Olympic playoff preview: Austria, Slovenia battle for top-eight finish

The Game: No. 8 Slovenia versus No. 9 Austria. Tuesday, 3 a.m. ET at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

How they got here: By recording historic wins in the group stage. Slovenia scored a stunning upset of Slovakia on Saturday, earning its first-ever win at the Olympics. Austria got its first Winter Games victory in 12 years with a 3-1 win over Norway on Sunday. Those were enough to propel Slovenia and Austria into the eighth and ninth seeds, respectively, which is a big deal — the winner is now guaranteed a quarterfinal berth and top-eight Olympic finish in the process. That’s pretty good, considering Slovenia’s never placed; eighth would be Austria’s highest finish at the Olympics since 1976.

Who’s hot: For Austria, Michael Grabner. The Islanders forward leads the tournament with five goals and has either scored or assisted on all but one of Austria’s seven goals this tournament.

For Slovenia, it’s Ziga Jeglic, who leads the team with three points. After scoring twice in the tournament-opening loss to Russia, Jeglic assisted on Slovenia’s first goal in the aforementioned upset over Slovakia.

Who’s not: Slovenia’s best player and lone NHLer, Anze Kopitar, left Sunday’s loss to the U.S. in the second period and didn’t return, finishing with just 11:31 TOI. After the game, head coach Matjaz Kopitar — Anze’s dad —  said his son was suffering from a stomach illness and “had no power.” The elder Kopitar said Anze was held out for precautionary reasons and would be good to play against Austria, but given how significantly illnesses have hit teams this tournament (the Czechs lost Radko Gudas and Patrik Elias to one), it could be an issue.

Austrian captain Thomas Vanek’s had a tournament to forget. He has no goals and just one point through three games, and made headlines by openly criticizing goalie Bernhard Starkbaum following an 8-4 loss to Finland.

X-Factor: Since we just mentioned it, goaltending. Austria made the change from Starkbaum to Mathias Lange during a 6-0 loss to Canada and Lange’s been very good in relief, allowing just one goal on 50 combined shots from the Canadians and Norwegians. Have to think Lange gets the call on Tuesday.

Slovenia’s Robert Kristian was solid in the first two games — stopping 57 of 63 shots against Russia and Slovakia — and should return to the net after getting a break against the U.S. (backup Luka Gracnar played, and allowed five goals on 28 shots).

Flames ink first-rounder Juuso Valimaki to rookie contract

Getty
Leave a comment

The Calgary Flames signed Finnish defenseman Jusso Valimaki to a three-year, entry-level contract on Friday.

Valimaki, 18, was the 16th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. He was selected in that spot after a nice year with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, scoring 61 points in 60 regular-season games and then added an assist in four playoff contests. He also played for the Tri-City Americans in 2015-16, putting up 32 points in 56 games.

Apparently he’s capable of at least one nifty shootout move, too:

People are pondering how Valimaki may fit into the Flames at the end of a three-year window Johnny Gaudreau recently cited. That seems a little far-reaching, although this nugget makes you wonder if Calgary might want to drag a little extra value out of his rookie deal:

Interesting. Either way, the Flames locked up a future piece, whether he can make an NHL impact sooner or later.

Red Wings sign Tomas Tatar: four years, $21.2M

Getty
2 Comments

It turns out that Tomas Tatar‘s days are numbered with the Detroit Red Wings by almost 1,500.*

After a salary arbitration hearing and concerns that he might leave after a single season, “Band-Aid” sort of deal, a wide variety of reporters state that the two sides instead agreed to a four-year deal with a $5.3 million cap hit, which would total $21.2 million.

Those figures come from MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, the Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan, FanRag’s Craig Morgan, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. The Red Wings confirmed that it was four years, but didn’t mention the financial details in their release.

Here’s the reported yearly breakdown (cue ominous music for that lockout-protection drop in 2020-21), via Morgan:

Again, this feels like a change in viewpoint, as even just yesterday it was reasonable to wonder if Tatar would only stick around for 2017-18. Now, it is possible that Tatar might get traded at some point, but a four-year deal is a bit surprising. The forward himself speculated that a one-year deal would be it.

This contract makes Tatar, 26, the Red Wings’ second-most expensive forward from a cap perspective, trailing only Henrik Zetteberg’s $6.083 million.

Even with this deal out of the way, Red Wings GM Ken Holland still has some work to do, including re-signing speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou. And the situation is tight.

* – Four times 365 is 1,460. Get it?

Wingels fractures foot, but should be ready for Blackhawks camp

Getty
Leave a comment

The good news is that Tommy Wingels is expected to be ready for Chicago Blackhawks training camp. The bad news is that he’ll be limited in his training regimen … although that very regimen caused him issues in the first place.

Dr. Michael Terry, the Blackhawks’ team doctor, released the following update regarding Wingels:

“Tommy Wingels sustained a left foot fracture during his off-season training. We anticipate a full recovery in six to eight weeks and in time for training camp. We do not anticipate any long-term issues.”

It’s unclear what caused the specific injury. Dropped weight? Unlucky fall? Perhaps a stress fracture? Without knowing the exact issue, it’s tempting to picture various painful scenarios.

(Probably because we’re in the dog days of the hockey summer, too.)

Wingels, 29, is on a one-year deal with Chicago, carrying a $750K salary and cap hit. He last played for the Ottawa Senators, though Blackhawks fans are most likely to remember him from his lengthy stay with the San Jose Sharks.

Six-to-eight weeks seems like it wouldn’t give a ton of room for error, so we’ll see if he’ll actually be ready for training camp.

Dahlin headlines Sweden’s roster for World Junior Summer Showcase

Leave a comment

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, potentially the NHL’s first overall draft pick in 2018, will suit up for Sweden at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.

Dahlin, who doesn’t turn 18 until April, has wowed scouts with his skating and puck-moving ability. At the 2017 World Juniors, he participated as a 16-year-old, garnering tantalizing reviews in the process.

Top-10 picks in the 2017 draft, Elias Pettersson (5th, Vancouver Canucks) and Lias Andersson (7th, New York Rangers), will also be in Plymouth representing Sweden.

Click here for Sweden’s and Finland’s Summer Showcase rosters. The tournament runs from July 29 – Aug. 5 and also features players from the United States and Canada.

Among the draft-eligible Finns to watch is 17-year-old forward Jesse Ylonen, who could be a late first-rounder in 2018.

Related: USA Hockey invites 42 players to World Junior Summer Showcase