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How Drouin’s doing heading into Tampa Bay return

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Even Jonathan Drouin‘s critics would probably admit that they’re surprised by how little he’s been missed in Tampa Bay in the early months following that splashy Mikhail Sergachev trade.

With an NHL-leading 54 standings points and an unearthly duo in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (plus plenty of lesser-mentioned strengths), the Lightning are eyeing a possible Presidents’ Trophy one season after missing the playoffs altogether.

Such context makes it easy to understand this column from Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times, which hypothesizes that Drouin’s return to Tampa Bay will be met not really with boos or cheers but instead a shrug of the shoulders. For what it’s worth, Drouin said all the right things about Lightning fans, via Joe Smith, also of the Tampa Bay Times:

“Thanks for all the support,” Drouin said when asked if he had a message for fans. “Even through the rough times when I came back, didn’t know what to expect, but they were great. It’s a hockey town and people are starting to figure that out, that it’s a city that loves their hockey, they’re passionate about it. It was a great atmosphere. I always had most respect for all the fans in Tampa.”

(The full Q & A is worth your time, as he discusses the pressures of playing in Montreal and if he has any regrets about his time with the Lightning.)

So, the Lightning are doing great and the Canadiens are struggling mightily. Also, when you look directly at the simplest numbers, Sergachev seems to be having a better season that Drouin and it seems like he’ll stick around long enough that this will be close to a one-for-one swap. (A pick could have turned into a second-rounder if Sergachev didn’t stick around, but it sure looks like he will.)

Graphics like these do Drouin no favors:

Still, let’s dig a little deeper to see if the gap is that big. Either way, kudos to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for getting strong value out of Drouin, a player who ultimately wasn’t part of the team’s future plans.

Success for Sergachev

Sergachev is currently in a comfy spot: being set up for success while being shielded from tougher assignments.

The talented teenager averages more power-play time per game (1:50) than shorthanded time served all throughout this season so far (53 seconds). Overall, he’s logging just 15:10 per game, ranking 14th on the Lightning.

It adds some perspective, although it also cements how remarkably dangerous he is offensively. Sergachev has eight goals and 23 points in 35 games; while some of that work will cool off (10.8 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman), you can forgive the Lightning for daydreaming about the kind of force he may become when he grows into more frequent reps.

Promoted to a level of incompetence?

Drouin, meanwhile, is in a tough spot with the Canadiens. Marc Dumont makes a strong argument at The Athletic that Drouin and Max Pacioretty should be split up (sub required), and you wonder if Drouin is the same not-quite-a-top-center that Alex Galchenyuk seems to be punished for arguably not being. (Despite getting less ice time than Sergachev at 14:55 per game, Galchenyuk has 21 points to Drouin’s 18, even with Drouin getting 17:41 on average).

Drouin is struggling by just about every measure, as you can beat him up for even poorer than usual work in the faceoff circle (41.2 percent, a career-worst, according to Hockey Reference). Drouin’s possession stats are suffering, and he’s only connecting on 6.6 percent of his shots on goal.

Obviously, things are going poorly, but it must be noted that the Lightning are putting Sergachev in a position to succeed, while the Habs are arguably setting Drouin up to fail by putting too much on his plate.

There could be a light at the end of the tunnel, though. At 22, Drouin has plenty of time to improve his all-around game, even if those steps might seem awkward at times under the harsh spotlight in Montreal.

It would be silly to deny his struggles so far in 2017-18 nonetheless.

For many, tonight will be a situation where Drouin gets humbled. Really, though, this is just another reminder of the mismanagement going on in Montreal, which contrasts especially harshly with the well-oiled machine they’re facing in Tampa Bay.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S.-Canada women’s hockey classic makes us forget NHL

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Who needs the NHL?

We’re good with Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson pulling off the sickest of moves – her shoulders dipping to and fro, her blades cutting this way and that, her magic wand of a stick guiding the puck past a helpless Canadian goalie who had been reduced to a pretzel.

We’re good with Maddie Rooney making one last stop – squeezing shut the tantalizing gap in her pads as the shooter swerved in front of the net, swatting away a puck that lingered perilously in the crease, throwing up her arms and disappearing into a dog pile of blue-clad teammates near the blue line.

Certainly, this was the only gold medal hockey game that matters at these Winter Olympics.

When it was done – three thrilling periods of regulation, another free-wheeling 20 minutes of overtime, a shootout that went six tension-filled rounds – the Americans littered the ice the sticks, gloves and helmets, whooping it up in a raucous, fitting celebration of their 3-2 triumph over the heartbroken Canadians .

Some will surely say this was a victory for women’s hockey.

That would be selling it short.

This was a victory for all of hockey.

”They played great. We played great,” Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin said, her voice barely above a whisper. ”It just shows how much women’s hockey is growing. We want to keep going, keep getting better.”

When the NHL decided to sit out the Pyeongchang Games, its stars were replaced in the men’s bracket by minor-leaguers, European professionals and only a smattering of recognizable names.

But the Olympics got the undisputed best of the women’s game, monopolized by two North American powerhouses that are the bitterest of rivals and the only real challenge to each other.

The U.S. claimed the first Olympic title, before Canada ripped off four in succession. The two countries have divvied up every women’s world championship since that tournament began in 1990, leaving the rest of the world to scramble for the crumbs. The asymmetrical balance of power must change if the sport is to really grow, but there was no question about the quality of play on Thursday.

Dazzling.

The Americans jumped ahead in the first period. The Canadians claimed the lead with two goals in the second. That set up a crucial sequence with just under 7 minutes left in the third.

Canada’s Laura Stacy swooped in all alone on Rooney, looking to put a capper on another gold medal with a shot into the top left corner. But the 20-year-old goaltender nicked the puck with her blocker, just enough to send it wide of the bar and careening around the boards. Kelly Pannek picked it off in front of the American bench and spotted teammate Monique Lamoureux-Morando – Jocelyn’s twin – breaking free behind the Canadian defense.

The pass was right on the mark. Lamoureux-Morando glided in on the breakaway, holding the puck as long as she could before lifting a shot over the glove of Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados.

It stayed 2-2 through the rest of regulation, setting up a 4-on-4 overtime period. Even with one less skater per side and all that open ice, neither team was able to break through with the winning goal. The gold medal would be decided with a shootout, which is generally a less-than-satisfying way of settling such an important matter .

This was the exception.

First, Gigi Marvin pulled off a brilliant recovery to put the Americans ahead. Beginning to fall and the puck slipping away, she somehow managed to flick it past Szabados before crashing into the side of the net.

Then it was Melodie Daoust giving Canada the upper hand with a stunner of a move. She looped through the right faceoff circle, darted down in front of Rooney to drag her across the crease, before reaching back to bury a one-handed swing of a shot.

Rooney and Szabados had their moments, too, making three saves apiece to send the shootout to sudden death.

Lamoureux-Davidson went for the Americans. As she bore down on Szabados, the toying began.

A fake to the right. A deke to the left. Finally, back to the right again – the sort of ankle-breaking tactic one might expect from Steph Curry. Szabados desperately flailed her body in front of the net, even losing hold of her stick, but she didn’t have a chance.

Canada sent out Meghan Agosta, who had beaten Rooney earlier in the shootout with a shot to an upper corner – top shelf, they call it – but the young American foiled a repeat by venturing far out of the crease. Agosta sliced to her left and thought she spotted enough of an opening in the pads to slip one through the five-hole. Rooney knew what was coming, sealing off the gap with both her stick and pads.

She didn’t totally stop the puck, but got enough of it to leave it about a foot short of the goal line. Rooney knocked it away just in case. The celebration was on.

”It shows how tight our teams are,” U.S. forward Hannah Brandt said. ”Obviously, it’s tough for it to come down to a shootout like that. But just a great game. I hope everyone had a good time watching it.”

The NHL?

Not needed here.

Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press

Trade: Bruins send Frank Vatrano to Panthers

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

After acquiring Nick Holden from the New York Rangers earlier this week the Boston Bruins were busy again on Thursday by completing their second trade of the week.

Let’s take a look at the deal.

The trade: Bruins trade forward Frank Vatrano to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2018 third-round draft pick.

Why the Bruins are making this trade: There was a time when Vatrano seemed like he was going to be a big deal for the Bruins but it simply has not worked out. They have had a wave of young talent come through the organization in recent years and Vatrano has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. He was not getting regular playing time, his production has not been great when he has played, and it just seems like he might need a fresh start in a new situation. The Bruins were able to pick up a pick for him that they can maybe use as trade bait in another move or to help replenish the cupboard after making other moves leading up to the trade deadline (such as the one where they traded a pick for Holden).

Why the Panthers are making this trade: It is a good low-risk, potentially high-reward move. Even though things did not work out for Vatrano in Boston he is still a player that has some talent and has shown flashes of ability in the past. During the 2015-16 season he scored 36 goals in 36 AHL games and scored another eight in his first taste of NHL action that season in 39 games. He came back last season and scored 10 goals and eight assists in 44 games with the Bruins. So there is some ability there. The Panthers probably are not going to make the playoffs this season, even after their recent surge, but it never hurts to add a young player with some potential for a small price. That is exactly what they did here.

Who won the trade? It was pretty clear Vatrano was not going to work out in Boston any longer so they were able to get something back in return, but there is a good chance that Vatrano will contribute more to the Panthers than whoever they would have selected with that third-round pick, and he is still young enough to potentially be a player for them going forward. Maybe a slight edge to the Panthers?

[Related: Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers]

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Senators seem to be in no-win situation with Erik Karlsson

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Imagine being an Ottawa Senators fan right now.

Now that you have done that for a second and hopefully resisted the urge to set yourself on fire, try to picture the situation that your favorite team is currently facing.

Less than one year removed from being a double overtime Game 7 loss away from being in the Stanley Cup Final, your team is now one of the worst in the NHL and doesn’t seem to have a terribly bright short-term future in front of it.

Your team does have one of the NHL’s best players in Erik Karlsson, a generational talent on defense that can impact the game in a way few defenders ever have.

That is good.

But now your team is in a situation where it probably won’t be able to keep him.

That is … less than good.

It is no secret that Karlsson, whose contract expires after the 2018-19 season, is going to want to become one of the highest paid players in the NHL (as he should be) and is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Senators are going to be able or willing to handle that demand. And even if they could, Karlsson has to actually want to re-sign there.

Are the Senators going to be able to build a competitive team around him? Is he going to want to commit to the team they might be able to build or are building?

Big questions that leave the team in the situation it is facing right now where it has to decide whether or not to trade him at some point before the end of next season.

There is already growing speculation that it could happen before Monday’s trade deadline.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote on Wednesday that the Senators are at least open to the idea of trading Karlsson this season before the deadline, and that a potential deal could also include the Senators trying to package Bobby Ryan with him in an effort to dump the remainder of Ryan’s contract. That would not only severely limit the number of teams that could actually complete a trade, but it would also probably reduce the return they get for Karlsson.

At this point it’s all just talk and speculation, but it’s still a sad reality to consider for Senators fans.

Think about the message that sort of trade would send to your fans.

It would basically be: Hey, we can’t really keep the best player we have and maybe the best player you will ever see play for our team in your lifetime. Oh, and one more thing, we also took a slightly lesser return for him so we could dump another contract we can’t afford. Sorry about that.

It just stinks to even consider.

Having said that, if the Senators are going to do it, if they are going to trade Erik freaking Karlsson, this might sadly be the best possible time to do it.

Normally I am one billion percent opposed to trading players like Karlsson.

You can’t win without them. They are nearly impossible to acquire. You can rarely, if ever, get fair value for them back in return. It is worth paying them top dollar under the salary cap, even if it means you have to trim somewhere else around the edges to keep them. One truly great player is worth more than two pretty good players.

But if you think your chances of keeping the player are slim — whether because you can’t afford them or because they don’t want to re-sign with you — can you really risk losing a player like that for nothing?

If the Senators wait until the offseason or at some point into next season the return likely diminishes because the team getting him is only guaranteed to have him for one season (or less). Any team that trades for him now gets two potential Stanley Cup runs with him. His value is probably never going to be higher than it is right now.

If the Senators actually go through with it would be the type of move we don’t normally see at trade deadline time. The biggest impact players that have been traded over the past years (Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, etc.) have been players that were already in the final year of their contracts. This is a player that is not only one of the best in the world, but still has term remaining.

In the end, it all just seems to be a no-win situation for the Senators.

Keeping him and hoping that he re-signs is a huge risk because losing him for nothing would be a devastating.

Trading him is a gut punch to your fans because you only get players like him every so often and you’re probably not going to get fair value back.

Waiting to trade him next season probably only lessons the return based on how much time the team trading for him is guaranteed to have with him.

But what other choice do the Senators have? There is nothing to suggest this season is a fluke for the Senators (if anything, the previous season was the fluke) and that better days are ahead. There is nothing to suggest they are going to make significant investments to build a better team around Karlsson in the next year to convince him to stay.

If these are the final days of Karlsson as a member of the Senators, it is a frustrating way to go out.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Canadiens’ Shea Weber to undergo foot surgery, miss rest of season

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Montreal Canadiens won’t be participating in the playoffs, so on Thursday it was announced that Shea Weber is set to undergo surgery to repair a tear in a tendon in his left foot, ending his season.

˝Following the diagnosis of Shea Weber’s injury, it was our belief that after a comprehensive rehabilitation protocol under the guidance of our medical team, Shea would be able to return to play this season,” said the team’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul Martineau in a statement. “Unfortunately, after extensive efforts to heal Shea’s injury, progress has not been made as expected. After further exams, and a consultation on Wednesday in Green Bay, Wisconsin with specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, and with Shea’s approval, it has been determined that he should undergo surgery and will be out for the reminder of the season.

“Our medical group will work with Shea to ensure he is pursuing the best course of treatment moving forward, and we expect him to make a full recovery and be ready for the start of training camp next season. The length of his recovery will be determined following surgery, which will be performed by Dr. Anderson.”

The 32-year-old Weber has not played a game since the Dec. 16 outdoor game in Ottawa. Last week, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said the defenseman’s foot still wasn’t comfortable in his skate and was going get it evaluated to determine a path to recovery. Surgery is now the only way back.

Weber only played 26 games this season, scoring six goals and recording 16 points. It’s the most time he’s missed since 2007-08 when he suffered a pair of leg injuries while with the Nashville Predators. The Habs’ season is long gone, so there’s no reason to put the blue liner, who still has six more seasons left on his contract, at risk.

Now when do the Chicago Blackhawks do the same with Corey Crawford?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.