Jason Brough

AP

Canucks won’t be deadline buyers, but much ‘uncertainty’ ahead of expansion draft

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The Vancouver Canucks may still be in playoff contention coming out of the All-Star break, but they have no intention of being buyers at the trade deadline.

Not for pending unrestricted free agents, that is.

“There’s no question we won’t be in the rental-player market, regardless of what that looks like,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden told TSN 1040 radio today. “If there’s an opportunity…with a young player that we feel is an upgrade, we’ll certainly look at that. But there will be no situation where we’ll go and mortgage any future pieces to make a playoff push.”

If anything, the Canucks should sell at the deadline. That’s something they failed to do a year ago when GM Jim Benning couldn’t get anything for pending UFAs like Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata.

In a potentially related story, the Canucks have some important decisions to make ahead of the expansion draft. As it stands right now, Vancouver is obligated to protect forwards Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Loui Eriksson, and management will obviously choose to protect Bo Horvat as well.

That only leaves three protected spots for four forwards — Brandon Sutter, Jannik Hansen, Markus Granlund, and Sven Baertschi — and the Canucks are not a team that can afford to lose a decent asset for nothing.

Linden could not say what would happen there, but he did not rule out a trade.

“We’ve certainly modeled a lot of different scenarios out,” he said. “We’re going to do what we can to avoid that situation. Obviously, losing a young player, or any player, would be tough to stomach, so we’re still a ways from getting to where we want to be there.”

He added, “It’s a unique year because of the uncertainty and the unknown that is just the whole expansion process.”

Goalies have varying opinions on new pants

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Sergei Bobrovsky has minimal worries about the new streamlined pants that all goalies will be forced to wear come Saturday. And he doesn’t think it’s going to be a “big deal” for his counterparts around the league.

“I feel pretty comfortable with them,” Bobrovksy said Saturday in Los Angeles, where he was representing the Columbus Blue Jackets at the All-Star Game. “I played already since I think the beginning of December in the new size, so I got used to it. It’s pretty comfortable.”

But Bobrovsky did allow that all goalies are different, and depending on their styles, not all of them may be so comfortable with the change.

Take Arizona’s Mike Smith, also an All-Star, who thinks it’s “crazy” to have an equipment change at this point in the season.

“I tried [the pants] once,” Smith said, per the New York Times. “That’s as far as I got. To have an equipment change midseason, I think, is crazy, especially in the goaltending position. It’s like five, 10 years ago, when it was the True Religion jeans, really baggy. It’s like going from those to skinny jeans. You can’t bend over. I tried it one time, and it felt like it was really restrictive.”

Also interesting about the timing of the change is that goalies are already having a fairly tough season. The league average save percentage is down to .913, after two straight years where it finished at a record-high .915.

The last full season to end at .913 was 2010-11.

The last time it finished below .900 was 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux racked up 161 points and eight players scored 50 or more goals.

“I don’t think we need to increase the scoring,” countered the affable Bobrovsky, who allowed four goals in each of his last two starts before the break. “There (have already been) scores like 7-6, 8-7. … It’s not always fun to watch those games, too. I think you have to appreciate the hockey, with the way it is right now. It’s still very interesting to watch.”

That may be true, but more equipment changes are expected next season when the league targets the size of the goalies’ chest protectors.

Related: Bobrovsky feeling ‘really good right now,’ and that’s great news for the Jackets

It’s Allen versus Pavelec in a very interesting goaltending matchup

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Tonight in St. Louis, Jake Allen will make his first start for the Blues in almost two weeks. He’s only seen three shots in between; those came Thursday after Carter Hutton was pulled in a 5-1 loss to Minnesota.

Allen, whose save percentage has fallen all the way to .897 on the season, hasn’t won a game since the Winter Classic on Jan. 2. He was even left at home for a road trip in order to get reset mentally, in the wake of three starts that all ended with him on the bench.

“I’m ready to go,” Allen said yesterday, per the Post-Dispatch. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s felt like a decade, to be honest. I think the break did well for a lot of us and we have a really condensed schedule coming up and a lot of big hockey to play.”

The Blues’ opponent tonight has had its own goaltending issues. Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Winnipeg Jets, even though Connor Hellebuyck helped send the team into the All-Star break on a winning note with a 38-save performance Thursday in Chicago.

Pavelec is 2-2-0 with an .894 save percentage since being recalled from the AHL. He allowed four goals on just 26 shots in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Sharks at MTS Centre.

“(Pavelec) has really good numbers against St. Louis,” Maurice told reporters, per the Winnipeg Sun. “The San Jose game, I didn’t think he had much of a chance on the two backdoor (goals, from Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) and the penalty shot (from Melker Karlsson). I like where his game is at.”

The Jets are starting a three-game road trip tonight. They also play Thursday in Dallas and Saturday in Colorado. Three points back of the second wild-card spot, and holding no games in hand, Winnipeg really needs to start stringing some wins together. A win over the Blues, currently in the first wild-card spot, would be a great start to the stretch drive.

Goalie nods: Luongo gets surprise start after Reimer’s wife goes into labor

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James Reimer was supposed to start for the Florida Panthers tonight at home to Ottawa, but it will be Roberto Luongo instead after Reimer’s wife went into labor.

Interim coach Tom Rowe got a call from Reimer at 4 a.m. this morning informing him of the news.

“The baby is on the way I guess and he’s home,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald.

The baby has since arrived:

Rowe had been hoping to ride the hot hand before the plan changed. Reimer was named first star in Thursday’s 2-1 OT victory over Tampa Bay, the Panthers’ last game before the All-Star break.

Not that Luongo has been playing all that poorly; he just hasn’t been getting the wins. The 37-year-old has an impressive .925 save percentage in January, but his record is a modest 2-4-1.

Who else but Mike Condon will start for the Senators.

Elsewhere…

Thomas Greiss, with a new contract extension, will start for the Islanders at home to Washington. Philipp Grubauer gets the assignment for the Caps, after Braden Holtby spent the weekend at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Henrik Lundqvist will try to stay hot for the Rangers against the visitors from Columbus. Joonas Korpisalo gets the nod for the Blue Jackets, after Sergei Bobrovsky represented the club in L.A.

Matt Murray and Pekka Rinne are expected in Pittsburgh when the Penguins host the Predators.

Tuukka Rask was in L.A. this weekend, but he’s expected to play anyway when the Bruins take on the Lightning tonight in Tampa. Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

— It’ll be Steve Mason versus Cam Ward when the Flyers and Hurricanes meet in Carolina.

— In Detroit, Cory Schneider for the Devils versus Jared Coreau for the Red Wings.

— Even though Connor Hellebuyck went into the break with a winning performance in Chicago, Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Winnipeg Jets tonight in St. Louis. For the Blues, it’ll be Jake Allen making his first start in two weeks.

Carey Price for the Canadiens versus Robin Lehner for the Sabres in Montreal.

— Frederik Anderson for the Maple Leafs versus Kari Lehtonen for the Stars in Dallas.

— Darcy Kuemper has allowed at least three goals in each of his last four starts. He’ll get the nod for the Wild in Edmonton, where Cam Talbot will start for the Oilers.

— Skills competition hero Mike Smith will start for the Coyotes in Glendale. No official word on a starter for the Kings, but bet on Peter Budaj.

Calvin Pickard for the Avalanche versus John Gibson for the Ducks in Anaheim.

— A couple of All Stars square off in San Jose, where it’ll be Corey Crawford for the Blackhawks versus Martin Jones for the Sharks.

Devils to move AHL team from Albany to Binghamton

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The New Jersey Devils are moving their farm team from Albany to Binghamton, New York.

The Devils have reportedly signed a five-year agreement, starting next season and through 2021-22, to play at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.

Binghamton has been home for the Ottawa Senators’ farm team since 2002, but the Sens are moving their affiliate to Belleville, Ontario, for next season.

Devils president Hugh Weber provided the following statement about the move:

“After evaluating multiple scenarios and obtaining the approval of the AHL Board of Governors, we have agreed to partner with a local operating group in Binghamton, NY to relocate our AHL franchise for the 2017-18 season. The new arrangement will allow the organization to focus its efforts on developing our player prospects, while leaving the business operations to those with expertise in the market.”

What this means for professional hockey in Albany remains to be seen.

From the Albany Times Union:

Times Union Center is in talks to acquire another professional sports tenant, but it’s not a hockey team, sources said.

Attendance has been an issue for the Devils since they moved here in 2010. Albany is currently averaging 2,888 fans per home date, last in the 30-team AHL.

The Sens announced their move to Belleville in September.