Pre-game reading: Apparently, Jaromir Jagr would like to buy Nick Bjugstad a monkey

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones debate who should be given the credit for the Blue Jackets’ surprising success.

— He may not be a kid anymore, but Jaromir Jagr hasn’t lost his sense of fun. “He keeps telling me he is going to buy two monkeys, one for me and one for him,” said Florida teammate Nick Bjugstad. “I keep trying to tell him it’s illegal to own a monkey, or something. I don’t know what we’d do when we go on the road.” To which Jagr responded: “You know how on Christmas morning, some people get a ring at the doorbell and there’s a big package with a bow on the top? There’s going to be a monkey inside for Bjuggy. It’s going to be awesome.” Dear Santa: Please let Jagr be serious about this. (TSN)

— Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” column is always a must-read. This week, it includes the following tidbit: “One team we haven’t heard much from is Pittsburgh, but I think that will change. The Penguins are a legit threat to repeat and, at some point, GM Jim Rutherford is going to try and add. Remember his history. He prefers not to wait until the deadline.” Rutherford did a great job last season, adding the likes of Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Justin Schultz. He doesn’t have a ton of cap space to work with, but it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to address a blue line that lost Ben Lovejoy to free agency. (Sportsnet)

— An interesting quote from Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “Stats are something that everyone looks at, but we don’t have egos on this team, myself included. If we’re expected to play a role or hone in on playing some good defense, we’re willing to do that.” In a totally unrelated story, P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators don’t visit Montreal until Mar. 2. But the two teams play in Nashville soon, on Jan. 3. (ESPN)

— We wrote earlier today about William Nylander and the trade rumors that have surrounded him in Toronto. But the most likely trade chip for GM Lou Lamoriello to play is James van Riemsdyk, a pending unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018 who may be hard for the Maple Leafs to re-sign. (TSN)

Dustin Byfuglien had a tough game Tuesday in Vancouver, where one of his point shots was blocked and went the other way for a Canucks goal. Big Buff leads all NHL skaters in average ice time (27:36), but is he the No. 1 defenseman that can deliver the Jets to the promised land?  That’s the question Winnipeg Sun writer Ted Wyman tries to answer. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!

Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
2016-17: seven points in 36 games

He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.