Jason Brough

Mike Richards will resume his NHL career with the Capitals

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The Washington Capitals have agreed to terms with center Mike Richards on a one-year, $1 million pro-rated contract, the club announced today.

Richards — who has not played since the Kings terminated his contract in June  — has been given clearance by the NHL to resume his career, the Caps said.

In August, the 30-year-old was charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada. Last month, it was reported that his hearing had been pushed back to January. His court date is reportedly Jan. 28.

Why did the Caps sign him? The injury to Jay Beagle, for one.

But Richards has also won two Stanley Cups. Over his career, he’s played in 124 playoff games. The Caps obviously see value in that experience.

And if it doesn’t work out, well, the cap hit is low and there’s no contractual obligation beyond this season.

“He’s not old and I’m sure he’s still capable of playing,” said Caps winger Justin Williams, a former teammate of Richards’ in Los Angeles. “It all depends on his mental fortitude and where he is.”

Update:

Caps GM Brian MacLellan on the Richards signing:

“We’re going to see where he’s at, playing wise. He’s been a number-one center in this league. He’s been a third-line center, a two-way guy. He’s been a fourth-line center. We’re going to see where he’s at physically and mentally, and try to incorporate him into our lineup. He could be a third-line center. He could be a fourth-line center.”

MacLellan on Richards’ legal issues:

“I know he’s pleading not guilty going forward and we think everything will work out in his favor.”

Despite Panthers’ history, Luongo ‘saw a bright future’ in Florida

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers takes the ice during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at BB&T Center on November 16, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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When Roberto Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers, a lot of people thought that was it for him. He’d go play out the rest of his contract — or at least the years of his contract that paid him more than a measly million bucks — and he’d retire without winning a Stanley Cup.

The Panthers, after all, were perennial losers. When Luongo joined them in early 2014, they’d made the playoffs just once in their previous 12 seasons. That included the five seasons he spent with them from 2000-06.

But Luongo saw something that a lot of people didn’t. This wasn’t just a “fresh start” for a goalie that had lost the starting job with the Canucks, though that was definitely part of it.

“When this kind of fell in my lap, that I had a chance to come back here to Florida, I think it was a perfect situation for me,” he told the Dan Le Batard Show today (audio). “Not only because it was home, but because the team was young and and upcoming and I saw a bright future with Florida.”

The Panthers had already drafted the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Erik Gudbranson. Soon after Luongo got there, they picked Aaron Ekblad first overall.

Fast forward to the present, and after all those years of assembling all that young talent, the Panthers have finally broken out. Last night, they won their 10th game in a row. They’re currently first in the Atlantic Division, five points up on second-place Detroit.

The old guys have done their part as well. Luongo, 36, is 18-11-3 with a .930 save percentage, a Vezina Trophy candidate once again. Jaromir Jagr, 43, leads the Panthers in scoring with 14 goals and 15 assists.

But does Luongo ever miss those heady Vancouver days, when the Canucks were still Cup contenders and he was arguably the most celebrated person in the city?

Or, does he prefer the relative quiet of South Florida?

“There are some things that are good about a crazy hockey market, there are some things that are good about a place where you can just fly under the radar,” he said. “It depends what day of the week it is, to be honest with you. Sometimes it’s nice to go out in public and just do your thing.

“At the end of the day, really what it comes down to is winning. It doesn’t matter what type of market you’re in. For me, I always put pressure on myself to win. That’s where it comes from.”

The Panthers can make it 11 straight Thursday in Ottawa. They visit Edmonton Sunday, then Luongo’s back in Vancouver Monday.

Lack feeling ‘pretty good’ about his game as he returns to Vancouver

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 11:  Eddie Lack #31 of the Carolina Hurricanes looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on December 11, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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They booed Ryan Kesler because he requested a trade out of town.

They cheered Kevin Bieksa because his loyalty never wavered.

Tonight, another former Vancouver Canuck returns to Rogers Arena.

They’ll cheer Eddie Lack. He didn’t want to be traded either. But that’s what happened in June, and now he’s a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Vancouver GM Jim Benning knew he’d be criticized for opting to move Lack, a fan favorite whose strong play down the stretch last season helped the Canucks make the playoffs, while keeping Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom.

“Sitting in my shoes, and when I talk to my management team, we have to make the decision that’s best for the organization going forward,” Benning said a couple of days before he made the trade. “I know if that’s the way we decide to go, I could get criticized. But that’s part of the job. There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Some more background here from the Vancouver Sun:

In the final year of his contract and with unrestricted free agency looming, Lack wanted to be paid, and agent Kurt Overhardt’s asking price of $4-million-US-plus per season for a goalie who had been in the league for two seasons made Benning cringe.

Lack had more trade value than Jacob Markstrom, the minor-league star who has played well for the Canucks this season as Lack’s replacement. And Benning refused to consider trading veteran $6-million-a-year starter Ryan Miller, whom the GM had originally drafted in Buffalo before recruiting him for the Canucks before last season.

Lack struggled in his first 10 or so games with the Hurricanes, but he’s been better lately. In his last three outings, he’s allowed just five goals and has a save percentage of .944.

“I kind of went back to the basics, playing a little deeper in the paint, that’s what I’ve been comfortable with before,” Lack told Sportsnet yesterday. “I feel like I’m in a pretty good state in my game right now.”

As for Benning’s decision to keep Miller and Markstrom, the jury’s still out on that. The former hasn’t played since Dec. 20 due to injury. The latter, just 25 years old, has had some good performances in relief of Miller, but like Lack, he’s yet to prove he can be a reliable full-time starter in the NHL. Only time will tell in both cases.

Related: Benning says Canucks have ‘too much pride’ to tank

Drouin’s junior team owner believes Yzerman ‘is going to get this back on the rails’

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Bobby Smith knows what it’s like to enter the NHL with high expectations. He also knows Jonathan Drouin, and he thinks things should eventually work out with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Smith was the first overall pick in the 1978 NHL draft. Today, he owns the Halifax Moosehead, Drouin’s former junior team.

Having seen up-close what Drouin can do on the ice, Smith believes Lightning GM Steve Yzerman would be wise to salvage the fractured relationship between player and club.

“I know the teams that have traded away this type of player, whether his name is Joe Thornton or Tyler Seguin, normally live to regret it,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think Steve Yzerman, having been not an elite player, a super elite player, is going to get this back on the rails and Jonathan is going to have a long and very good career.”

To be sure, talented young players have not always seen eye to eye with their NHL coaches and/or GMs. The difference in Drouin’s case is the public way that things have played out. Not only did his relationship with Lightning coach Jon Cooper become a story on the NHL’s biggest stage, the Stanley Cup Final, now his agent has come out and publicly requested a trade.

And remember, the last thing Drouin wanted going into this season was to end up in the AHL, which is exactly where the Lightning have assigned him.

“Nobody wants to go to the AHL,” Drouin said in July. “That’s not what I’m thinking about right now. I’m thinking about making the team and making more of an impact. Last year a lot of people said it wasn’t my greatest year, but I gained a lot, I learned a lot, and I’m definitely more ready going into the season, into training camp.”

Without intimate knowledge, it’s impossible to say if the point of no return has been reached in Drouin’s case.

However, it may be worth noting that Patrick Marleau reportedly wanted to be traded in November, and we don’t hear much about that anymore.

Related: Laugh about it later? Lightning players react to Drouin’s trade request

Looks like the Jets have got themselves a goalie

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 05:  Goalie Connor Hellebuyck #30 of the Winnipeg Jets makes a glove save on a break away shot by Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on January 5, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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All the hype that preceded Connor Hellebuyck‘s NHL career appears to have been well-founded.

The 22-year-old Jets goalie improved his record to 9-4-0 with last night’s 43-save win in Nashville. Winnipeg won the game, 4-1, despite being outshot, 44-18.

The shots were 17-4 for Nashville in the first period, yet Winnipeg went into the second with a 1-0 lead.

“It looked like he saw everything and he moves so efficiently in the net,” Jets coach Paul Maurice told reporters. “You had that feeling early on that it was going to have to be something unusual to beat him.”

Hellebuyck’s save percentage on the season jumped all the way to .935 — not bad for a rookie.

The Jets’ two other goalies are Ondrej Pavelec, currently on injured reserve, and Michael Hutchinson.

Pavelec’s much-maligned, five-year, $19.5 million contract expires after next season. He had a 5-6-1 record with a .906 save percentage before he went on IR.

Hellebuyck is also signed through next season, but for the low, low cap hit of $667,500, after which he can become a restricted free agent.

Hutchinson is a pending RFA.