Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: On Wes McCauley, the NHL’s most enthusiastic referee

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— Up top, you’ve probably seen it already, but feel free to enjoy Wes McCauley’s “five minutes each for FIGHTING” call one more time.

— TSN’s Bob McKenzie was curious if the NHL had a problem with McCauley’s call, and the answer was a resounding no. Writes McKenzie: “NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom say he had no issue with it, since McCauley’s call was an accurate and true reflection of who he is and how he officiates a game. He has a passion and a feel for it; that’s who Wes McCauley is.” McCauley, by the way, has been chosen to referee the last four Stanley Cup Finals, so clearly the league likes the job he’s doing. (TSN)

— Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the Mike Yeo firing in Minnesota, and boy have things changed since then. Yeo is now the head coach in St. Louis, after taking over ahead of schedule from Ken Hitchcock. The Wild, meanwhile, are enjoying an outstanding season under their new bench boss, Bruce Boudreau. (The Star Tribune)

— On Capitals winger Brett Connolly, who’s finally starting to realize the potential he showed as a star in junior. The 24-year-old signed with the Caps on July 1 for just $850,000. At the time, it was safe to say his NHL career was hanging in the balance. He’s since found chemistry with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky on Washington’s rebuilt third line. “You’ve got to have thick skin to play this game. I’m happy I stuck with it. To be doing as well as I am now, I want to keep going.” (Sports Illustrated)

— At 34, Henrik Lundvist is one of the oldest starting goalies in the NHL. But with a big contract that runs through 2020-21, the Rangers are hoping he’ll take a cue from Jaromir Jagr and keep playing at a high level for a while longer. Lundqvist turns 35 next month. Among regular starters, only Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller, and Craig Anderson are older. (Daily News)

— With the trade deadline looming, Sean McIndoe comes up with a ready-made list of excuses for NHL general managers who can’t find a deal. Poor Jim Benning really could’ve used this list last year in Vancouver. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Chiarelli doesn’t see Oilers delving into rental market

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The Edmonton Oilers may be on the verge of breaking of a decade-long playoff drought, but their general manager, Peter Chiarelli, doesn’t sound like a motivated buyer ahead of the March 1 trade deadline.

“I really don’t want to delve into [the rental] market,” Chiarelli said today, per NHL.com. “Things fall in your lap, and we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of time left, but I don’t see us being heavily involved in that market.”

Chiarelli was one of the NHL’s busiest GMs this past summer, when he traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and signed Milan Lucic, among other moves. The Oilers (29-19-8) have improved a lot, to the point it would take a pretty big collapse to keep them out of the postseason.

Still, Chiarelli doesn’t see his team competing for the Stanley Cup this spring, even if the Western Conference does look rather wide open.

“I don’t think we’re quite ready to contend for the Cup,” he said. “You never know. I know it happened here in 2006.”

The Oilers could still use a right-shot defenseman to run the power play — someone like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk. But the price to add that kind of player would be high, and according to Chiarelli, that’s “certainly not on my shopping list this deadline.”

Penguins may get Malkin back; Canucks will be without Horvat

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Evgeni Malkin will be a game-time decision tonight when his Pittsburgh Penguins host Vancouver.

Malkin has not played since Jan. 24 due to a lower-body injury. And though the Pens have done just fine without the star center, going 4-1-2 in the seven games he’s missed, they’d love to get him back all the same.

“I think that getting him back just makes us that much more dangerous,” said captain Sidney Crosby, per NHL.com. “I think everybody can fall into more of their usual roles, maybe, in some sense. Even with Geno back we’ve still got some guys out, so I’m sure there will be a little bit of juggling.”

The Penguins who remain out are injured forwards Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, and Conor Sheary.

The Canucks, meanwhile, are not expected to have All-Star center Bo Horvat in the lineup. The 21-year-old suffered a deep bruise in his foot while blocking a shot in the closing moments of Sunday’s 4-2 victory in Buffalo.

“It’s frustrating,” said forward Jannik Hansen, who’s recently formed an effective line with Horvat and Alex Burrows. “It feels like we’ve finally hit the ground running a little bit; we’re creating chances and getting rewarded. And this kind of throws a wrench into that.”

Brendan Gaunce has been recalled from AHL Utica to take Horvat’s spot in the lineup.

Update: 

The Canucks may also be without Brandon Sutter.

 

Graovac assigned to AHL, as Wild look for more from fourth line

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Tyler Graovac has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Iowa.

It’s good news for the Minnesota Wild, who didn’t want to lose the 23-year-old center for nothing, even if he had been struggling.

Yesterday, the Wild recalled forwards Zack Mitchell and Alex Tuch, with GM Chuck Fletcher saying the team needs more out of its fourth line, which had been comprised of Graovac, Jordan Schroeder, and Chris Stewart.

“A fourth line like that, they can’t play the way that they have been playing,” Fletcher said, per the Star Tribune. “They have to win more battles and turn fewer pucks over. That’s not a recipe for success. It’s not all Graovac certainly. I think all three of them have slipped in the last couple weeks and we have to try to get a better recipe for what we want to do with that line.”

Tonight against Anaheim, the fourth line will be centered by Erik Haula, flanked by Stewart and Mitchell. Schroeder is expected to be a healthy scratch.

Tuch, meanwhile, will skate on the top line with Nino Niederreiter and Eric Staal, and Charlie Coyle will center the third line between Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.

In ‘terrible’ draft year, will more first-round picks be traded?

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The past couple of years, NHL teams were understandably loath to trade first-round draft picks for rentals at the deadline.

It happened a few times, twice involving the Chicago Blackhawks, who picked up Antoine Vermette in 2015 and Andrew Ladd in 2016. In an ill-fated move, the Los Angeles Kings gave up a first-rounder to get Andrej Sekera in 2015, then proceeded to miss the playoffs.

But with so much elite talent available — and we’re not just talking about Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews — first-round picks were generally considered too valuable to throw away for a slightly better chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

That could all change in 2017, which is not considered a good draft year.

In fact, as we learn here, one NHL executive likes to text Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman with a message: “How many times do I have to tell you that teams are going to trade their firsts? This draft is terrible!”

Top prospects in 2017 include Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, and Gabriel Vilardi. Though all three have the potential to be very good NHLers, they’ve garnered nowhere near the buzz compared to last year’s trio of Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Beyond the very top prospects, this year’s draft class is also said to lack depth — and that’s where things could get interesting leading up to March 1.

With good reason, sellers will no doubt be pushing contenders to surrender their first-round picks, arguing that a late first-round pick in 2017 is equal to, say, a mid-second-rounder in the last two years.

Top potential rentals include Kevin Shattenkirk, Martin Hanzal, Patrick Eaves, and Brian Boyle. There could also be players with term available, from Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog in Colorado to Jannik Hansen in Vancouver.

We’ll have to see what the market decides. Weak draft class or not, young players are still the lifeblood of any organization. And you never know, the scouts may be wrong about this class. There are always gems to be found regardless.