Bieksa confident changes have Canucks headed in right direction

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Despite missing the postseason for the first time in six years, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa believes there will be playoff hockey in Vancouver in 2014-15.

“Obviously people aren’t going to have the same expectations for out team they’ve had in the past,” Bieksa told The Province. “But our expectations are making the playoffs. We feel we have a team that can compete.”

It’s been a busy offseason in Vancouver.

Gone are Mike Gillis and John Tortorella. On the ice, center Ryan Kesler was dealt to Anaheim and defenseman Jason Garrison was sent to Tampa Bay. Additionally, Mike Santorelli, who showed signs he could contribute at the NHL level last season, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canucks did not retain the rights to Jordan Schroeder, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent.

Newly appointed president Trevor Linden has brought in fellow rookies in general manager Jim Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins, but Bieksa is confident in his former teammate.

“I think just having Trevor around eases everyone’s minds,” he said. “We trust Trevor. We have confidence in him. We know he’ll be there making the right decision.”

Bieksa also believes in the core, which remains in Vancouver despite getting up in age. Daniel and Henrik Sedin will turn 34 before the season begins, Dan Hamhuis will be 32 in December and Alex Burrows turns 34 in the new year.

“I still believe in our group. I trust the twins are going to come here and be ready,” said Bieksa, 33. “(Hamhuis) will be hungrier than ever. We have a lot of pride on this team, a lot of integrity, and we’re not happy about what happened last year. I think we’re all going to look in the mirror and come back motivated. I’m excited about this year.

“You can look around the league and I don’t think you’ll find a group of guys our age who are in the shape we’re in.”

The Canucks play in the tough Pacific Division with Anaheim, LA and San Jose, and missed the second wild card spot in the Western Conference by eight points last season.

Vancouver finished 2013-14 averaging 2.33 goals per game, which ranked 28th in the league ahead of only Florida and Buffalo.

The additions of Derek Dorset (career-high 12 goals in 2011-12), Nick Bonino (career-high 22 goals in 2013-14) and Linden Vey (0 career NHL goals) doesn’t exactly scream ‘help is on the way’ when it comes to goal scoring.

There’ll be pressure on newcomer Radim Vrbata to return to the form he showed in 2011-12 scoring a career-best 35 goals, but will his addition be enough? Only time will tell.

Bieksa’s confidence is nice, but seeing the Canucks making the playoffs in 2014-15 is tough to picture.

Despite cancer diagnosis, Devils’ Brian Boyle doesn’t want to miss games

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New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle shared frightening news on Tuesday, yet he’s showing resounding courage and optimism in also plotting his “plan of attack.”

Boye, 32, announced that he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Tuesday.

Chronic myeloid luekemia (or CML) is a type of bone marrow cancer. Here’s an explanation of the disease via the American Cancer Society:

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells – the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.

Despite that scary news, Boyle is very positive about his chances; in fact, he hopes to live a “normal life,” right down to playing in the Devils’ season-opener on Oct. 7.

Back in 2014, Boyle discussed his father’s battle with cancer to ESPN. It’s quite an inspiring read.

We’ve seen multiple instances of hockey players showing resilience while fighting cancer during the active career. Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu stand as some of the most memorable examples, while Phil Kessel also comes to mind.

Jason Blake bounced back from CML, specifically:

The number one thing isn’t playing hockey, of course. It’s most important that Boyle emphasizes his overall health, even if that means taking some time off.

The Devils seem to be very supportive of Boyle as his fight begins. Here’s hoping he wins this one.

Contenders should keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak

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Here’s a gut reaction regarding the 2017-18 season: there aren’t a ton of teams with unclear goalie situations, at least as far as who their top guy is.

Clear number ones

The Frederik AndersenJohn Gibson battle ended last summer. Promising backups like Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta got their shots or will be getting their chances to be No. 1 guys this year. Marc-Andre Fleury generously accepted becoming the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It doesn’t exactly make for a sellers’ market for the few teams who might want to part ways with goalies.

Petr Mrazek‘s mess with the Detroit Red Wings is the most pressing example, and considering the fact that he’s only 25, acquiring him could be a boon for another team, at least in a scenario (injuries and/or poor play) would call for such an acquisition.

What if the Red Wings would ask for too much? What if a team would, instead, like to monitor a diamond in the rough for the summer of 2018?

Halak could still be very viable

Jaroslav Halak should be on plenty of radars, especially if he gets his wish for a fresh start with the New York Islanders in 2017-18, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Obviously, last season was kind of a strange season, not only for me but for a lot of guys,” Halak said. “Now it’s a fresh start for everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to our start too. Last season, we all know we had a bad start. We just need to make sure that we pick up points at the beginning of the season because that hurt us at the end.”

The Islanders have incentive to give Halak a chance, whether it would be to pump up his trade value or if Thomas Greiss struggles/gets hurt.

It would also be foolish to worry too much about Halak’s time in the AHL, especially considering how well he played for the Islanders late last season. Check out his split stats in March and April; Halak gave the Isles at least some hope to make an unlikely playoff push.

At 32, Halak doesn’t boast the same dreamy potential of Mrazek, yet he’s only a year older than Greiss.

The price could be right

With a nice .917 career save percentage and some playoff heroics in his past, Halak is the sort of goalie a team could call upon if their top guy falters or gets hurt. If a move were to happen around the trade deadline, his $4.5 million cap hit would be less of a problem.

On the other hand, if a team needed Halak earlier, the Islanders could conceivably retain some of his salary, especially if it allowed them to add a piece that might improve their team in other areas (and maybe help keep John Tavares happy?).

The goalie market could be interesting in the summer of 2018 if Mrazek and even Craig Anderson join the UFA ranks. Halak stands as a sneaky-interesting prospect then, but possibly sooner, for a team that might want to spend less (in assets via a trade or in actual money in free agency).

Predators tab Roman Josi as new captain, call him ‘our Roger Federer’

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The Nashville Predators boasted some appealing options to take the torch from Mike Fisher as captain, but really there was only one obvious name: Roman Josi.

Josi officially became the team’s eighth captain on Tuesday. Ryan Ellis appears to be second-in-command as “associate” captain, while they seem interested in spreading the leadership wealth around otherwise:

As captain, Josi will see an increased role on the Predators leadership team, which will also see some new appointments. Defenseman Ryan Ellis has been named as the team’s associate captain, while Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm will all serve as alternate captains. In addition, Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban and Nick Bonino have all taken positions within the leadership group.

If that’s not a sign that the team is taking this seriously – kind of amusingly so – consider that Ellis and Josi “interviewed” for the position and Peter Laviolette evoked military structures in discussing the decision, as sports teams love to do.

Josi seemed flattered when GM David Poile described him as “our Roger Federer,” a fellow Swiss sports star.

At face value, that’s great, especially since it breaks through the near-corporate-speak that saddles announcements like these.

That said, it’s funny to compare the leader in a team sport to a tennis player, among the most individualistic athletes in all of sport. There aren’t many moments of teamwork beyond doubles and rare events like the Davis Cup.

Overall, it’s another strong decision by the Predators. It’s merely fun to tease them a bit about the cornier aspects.

Awful injury news for Blues’ Bouwmeester, Sanford

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Hockey’s training camps and exhibition games share a lot of similarities, big-picture wise, with other sports.

As much as they’re all about evaluating players trying to make rosters and rule tweaks heading into each season, the “winners” of a pre-season may just be the teams that make it out without any significant injuries. The St. Louis Blues aren’t one of those winners.

The team announced unsettling injury updates for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Zach Sanford on Tuesday.

Sanford is expected to miss five-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. That virtually wipes out an important season for a guy who was still trying to stake his claim to a full-time roster spot.

Bouwmeester’s situation is probably more troubling, potentially, as he’s already a key defenseman for the Blues (averaging more than 22 minutes last season, which was a slight decrease from recent work). The team announced that Bouwmeester suffered a fractured ankle and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

As tormenting as day-to-day updates can be, “check back in three weeks” makes for even greater anxiety.

It does open up some opportunities for other players in the Blues organization, for whatever that’s worth.

This news comes shortly after the Ottawa Senators announced that Colin White will miss multiple weeks with a broken wrist.

You almost wonder if we’ll start to see fewer practice updates like these: