Jason Brough

Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) and teammates react to the Blackhawks' 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in Chicago.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Toews is looking to produce more offense, regardless of linemates

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Jonathan Toews, one of the best two-way centers in the game, is so much more than a scorer. But after registering just 58 points in 80 games last season, make no mistake, he’s aiming for more production in 2016-17.

“I think I have to just look at myself and take responsibility for that,” he said Friday, per The Athletic. “I think this year, regardless of who I’m playing with, whether it’s [Marian Hossa] or anybody else, I think the two of us will definitely want to have a comeback year and just have fun and play with some excitement and play loose and let that offense come to us the way it didn’t quite last year. I think we were fighting it a little bit for a while there.”

It’s arguably the biggest question the Blackhawks are facing this season — who will play with Toews? One has to assume that head coach Joel Quenneville will keep Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin together. And 37-year-old Hossa may be best-suited for a third-line role now.

Richard Panik is a candidate for the left side; the ‘Hawks are very high on him. As for the right, if it’s not Hossa, a youngster like Nick Schmaltz or Vince Hinostroza could get a shot.

It will be worth watching, because if nothing clicks then GM Stan Bowman may be forced to act before the trade deadline.

In 2015-16, Toews spent most of his time at five-on-five with Hossa. His next three most common linemates were Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrew Ladd, all no longer with the ‘Hawks.

Related: Opportunity is knocking for Blackhawks prospects

Yzerman thinks he can get Kucherov signed without making a trade first

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates with the bench after scoring against the St. Louis Blues during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. The Blues won the game 2-1. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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Nikita Kucherov still doesn’t have a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it remains to be seen how GM Steve Yzerman will get one of his star forwards locked up.

According to the Tampa Bay Times’ analysis, it may take a trade:

The website capfriendly.com calculates that the Lightning has $6.2 million in cap space remaining for this season, if defenseman Slater Koekkoek makes the team, as some expect. And that’s with only 12 forwards and six defensemen on the 23-man roster. But the amount is likely closer to $5 million if defenseman Nikita Nesterov, also a restricted free agent and who had a $742,000 cap hit last season, is re-signed (or veteran defenseman James Wisniewski makes team on a tryout deal), and a 14th forward is included at a minimum of $575,000.

That doesn’t leave a ton of room for Kucherov, unless another move is made. And that could explain why his situation is still unresolved. Is the Lightning trying to clear cap room?

Tampa Bay can clear some space by making a trade, whether that’s goalie Ben Bishop ($5.95 million cap hit, partial no-move clause), forward Valtteri Filppula ($5 million cap hit, no-move clause) or defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million, no-trade clause).

The newspaper did ask Yzerman if Kucherov and Nesterov could be signed without making a trade first, and Yzerman’s response was, “No question.”

Ryan Callahan can go on LTIR to start the season, but that’s only temporary relief.

So, unless Kucherov signs a bridge deal — and the trend has been moving away from that kind of contract, particularly for players of Kucherov’s caliber — it’s going to be interesting.

The Lightning open the regular season on Oct. 13, just over a month from today.

Related: After Stamkos and Hedman deals, Yzerman ‘confident’ he can sign Kucherov

Brandon Sutter on expectations for Canucks: ‘If people are picking us for the bottom, that’s perfect for us’

Brandon Sutter
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Brandon Sutter‘s first season in Vancouver was a frustrating one. The 27-year-old center was limited to just 20 games due to injury, and the Canucks, lacking veteran depth down the middle, really missed him.

But Sutter is healthy now, and he’s not worried that many expect the Canucks to struggle once again in 2016-17.

“If people are picking us for the bottom, that’s perfect for us,” Sutter said, per The Province newspaper. “That’s great. Our expectations in the dressing room are very different.

“I think we’ve got a core group that looks at last season and thinks we’re very underrated coming into this year. You start with [Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin] and look down the list and there’s eight or 10 of us with experience who can play at a high level, and we’re all two-way players. Especially at forward, we’re all two-way guys.”

The Canucks added winger Loui Eriksson and defenseman Erik Gudbranson this offseason, though they did lose Dan Hamhuis. They also have a couple of wildcards in winger Anton Rodin and defenseman Philip Larsen, neither of whom were in the NHL last season.

Down the middle, it’s expected to be Henrik Sedin centering the top line, Sutter the second, Bo Horvat the third, and Markus Granlund the fourth.

“The tough thing for Brandon is he didn’t get to show what he could do,” head coach Willie Desjardins said in June.

“We’re looking forward to it this year. Everybody felt in our dressing room that if he’s there, then we’re in the playoffs this year. If he could’ve stayed healthy, then we had a real good chance of making the playoffs.”

It’s a debatable claim. Vancouver only went 7-6-6 when Sutter was in the lineup, and that doesn’t equal the playoffs over an 82-game schedule.

But every team needs a reason for optimism, and if the Canucks can stay relatively healthy next season, and if some of their wildcards pan out, they could at least be in the race down the stretch.

Orlov ‘would like to stay’ in Washington, but… ‘We’ll see’

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals don’t start the regular season until Oct. 13, so there’s still time to get Dmitry Orlov signed. The 25-year-old defenseman is a restricted free agent. He made $2.25 million last season, when he scored a career high-29 points in 82 games.

The big issue is cap space. The Caps don’t have much. It’s been estimated they could give Orlov around $2.6 million next season. It remains to be seen if that will be enough.

Orlov, whose KHL rights were acquired in 2013 by CSKA Moscow, was asked on Sunday if he wants to remain in the NHL.

“Yeah, of course, I play five years in USA so of course I like it here,” he said, per CSN Washington. “And I would like to stay here. But I don’t know how it’s going to happen. We’ll see.”

Chances are, both sides will find a way to get something done. Caps head coach Barry Trotz has said he envisions Orlov getting more “prime minutes” next season, calling it a “great opportunity” for the young Russian.

“We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis,” added Trotz.

It’s just a matter now of finding a number that works. Not easy, but hardly impossible.

Habs’ new AHL affiliate to be called the Rocket de Laval

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In tribute to Habs legend Maurice Richard, the Montreal Canadiens’ new AHL affiliate will be called Club de hockey Rocket de Laval.

In July, the Canadiens announced that they were relocating their AHL club from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to the Montreal suburb of Laval. Starting in 2017-18, the Rocket de Laval will play in a new arena called Place Bell.

The team name was chosen by a fan contest. It was the “heavy favorite among some 850 different names submitted,” according to Place Bell president Vincent Lucier.

“The message was loud and clear from fans looking for a meaningful identity for their team while paying tribute to Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard as one of the Canadiens’ most legendary figures,” said Lucier.

The Habs also announced today that former NHL goalie Sean Burke has joined them as a pro scout.

From the press release:

Sean Burke, 49, spent six seasons as a member of the Coyotes hockey management as goaltending coach and director of player development before being promoted to assistant general manager on July 10, 2012. 

Burke left the Coyotes last summer after his contract expired.

“I felt it was time to turn the page,” he told Fox Sports Arizona. “There wasn’t going to be the opportunity to continue to advance and grow with the Coyotes. That happens in a lot of organizations with a lot of people.”