Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: On Torts and the ‘amazing’ turnaround in Columbus

— Up top, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman talks about the biggest challenge facing the Maple Leafs as they look to emerge out of their rebuild. The Leafs have a ton of talent up front, but what about the back end? The cost to acquire top defensemen has maybe never been higher, as evidenced by the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson. And that’s what the Leafs could really use now: a top d-man.

— Here’s Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on the job John Tortorella has done in Columbus: “We had hit rock-bottom mentally and it was a big challenge for him to turn us around. It’s actually amazing how quickly he did it.” Tortorella received the Jack Adams Award in 2004, but not many predicted he’d be in the coach-of-the-year conversation this season. He deserves a lot of credit for helping the Jackets believe again, while adapting himself to a changing league. (Hockey News)

— The Tampa Bay Lightning hosted the 1999 All-Star Game, but they’ve never hosted the NHL Entry Draft, nor have they hosted an outdoor game. That could change soon, with NHL executive VP Steve Mayer telling the Tampa Bay Times, “There’s no question we are absolutely, strongly considering Tampa in the mix. The city can house a world-class event.” The 2017 All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and the 2017 draft is in Chicago. But the league’s schedule is open after that. We wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for an outdoor game in Florida, but then, if Dodger Stadium can host one, it can’t be ruled out completely. (Tampa Bay Times)

— Mattias Ohlund will be inducted into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour tonight prior to Vancouver’s game with Tampa Bay. Ohlund, 40, might be the best defenseman in Canucks history, but unfortunately injuries shortened his career. “I pushed myself and my body as far as I could. And then one day, after speaking to numerous doctors and trying everything I could, it was just impossible for me to practice and play and travel. My left knee is worse, but both are bad. … I can have a decent, normal life, but I don’t run, don’t ski. Certainly my body’s not perfect, but I’m well enough to enjoy a comfortable life.” (Vancouver Province)

— Whatever the NHL decides about the Olympics, TSN’s Gary Lawless wants there to be a true best-on-best tournament. If that’s the World Cup, then so be it. As long as it’s best-on-best. No Team North America or Team Europe or anything like that. “The World Cup of Hockey has a long way to go before it measures up to the Games. The kind of history and tradition that builds emotion for spectators can’t be manufactured overnight. But the World Cup has no chance in its current incarnation. It must revert to best-on-best and take advantage of the surge in talent in the U.S. as well as the current excellence in Canada.” (TSN)

Matt Duchene is happy to be back playing center for the Colorado Avalanche. ““I love it. It’s my natural position. I enjoy playing right wing, depending on the situation, but at center it’s consistent, I always feel in the game. I like having that responsibility defensively that you have more as a centerman than as a winger. I just like being in the middle of the ice and distributing.” The other side of the coin? Center Carl Soderberg logged just 10:08 in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Philly, and that’s not much for a guy with a $4.75 million cap hit through 2019-20. Though to be fair, he’s been fighting a cold. (Denver Post)

Enjoy the games!

For Pekka Rinne, a great November, followed by a dismal December

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Pekka Rinne‘s save percentage has fallen to a dismal .848 for December — an especially shocking number after he was named the NHL’s first star of November.

Nashville’s starting goalie surrendered three first-period goals in last night’s 5-2 loss to Minnesota. The Preds ended up outshooting the Wild, 36-19, but couldn’t tie it late and gave up a pair of empty-net goals.

As always, the goalie wasn’t entirely to blame.

“We probably played 50 to 55 minutes that we really liked,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette told reporters afterwards. “They probably had 10 chances — they got four in the last two minutes of the first period and three in the last two minutes of the second period. Not a lot more than that, but those did us in.”

With the loss, the Preds fell to 2-4-1 in December. They had entered the month on a roll, after putting a slow start to the season behind them.

Last night’s result must have been particularly discouraging after the Preds had fought back to beat the Blues, 6-3, on Tuesday.

“Something triggered for us, and we were unstoppable,” forward Ryan Johansen said of the St. Louis game, per The Tennessean. “That’s the best I’ve seen this team play, I think, since I’ve been here. Just skating and everyone on the same page. Literally, you could go through our whole lineup, everybody was doing so many great things out there. So I think we really needed that one. We needed a character comeback win like that.”

Nashville (13-12-4) can be thankful it’s not in the Eastern Conference, because if it was, a playoff spot would be in serious jeopardy. But in the Western Conference, the Preds sit just two points back of Los Angeles for the final wild-card spot. Not a great position considering preseason expectations for this team, but plenty of time to right the ship again.

The Preds host the Rangers Saturday.

Meier to make NHL debut for Sharks

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Veteran winger Joel Ward has just two goals in 30 games this season for the San Jose Sharks, so tonight in Montreal he’ll be a healthy scratch, replaced by 20-year-old Timo Meier, who will be making his NHL debut.

Head coach Pete DeBoer is looking forward to seeing what Meier can do on a line with Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi.

“Just want him to get through the first game without feeling too nervous, and jump in with both feet and go to work,” DeBoer said, per CSN Bay Area. “He’s a good player, he belongs up here.”

Meier, the ninth overall draft pick in 2015, was called up after scoring nine goals in 17 games for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.

As for Ward?

“There’s no easy way. Those aren’t easy conversations,” DeBoer said, per The Mercury News. “He’s a proud guy. He’s a great player and he’s a great teammate and he was a key guy for us last year on the run. Those aren’t easy and we don’t take them lightly. But those are the decisions we have to make.”

Ward logged just 11:01 in Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa. The 36-year-old scored 21 goals last season, then seven more in the playoffs as the Sharks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Ward is signed through next season for a cap hit of $3.275 million.

Tanev to return for Canucks, but now Gudbranson could be out

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Chris Tanev will indeed return for the Vancouver Canucks when they host Tampa Bay tonight at Rogers Arena.

The 26-year-old defenseman has already missed 23 games this season with a lower-body injury, and the Canucks have missed him dearly. In the seven games he played early on, they went 4-2-1. Without him, their record was 8-14-1.

Tanev returns after Tuesday’s disastrous loss in Carolina, where the Canucks blew a 5-2 lead and lost, 8-6. Vancouver’s other top defenseman, Alex Edler, has also missed the past eight games with a broken finger, and will continue to miss more.

Read more: Major questions facing Canucks after disastrous ending to road trip

True to form, just as Tanev is ready to return, Erik Gudbranson could be out. Head coach Willie Desjardins said this morning that Gudbranson was being evaluated for an injury and may not be able to play tonight.

With four straight home games, the Canucks desperately need some wins to get back in the playoff race. Tonight it’s Tampa Bay, Columbus is in town Sunday, then Winnipeg visits for two games next week.

Related: The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

Report: Sens to host Habs in 2017 outdoor game

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The Ottawa Senators, after being denied an outdoor game on Parliament Hill, will reportedly host the Montreal Canadiens on. Dec. 17, 2017, at TD Place.

TD Place is the home of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks. It was recently renovated and has 24,000 permanent seats.

“The fact it’s not on Parliament Hill, I’m still scratching my head, but it is what it is,” Senators owner Eugene Melnyk told the Ottawa Citizen. “It could have been a three-hour infomercial globally on Parliament Hill, but we’ll do our best. I think we can do a lot of fun things at TD Place and try to make it a very, very unique experience.”

The Sens participated in the 2014 Heritage Classic in Vancouver, but this would be the first outdoor game that they’ve hosted.

Read more: Eugene Melnyk is mad at an Ottawa newspaper

That game in Vancouver was actually held indoors, after the roof was closed at BC Place due to the weather. The Senators beat the Canucks, 4-2, in a game that was most famous for John Tortorella’s decision to start Eddie Lack over Roberto Luongo, leading directly to Luongo getting traded to Florida.