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With ‘great ability to work with young players,’ Gallant takes over promising Panthers

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Gerard Gallant was introduced as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers today.

We’d like to say it was a riveting press conference with all sorts of interesting quotes coming out of it; alas, it wasn’t. General manager Dale Tallon lauded Gallant for his honesty, integrity and fun-loving attitude. He said Gallant has a “great ability to work with young players,” and that the Panthers have “a lot of young players that need this kind of coach.”

Likewise, Gallant was excited at the opportunity to be a head coach in the NHL again, and he thinks that Florida, loaded with young prospects, has a bright future.

If you didn’t get to see it yourself, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything shocking.

But today’s predictable press conference aside, the Panthers are indeed a team to watch this offseason, starting this week when nobody would be shocked if they traded their first overall pick, and then a few days later in free agency when their new owner’s wallet could be put to serious use.

And if Florida can add some useful veterans to its mix of blue-chip prospects (Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, etc.), it could also be a team to watch next season. Remember that the Panthers have Roberto Luongo now, and that below-average goaltending was one of the big reasons they struggled so badly in 2013 and 2013-14.

Related: Huberdeau ‘excited’ to be reunited with junior coach Gallant

The Wild have options in search for forward depth

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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Chuck Fletcher does not disagree with the notion that his Minnesota Wild could stand to improve their forward depth ahead of next week’s trade deadline.

“I think that’s fair,” the GM told the Star-Tribune. “I think we’ve got more unproven depth up front than we do on defense. … That’s why you’re always talking to see if somebody you can get can fit in and contribute and upgrade your depth. If you can do that, I think you need to do that.”

It is no surprise, then, to hear that the Wild have interest in Vancouver winger Jannik Hansen. It is not known if Minnesota is on Hansen’s eight-team trade list, but adding the speedy and versatile forward would allow Charlie Coyle to move from right wing to center, which in turn would push Erik Haula down to center the fourth line, while pushing the struggling Tyler Graovac out of the lineup entirely.

If not Hansen, the Wild could look at adding Patrick Eaves from Dallas or Radim Vrbata from Arizona.

Trade deadline: Caps only need to ‘upgrade on the fringes’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The way the Washington Capitals have been steamrolling their opponents in 2017, it was no surprise to hear GM Brian MacLellan say he doesn’t expect to make major changes ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

“This year, I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes, we might do it.”

The Caps have already added some defensive depth, acquiring Tom Gilbert last week in a trade with the Kings.

Gilbert is currently with AHL Hershey but could be called upon soon after Matt Niskanen was forced to leave last night’s win over the Flyers.

MacLellan said today that Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, adding that it wasn’t anything “serious.”

“We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back,” the GM said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

The Caps’ next game is Friday at home to the Oilers. On Saturday, they’re in Nashville to take on the Predators.

Gaudreau wasn’t demoted for missing team bus, says Gulutzan

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates up to a face off during the second period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 8, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan set the record straight about Johnny Gaudreau missing a team bus for an outdoor practice in New York earlier this month, and Gaudreau’s subsequent fourth-line demotion a week later.

“I can tell you this — it wasn’t a big deal,” Gulutzan explained, per the Calgary Sun. “We were in a gong show that day — we were dressing in a hotel ballroom, it was a real mess.

“He was with the trainer, so he came over with him. It was a 10 a.m. bus and I said, ‘hey do your thing, everyone else get there.’ So he jumped in a cab with (head therapist) Kent (Kobelka).”

The incident occurred on Feb. 4, and made for quite the scene — Gaudreau, decked out in full gear, jumped out of a taxi at Central Park just prior to practice. He then played over 19 minutes the following night against the Rangers, tallying an assist, but two games later was dropped to the bottom line in an ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona.

The initial assumption was Gaudreau got demoted because of an offensive zone turnover at the end of a lengthy shift. But given his history — last year, he was scratched after showing up late for practice following a reported “epic” Super Bowl party — there was some speculation he’d been subjected to another team punishment.

Not the case, said Gulutzan. From the Sun:

He insists no team rules were broken and no discipline was needed.

Gulutzan and other team officials said exceptions weren’t made for the superstar, nor were there whispers on the bus about him getting preferential treatment.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Gaudreau. He missed the entire preseason embroiled in contract negotiations before inking a monster six-year, $40.5 million extension.

He’s oft been the subject of targeting this season, and missed 10 games with a broken finger from an Eric Staal slash. As a result, his production is down — just 11 goals and 39 points through 50 games — and has found the back of the net just once in his last 20 contests.

That said, Gaudreau’s still shown off his incredible offensive talent. In Tuesday’s wild 6-5 OT win over Nashville, he racked up four assists, which included a helper on Mark Giordano‘s winner in the extra frame.

Letang day-to-day, but Schultz hopes to play Saturday

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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Justin Schultz is hoping to play Saturday when the Penguins host their rivals from Philadelphia outdoors at Heinz Field.

The 26-year-old offensive defenseman was back at practice today after missing three games with a concussion suffered a week ago.

“It’s good to be back,” Schultz told reporters. “The legs feel really good. Not cleared for contact yet. Hopefully I can be ready for the game.”

Schultz is enjoying a career year with nine goals and 30 assists in 56 games, and the Pens may need him Saturday since Kris Letang is now “day-to-day with an upper-body injury,” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. 

No word how Letang was injured. The 29-year-old managed to log 28:49 of ice time in Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Carolina, but he skipped practice today.

Suffice to say, the Pens’ defense is in a real state of flux at the moment. Trevor Daley is expected to miss the rest of the regular season due to knee surgery, and Olli Maatta is out long term as well. Those two injuries likely hastened GM Jim Rutherford to pick up Ron Hainsey in a trade today with Carolina.

“I’m familiar with him because I signed him in Carolina,” Rutherford said of Hainsey. “He’s a real character guy. He’s a good penalty killer.”

Rutherford added that the Pens may be in the market for another defenseman still.

Pittsburgh has two games left before the March 1 deadline, Saturday against the Flyers and Tuesday in Dallas.

Related: Shattenkirk headlines list of UFA d-men who could be traded