Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: About all those empty seats at the World Juniors in Montreal

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— Up top, Oilers captain Connor McDavid speaks to reporters ahead of tonight’s big game against Columbus. (He’s more exciting on the ice than in an interview.)

— There were plenty of empty seats in Montreal yesterday for Canada’s quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic at the World Juniors. Which begs the question — are ticket prices just too high? Because they certainly aren’t cheap. “On Tuesday, the worst seats at the Bell Centre — the Blue level — were being sold for $82.50 per ticket for Canada’s semifinal against Sweden.” (Yahoo Sports)

— Here’s Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur on the attendance issues: “Coming back to Montreal so soon after the last time was a problem. Ticket prices were cut from the last time but they were still expensive, and Montreal has never considered this tournament the event that some other parts of the country do. This is a Habs town even more than Toronto is a Leafs town, and it doesn’t have Toronto’s money, to boot.” (Toronto Star)

— From Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” piece, a reminder that Jan. 1 brought more than a New Year. “Now that we’ve passed Jan. 1, teams can re-sign players signed to one-year contracts. Montreal went first with backup Al Montoya, who got a two-year extension. The most intriguing will be the Canadiens’ decision with Alexander Radulov, who has been tremendous. Vancouver has Erik Gudbranson, RFA, out with injury. You can expect Edmonton to take a run at keeping Kris Russell. Same with Toronto and Nikita Zaitsev, although he’s a restricted free agent. Word is the KHL would love to get Zaitsev back, but he likes it in the Ontario capital.” (Sportsnet)

— Sean McIndoe, aka Down Goes Brown, comes up with a list of five outdoor match-ups we’ve yet to see, but should. At number 1? The Canadiens versus Maple Leafs. Each team has already played in multiple outdoor games, but the long-time rivals have yet to face each other in one. Perhaps that will happen next season at Montreal’s Molson Stadium, the home of the CFL’s Alouettes. That venue is reportedly being discussed. (The Hockey News)

— Pierre LeBrun continues his series on the upcoming expansion draft, this time with a look at the San Jose Sharks. “The first decision San Jose will have to make is whether to go with the 7-3-1 (seven forwards, three defensemen, one goalie) or 8-1 (eight skaters and one goalie) protection format. I bet that won’t get decided until after the season. It’s a tough call. If you go 7-3-1, it means you protect just three defensemen — Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and probably Justin Braun — which then leaves the likes of Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller and David Schlemko among those exposed.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

St. Louis to consider funding to upgrade Blues’ arena

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ST. LOUIS (AP) St. Louis aldermen will consider spending about $4 million annually for 20 years to help fund renovations of the city-owned arena that is home to the St. Louis Blues and other events.

A proposal outlined at a news conference Tuesday would use city tax revenue that the Scottrade Center generates to finance an estimated $67.5 million in bonds to pay for improvements to the 22-year-old building. Blues chairman Tom Stillman said the upgrades are badly needed or St. Louis could lose out on future events like the national NCAA wrestling championship, basketball regionals, concerts and other big draws.

“The ability to attract these events is very much at risk,” Stillman said.

Aldermanic President Lewis Reed planned to introduce the funding bill this week. He said it would not require a vote of the people.

The bonds would be repaid by a new 1 percent sales tax collected solely at the Scottrade Center and the Peabody Opera House next door, Mayor Francis Slay said.

“If we want to continue to bring people into our city, who will enjoy their visit and spend their money, we must upgrade our aging hospitality infrastructure assets,” Slay said.

The announcement came one day after Gov.-elect Eric Greitens reiterated his opposition to state funding of another downtown St. Louis project, a proposed $200 million soccer stadium considered the key to attracting a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. Investors were seeking $40 million in state tax credits, along with $80 million in city funding if voters approve. It isn’t yet clear if that project can move ahead without state funding.

There is no request for state funding for the Scottrade Center improvements.

The arena opened in 1994 and is owned by the city. Stillman said the Blues and team owners have spent $237 million on improvements over the years, and would continue to help fund future upgrades even with the public money.

The improvements range from new refrigerant piping for the hockey rink to exterior renovations to upgraded locker rooms and seating upgrades.

Stillman said events at the Scottrade Center have generated more than $100 million in tax revenue for the city.

The arena “is really at a crossroads,” Stillman said. “If we renovate it, modernize it, make it competitive again, it will continue to have a major effect on our local economy for years to come, also on our quality of life as St. Louis citizens.”

Video: Subban said he’s ‘seeing progress every day’ in recovery from injury

P.K. Subban held a press conference this morning in Nashville and said he’s seeing progress in his rehab from injury.

But Subban won’t be able to play tonight against his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, due to an upper-body injury that may, according to reports, be a herniated disc.

“The good thing is that I’m seeing progress every day, so just getting better,” Subban said. “Obviously frustrated. You want to get into a game. Obviously everyone knows how important this game is for both teams and I’d love to be out there. But I’m just going to have to rely on my teammates tonight to get the job done.”

The 27-year-old defenseman has been placed on injured reserve. Yesterday, Predators GM David Poile said his fingers are crossed that his star player won’t be out much longer.

“We thought that he would be back sooner, but sometimes this is what happens with injuries,” Poile told reporters.

Blues place Rattie on waivers

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The St. Louis Blues are gambling they won’t lose Ty Rattie. But losing the 23-year-old forward is a real possibility after they put him on waivers today.

Rattie has played just four games, with no points, for the Blues this season. He played three more on a conditioning stint in the AHL, registering one assist.

The 32nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, Rattie was once a highly touted prospect. He put up huge numbers in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks, and he continued to produce after he graduated to the AHL. Last season, he had 46 points in 62 games for the Chicago Wolves.

But Rattie last got into a game on Nov. 28, when he logged just 6:13 against Dallas. And if he’s not going to play, it leaves the Blues with only three real options — wait for injuries to hit, trade him, or put him on waivers so he can go play in the AHL.

They chose the third option. We’ll see now if their gamble pays off.

Tonight in Columbus, a chance for the Oilers to prove their doubters wrong

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People are still skeptical about the Edmonton Oilers.

That’s only natural, given the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in a decade and, in that time, have drafted four times with the first overall pick.

They’ve been a pretty, pretty bad team over the last little while.

And to be sure, the Oilers are still losing games that good teams normally win. Like Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Vancouver, a home game against a non-playoff side that had played the night before.

“We were flat, our execution was poor, we played the game standing still,” head coach Todd McLellan told reporters after that one. “We didn’t go after and skate against a team that played an overtime game the night before. When you stand around and try to do it the easy way, it doesn’t work.”

So when it comes to the Oilers, the skepticism is understandable. In fact, it’s wholly warranted.

Which leads us to their upcoming road trip, starting tonight in Columbus against a Blue Jackets side riding a 15-game winning streak.

If the Oilers would like to prove their doubters wrong, now would be a great time to do it. And to help them, they’ll get Andrej Sekera back after the veteran defenseman missed a couple of games due to illness.

“It’s a good opportunity to play the best team in the NHL right now,” said captain Connor McDavid.

At 19-12-7, the Oilers are still comfortably in a playoff spot, six points up on Dallas and Vancouver. But as mentioned, they have yet to earn the benefit of the doubt that they can hold on. The Oilers could still be caught by Calgary, Los Angeles, or even Vancouver for third place in the Pacific Division. And if that happens, they’d also have to fend off Dallas, Nashville, or even Winnipeg for a wild-card spot.

Oh, and one more thing about this Oilers team — their starting goalie, Cam Talbot, has made 34 starts, against just four for Jonas Gustavsson, who’s gone 1-2-1 with an .893 save percentage.

Talbot has played well, going 18-10-6 with a .919 save percentage, but no goalie has come close to matching his workload, which could make for an interesting stretch drive.

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It could also make for some criticism of GM Peter Chiarelli, if things go sideways.

After all, Gustavsson was a curious signing. His career save percentage in the NHL is just .902, the lowest among the 33 active netminders with at least 150 games of experience. Heck, it was Chiarelli’s former team, the Bruins, who didn’t feel confident enough to bring the goalie back for another season in Boston.

In other words, it’s no real surprise that McLellan doesn’t seem to have any confidence in his backup.

So it’s going to be fun to watch, as these Oilers try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Lots of questions remain. Lots of doubters, too.

“You’ve got to look forward to the challenge,” winger Milan Lucic said ahead of tonight’s big game. “You have to embrace it. That’s the fun in being a competitor and on a competitive team. It’s playing the best of the best.”

And hopefully, for the sake of the Oilers and their loyal fans, coming out on top.