Jason Brough

Montreal Canadiens v Arizona Coyotes
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The Coyotes are worth watching… for potential trades

The Arizona Coyotes (9-14-5) have just one win in their last eight games. They are 29th in goals for, and 29th in goals against. Last night, they got embarrassed, 7-0, in Pittsburgh.

In other words, it’s only December, but there’s little hope of a playoff berth for the Desert Dogs, even in a Western Conference that’s lost some of its strength. Heading into tonight’s game in Detroit, the Coyotes sit seven points back of a wild-card spot, and they’d have to leapfrog six teams to get in.

For the rest of the league, barring a miracle, about the only thing worth monitoring in Arizona is how the Coyotes will approach the trade deadline. GM John Chayka has not been afraid to make moves early in his tenure, and there are a number of pending free agents who could garner interest, including captain Shane Doan.

Doan would have to want a trade, as the 40-year-old winger has a no-movement clause. Though he only has three goals through 28 games, his 61 shots suggest he’s still getting chances. And he did score 28 times last season.

Forwards Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata are also pending UFAs. The former is a big center who’s already heard his name in trade rumors; the latter leads the Coyotes with eight goals.

Then there’s Anthony Duclair, who’s also had his name come up in speculation. The Coyotes do not lack young forward talent, so trading Duclair for help elsewhere could be something that Chayka would consider. The 21-year-old winger has just one goal in 25 games, but he did score 20 last season. He’s been scratched the past two games, after logging just 8:21 Thursday against Calgary.

Now, all that being said, it seems unlikely that the Coyotes would start any fire sale today. They still have to play out the schedule, and trading veterans like Doan, Hanzal and Vrbata would put their youngsters in a very tough spot.

Moreover, Stanley Cup contenders are better able to fit trade acquisitions under the salary cap later in the season, and the Coyotes will want as many bidders as possible to maximize their returns. Unless Chayka gets an offer he can’t refuse, he may be better off waiting.

In the meantime, Dave Tippett will try to coax a more competitive effort out of his charges. The head coach was left fuming after getting throttled by the Penguins.

“There is a standard you have to play to in the NHL, whether you are a young guy or a veteran, and we did not play or compete at an NHL level tonight and we ended up that is the score you get,” he said.

“That is where we are at today.”

Krug will not be disciplined for hit on Shaw

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There will be no discipline for Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who caught Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw with a big hit last night in Montreal.

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the league felt that Shaw made head contact unavoidable by putting himself in a vulnerable position prior to the hit.

Not surprisingly, the Bruins thought it was a good hit, and the Canadiens didn’t like it so much.

Shaw was able to return to the game and finished with 16:37 of ice time in the 2-1 overtime victory for Boston.

Related: Of course, the Bruins and Habs have differing opinions of Krug’s hit on Shaw

Pre-game reading: Arguing for a play-in game

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— Up top, P.K. Subban was in tough against Lawson Crouse on Saturday. Bit of a reach advantage for the 6-foot-4 Coyotes forward.

— ESPN’s Craig Custance makes a case for a play-in game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in each conference. “Imagine a one-game playoff between Steven Stamkos‘ Lightning and Alex Ovechkin‘s Washington Capitals, two teams with Stanley Cup aspirations. The current standings suggest it wouldn’t be out of the question. Or what about a one-game play-in game between Connor McDavid and the Oilers versus Patrik Laine and the Jets?” The NHL, for the record, has shown absolutely no interest in this idea. (ESPN)

— We weren’t the only ones to recognize the Metropolitan Division as the new power division in the NHL. Writes Sportsnet’s Sean McIndoe: “Here’s something to keep an eye on: If things keep trending in this direction, we have the possibility of running into a scenario that’s long been possible in the NHL but rarely actually happens: a top-eight team in a conference not making the postseason. That would require the relatively unlikely outcome of one division’s sixth place team ending up ahead of the other’s third place finisher, and we’re almost there right now…. The Devils (or Hurricanes) could theoretically finish eighth or even seventh in the East and still miss out on a postseason invite.” (Sportsnet)

— The Tampa Bay Lightning are enduring a tough start to the season, but they should still be considered Stanley Cup contenders. And you know what else? They’ve got a pretty good group of prospects, including six invitees to Team Canada’s World Juniors camp. “It’s a credit to the management staff in Tampa Bay for the prospects they’ve put into their system,” said forward Mitchell Stephens, the 33rd overall pick in 2015. “It shows they’re one of the top teams in the league for a reason.” (Canadian Press)

— On the annual Rookie Orientation Program, a joint initiative between the NHL and NHLPA, which aims to help rich, young athletes stay rich. “At the end of the day, it’s your money and you want to know what’s happening with it,” said Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who could be a lot richer very soon. “I think it’s really important that you know what’s going on and that you watch your money and you have good people surrounding yourself.” (Canadian Press)

— The Detroit Red Wings are having all sorts of trouble scoring, but at least they’ve got Jimmy Howard back. The veteran netminder stopped 35 of 36 shots in Sunday’s 1-0 OT loss to Philadelphia. He is now 5-5-1 with a .945 save percentage. Sunday’s loss marked the fourth time this season that the Wings have been shut out. No regular netminder has received worse goal support than Howard has. (MLive)

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Enjoy the games!

Sharks recall Mueller, who’s been ‘excellent’ in the AHL

Mirco Mueller, Joe Vitale
AP

It’s getting to the point where Mirco Mueller is either going to make it with the San Jose Sharks, or he isn’t.

Mueller, the 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft, turned 21 in March. While that’s still young for a defenseman, it’s about the age where the Sharks should expect their first-round investment to start paying off.

And with injuries to David Schlemko and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Mueller may get a chance to show his stuff during a four-game road trip that starts Tuesday in Toronto. He was recalled today from the AHL’s Barracuda.

“All the reports out of the American League team were that that he’s been excellent,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, per CSN Bay Area. “I think he’s really taken a step maturity-wise as a player and as a kid this year. Everybody’s saying that he looks like he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. … He’s a guy that belongs up here.”

Mueller has no goals and seven assists in 18 AHL games this season. He has 50 games of NHL experience, 39 of them in 2014-15 when he was perhaps rushed into the league as a teenager.

A left shot, there is opportunity for the native of Switzerland to advance in the Sharks’ organization. Paul Martin is 35 and may require fewer and easier minutes going forward. Vlasic, 29, only has two years left on his contract and will be expensive to re-sign. Brenden Dillon currently plays the left side on the third pairing and could theoretically be beaten out for a lineup spot.

But it remains to be seen if Mueller will make his season debut on this trip.

From CSN Bay Area’s story:

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters on Sunday that Vlasic had improved since Saturday but was still “day-to-day.” Last season, the Sharks were 7-7-1 without their defensive stalwart in the lineup.

Schlemko said on Thursday that he had hoped to play in one of the two Sharks games over the weekend, but that didn’t happen.

Mueller has taken warmups in each of the last two Sharks games, but has yet to make his season debut.

The Sharks (16-11-1) will also make stops in Ottawa, Montreal, and Chicago before returning home.

Stolarz making case to be with Flyers full-time next season

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23: Anthony Stolarz, 45th overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers, looks on during day two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Ron Hextall went into the season with an open mind about his goaltending. The Flyers’ general manager didn’t want to commit to anything before he had to, and he still hasn’t yet.

And so Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, who both played very well last season, are still pending unrestricted free agents, and potential goalie of the future, Anthony Stolarz, is still just the potential goalie of the future.

That being said, if you had to bet on a tandem for next season, the current favorites would be Mason and Stolarz. The former has bounced back after a tough start, winning seven in a row with a .930 save percentage over that stretch. The latter was called up to replace the injured Neuvirth and has won both his starts, including Sunday’s 28-save shutout of the Red Wings in Detroit.

“It’s exciting, that’s for sure. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better and when you’re a kid dreaming of playing at Joe Louis Arena,” Stolarz told reporters. “It’s something you can’t even put into words. I’m excited, but I’m more excited to have the [nine-game winning] streak going.”

The 22-year-old did not just come out of nowhere. He was a second-round draft pick in 2012, the fourth goalie selected that year, and has been developing slowly but surely the past couple of seasons in the AHL. He was 6-2-0 with a .927 save percentage for Lehigh Valley prior to getting the call.

“He’s been amazing, very confident,” Jakub Voracek said, per CSN Philly. “He made a couple huge saves (in Detroit), especially on the penalty kill in the third period.”

The first goalie selected in 2012 was Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay’s goalie of the future, so it’s not too big a stretch to picture Stolarz full-time in the NHL next season.

Of course, that would mean bidding adieu to either Mason and Neuvirth, perhaps even prior to the trade deadline. The latter’s numbers this season (4-2-0, .859) won’t help his value, but with a cap hit of just $1.625 million, he may garner interest, especially if he can show something when he gets healthy.