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Report: Sakic expects Duchene to report to Avalanche training camp

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Matt Duchene‘s absence from voluntary practices earlier in the week set off speculation about whether or not he will report to Colorado Avalanche training camp.

For months, Duchene has been at the center of trade rumors but so far no deal has been made, although general manager Joe Sakic has previously maintained he’ll continue to listen to offers.

Much has been made about the relationship — or the perceived deterioration of the relationship — between the organization and Duchene, the third overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. But Sakic and the Avalanche appear to be working under the assumption the now 26-year-old forward will be at camp when it begins in a few days.

“He’s under contract and I expect him to be here on the 14th,” Sakic told BSN Denver. “He doesn’t have to be here ’til the 14th. Not everybody always come to camp early. It’s not for me to (say), but I assume on the 14th, he’ll be here.”

That certainly echoes the comments of team captain Gabriel Landeskog from earlier this week. Duchene’s agent Pat Brisson told TSN.ca at the time that, “All I want to say is, for the moment Matt is skating in Toronto.”

It’s been known for a while that there was a possibility Duchene could begin this season in Colorado, with pundits like Elliotte Friedman pointing out that the two years he has remaining on his contract could be a possible hindrance to any potential deals with other clubs.

Meanwhile, restricted free agent defenseman Nikita Zadorov remains without a contract.

Blackhawks great Pierre Pilote dies at 85

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Pierre Pilote, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961 and the Norris Trophy three times, passed away Saturday.

He was 85 years old.

The Blackhawks confirmed his passing in a statement on Sunday.

“The Chicago Blackhawks offer our sincere condolences to the family of Pierre Pilote as we mourn his passing,” the organization wrote in a statement.

“Pierre was one of the most decorated defenseman in NHL history and was a valuable member of the 1961 Stanley Cup championship team. He will be remembered for his toughness, leadership and reliability on the ice, as proven by his captaincy and streak of 376 consecutive games played. We will forever be grateful for his incredible contribution to the Blackhawks and the game of hockey.”

He played 890 games in the NHL, scoring 80 goals and 498 points, while spending 13 of his 14 years in the league with the Blackhawks. He captained the Blackhawks from 1961 to 1968. He finished his career in 1969 following one season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His No. 3 jersey was retired to the rafters at United Center in 2008.

“A consistent, durable, dependable defender who enjoyed the offensive aspects of the position, Pierre Pilote was a team captain, an eight-time post-season All-Star and a three-time Norris Trophy winner,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement.

“Mainstay of the Blackhawks’ 1961 Stanley Cup champion, Pierre also was a man of humor and great dignity and a proud member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The National Hockey League mourns Pierre’s passing and sends heartfelt condolences to his family, teammates and many friends.”

Benning preaches patience with 2014 first-round pick Virtanen

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The Vancouver Canucks have a logjam at forward after a busy summer, with general manager Jim Benning adding another veteran in Thomas Vanek.

The Canucks currently have 15 forwards under contract, and that isn’t including Jake Virtanen or Nikolay Goldobin, who are among the prospects in Vancouver’s system and looking to make the roster full-time.

Given the numbers, that promises to be an uphill battle in training camp, which means it’s possible they spend time in the minors this season.

The Benning-Trevor Linden regime enters its fourth season leading the Canucks. Virtanen is the group’s first-ever draft pick, going sixth overall in 2014.

In 65 NHL games, the 21-year-old right winger has shown potential at times with his speed and ability to be physical as a prospect the Canucks hope to develop into a power forward.

But last season, he played in only 10 games with Vancouver, averaging just over 10 minutes a game, and was eventually dispatched to Utica to get more playing time to better develop. Meanwhile, a number of forwards selected after him in that 2014 draft are already making an impact on their respective clubs.

His numbers down there (nine goals and 19 points) hardly stand out in a positive light, and it might benefit him more to spend another season down in the AHL. In an extensive interview with Bob McKenzie of TSN, Benning believed Virtanen made progress in Utica as last season progressed.

“I think in sending him down last year, he’s bought into being a pro,” said Benning. “He’s worked extremely hard off the ice. He’s had a very good summer. But he’s a unique player because for a big man, he’s fast and the game has gotten so fast the last couple of years. He can play that fast game and he’s a big guy.

“We’re going to be patient with him. It’s hard to develop power forwards and we think once he puts it all together, he could be a good power forward for us.”

Virtanen enters the final year of his entry-level contract. He’s a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Related: Canucks need Virtanen to realize what he’s capable of at his size and speed

Varlamov confident ‘all the injuries are behind me’ as he returns from surgery

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Pretty much everything went wrong for the Colorado Avalanche last season, and by the end of January, goalie Semyon Varlamov was gone from the lineup.

The 29-year-old Varlamov, who posted a .927 save percentage in 2013-14 when the Avalanche posted 112 points, had season-ending surgery after dealing with groin injuries the past couple of years.

The expectation following the operation was that he’d be fully healthy for the start of this upcoming season, and Varlamov has since provided an optimistic update ahead of training camp.

According to a report from the Denver Post, the netminder didn’t start skating with full pads until the middle of July, but there seems to have been strong progress since.

“At the beginning when I started skating, I was pretty uncomfortable. The surgeries were kind of tough; you have to learn again how to skate,” Varlamov told the Denver Post.

“But I feel confident about it now. I’m sure all the injuries are behind me and I’m looking forward to have a really good, solid, healthy season. It’s been a tough stretch for me, the last six months. Lots of rehab going on. But I’m blessed to have a really good team — doctors and physical therapists who work with me. They’ve done a tremendous job for me. I feel good on the ice.”

The Avalanche was forced to make a change in net this summer, after losing Calvin Pickard to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Jonathan Bernier was brought to Colorado on the first day of free agency after putting together a nice season as the back-up in Anaheim.

Varlamov still has two years left on his contract (at a cap hit of $5.9 million) before he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

It’s an ‘important year for me,’ says Nash, who enters final year of deal

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Rick Nash has seen his goal and point production drop in the last two years, but there should be plenty of motivation for him to try to turn that around this season.

Nash, who turned 33 years old in June, is now in the final year of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract and is eligible to hit the open market at the end of the season.

It wasn’t that long ago, Nash, already an accomplished scorer, had wrapped up his best season ever in terms of goal production with 42. That number dropped by quite a bit — as did his shooting percentage, shots-on-goal total, and number of games played — to 15 goals the following season in 2015-16.

Read more: Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

Last season, which was again interrupted by injury, he scored 23 times, which is a step back in the right direction for the veteran forward.

He’s made it no secret that this contract year is significant for his future.

“Every year I want to have the best year possible. But this year, it’s an important year for me personally,” said Nash, per the New York Daily News. “It’s an important year for the Rangers, too. We still haven’t achieved that goal (winning the Stanley Cup) that we all want to achieve.”

The big question over the next few months will be about whether or not the Rangers decide to bring him back following this season. If they do, what will the price be? Nash has only twice in his 14-year career fallen short of the 20-goal mark, with that most recently occurring in 2015-16. But he will also be 34 years old when free agency opens again next July.

The Rangers have already started the transition of getting younger and faster, and, following another playoff loss, the offseason produced more changes to the roster with the buyout of Dan Girardi and the trade of Derek Stepan.

“It’s sports,” said Nash, per the New York Post. “That’s what happens with contracts — your contract is up and you play for another contract. That’s what I’m facing this year.”