Jason Brough

Michigan center JT Compher (7) shoots the puck in front of Minnesota's Jake Bischoff (28) during the third period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Yost Ice Arena, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Junfu Han/The Ann Arbor News via AP) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Avalanche sign Michigan star Compher


Another big name is leaving the University of Michigan early. The Colorado Avalanche announced today that they’d signed 21-year-old winger J.T. Compher to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Compher was drafted 35th overall by the Sabres in 2013. He was dealt to Colorado last year as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade.

It’s an important signing for the Avs. If Compher had returned to Michigan for his senior year, he could’ve pursued free agency next summer.

Meanwhile, it’s another significant loss for the Wolverines. Compher joins Kyle Connor, Zach Werenski, Michael Downing, and Tyler Motte on the list of Michigan stars who’ve left school early to go pro.

Comper, Connor and Motte were all among the 10 finalists for the 2016 Hobey Baker Award.

Related: Kyle Connor turns pro

An interesting offseason awaits the Rangers, who could be in some trouble


The New York Rangers are in a bit of a pickle, for the following reasons:

— Their current roster lasted just five games in this year’s playoffs, and didn’t deserve to last any longer. After being soundly defeated by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Henrik Lundqvist said, “I think we played a team that was smarter, better and had better goaltending.”

— A number of their key players are getting on the old side. Lundqvist is 34, while Dan Girardi, Rick Nash and Kevin Klein are all 31. Marc Staal will turn 30 in January.

Keith Yandle is an unrestricted free agent. If he re-signs, it won’t be cheap. If he doesn’t, he had 47 points this season, the fourth most on the team. Who replaces that? Who runs the power play? It won’t be Dan Boyle, because he’s probably going to retire.

— The Rangers don’t have a particularly deep group of prospects. In fact, Hockey Futures ranks them 27th out of 30.

— Nor do they have a first-round draft pick this summer. Which is nothing new. They haven’t had one since 2012. Hence, the dearth of blue-chip prospects.

According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, the “fallout from the Rangers’ first-round crash-and-burn elimination by the Penguins will be substantial but neither immediate nor of a knee-jerk variety.”

Brooks cites sources that tell him “there is belief from the top down — starting with CEO Jim Dolan — the club is in need of an overhaul in the form of a transfusion of new and younger blood pumped into the system.”

If true, how the Rangers accomplish that goal will be interesting to watch. They could try the trade route to add young talent, but then, what does GM Jeff Gorton really have to offer?

Would there be interest in Nash? He has two years remaining on his contract, at a cap hit of $7.8 million. He had 42 goals last year, but had just 15 in 60 games this year.

If not Nash, there’d be interest in the likes of Derek StepanDerick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello. But then, those are the Rangers’ top three scorers.

Again, it’s a pickle. The Rangers have had some deep playoff runs the last few years. They’ve come close.

But when teams mortgage their future and trade away first-round picks, this is what happens. Eventually, the chickens come home to roost.

What if the Blues lose tonight?


Three years ago, they had a 2-0 lead over the Kings, then lost four straight and were eliminated.

Two years ago, they had a 2-0 lead over the Blackhawks, then lost four straight and were eliminated.

One year ago, they never had a 2-0 lead, but they did get eliminated by Minnesota, a good team, but not great.

Now consider what the St. Louis Blues are facing tonight at Scottrade Center. Not only the specter of a fourth consecutive first-round exit, but also another blown series lead.

This time, the Blues had the Blackhawks down 3-1, plus they had Game 5 at home. Then, after losing Game 5 in overtime, they had a two-goal lead in Game 6. They lost that, too.

Lose tonight and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be significant consequences for this franchise.

Certainly, the consequences will be more significant than last year, when GM Doug Armstrong decided to “live to fight another day” and come back with essentially the same core, minus T.J. Oshie and Barret Jackman.

Most notably, Armstrong retained head coach Ken Hitchcock.

“This is unfinished business for me,” Hitchcock said. “This is a really good team trying to become a great team. I think I have the tools and the expertise to help them along the way.”

Lose tonight and the Blues will have a new bench boss in 2016-17. That’s pretty much for sure.

“Hitch, this is it, man,” wrote the Post-Dispatch’s Benjamin Hochman. “For Kenneth Sanford Hitchcock, his legacy in St. Louis comes down to Monday night. … Lose Game 7 and you’re the coach who infamously had four consecutive first-round-series losses. Lose Game 7 and you’re the ex-coach.”

Lose Game 7 and there will be some ex-players, too.

David Backes is a 31-year-old pending unrestricted free agent; he could be allowed to walk this summer, regardless of what happens tonight.

Kevin Shattenkirk has one year left on his deal; a loss tonight will only intensify the speculation that he’ll be traded.

What of 31-year-old Brian Elliott? He’s only got a year left on his contract before he can go UFA. He was brilliant in Games 1-4, but less so in 5 and 6. What if it goes badly tonight? The Blues don’t exactly have a long, happy history of playoff goaltending.

Now, granted, there is another way all this could go.

The Blues could actually win.

They could exorcise the demons and catapult themselves into the second round, with the knowledge they just knocked off the defending champs, in a Game 7 that everyone was watching for them to lose, with all that pressure on their shoulders.

So, that’s what’s at stake tonight.

Whatever happens, it’s sure going to be something.

Hats, but not rats: NHL commish on what fans can throw on ice

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 15: The ice crew collects hundreds of plastic rats after the Florida Panthers defeated the New Jersey Devils in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BankAtlantic Center on April 15, 2012  in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Devils 4-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) Attention, Florida Panthers fans: Throwing those toy rats on the ice during a game means drawing the ire of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Days after fans in Philadelphia threw light-up wristbands onto the ice during a Flyers playoff loss, Bettman said the league strongly discourages throwing anything onto the ice except for hats to celebrate a hat trick.

That includes playoff traditions of faux rats in Florida and real octopi in Detroit.

“Putting aside the hat trick, we don’t think it’s a good idea for fans to be throwing things on the ice for a whole host of reasons.” Bettman said Friday at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. “We don’t think it’s appropriate, other than the case of the hat trick, to throw things on the ice. Not only is it disruptive to the game, it’s potentially dangerous.”

Bettman was at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Monday when fans threw hundreds of wristbands on the ice during the third period of a 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. The commissioner called it an unfortunate incident, especially considering the wristbands were part of a pregame tribute to late founder Ed Snider.

When Panthers fans threw rats onto the ice during a March 31 game against the New Jersey Devils, the team was given two minor penalties for delay of game, a rule the NHL put in to cut down on such events. Bettman said he spoke to the team’s executive chairman, Peter Luukko, immediately to express his concern about a tradition that dates to Florida’s Stanley Cup Final run in 1996.

Detroit’s octopus tradition goes back much further, but that doesn’t mean it’s league-approved.

“An occasional octopus, I’m not justifying it, is certainly different than 10,000 rats,” Bettman said. “They do a good job at Joe Louis (Arena) of getting the octopi off the ice as quickly as possible. And they don’t swing it around anymore because you can get octopus goop on the ice or on a player’s jersey.”

That won’t be a problem until at least next spring, as the Red Wings were eliminated Thursday night. The NHL told the Panthers that fans can throw toy rats on the ice only after a game.


Trocheck might play tonight (but don’t bet the farm on it)

at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

The Florida Panthers could — repeat: could — have forward Vincent Trocheck (foot) back in the lineup tonight at home versus the Islanders.

Trocheck will be a game-time decision, according to Florida coach Gerard Gallant.

“He’s a big part of our hockey team,” Gallant told the Sun-Sentinel. “He was playing great hockey before he got injured. He’ll be a big help to our lineup. He’s missed four weeks now, so it’ll be tough. We’re going to get him back soon, so whether it’s tonight or Sunday or Game 7, we’ll see.”

For what it’s worth, the Panthers’ beat writer for the Miami Herald, George Richards, does not believe Trocheck will play tonight.

Trocheck was Florida’s fifth-leading scorer during the regular season, finishing with 25 goals and 28 assists in 76 games. He was especially productive down the stretch, racking up 26 points in his last 27 games.

The Panthers and Islanders are tied 2-2 in their first-round series.