Cam Tucker

AP

Canucks forward Dorsett will be ‘ready for camp’ after neck surgery

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Derek Dorsett‘s third season in Vancouver ended prematurely in November, following neck surgery a few weeks later. But it appears he’ll be ready for the 2017-18 campaign.

Last December, the Canucks announced their rugged winger underwent “cervical fusion surgery to repair disc degeneration” in Dorsett’s neck.

On Friday, Rick Dhaliwal of News 1130 Sports in Vancouver spoke to Dorsett’s agent, Jason Davidson, and reported that the 30-year-old Dorsett is no longer dealing with issues in his neck ahead of training camp.

In 14 games with the Canucks last season, Dorsett had one goal and four points. He’s known more for his toughness as a bottom-six forward, with two more years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $2.65 million, per CapFriendly.

The Canucks have 14 forwards under contract for next season, not including prospects Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin and with restricted free agents Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce still left to re-sign. Of those 14 players, only Dorsett, Loui Eriksson and Daniel and Henrik Sedin are in their 30s, as Vancouver transitions younger players into the roster.

From ‘pain’ to playoffs, young Maple Leafs face heightened expectations next season

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

In the span of a year, the Maple Leafs went from the bottom of the NHL standings and front runners in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes to a playoff spot.

Matthews was taken first overall and made an immediate impact on opening night for a Maple Leafs team — and a fan base — in dire need of hope for a better future.

There is an abundance of hope in Toronto these days.

Matthews scored 40 goals and 69 points and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were excellent in their freshman campaigns and Nazem Kadri at age 26 had his best season with career highs in goals (32) and points (61). How quickly the fortunes of an organization can turn around, though, with a lottery win and a shot at a generational talent.

Two years after coach Mike Babcock predicted “pain” for the franchise as it underwent its rebuild, the Maple Leafs made the playoffs. Then they gave the Capitals everything they could handle in six games before Toronto was eliminated.

Maple Leafs fans haven’t had much to get excited about over the years. Never mind their Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1967. They made the playoffs only once from 2005-06 to 2015-16 and that lone postseason appearance concluded with an epic third-period, Game 7 meltdown versus the Bruins.

This past season, however, had a different feel. The future looks bright, like success beyond 2016-17 can be sustainable. It’s not just with Matthews, Nylander and Marner. On defense, the Maple Leafs have Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner, and goalie Frederik Andersen bounced back from a difficult start with his new team. He’s under contract for four more years.

Excitement brings higher expectations, for next season and beyond, as the club may be approaching a window to win a lot quicker than many would’ve predicted a year ago.

Take, for instance, today’s poll question: Will the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best offense next season? That would be a lofty expectation. The results as of the publishing of this post were nearly 50-50.

They’ve even added notable veteran players like Dominic Moore, Ron Hainsey and, at three years and more than $18 million, Patrick Marleau to enhance their roster with more experience.

Their possible success, as is the case with every team, next season will depend on multiple factors. Will Matthews, Marner and Nylander be able to build off their impressive rookie seasons, or will there be a dreaded sophomore slump in there? It will also require their best players to stay as healthy as possible.

All three of their top young forwards were able to remain, for the most part, healthy during the regular season, with Marner playing the fewest games — at 77.

Andersen had the second most starts (66) of all NHL goalies last season, behind only Cam Talbot, and the Leafs will count on him again to provide the goaltending necessary to make the playoffs.

Pressure to win is inherent in playing hockey in Toronto.

Since the second lockout, however, the standard had been set very low. That was until last season, when Matthews and the Maple Leafs went from a painful rebuild to raising expectations.

The hockey world now waits to see if this young and talented team can handle the pressure and set the bar even higher next spring.

Stars re-sign Oleksiak to one-year deal

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The Dallas Stars have brought back restricted free agent defenseman Jamie Oleksiak.

The club announced on Friday that they have re-signed the 24-year-old Oleksiak for one year at $964,688.

In 41 games with the Stars last season, Oleksiak scored five goals — including this beauty against the Blues — and seven points, though at 6-foot-7 tall and 255 pounds, he isn’t necessarily known for offensive ability.

With this signing, the Stars now have eight defenseman locked into contracts for next season, with about $18.5 million committed to the position right now, per CapFriendly.

That doesn’t include third overall pick Miro Heiskanen, who signed his entry-level deal last month and is seen as a dynamic blue line talent with a bright future in Dallas.

Related: After a flurry of moves, questions still remain about Stars blue line

Under Pressure: Patrick Marleau

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

The youth movement in Toronto took an interesting twist this summer, with the signing of long-time Sharks forward Patrick Marleau. 

The deal for the 37-year-old forward? Three years with an annual average value of $6.25 million and a no-movement clause, per CapFriendly. That makes Marleau the Maple Leafs’ highest paid player heading into next season.

While Marleau is getting older — he celebrates his 38th birthday in September, when training camp rolls around — he was still productive during his latter years in San Jose, scoring 27 goals last season. He also played the full 82-game regular season schedule.

His point production isn’t anywhere close to his peak of 80-plus points on two occasions with the Sharks, but he’s still been able to score at an impressive rate, especially given his age.

Now, the question becomes: Can he do that over these next three years on a new team, as he continues to get older, the younger players around him enter their prime years and, perhaps most pressing of all, the game gets quicker?

On the day Marleau signed, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock defended the decision, lauding Marleau’s skating ability and veteran experience against the opposition’s best players.

There is a history between coach and player dating back to the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics with the gold-medal winning Canadian team, so it’s clear Babcock and the organization believe Marleau still has something to offer for what has become a young, skilled and exciting team in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto’s rebuild has accelerated in just over a year. Having the opportunity to select Auston Matthews at No. 1 overall helps. With Matthews, and fellow dynamic rookies William Nylander and Mitch Marner up front, the Maple Leafs were able to make the playoffs in the East.

They pushed the Washington Capitals in a difficult first-round series, which means the expectations for this young core group in Toronto are likely to be greater in 2017-18. It wasn’t that long ago Babcock was predicting “pain” at the beginning of his tenure.

The Leafs also signed veteran forward Dominic Moore to a one-year deal and veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey to a two-year deal. The combined cap hit between them is $4 million, but they are moves that add more experienced players for a team that could be entering its window sooner than previously expected.

Marleau has had a great career, with 508 goals scored and 1,082 points in 1,493 career games, all with San Jose so far. But he’s not a rental. This isn’t the Maple Leafs adding an extra piece in early March to solidify an area of their roster for a run at the Stanley Cup three months later. It’s three years, big money, and a no-movement clause for a player pushing 40 while entering perhaps the most high-pressure hockey environment in the world.

He joins the Maple Leafs at a time when the club shows great potential for the next few years, courtesy the young talent throughout their lineup. It also means considerable pressure following a rebuild.

On a deal with less money or term, one could argue Marleau may be able to fly slightly under the radar.

But not at an average of more than $6 million per year. Not in Toronto.

“That’s what everybody wants. I think every team expects that out of themselves,” Marleau recently told Hockey Talk on Sirius XM.

“That is not going to be any different. Having played as long as I have and knowing the ups and downs of the season, you’ve got to learn from those. It’s all a challenge and it’s all an opportunity. I think that with this group of guys I’m extremely excited about making that long playoff run.”

Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player

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Pierre-Luc Dubois is back with the Canadian contingent at the World Junior Summer Showcase. In September, he’ll try to take the next steps toward making the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Selected third overall by the Blue Jackets in 2016, Dubois can play center or the wing, bringing great size at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, and skill up front. He didn’t make Columbus last season out of training camp, but was instead sent back to junior where he played for Cape Breton in the QMJHL before getting traded to Blainville-Boisbriand.

His overall production dropped from the 42 goals and 99 points he registered in his draft year to 21 goals and 55 points split with those two junior clubs.

“If I made Columbus [in 2016-17] it wouldn’t have been a bad decision, but I don’t think getting cut was a bad decision either,” Dubois told NHL.com. “I think it all comes down to what I did after I got cut, and I think I did all the right things to learn from it and become a more mature player.”

The Blue Jackets are hoping so. It’s already been noted in the Columbus Dispatch that Dubois, who just turned 19 years old in June, isn’t eligible for the American Hockey League next season, which means he either makes the NHL squad or faces another year in the QMJHL.

The Blue Jackets have a group of young players like Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Boone Jenner and Alexander Wennberg, stacked with talent. They took a big step last season, making the playoffs and setting franchise records for wins and points, before getting eliminated in the first round.

There has been talk dating back to June and the expansion draft that Dubois could challenge to make the Blue Jackets in a bottom-six role next season, according to Aaron Portzline last month.

“Pierre-Luc can not only make our team this coming season,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told the Columbus Dispatch at the time. “He can make our team better.”