James O'Brien

Buffalo Sabres v Montreal Canadiens

Sabres’ Gorges is happy about how his knee is healing

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When he wasn’t suffering through losses with the Buffalo Sabres last season, veteran defenseman Josh Gorges was dealing with pain.

His 2014-15 season was cut short by knee surgery back in February. The 31-year-old is no stranger to rehabbing injuries, so perhaps that explains why he seems optimistic when speaking with the Montreal Gazette late last week.

“It’s been a long road, six months of doing rehab every day, trying to get things back,” Gorges said. “The last couple of weeks I’ve really taken another step in my recovery – from just getting back on the ice to now starting to feel normal in my skating again, able to do all the things I want to do in a game. I’ve been really happy with how things have gone lately.”

Taking the slow approach might make some antsy, but Gorges knows he “doesn’t need to be an idiot” at this stage of his career.

On that note, he seems comfortable transitioning to the role of telling others not to be idiots.

The Sabres are bringing in a lot of young talent, and while Gorges insists that everyone needs to take part of the leadership task, he stands as one of the most experienced hands on the roster. Some might argue, then, that he’s nearly as important for the locker room as he is on the ice.

Of course, his words won’t resonate much if he can’t play at all. It sounds like he’s putting himself in position for a healthy return.

Luongo: Panthers cannot accept anything ‘beneath’ playoffs

Roberto Luongo
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When you miss the playoffs as often as the Florida Panthers do, it may be tough to raise expectations.

Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr are far more accustomed to success after game 82 of a season, however, and the Panthers’ goalie is adamant that the team must set its sights on the postseason.

NHL.com transcribed some of Luongo’s more confident comments:

“Last year we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get; we had a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff,” Luongo said. “This year it’s time to take that next step. It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable. I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”source: Getty Images

Florida did make some strides, but falling seven points short of the playoffs is more of a sign of work to do than some might expect (especially after it was sold as “just an extra win every six weeks”). In the age of “loser points,” seven standings points is actually a pretty significant margin.

That said, the Panthers were growing together, as Luongo mentioned. Setting the bar higher is important for young players who are developing as well as veterans who want to earn a few more shots at glory.

Want more on Luongo and the Panthers? PHT covered a lot of bases on that subject a few days ago:

Luongo is under pressure

How well will they mix the old with the new?

Panthers’ outlook in 2015-16

Wild wrap up signings with one-year deal for Bulmer

Washington Capitals v Minnesota Wild
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If Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher wasn’t already on vacation, he can probably soak up some sun starting now.

The Wild signed Brett Bulmer to a one-year, two-way contract on Sunday. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo notes that by signing Bulmer, Minnesota has all of its bases covered for this off-season.

Bulmer, 23, gives the Wild a big body (listed at 6-foot-4) who can provide a little bit of injury insurance.

He has 14 games of NHL experience with the Wild (five in 2013-14, nine back in 2011-12), generating three assists in that time. His AHL stats are fairly modest, too.

As the 39th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, it seems like Bulmer’s development has been marginal, but he’s young enough that improvement is at least conceivable.

Nashville Predators ’15-16 Outlook

Roman Josi, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne
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If you truly subscribe to the belief that defense wins championships, then you’d have to rank the Nashville Predators high on any list of Stanley Cup contenders.

As detailed in this post, they’re maybe the only team that could afford to even ponder trading a defenseman of Shea Weber’s caliber while not being in rebuild mode. Roman Josi and Seth Jones both boast futures that seem even brighter than their quite-brilliant presents.

Pekka Rinne stands as a sturdy last line of defense, too. The 32-year-old bounced back after a couple of rough seasons by winning 41 games and generating a .923 save percentage.

It’s not just about defense in Nashville any longer – Filip Forsberg and James Neal rank among the weapons Peter Laviolette can unleash – but it’s still the reason to get most excited about this team.

That brings up an intriguing question: what should we expect of Nashville? More specifically, should they be the Central Division favorites?

The Chicago Blackhawks are suffering from a rough off-season in nearly every way imaginable. The St. Louis Blues maintain an impressive core group, yet there’s a funk in the air after another postseason letdown. The Winnipeg Jets haven’t won a playoff game during their time in Winnipeg or Atlanta. The Dallas Stars loaded up this summer, although they still have questions on defense, while the Colorado Avalanche almost seem like a hockey lab experiment at the moment.

Nashville resides in what is likely still the best division in the NHL, but pondering the paragraph above, is it out of line to wonder if the Preds might jump from a second-place Central finish in 2014-15 to the division title next season?

You can’t really fault fans for clamoring to see a first division title banner up in the rafters … and maybe something even more prestigious.

Poll: Should Nashville trade Shea Weber?

Nashville Predators v Anaheim Ducks
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The Nashville Predators’ defense is scary, and not just because of Shea Weber’s howling shot.

Actually, the scary combination of talent and depth at that position makes you wonder if Weber may just be expendable.

This post features two different polls that get at the heart of that question, really. Let’s take a quick moment to ponder the strength Nashville boasts in this category.

Shea Weber: There’s been talk that he might be overrated (especially as far as own-zone coverage goes) for years now, and his possession stats are indeed a little lacking. Speculation of him being shopped cropped up during Nashville’s two-season lull.

Even naysayers would be foolish to doubt the velocity of his shot and his general ferocity, and players like Weber are tough to find.

Roman Josi: More than a few people wonder if Josi is superior to Weber.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s far cheaper, as Josi’s $4 million cap hit is almost half the cost of Weber’s $7.857 million whopper.

Beyond that, he’s five years younger and generated 55 points to Weber’s 45. Even if they’re a wash in their own end, Josi stands as the most obvious reason why Weber could conceivably be expendable.

Seth Jones: Of course, Jones may just be the biggest star of three once everything is said and done.

His offensive production is coming along incrementally, yet promising early two-way numbers bode well for a blue chip who will turn 21 in October.

Ryan Ellis: Ellis won’t make anyone forget about Weber if he departs, yet he’s the best supporting cast member on defense beyond Nashville’s other two blueline stars in Josi and Jones.

Barret Jackman, Mattias Ekholh and Victor Bartley round out the group.

OK, so let’s start with the first of two polls: where do you rank this set of defensemen with Weber in tow:

Your opinion of their group in the first poll will likely hint at where you fall on the juicier question: should the Predators trade one of their all-time biggest stars in Weber?