Kulemin wants NHL over KHL next year, says agent

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The longest-serving Maple Leaf might not be back in Toronto next year, but he’s planning to stay in North America.

That’s what Gary Greenstin — the agent representing Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin, told the Toronto Sun this week — saying Kulemin “remains set” on playing in the NHL next season.

Here’s more, from the Sun:

[Greenstin] had informal chats with both director of hockey operations Dave Poulin and assistant GM Claude Loiselle. Kulemin, the longest-serving Leaf, made $2.8 million US this year, but might not be back at that price, given how everything has gone with the Leafs of late.

“I’d like to say he’ll be with the Maple Leafs and winning the Stanley Cup,” Greenstin said with a smile. “But right now, he’s under contract until June 30 and we’ll go from there.”

Kulemin, 27, is in his sixth season with Toronto. He had a career year in 2010-11, scoring 30 goals and 57 points while appearing in all 82 games, and was rewarded with a two-year, $5.6 million extension in July 2012.

This year, he has nine goals and 20 points in 64 games, averaging over 16 minutes a night. There’s a good chance teams would be interested in him come free agency but, with that said, it’s hard to ignore Kulemin’s ties to Russia and the KHL.

A product of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Kulemin is a decorated international participant, representing Russia at the World Under-18s, the World Juniors, the Word Hockey Championships and two Winter Olympics (all told he’s won a bronze, two silvers and two goals combined.) Greenstin told the Sun that Kulemin would welcome another chance to suit up for Russia at the ’14 Worlds, to be held in May in Belarus.

It’s alto worth noting Kulemin still has strong ties to Metallurg, having spent considerable time there during the lockout. Kulemin notched 38 points in 34 games during the 2012-13 campaign and finished third on the team in scoring.

As for his future in Toronto…here’s what Darren Dreger told TSN Radio yesterday:

Lightning give Vasilevskiy the hook after very rare Jurco goal

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By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.

You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.

Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.

Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.

Coach Q thinks Anisimov will be back by playoffs for Blackhawks

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The bad news is that Artem Anisimov seems likely to miss all – or at least most – of the regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks with his lower-body injury.

The good? Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville believes that Anisimov will be ready once the playoffs swing into motion, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.

Anisimov was hurt when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Alex Radulov on March 14:

The Blackhawks have been filling Anisimov’s typical spot alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin with Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz lately. There have been flashes of brilliance with Schmaltz, but Chicago would probably feel most confident with Anisimov back in his familiar place.

Chicago’s Central lead is pretty secure over the Minnesota Wild at the moment, which likely reduces motivation to rush Anisimov back before he’s truly ready. The Blackhawks close out their regular season on April 8, so there’s still time for him to heal up.

Ducks demote Enroth, so Gibson’s close to a return

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The Anaheim Ducks are flying high – er, waddling with some swagger? – right now thanks to Jonathan Bernier‘s somewhat shocking turnaround, but the pending return of John Gibson is promising.

(Especially since the Ducks will likely want him to shake off some rust before the playoffs begin.)

While it’s not clear if he’s exactly 100 percent healthy just yet, the Ducks sending Jhonas Enroth back to the AHL is a strong sign that Gibson is close.

Enroth actually never got a shot to start for the Ducks, as his last NHL appearance came on Nov. 30, closing off his ill-fated run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering that Enroth was once a fairly hot commodity as at least a promising backup, it will be interesting to see how his 2017-18 season pans out. Will he get more or less of a chance than he received this season?

Bernier, meanwhile, is richly rewarding the Ducks for sticking with him.

He’s provided them with a Vezina-caliber March: 9-1-1, 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with one shutout. You almost wonder if there’s at least some potential for a goalie controversy if Gibson stumbles whenever he gets back into action … but hey, having two good goalies to choose from is better than none.

(Which was the scenario that must have scared the Ducks when Gibson got hurt in the first place.)

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning almost certainly haven’t faced the Chicago Blackhawks in a game this important since the two teams were vying for a Stanley Cup.

While the Blackhawks have already punched their ticket to the postseason and are merely trying to pad their lead in the Central Division, the Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives. At the moment, they rank three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final spot in the East. With a game in hand, they can make up a lot of ground tonight.

With all of that in mind, it should be an entertaining contest. You can check it out on NBCSN, watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.