Jason Brough

It just got tougher for Toronto — Zaitsev out for Game 1

The Toronto Maple Leafs, already in tough against the Washington Capitals, will be without top-pairing defenseman Nikita Zaitsev for Game 1 tomorrow in DC.

Zaitsev was hurt in the Leafs’ final game of the season on Sunday. The way he wobbled off the ice after taking a hit from Nick Foligno, it looked like it could be a concussion — though head coach Mike Babcock wouldn’t say today if that was the case.

“The great thing about this medical department is I don’t deal with that part,” said Babcock. “They just tell me he’s not available to go. He’s got an upper-body injury.”

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Zaitsev, 25, had four goals and 32 assists in 82 games this season, paired mostly with Morgan Rielly.

Martin Marincin will draw in for Zaitsev.

 

Hobey Baker winner doesn’t want contract offer from Avalanche

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A year ago, it was the Colorado Avalanche who weren’t interested in signing Will Butcher.

Today — after the 22-year-old defenseman won the Hobey Baker Award and a national championship with the University of Denver — it’s Butcher who doesn’t sound interested in the Avs.

From The Denver Post:

Butcher, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15 if he chooses to not sign with the Avs, said he met with Colorado general manager Joe Sakic on Tuesday and told him he’s not signing anytime soon.

“I told him I didn’t want an offer yet,” Butcher told The Denver Post.  “I wanted to sit with him, talk with him about my year, what they’re thinking, what their philosophy is going to be. My parents are coming in this weekend for the banquet, and I want to talk to my parents before they offer me anything.”

Butcher was a fifth-round draft pick in 2013. According to an earlier Denver Post story, it was Patrick Roy who didn’t want to sign him last year. Specifically, Roy was “not interested in using a contract for a 5-foot-10, 180-pound defenseman.”

Of course, Roy is no longer with the Avs.

And by the looks of it, Butcher won’t ever be with them.

Werenski is good to go for Blue Jackets

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Zach Werenski is good to go for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’ll play tonight in Pittsburgh, where the Jackets and Penguins will face off in Game 1 of their first-round series.

Werenski, the impressive rookie defenseman, missed the last four games of the regular season with a shoulder injury after getting hit by Alex Ovechkin on April 2.

Stream Blue Jackets vs. Penguins on NBC Sports

Just 19 years old, Werenski was a huge part of the Jackets’ success this season. He finished with 11 goals and 36 assists in 78 games. His 47 points were the most among the NHL’s crop of rookie d-men.

Kings will explore ‘different philosophies’ to help scoring woes

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The Los Angeles Kings had great possession stats again this season, but for whatever reason, all that time with the puck didn’t translate into many goals.

The Kings’ ineffective offense is the single biggest problem for new general manager Rob Blake to fix heading into next season, after Dean Lombardi was fired Monday along with head coach Darryl Sutter.

“We don’t score,” Blake said today. “There needs to be some emphasis on how we’re going to do that. There’s time now through this offseason to come up with those different philosophies. Whoever the head coach, when he is hired, will have a major impact on that.”

Blake will also seek input from the Kings’ core players. Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar were all at today’s press conference.

“I’m going to lean on these players to find out,” said Blake. “They’re the ones on the ice delivering that, and we’re going to share ideas here, and they’re going to direct us in the right way.”

It remains to be seen if a style change can help the Kings. It’s not going to make Marian Gaborik or Dustin Brown any younger, but it could help Doughty and Kopitar unlock some more of their offensive abilities.

That being said, Sutter’s philosophy delivered two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles. The real problem with the Kings these days might be their roster, which hasn’t been infused with enough youth to stem the declines of Brown and Gaborik, or the outright loss of players like Justin Williams.

Read more: Kings facing identity crisis

In other news from today’s press conference, there’s been no decision yet on the future of assistant coaches John Stevens and Davis Payne, and Blake expects to find a new position for VP hockey ops Michael Futa.

 

Preds counting on Subban to be ‘big-time player’ in playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The adjustment period is over for P.K. Subban along with the regular season, and now expectations for the All-Star defenseman could not be higher.

The Nashville Predators swapped their captain and own All-Star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal last June , believing that Subban could provide both a boost to the offense and help a franchise that has never gotten out of the second round finally win its first Stanley Cup.

Well, the playoffs start Thursday night with the eighth-seeded Predators in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

Watch Predators vs. Blackhawks on NBC Sports

The former Norris Trophy winner, who had to get used to living in the United States for the first time in his life, understands that for all the fun of learning about Music City and his new teammates that the postseason is the biggest reason why he is here.

“Me coming into this team was about helping us win a Stanley Cup and being a part of that,” Subban said. “And now we have our opportunity, so I’m really excited about everything.”

So are the Predators and their fans. This franchise has reached the postseason 10 of the past 13 years, advancing to the second round three times.

They came closest to the Western Conference Final a year ago by pushing San Jose to seven games . The Predators start this postseason Thursday night in Game 1 against the West’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

With Subban, the Predators are scoring more goals (238) than a year ago (224), a two-spot jump to 11th in the league. Subban ranked 22nd among defensemen with 40 points in 66 games. Weber finished with 42 points over 78 games.

The Predators’ biggest improvement came after Subban returned from an upper-body injury that kept him out 16 games . After the All-Star break, the Predators were the NHL’s seventh-best scoring team with 102 goals.

Subban wasn’t the only injury Nashville dealt with in its defensive group. Roman Josi missed 10, while Ryan Ellis was out 11. Playing with new defensive partners also slowed the process.

“He’s been a great addition,” Josi said of Subban. “I mean we know he’s a big-time player, so we’re looking forward to him to be a big player for us in the playoffs.”

That’s where Subban is expected to make the biggest impact. He has 38 points in 55 playoff games – 10 more than Weber in 59 postseason games – and was nearly a point a game player for Montreal in 2014, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games.

Nashville captain Mike Fisher said the Predators are excited to see that part of Subban.

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and offensive ability to our team, and he’s had a great year,” Fisher said Monday. “I think he’s poised for an even better playoff.”

Nashville doesn’t see Subban only as an offensive threat. Coach Peter Laviolette has been impressed by Subban’s defensive skills too so much that the Predators regularly pit Subban and Mattias Ekholm against an opponent’s heaviest players.

“He’s delivered for us from an offensive standpoint, and our defensemen scoring is still in a good place and he’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said. “I think he and Eky have done a great job defensively handling the other team’s biggest customers.”

Now that the postseason is here, general manager David Poile and Laviolette want to make clear that this isn’t a one-man show.

“It’s not just hinging on him,” Laviolette said. “I’ve said Chicago has got a good team. We’re going to have to play good hockey. P.K.’s going to have to play well. All of our guys are going to have to play well.”