Cam Tucker

AP

Wing or center? Jason Spezza will play both this season, says Hitchcock

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The signing of Martin Hanzal has given the Dallas Stars added depth up the middle, and that should leave coach Ken Hitchcock with some interesting options for his group of forwards.

One of those options? Giving 34-year-old center Jason Spezza some time on the wing.

That’s what the Stars’ head coach told the Dallas Morning News on Friday:

Q: How do you see Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza in regards to the center position?

Hitchcock: To me, Hanzal is a center. The role Jason will have is a split duty role, and if I play Spezza on the wing, it will be a left wing. Jason will play a lot of center and some wing. We need to start with the puck, so he’s definitely going to be taking draws on his strong side.

Q: So will Spezza and Hanzal play on the same line?

Hitchcock: Probably not. You could see Faksa on a line with Hanzal. I think those two could fit well together.

Having Tyler Seguin, Spezza and Hanzal gives the Stars a pretty good 1-2-3 punch up the middle, if that’s what Hitchcock chooses to do, with the possibility of Seguin centering a line with Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov, another big free agent signing this summer for Dallas.

The Stars have made a number of significant moves this off-season with the intention of getting back to the playoffs and back into contention for top spot in the Western Conference after a disappointing 2016-17 season.

Spezza was among those that struggled last year in Dallas, as he scored only 15 goals and 50 points in 68 games.

Report: Coyotes, Duclair close to finalizing one-year deal (Updated: It’s official)

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With training camp approaching, Anthony Duclair was one of the few remaining restricted free agents in the league.

That changed Sunday.

Craig Morgan of NHL.com reported that the forward had agreed to a new deal with the Coyotes, adding it’s for one year at $1.2 million.

Updated: The Coyotes have since announced the deal.

“We are very pleased to sign Anthony to a new contract,” said general manager John Chayka in a statement.

“Anthony is a highly skilled forward with great speed and scoring ability. We are confident that he can be an impact player for our team and look forward to having him in our lineup this season.”

Duclair, now 22 years old, scored 20 goals and 44 points during his first full NHL campaign with the Coyotes in 2015-16. But last season, his production dipped (five goals and 15 points in 58 games) and he spent time in the minors before getting recalled to Arizona.

A one-year deal would certainly fall in line with what Chayka thought was ideal for both Duclair and the Coyotes when it came to his next contract. For the player, that should give him added motivation to rebound from a difficult season and show management that he can be a contributing member of the team’s future.

“That’s just the reality of the situation,” said Chayka in July. “I like ‘Duke’ as a player a lot, as a person a lot, but he had a rough year. I think it’s more just about getting him back on the horse, getting him going. For both the team and the player, short-term is the best.”

Related: Under Pressure: Anthony Duclair

Johansson knew Capitals had to ‘change something’ after another playoff disappointment

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Change was coming to the Washington Capitals this off-season. Marcus Johansson completely understands why.

Despite another Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top regular season team and status as a Stanley Cup contender, the Capitals fell well short of their ultimate goal. A number of roster moves followed with key players departing by way of trades (Johansson to New Jersey), free agency (Justin Williams, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk) or the expansion draft (Nate Schmidt).

A number of core players remain, but there should also be opportunities for prospects — like Nathan Walker of Australia — to fill out the remaining spots on the roster, particularly up front.

“That’s part of the game,” Johansson told the Washington Post of the Capitals’ off-season moves.

“Sometimes you have to change things and we had some good opportunities to win these past two years and we didn’t take them and I think this is what comes afterward. They have to change something and guys needed new contracts and stuff like that, so that’s the way it goes. There’s nothing more to say about it.”

Johansson joins a Devils team that had the third worst offense in the league last season, averaging only 2.20 goals-for per game.

The addition of Johansson to the lineup should help turn that in a positive direction. Selecting Nico Hischier first overall should have quite an impact, as well, particularly in the years to come. The Devils were also able to sign puck-moving college free agent defenseman Will Butcher, and he’ll have the chance to earn an NHL roster spot when training camp opens.

That said, for the moves New Jersey general manager Ray Shero has made to improve his team’s offense heading into the upcoming season, the Devils suffered a substantial loss a few weeks ago, as it was announced center Travis Zajac would be out four to six months following pectoral surgery.

Zajac’s most productive season was in 2009-10, but he’s still been a steady contributor to the Devils’ offense since then, with 45 points last season, including six goals and 12 points on the power play.

Related: Johansson ready for ‘underdog’ role after trade to Devils

Bergeron says he’ll be ready for Bruins camp following off-season surgery

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With training camp quickly approaching, Patrice Bergeron has provided an optimistic outlook on his status, after the Selke Trophy winner underwent sports hernia surgery in the spring.

The Boston Bruins’ center had the operation in May after his team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the opening round.

“Still doing some rehab. I’ll be ready for camp,” said Bergeron, per NHL.com.

“I feel good. There’s still some restriction there that we have to work on, but overall, I feel pretty good. I feel good on the ice, I feel good in the gym. We still have to definitely do some treatments, but definitely I feel good and I know I’ll be ready for camp.”

So, overall, he’s feeling good.

That is … good news for the Bruins, who rely heavily on the 32-year-old Bergeron as an anchor at both ends of the ice and in numerous key situations, including faceoffs, where he cleaned up with a 60.1 winning percentage on draws.

True, Bergeron’s offensive numbers dipped last season, but he still contributed 21 goals and 53 points to help the Bruins qualify for the post-season.

The key takeaway though from the NHL.com report: With the surgery behind him, Bergeron is now pain-free for the first time since last fall, and that could perhaps help him to a quicker, more productive start out of the gate this season.

Related: Hey! Another funny commercial featuring Patrice Bergeron

‘Don’t be afraid’ — Panthers’ Ekblad voices support for LGBT athletes

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Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad has recently voiced his support of the LGBT community — and LGBT athletes in particular.

The 21-year-old Ekblad recently made the comments to Boca Raton Magazine, following an appearance in a Nike commercial supporting the LGBT community.

From Boca Raton Magazine:

“Don’t be afraid. You’ll be surprised by how many people are accepting,” he says, elaborating on how sports teams across the U.S., particularly hockey teams, have become friendlier in recent years—at least in official parlance—toward LGBT individuals.

Although homophobic talk still occurs in locker rooms, Ekblad believes that overall, society’s tolerance for and acceptance of LGBT people has progressed. Though Ekblad is not LGBT, he says he identifies as an ally, someone who is openly supportive of the LGBT community.

“Do I think it’s getting better? I think so. People are getting more educated and more understanding,” he says. “I would like to think the climate is getting better.”

Over the years, hockey figures like Brian Burke and Sean Avery have made it clear they are ready to support any player that comes out as openly gay, while a number of NHL players on different teams have taken part and marched in Pride parades throughout various cities across the league.