Steven Stamkos

Stamkos sees tonight’s game vs. Bruins as key test

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For months the Lightning eagerly awaited the return of Steven Stamkos. As it turned out, he came back at a dire time for Tampa Bay.

The team honored former captain Martin St. Louis’ request to be traded and have won just three of its last 11 games. The Lightning’s once comfortable hold on a playoff spot has been reduced to four points.

Stamkos couldn’t save them when they played the NHL-worst Buffalo Sabres in his first game back on Thursday. Now Tampa Bay has to face the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins tonight.

“It doesn’t get much tougher than Boston coming in,” Stamkos said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “They’ve had our number lately. They’re extremely physical defensive team that can pounce on any mistakes that you make. This is a true character test for our team right now.”

As Stamkos touched on, the Bruins have a 3-0 series record against Tampa Bay in 2013-14. The Lightning’s struggles against Boston extend far beyond that though as they haven’t beaten them since March 13, 2012.

Maybe that means they’re due. Either way, they have to stop the bleeding before they’re reduced to playing catch up with mere weeks remaining.

Report: Kings, Richards nearing settlement

Mike Richards
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The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards may be nearing a settlement in their dispute over Richards’ terminated contract, TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting.

You can read the report for all the details, but we’re sure curious about this part:

If a settlement is reached, there’s no word yet on what salary cap penalties the Kings would still face. There’s bound to be something, but not likely as onerous as the full value of Richards’ contract, which carries with it a cap hit of $5.75 million. If there’s a settlement, Richards would undoubtedly become a free agent though there’s no telling at this point what monies he would be entitled to from the Kings in a settlement.

The issue here is precedent, and what this case could set. The NHL and NHLPA can’t allow teams to escape onerous contracts through a back door, and many are adamant that that’s what the Kings were attempting to do in Richards’ case.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?