sunday: Super Bowl XLVIII — Seattle vs. Denver (3:30 p.m. ET)

Football predictions on a hockey blog! After very little deliberation, I’m taking Seattle by a score of 24-20. In a somewhat related story, my hometown of Vancouver has become a Seahawks mecca in recent weeks. Heck, even the New York Times wrote about it. It’s gotten to the point where people that previously had zero interest in football are getting curious. Like my wife, who yesterday asked me “what’s up with that Richard Sherbert guy?”

Report: Kings among several teams in contact with Joe Thornton

Getty
8 Comments

Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

More:

On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

Update: The Kings are the most interesting team connected to Thornton thanks to their location and status as San Jose’s rival, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes some other interesting suitors: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers.

5. He’s staying low profile — and there is serious doubt he actually wants to leave San Jose — but there is a list of teams who want to peer inside Joe Thornton’s head. At the draft, there was a lot of talk it would take a three-year deal to lure him. Potential suitors include Columbus, Los Angeles, Montreal and the Rangers. I could see Toronto having interest, but I’m not certain. There was a time Detroit appealed to him, but it doesn’t seem right now for either side. It looks like San Jose is closing in on extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both can be announced on Saturday), so we’re all waiting to see what is left for Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau. I’m really fascinated by the Blue Jackets, who are going all-in over the next two years and will try something big. Toronto is quieter about its intentions, but don’t forget that Mike Babcock has plenty of Team Canada history with both Marleau and Thornton.

Friedman also makes passing mention of Thornton eventually leaving for Switzerland. Interesting stuff.

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

Getty
1 Comment

A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

Getty
1 Comment

There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

Getty
Leave a comment

After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.