Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: There are ‘no quick fixes’ for the Red Wings

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— Up top, what would the Oilers get Connor McDavid for Christmas? “A personality maybe,” says Jordan Eberle. Ouch.

— Here’s Red Wings GM Ken Holland on the current state of his team: “We’re not the only team in this position in the league. There are no quick fixes. ‘Let’s make a trade and that’s going to cure whatever ails you.’ That’s not the league we’re in. We’re not the only team in the boat that we’re talking about.” The Wings are on track to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990. It’s been a great run, but barring a fairly dramatic turnaround, it’s going to end in 2017. (Detroit Free Press)

— In stark contrast, here’s Flyers GM Ron Hextall on the current state of his team: “We’ve reset the bar a little bit for ourselves in terms of expectations — that we can beat anybody, we can go on a run and be competitive every night. So we just need to continue on.” The Flyers had their 10-game winning streak come to an end Saturday in Dallas, but with an 8-point playoff cushion, they don’t have to win them all. (CSN Philly)

— Randy Carlyle is back in Toronto as the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks. You’ll recall his firing by the Maple Leafs in January of 2015 was one of the first major steps in Toronto’s tear-down. “After the 2014-15 season mercifully came to an end, Shanahan fired the remaining members of the coaching staff as well as general manager Dave Nonis and a number of scouts. Shanahan then pledged to follow a patient rebuilding of the organization, one that would see the club bottom out in the 2015-16 season and land the No. 1 overall pick at the 2016 draft.” (Canadian Press)

— The Blackhawks got an encouraging performance from their bottom-six forwards this past weekend. “It’s obviously been great when you can get four lines to score,” said rookie Vinnie Hinostroza, who scored once versus the Blues and once more against the Sharks in back-to-back victories. “We’ll always have those two lines that will provide offense so it’s nice when the third and fourth lines chip in a little bit.” The ‘Hawks are banking on their rookies to keep improving. If they can roll into the playoffs with all four lines contributing, they’ll be all the more dangerous.  (CSN Chicago)

— It’s one thing to lose and still have cap space to improve. But the New York Islanders don’t have a single expiring contract among their forwards, and that’s a problem, writes Newsday’s Arthur Staple. “Amazingly, the Isles already have $65.8 million in cap space tied up for next year among 19 players — all 14 of the forwards that count against the current year’s cap (including Mikhail Grabovski), four defensemen and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. For a team that seems to be in need of an overhaul, that’s an ugly place to be heading into next season.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

Drafted in 2009, Nick Jensen could make his NHL debut for Red Wings

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With injuries to Mike Green, Alexey Marchenko, and Brendan Smith — and with Brian Lashoff’s status also now in doubt — the Detroit Red Wings may allow defenseman Nick Jensen to make his NHL debut tonight in Carolina.

Jensen, 26, has been called up from Grand Rapids, for whom he has one goal and five assists in 27 games this season. A fifth-round pick of the Wings all the way back in 2009, Jensen has been waiting a while for his big chance. Consider: Thomas Tatar was also drafted in 2009, and he’s already played 295 games in the NHL.

From MLive, on why Jensen was recalled:

Lashoff was hit in the mouth by a puck in the morning skate and had to be helped off the ice by trainer Piet Van Zant. He appeared to be holding a towel on his mouth as he skated off to the trainer’s room.

How serious is his injury?

“I don’t have that answer,” Blashill said. “Obviously it just happened there. It was a puck to the mouth so it was fairly severe.

“But we called Nick Jensen up for a reason so if Lash can’t go Jensen will be in.”

The Red Wings got a big win Saturday over Anaheim, but they’re still five points back of third-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Read more: Mike Green ‘probably day-to-day’ after Ryan Kesler hit

Panarin named NHL’s first star of the week

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Chalk up another honor for Artemi Panarin to raise in contract negotiations with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Panarin was today named the NHL’s first star of the week, beating out second and third stars, Henrik Lundqvist and Eric Staal, respectively.

From the league:

Panarin paced the NHL with seven assists and 10 points in four games – all multi-point performances – to help the League-leading Blackhawks (22-8-4, 48 points) stretch their overall winning streak to five contests. He recorded assists on both goals in a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers Dec. 13. Panarin then posted consecutive three-point efforts, registering 2-1—3 in a 5-4 win over the New York Islanders Dec. 15 and 1-2—3 in a 6-4 triumph over the St. Louis Blues Dec. 17. He capped the week with another two-assist performance in a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks Dec. 18. The 25-year-old Korkino, Russia, native and reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner ranks fourth in the NHL with 14-20—34 in 34 outings this season.

Panarin is a pending restricted free agent who is reportedly asking for at least $6 million per season on a long-term deal.

For the ‘Hawks, it’s one of those good problems to have. GM Stan Bowman had hoped to get Panarin locked up over the summer, but there’s been no deal yet.

Related: It’s a double-edged sword for the ‘Hawks, as Panarin keeps piling up the points

Nothing is going right for the Colorado Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche last made the playoffs, it was their goalie, Semyon Varlamov, who helped them the most.

Varlamov went 41-14-6 with a .927 save percentage during that magical 2013-14 season, and for that he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.

But there’s nothing magical about the Avs (11-18-1) anymore. They’re the NHL’s worst team, four points back of the second worst, Arizona. Varlamov, meanwhile, is 6-12-0 with a .904 save percentage, and to make matters even worse, now he’s battling a sore groin.

Varlamov’s backup, Calvin Pickard, has been forced to start the last three games, all of them losses. Pickard’s record is 5-6-1 with a .903 save percentage. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.

“Right now it’s major breakdowns that are hurting us,” said forward Jarome Iginla, per the Denver Post. “Our goalies are playing well. It’s unfortunate we’re leaving them … with a few two-on-ones and breakaways. That’s all of us. That’s forwards covering for the D, the D making the right reads. It’s all of us in front of the goalies, and we’re not good enough in that area right now.”

Even great goaltending may not be enough to rescue these Avs, who have the NHL’s second-worst offense (2.17 goals per game), barely ahead of the Coyotes (2.16). Only two Colorado players, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, are providing much in the way of scoring. And even then, Duchene’s team-high 22 points do not crack the top 50 league leaders.

Bottom line: the Avs’ season has been a disaster.

And frankly, it was a disaster before it even started, with Patrick Roy abruptly quitting in August, forcing a frantic coaching search that ended with the hiring of Jared Bednar.

Read more: Bednar rips Avs’ lack of intensity, a familiar refrain this season

Yes, the Avs have had to deal with injuries to Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog. But then, other teams have dealt with much worse, and all of them have dealt with it better than the Avs.

So, what happens now?

To date, GM Joe Sakic has been hesitant to make any big changes.

“It’s early in the year,” he said a few weeks back. “First of all, changes are hard to do, especially this time of year. … We know we have certain guys who can give more, and those guys know they can give more, but it’s not like it’s a whole thing. We’re not as consistent as we need to be.”

At the time, Sakic noted the Avs were only two games below .500 — “a four-game swing and you’re two games over .500 and right back in it.”

Today, they’re seven games below .500. To make the playoffs, it’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 29-16-7 the rest of the way.

So essentially, they’re already out of it, save for a miraculous turnaround that does not in any way appear imminent.

That may soon require Sakic to move to Plan B and start selling off veterans like Iginla, or even consider dramatic changes to the core.

At the very least, this core may only have the rest of the season to show Sakic it’s worth keeping together. With attendance suffering and interest dwindling, it will be hard to sell fans more of the same if there isn’t some sign of life down the stretch.

The Avs’ next game is Tuesday in Minnesota against a Wild side that’s won seven straight.

The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are the latest proof that the NHL is a young man’s game.

The Jackets won their ninth in a row Sunday in Vancouver, giving head coach John Tortorella his 500th career win. It has been a dramatic turnaround for this team that finished 2015-16 with the league’s fourth-worst record. So far this season, Columbus is 20-5-4 and boasts the NHL’s highest points percentage, the best offense, the second-best goals-against, and the best power play.

“When I came halfway through last year, things were already pretty south,” said defenseman Seth Jones, the overtime hero against the Canucks. “But this year, it definitely feels like a different atmosphere, new culture. We have an identity this year, which is something we need.”

Jones, 22, is just one of the talented youngsters on the squad. His dynamic defensive partner, Zach Werenski, is the youngest at 19. Meanwhile, Alexander Wennberg is still only 22, Boone Jenner 23, and Brandon Saad 24. Even some of the veterans aren’t that old. Brandon Dubinsky only turned 30 in April, Nick Foligno and Jack Johnson are 29, Sergei Bobrovsky is 28, and Cam Atkinson just 27.

“I think we’re a pretty good hockey team right now,” said Jones. “We can’t get too ahead of ourselves, but for years to come, we have 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds on this team that are going to be pretty special players in this league.”

It was suggested to Tortorella that having such a young, impressionable team has made it easier to get his message across.

Read more: Jackets are far better fit for Torts than Canucks

After all, this is the same coach who failed so spectacularly in his one year with the veteran-laden, “stale” Canucks.

But he wasn’t buying that theory.

“It’s easy to get buy-in when you have some success, and we’ve had some success early on here,” said Tortorella. “I don’t think it’s ever young or old, I think it’s how you sell it, how you communicate with your team. I think with different personnel, you may be communicating differently. That’s part of our job, that’s one of the biggest chores of our job, as a coaching staff, is how you get to them, how you make them understand what we’re looking to happen here.”

To be sure, it has been a process for Tortorella, who took over early last season and did not have immediate success. The Jackets went a modest 34-33-8 under his watch, and he lashed out at times, saying things like, “I see weakness. I think we’re weak mentally, and it’s not the kids. I worry about the kids getting into bad habits by watching other people.”

What does he see today?

“We’ve got some good leadership that I think is growing,” he said. “It was one of my points of contention last year, I don’t think we had leadership in doing it the right way and raising the standard. I think everybody has their finger in the pie right now, not just the coaches, but all the players too.”

The Jackets return home for three tough games before the Christmas break. Tuesday it’s Los Angeles, Thursday it’s Pittsburgh, and Friday’s it’s Montreal.

The second half of the season may be more of a challenge for Tortorella and his charges, because the way things are going, the days of taking this team for granted are gone.