Jason Brough

Can Ehrhoff find a ‘style fit’ with the Blackhawks?

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If Artemi Panarin replaced Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov replaced Brad Richards, then Andrew Ladd — acquired in a trade with Winnipeg last week — replaced Patrick Sharp.

That’s probably oversimplifying things a touch, but for the sake of doing just that, it’s the easy way of looking at the top two lines of the 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks, compared to last year’s championship squad.

With that in mind, has anyone replaced Johnny Oduya on their top two defensive pairings?

Because that might be the biggest question for these ‘Hawks as they try to become the first team in the salary-cap era to hoist back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Trevor Daley couldn’t replace Oduya.

Neither could Rob Scuderi.

Trevor van Riemsdyk has drawn praise from coach Joel Quenneville, but van Riemsdyk is still just 24, with limited playoff experience. Perhaps he’s capable of carrying the load that Oduya carried in the spring, but the jury’s still out.

After van Riemsdyk, Viktor Svedberg, Erik Gustafsson, and Michal Rozsival are each probably best suited to bottom-pairing minutes, if they play at all.

That’s why the acquisition of Christian Ehrhoff from the Kings was such an interesting one, despite that particular deal flying mostly under the radar.

Ehrhoff, 33, is expected to make his Blackhawks debut tonight versus Detroit. The ‘Hawks are hoping he’ll be better suited to their attacking philosophy than he was for Darryl Sutter’s system in L.A.

“It’s probably just a style fit,” GM Stan Bowman told CSN Chicago. “It’s one of those trades that’s probably best suited for both teams. Ehrhoff just wasn’t a fit in Los Angeles, just like [Scuderi] didn’t work out here.”

“We like our D to join and get involved in the attack and he’s got that part of his game,” Quenneville said. “He can shoot the puck and defensively we’ll see how that goes, but we think he can help us in ways.”

Ehrhoff — whose most productive years came with the Vancouver Canucks, a team that played (past tense) a similar style to the Blackhawks — didn’t disagree with Bowman’s assessment.

“Obviously last year (with Pittsburgh) I had a tough second half with my injuries and that put kind of a question mark on me, and then this year the fit wasn’t great in L.A,” he told the Daily Herald.

Now, granted, Ehrhoff is long removed from his time in Vancouver. He was in his late 20s back then, right in his prime. It may turn out he’s not a fit in Chicago either. He’s definitely not going to directly replace Oduya, who’s more defensively inclined.

But if Ehrhoff does fit well, look out, because Chicago’s blue line — beyond the Big Three of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson — is the one potential weakness that a lot of people see on this roster.

And if it’s not that, there might not be one.

Blackhawks defensemen in last year’s playoffs, by total ice time

Hawks

No Jagr — not yet anyway — for the Czech Republic at the World Cup

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The Czech Republic became the third country to name the first 16 players of its 2016 World Cup squad, following the announcements earlier today by the Russians and the Finns.

Here’s what the Czechs are starting with:

G Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings
G Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers
G Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets

D Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers
D Michal Kempny, Avangard Omsk (KHL)
D Roman Polak, San Jose Sharks
D Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning

F Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames
F Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes
F Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
F David Krejci, Boston Bruins
F Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens
F Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (KHL)
F Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Jaromir Jagr, you’ll note, is not part of the above group. The 44-year-old retired from international competition after the 2015 World Championship, and he was only participating in that tournament because it was being held in the Czech Republic. He’d previously retired from representing the national team in 2014.

Still, nobody’s counting him out quite yet. If he wants to play, he’ll surely have a spot on the final 23-man roster, which will be announced no later than June 1.

As for the players listed, the big strength of this team could be in goal. Mrazek and Neuvirth have been excellent for the Red Wings and Flyers, respectively, this season. They each boast a .927 save percentage.

The blue line, on the other hand, could be the big weakness, a la Russia.

Remaining options for the Czechs include Jiri Hudler, Radim Vrbata, Ales Hemsky, and Tomas Fleischmann.

Roy won’t ‘throw Varly under the bus,’ but Pickard likely to start next game

Semyon Varlamov
AP
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Semyon Varlamov had a third straight rough outing last night. The Avalanche goalie, in a big game against Minnesota, allowed three goals on 12 shots and was replaced by Calvin Pickard after 20 minutes.

The Avs went on to lose, 6-3, with two empty-netters surrendered. In the process, Colorado was passed by the Wild in the race for the final wild-card spot in the West.

Varlamov has now allowed 11 goals in his last three starts. His save percentage in February (eight appearances) was a modest .897. He’s off to a .750 start in March.

Avs coach Patrick Roy told reporters that Pickard was likely to start Thursday against Florida, but didn’t want to heap too much blame on Varlamov.

“I’m not going to throw Varly under the bus here,” Roy told the Denver Post. “There’s highs and lows in a career, and those things happen. Right now, it’s a bit tougher time for him, and Pick’s been playing really well.”

To be fair to Varlamov, two of the three goals he allowed last night were on Wild breakaways; the other came on a 2-on-1.

But Roy has always expected a lot from his star goalie. The way the Avs play, they’re going to give up some chances. That’s why Varlamov has been so important for them when he’s been on top of his game.

“We made mistakes, but at the same time these are important saves,” Roy told reporters. “I know it’s breakaways and I know it’s a 2-on-1 and we could’ve done better in those areas. But that’s part of the game.”

Varlamov’s save percentage has fallen to .912, a few points below the league average .916.

Pickard’s is .918.

Prince to debut on Isles’ top line with Tavares and Strome

Ottawa Senators' Shane Prince warms up prior to an NHL game in Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, Feb 16, 2015. This will be Prince's first ever NHL game. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
AP
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Prior to yesterday’s trade, Shane Prince‘s most common linemate with the Ottawa Senators was veteran grinder Chris Neil.

Tonight in Vancouver, Prince will reportedly make his New York Islanders debut on the top line with John Tavares and Ryan Strome.

Talk about a great opportunity for the 23-year-old to make a good first impression.

Prince was traded by the Sens after scoring just three goals in 42 games this season. Still, he’s shown at the lower levels that he can put the puck in the net. He had 28 goals last season for AHL Binghamton. In 2011-12, he scored 43 times for OHL Ottawa in just 57 games.

“[Prince] is a player we feel can rotate up and down the lineup to different lines and has some untapped potential,” Isles GM Garth Snow told Newsday. “He can help us now and hopefully in the future.”

A pending restricted free agent, Prince is no longer waiver-exempt, a factor that contributed to the Senators sending him to the Isles.

“It’s an opportunity for a young man. He wasn’t playing much here. He deserved to play,” Ottawa GM Bryan Murray told NHL.com. “He was a good guy. Worked hard in practice, did all the things. But we felt there were a couple of people in line that could take that job and the coaching staff appeared to like more. We felt to be fair to us and to be fair to Shane, it was the right thing to do.”

Get your NHL awards odds (Kane heavily favored to win Hart)

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Online bookmaker Bovada has posted its odds to win the NHL’s major individual awards, and according to the oddsmakers, the races aren’t very close at all.

At 1/5, Chicago’s Patrick Kane is the heavy favorite to win the Hart Trophy (MVP), which no American-born player has ever won. Braden Holtby is next at 10/3, followed by Erik Karlsson at 13/2, Jamie Benn (12/1), Sidney Crosby (15/1), Tyler Seguin (25/1), and Alex Ovechkin (30/1).

Another Blackhawks forward, Artemi Panarin, is heavily favored to win the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year). Panarin is at 3/10, followed by Connor McDavid (5/1), Shayne Gostisbehere (7/1), and Dylan Larkin (7/1).

Holtby, meanwhile, is the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy (top goalie). He’s at 2/5, followed by Corey Crawford (7/5), Henrik Lundqvist (5/1) and Cory Schneider (10/1).

On to the Norris Trophy (top defenseman), which Karlsson is favored to receive for the third time (1/4). Drew Doughty (who’s never won it) is next at 3/1, followed by John Klingberg (10/1).

Finally, there’s the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals), where the big favorite is Ovechkin (1/20, 40 goals), followed by Kane (9/2, 36 goals), Benn (12/1, 32 goals), and Seguin (20/1, 32 goals).

Naturally, there will be disagreement over these odds. The voting for the Norris Trophy, for example, is going to be extremely interesting. Because while Karlsson is the runaway leader in points by a defenseman (67, which is 13 more than second-place Brent Burns), many view Doughty (40 points) as the superior player overall.

Not to mention, the Senators are likely to miss the playoffs while the Kings are almost guaranteed to make them. Could that be a factor? It was the opposite scenario last season, when the Sens were surprise qualifiers and the Kings were surprise misses. And remember that Doughty actually received more first-place Norris votes than Karlsson did last year.

No odds were posted for the Art Ross Trophy (Kane has a 15-point lead in the scoring race) or Selke Trophy (Patrice Bergeron is the two-time defending recipient.)

Related: Karlsson edges Doughty for Norris Trophy