Jason Brough

Gary Bettman, Rene Fasel, Don Fehr
AP

Report: NHL offers Olympic participation to players, in return for an extended CBA

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The NHL doesn’t really want to go to the Olympics in South Korea.

Just ask commissioner Gary Bettman, who’s made 2018 participation sound like one, giant hassle for the league, with no real business benefit.

Whenever the subject of the additional travel and insurance expenses has been raised, Bettman’s go-to line has been, “I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season.”

The players, on the other hand, would like to keep playing in the Olympics. Their union has made no secret about that, and Alex Ovechkin has once again vowed to participate regardless of what the NHL decides.

So really, when you consider all of the above, it should come as no surprise that the NHL has reportedly decided to use the Olympics as leverage.

From Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

No one is willing to comment at this time, so it is difficult to pin down particulars. But, in exchange for the league’s blessing, the NHLPA would agree to extend the collective bargaining agreement. One source indicated it could be for three more years, but I can’t pin that down to be 100 per cent accurate.

The current CBA expires Sept. 15, 2022. However, both the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt out in 2020. If the league wants to go that route, it must notify the union by Sept. 1, 2019. Should it say, “Thanks but no thanks,” the players have the option. It must notify the NHL by Sept. 19, 2019. Should neither side want this, we go the full term.

NHLPA chief Donald Fehr has since confirmed the offer from the NHL, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. It’s a “long way from done,” says Fehr, but he will talk to the players about it.

Now, if you’re wondering why the players may need some prodding to extend the CBA, the answer is one word: escrow. It is by far their biggest concern, and after the Canadian dollar took a bit of a hit following a certain presidential election, the escrow situation may not be improving anytime soon.

So, now we wait for the players to respond.

Isn’t this fun?

It’s not, we know, so here is some Evander Kane trade speculation to read.

About those Evander Kane trade rumors…

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 01: Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up to play the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center on March 1, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Evander Kane‘s name is in the air again, with TSN’s Bob McKenzie reporting that the Vancouver Canucks have been back sniffing around the Buffalo Sabres winger.

This is far from the first time the Canucks have been linked to Kane, but with Vancouver having all sorts of trouble scoring, it makes sense that the rumors have come to life again. Kane, 25, is a Vancouver native, and the Canucks have not exactly shot down the speculation that they’re interested, even after Kane got into trouble in June.

According to McKenzie, if the Sabres are going to trade Kane, they’d like to bolster their back end in the process. And that, interestingly enough, is an area where the Canucks have built up some depth. In fact, there was such a logjam in Vancouver at the beginning of the season that impressive rookie Troy Stecher was forced to start in the AHL, while fifth overall draft pick Olli Juolevi only played two preseason games before he was returned to junior.

So, would the Canucks trade Luca Sbisa for Kane? Yep, they would. But Sabres GM Tim Murray, after a millisecond of consideration, would probably say thanks but no thanks.

Would the Sabres take 23-year-old Ben Hutton for Kane? That’s a far better offer than Sbisa. Which is why Canucks GM Jim Benning would get pilloried by a large segment of his fan base if he made it.

The challenge, really, is how to value Kane. Because it’s not just his off-ice issues, which are certainly a factor. He’s also been injury-prone. And on top of everything else, he can become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2018.

How has Kane’s current season gone?

In two words: not great. He missed the first 11 games with an injury. In the five games he’s played, he’s yet to register a point, with just eight shots total.

On Saturday, following a 4-2 loss to New Jersey, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he needed “more” from Kane, who finished minus-3 with just one shot.

Three days later, Kane finished minus-2 and didn’t even register a shot, and the Sabres lost 4-1 in St. Louis.

Read more: Cue the Evander Kane speculation

He’s down, he’s up, he’s back down again: Canucks send Virtanen back to AHL

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 7: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 7, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jake Virtanen got his “stuff.” Now he can go back to the AHL.

In a bit of a surprise — and with not the greatest optics — the Vancouver Canucks announced this morning that they’d re-assigned Virtanen to the Utica Comets. The 20-year-old winger had only just been recalled from the AHL following a two-game stint with the Comets on Friday and Saturday.

But Virtanen didn’t play in last night’s 7-2 loss to the Rangers, which led to questions yesterday for head coach Willie Desjardins. If Virtanen’s not going to play for the Canucks, why wasn’t he just left in Utica?

“I don’t think he had any of his stuff so I think he needed to come back to get his stuff for us to make a decision on where we’re going to go with him,” Desjardins said, per The Province. “When you’re on the road, you don’t have anything. If you’re going to go down there for a while you need to come back and get it.”

Technically, that’s true. But you have to wonder how this affects Virtanen, who came back to Vancouver feeling much better about his game.

“I got my speed back and was getting in behind the defense and retrieving pucks, and I’ve got to bring that confidence level back up here,” he said. “You’ve got to be consistent every shift of every game and that even carries over to practice. I’m ready to do that and with a positive attitude.”

That certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who was expecting to be returned to the AHL, once he got his “stuff.”

That being said, today’s move is probably the right one. Virtanen needs to play somewhere, and if he wasn’t going to get into the Canucks’ lineup after a 7-2 loss, he needed to be sent down. The Comets have home games tonight, Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday.

Vancouver hosts Arizona tomorrow.

Preds may need to send Mazanec down (Updated)

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Marek Mazanec #39 of the Nashville Predators looks on during the third period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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We wrote on Monday about the New Jersey Devils and how backup goalie Keith Kinkaid has been a key to their surprising start.

So let’s talk today about the Nashville Predators. Because unlike the Devils, the Predators were supposed to be good. And also unlike the Devils, their backup, Marek Mazanec, has really struggled.

Mazanec allowed all six goals in last night’s 6-2 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto. In his only other start, Oct. 15 in Chicago, he allowed five goals in a 5-3 loss. His save percentage so far? Just .809.

“Obviously Pekka Rinne wasn’t in net, which is what you normally expect,” said Toronto coach Mike Babcock. “So, that makes a huge difference to the other team.”

Ouch.

Rinne missed yesterday’s game with a lower-body injury. The Preds called him day-to-day, and they’re optimistic he’ll be able to play tomorrow in Ottawa.

But don’t be surprised if it’s young Juuse Saros who remains as the backup whenever Rinne is ready to go. Saros, 21, was excellent in his only start of the season, stopping 34 of 35 shots in a 5-1 victory over the Penguins on Oct. 22.

Meanwhile, Mazanec knows he could be on his way to Milwaukee.

“Anything can happen,” he told The Tennessean. “If they send me down, at least I’ll get to play some games, maybe get confidence and maybe they’ll call me back up. It’s up to them. I work hard. I try my best. If they send me down, it’s how it is. I can’t do anything about it.”

Update: Per Adam Vingan of The Tennessean, it sounds like Saros is the one who’s been sent down. We’ll see for how long, but Mazanec remains with the big club for now.

Read more: Mazanec has opportunity step into backup role

The Preds had won three straight prior to getting blown out in Toronto. After Thursday’s game in Ottawa, they finish off their road trip Saturday in St. Louis.

That Blues game will be a big one, between two Central Division teams off to middling starts. St. Louis hasn’t had a reliable backup either, as ex-Pred Carton Hutton has started 2-3-0 with a .900 save percentage.

Related: Saros is willing to be patient for Predators

These are ‘desperate’ times for the Los Angles Kings

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 26, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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At least they can go home now.

For the Los Angeles Kings, that was about the only good thing about last night’s 4-1 loss in Colorado. Unable to solve Semyon Varlamov, they suffered their fourth straight defeat. It meant their five-game road trip ended with just one win, that 7-0 blowout of the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

“It’s disappointing,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “We had points going into 10 seconds or whatever was left in Ottawa, and we played really hard in Winnipeg, and it’s a shootout. It’s a three breakaways versus three breakaways deal. It comes back to saves there. Tonight, hey, it’s not easy. They’re a big team and in a high altitude, finishing a trip’s a hard game to play, and we were right there. You’ve got to find dirty ways to score goals. That’s what they did.”

Tuesday’s loss dropped the Kings’ record to a modest 7-9-1. After 17 games, they’re two points back of a wild-card spot, and three back of third place in the Pacific Division.

As for the injuries, well, they’re still there. Jonathan Quick is out until the New YearMarian Gaborik, Brayden McNabb, and Andy Andreoff won’t be back until December. Oh, and Anze Kopitar is hurt now too. No word when he’ll be back, though it’s not expected to be long term.

Looking ahead, the Kings have six games left in November, five of them at Staples Center, the other just across the way in Anaheim. Thursday’s date against the slumping Oilers is a big divisional matchup. Edmonton is four points up on Los Angeles, so a regulation win for either side would be pivotal.

“It’s desperate. We need to play more desperate,” Drew Doughty told the Los Angeles Times. “When you’re losing games it’s not fun. . . . It’s not fun coming to the rink sometimes. We’ve got to be more desperate and treat every single game as if it’s a playoff game or a division game, and that’s how we’re going to get back on track.”