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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.

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

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Artemi Panarin continues to pile up the points for the Chicago Blackhawks. The 25-year-old winger scored twice with one assist in last night’s 5-4 win over the Islanders in Brooklyn.

It’s a good thing for the ‘Hawks, who are now 20-8-4, six points clear of Minnesota for first place in the Central Division. Panarin’s 13 goals are the third most on the team, behind Marian Hossa (16) and Artem Anisimov (14). He’s also tied with Patrick Kane for the team lead in points (29).

There’s just one catch — the more Panarin scores, the stronger his position gets in contract negotiations with the club. He’s a pending restricted free agent, and as everyone knows, the ‘Hawks are not blessed with a ton of cap space.

Panarin reportedly wants at least $6 million per season on a long-term deal.

“Things are still moving along,” his agent, Tom Lynn, recently wrote in an email to The Athletic.

But no deal yet.

The Blackhawks have been through this before, of course. GM Stan Bowman once vowed to keep Brandon Saad in Chicago for “years to come,” but ultimately chose to trade the young, goal-scoring winger to Columbus.

To keep Panarin, Bowman could try and clear cap space by trading a player like Marcus Kruger, but the way things ended with Saad, it’s not out of the question that Panarin gets dealt. After all, the ‘Hawks did just draft a talented, young winger in Alex DeBrincat, who already has 30 goals in 28 games for the OHL’s Erie Otters this season.

And besides, it’s not like the ‘Hawks lost out big when they sent Saad to the Blue Jackets. That’s how they ended up with Anisimov, who immediately, and superbly, solved their second-line center problem.

So until Panarin is locked up, Bowman will consider all his options. Obviously, the ‘Hawks would prefer to keep the player — and try to relax, ‘Hawks fans, that’s probably what they’ll do — but in a cap world, sometimes tough decisions do have to be made.

Related: Bowman says ‘Hawks never got close to signing Saad

Panthers lose a ‘tough one’ in Winnipeg, as frustrations pile up under Rowe

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The frustrations keep piling up for the Florida Panthers, who still have just two wins under interim coach Tom Rowe.

The Panthers lost, 4-3, in the shootout last night in Winnipeg, despite outshooting the Jets, 44-32, through regulation and overtime.

“I think we controlled the pace of the game from the start of the game,” said forward Reilly Smith, per the Miami Herald. “It’s just frustrating. The opportunities are there, we had 44 shots. … With that many opportunities, you need to find a way to win.”

The Panthers are now 2-3-4 under Rowe, who took over from Gerard Gallant after a Nov. 27 loss in Carolina. In those nine games, they’ve outshot their opposition by a combined margin of 312 to 259. Roberto Luongo started eight of those games, going 2-3-3 with a .904 save percentage.

If Luongo had only been able to stop Bryan Little on the Jets’ third shootout attempt, the Panthers would’ve come away with the victory. But Little made a nice move to the backhand and scored, and Mathieu Perreault eventually won it in the sixth round.

“It was a tough one but we did a lot of good things,” Rowe said. “We outshot them dramatically in the first and second period. We had great chances and just couldn’t finish.”

The Panthers are right back at it tonight in Denver, against an Avalanche side that’s lost six straight at home. With the point against the Jets, Florida moved to four points back of third-place Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins lost at home to Anaheim on Thursday.

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Related: The Panthers need to ignore the noise and just start winning