Jason Brough

Why Milan Lucic is a very interesting pending UFA

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It’s not often that an empty-net goal catches my attention, but Saturday in Los Angeles, one did.

The Kings were leading the Penguins, 4-3, late in the third. Pittsburgh had pulled the goalie for the extra attacker.

All of a sudden there was a loose puck at center ice.

That’s when Milan Lucic began his charge:

For a guy who’d supposedly lost a step, it was a pretty impressive burst of speed and power.

Lucic had also scored earlier in the game.

“I thought that line’s effectiveness was because of Looch,” coach Darryl Sutter told LA Kings Insider. “Really, the empty-net goal is the very same goal as the wristshot goal. It’s a power move. Not many guys can do that.”

Lucic scored again Sunday against Tampa Bay, his 10th of the season. He now has as many goals as guys like Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, Alexander Steen, James Neal and Patrick Sharp. His two linemates, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, have the most points on the Kings, with 26 and 20, respectively. Lucic is third, with 18.

The 27-year-old is also — and here’s the fun part — a pending unrestricted free agent. He’s said he’d “love” to stay in Los Angeles, but with Anze Kopitar also a pending UFA, and with the salary cap not expected to go up by much, it may be hard for the Kings to keep him.

Which is to say, don’t expect those Vancouver rumors to die down anytime soon. In August, Lucic called playing for his hometown Canucks “a dream of mine since I’ve been a kid.”

The two big questions for any interested team will be how much to pay him, and for how long. Because despite his good play of late, there are still some definite red flags. For starters, a shooting percentage this season of 23.3. Probably not sustainable over the long run. You also have to wonder about his durability. He’s a physical player with a ton of hard miles on his body.

But regardless of those red flags, he’s sure not hurting his value right now. The Kings are rolling, and he’s a big, powerful reason why.

Steven Stamkos ‘liked’ a tweet about joining the Leafs, and now it’s a thing

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Today, in the latest episode of Things That We’re Actually Talking About (Sigh)Steven Stamkos says he was unaware that he hit “like” on a tweet about the possibility he’d sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Lightning captain has since rescinded the “like,” but the screengrab (see the bottom of the post) will live on forever.

This is not the first time something like this has become a story. When Evander Kane was still a Winnipeg Jet, he “favorited” (ah, verbs in the internet age) a tweet about being traded to the Flyers.

Granted, Kane did actually want to be traded. And hey, maybe Stamkos does want to sign with the Leafs. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent and you know Toronto will let him play center.

But for non-Twitter users (congratulations!), let it be known that it’s really easy to mistakenly “like” a tweet.

To illustrate, here are some of the tweets that my clumsy colleague, @HalfordPHT, has “liked”:

Did Halford actually mean to “like” any of those things?

“No, but I have always felt that Ivan the Terrible got a bad rap,” he told me.

So there you go.

PS — Ivan the Terrible killed his own son.

JPEG

Report: No decision on Eric Staal’s future until the new year

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Don’t expect Eric Staal‘s future in Carolina to be determined until January or February.

From TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

Carolina general manager Ron Francis and Staal’s agent Rick Curran did talk on the phone on Tuesday, but basically deferred ‎all matters relating to Staal’s future to the new year.

Neither Francis ‎nor Curran wanted to comment publicly, other than to indicate no doors have been opened or closed on either side and there’s no timetable beyond “talking again sometime in the new year.”

We wrote about Staal’s situation a couple of weeks ago. The 31-year-old center is a pending unrestricted free agent with an $8.25 million cap hit. While he’s said he’d like to stay in Carolina, the Hurricanes may decide moving on is the best course of action.

Given how little cap space most teams have, if Staal is traded, common sense says it’ll happen close to the Feb. 29 deadline.

But, again, at this point, it’s all a big “if”.

Staal has five goals and 12 assists in 28 games this season.

Virtanen sent to AHL for conditioning; World Juniors bound?

Jake Virtanen
AP
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The Vancouver Canucks have assigned winger Jake Virtanen to AHL Utica on a conditioning assignment.

Virtanen has missed the past four games with a hip pointer. The 19-year-old has one goal and three assists in 19 games. His average ice time is just 9:50.

“He needs to play,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins explained today, calling the AHL assignment an opportunity for Virtanen to “handle the puck a little bit more.”

Of note, Virtanen is eligible to play for Canada at the upcoming World Juniors in Finland. He won gold representing his country at last year’s tournament.

Might the Canucks be willing to release him to go for gold again?

“It’s always a great opportunity to play for your country,” Desjardins said, without committing one way or the other.

The consensus is that Virtanen will, indeed, be released to play for Canada.

The Canucks have another 19-year-old Canadian that’s eligible to go to Finland. But in Jared McCann‘s case, the consensus is that Vancouver — with Brandon Sutter having just undergone sports-hernia surgery — can’t afford to let him go.

Tonight against the Rangers, McCann will be centering the second line.

Five fun facts about the terrible Pacific Division

Matt Stajan, Brandon Sutter
AP
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1. The Vancouver Canucks have won 10 games. No team in the entire NHL has won fewer games than that. Carolina and Toronto are the only others with just 10. The Vancouver Canucks are in third place in the Pacific Division.

2. The Arizona Coyotes have lost 14 times in regulation. Only three teams have lost more in regulation than that. Columbus has the most, with 16. The Arizona Coyotes are one point out of second place in the Pacific Division.

3. The Anaheim Ducks have scored the fewest goals in the NHL. The Anaheim Ducks are one point out of second place in the Pacific Division.

4. The Calgary Flames have played 27 games, they’ve won four times in regulation and have the NHL’s worst goal differential (minus-27). The Calgary Flames are four points out of second place in the Pacific Division.

5. The Edmonton Oilers are the Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers are four points out of second place in the Pacific Division.

Pacific Division