Canucks’ forward Burrows praises former coach Vigneault

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Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers are in Vancouver to face the Canucks on Tuesday. So, naturally, the return of Vigneault, the head coach of the Canucks for seven seasons until last spring, has brought a lot of memories back.

Take Alex Burrows for instance. He not only played for Vigneault as a member of the Canucks, but also with the former Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League for a season. Burrows made the jump from the minors, which included stops in the ECHL as well, to the NHL, and he gives Vigneault credit for helping him with achievement.

He also gives Vigneault credit for helping turn the Canucks into an elite team not that long ago.

“As a player, that’s what you want — somebody to guide you in a direction and give you challenges that you can succeed at, and he did that with me,” Burrows told The Province newspaper on Monday.

“You didn’t hear from him until training camp, but once it started he was well prepared. He had his opening-day speech and it wasn’t just written on a napkin.

“We were tough to play against away from the puck and once we got it we had the freedom to do things in the offensive zone. He liked high-percentage plays, that’s the biggest thing. To not give the other team easy goals.”

Vigneault was fired last May, after the Canucks were swept in the first round of the playoffs. They were only two years removed from making it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

But Tuesday’s match-up features two teams going in opposite directions. Vigneault and the Rangers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and in good shape to make the playoffs. The Canucks are 10th in the West. Their playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread, five points back of the eighth-place Phoenix Coyotes.

Vancouver’s struggles have meant a great deal of criticism toward head coach John Tortorella and general manager Mike Gillis.

Interesting because the Rangers and Canucks essentially swapped coaches last off-season (New York fired Tortorella, hired Vigneault, and the Canucks fired Vigneault and hired Tortorella).

“You guys are going to make your opinions and talk about it because it’s kind of a unique thing,” Tortorella told reporters on Monday.

“We’re losing games, so I’m the idiot. Alain’s winning games, so he’s the smart guy. Rightfully so. When you lose games and you struggle, you’re going to get scrutinized. That’s part of the business and I should be scrutinized.

“But how you think about … style of play and all that, I think sometimes there’s not a true understanding of what’s going on. But as far as the records concerned, I get that.”

Flames’ Jokipakka (hip) might not play for Finns at World Cup

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Jyrki Jokipakka #3 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jyrki Jokipakka was one of the three Finnish d-men added to the World Cup roster last week but, according to Calgary president Brian Burke, Jokipakka isn’t a lock to play this fall.

“He had hip surgery after the season, and it’s not 100 percent that he’s going to be able to compete in this tournament,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Fan 960. “But the fact he was named recognizes his accomplishments to date, and we’re very proud of [him].”

Jokipakka, acquired in the Kris Russell-to-Dallas deadline trade, appeared in 58 games last year — 18 for the Flames, 40 for the Stars. He finished with two goals and 12 points.

Still only 24 years old, Jokipakka could be a nice piece for the Flames moving forward. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and was rated highly enough to crack the Finnish roster (granted, the country isn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline).

So it’s understandable why the club might be wary of letting him play in the World Cup. In addition to coming off major surgery, Jokipakka is headed into the last of a two-year, $1.8 million deal with a $900,000 average annual cap hit.

Once that expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

‘Yep,’ Letang will play tonight

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang will play tonight. He confirmed it this morning, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.

Letang did not participate in yesterday’s Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. He didn’t practice either. The Penguins said it was simply a “maintenance day” for their best defensemen, but when it was learned he would hold a press conference this morning, all of a sudden people started to wonder about his status for Game 1 against the Sharks.

He was asked if he was playing.

“Yep.”

So, no problems?

“Nope.”

And that was that.

No explanation was provided about yesterday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said a few minutes later that he was confident that Letang would be able to log his usual amount of minutes.

“Very confident,” said Sullivan.

Penguins center Nick Bonino also confirmed that he’ll be able to go tonight. He didn’t skate Saturday or Sunday, but was on the ice this morning.

Former NHLer Bulis calls it a career

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Center Jan Bulis #38 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Washington Capitals on December 23, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals won 4-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Jan Bulis, who appeared in 552 games with the Capitals, Canadiens and Canucks, announced his retirement from professional hockey today, per Czech news outlet Ceske Noviny.

Bulis, 38, last played in North America with Vancouver during the 2006-07 campaign, and has since carved out a pretty lengthy career in the KHL, playing for both Mytishchi Atlant and Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Picked 43rd overall by Washington at the 1996 draft, Bulis’ best years came with the Habs. He posted a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2005-06 — that year, he also represented the Czechs at the Winter Olympics in Turin (capturing bronze) and at the World Hockey Championships (capturing silver).

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.