Joe Yerdon

Ales Hemsky’s awkward spot in Edmonton

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Ales Hemsky has been often thought to be on the next plane out of town when the trade deadline approaches or offseason begins, but after another rumor-filled time he’s set to begin his 11th season with the Oilers. In that time, however, he’s spent plenty of time on injured reserve leading to frustration with fans and media alike.

Could now be the time to send Hemsky packing for a new destination? If GM Craig MacTavish can find a taker, perhaps yes. The Oilers’ current position against the salary cap and Hemsky being in the final year of his contract means he could be on his way out. It’s not as easy as that though.

The Oilers have embraced their future and guys like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are leading the way. Hemsky’s offensive abilities make him an obvious fit either next to Hopkins or in his familiar spot with Sam Gagner, but with his injuries and cap hit, he’s an obvious candidate to be exiled.

That doesn’t make things easier for MacTavish, however. If Hemsky stays healthy for most of the season and puts up monster numbers in Dallas Eakins’ new system, he’d be set to hit free agency as a proven offensive player. At age 30 he’d be high-risk for a long-term deal and with Edmonton being a possible playoff team, they might not want to upset the apple cart.

All that aside, those are a lot of “ifs” for Oilers brass to get a handle of. If ever there were a time it’d be best to move Hemsky, now is it. Unfortunately for them, the reduced salary cap comes at a bad time. His $5 million cap hit makes him a tough sell to anyone in need of offense.

Flyers captain Giroux to miss 5-6 weeks after freak golf injury

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After an initial report from CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio saying Flyers captain Claude Giroux pulled out of a charity golf tournament in Ottawa due to an injury to one of his surgically repaired wrists, it turns out he had a freak accident to contend with instead.

The Flyers updated the situation saying Giroux had surgery to repair his right index finger on Thursday after hurting it during a round of golf. The team says Giroux’s club shattered sending splinters of the shaft into his finger.

While he didn’t break any bones, there was severe damage to the tendons in his finger. The team says it’ll take 5-6 weeks for a full recovery.

This is an unlucky blow to the team just a month before training camp was set to open. If there’s an upside here, it’s that Giroux likely won’t miss any time in the regular season and will still have a couple weeks in the preseason to get up to speed.

Theodore and Panthers not talking about a new deal

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Florida’s goaltending situation would seem to be settled with Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen. That news doesn’t bode well for last year’s No. 1 guy Jose Theodore.

Theodore spoke with Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel and said things aren’t going great to return to Florida this season.

“The Panthers are still my No. 1 choice. I don’t know if the door is closed, but there’s been no discussions,” Theodore said. “Training camp is still a month away, so I’m not ready to think about [retirement].

For what it’s worth, Theodore is keeping a positive outlook on things comparing this to when he seemingly, out of the blue, signed with the Minnesota Wild in 2010. That said, if he’s banking on staying in Sunrise with the Panthers, he might be waiting a long time for a phone call.

GM Dale Tallon has essentially said they’re moving ahead with Markstrom as their top guy and with Clemmensen still there to provide relief, they’re not in any hurry to overcrowd the crease. Even with questions about whether Markstrom can live up to the hype, Theodore might want to consider locations other than South Beach.

Making the case for Devan Dubnyk

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One position that’s often viewed as a weakness in Edmonton has been goaltending. Devan Dubnyk is out to change that perception.

Dubnyk has been, more or less, the man in Edmonton for the past two seasons and you could argue he’s been their best goalie going back to the 2010-11 season. Last season he put up the kind of numbers that made a case for him to be the permanent No. 1 guy.

Since debuting in the 2009-10 season with less-than exciting numbers (4-10-2, .889, 3.57), his last three seasons have been under-the-radar good for a goalie playing on a losing team. Over that time, his save percentage is a decent .917 to go along with a passable 2.65 goals-against average.

Last season he posted career-highs in SV% (.921) and GAA (2.57) and led the Oilers to 12th in the Western Conference. Even in spite of his play, the Oilers sniffed around at other goalies leading Dubnyk to wonder just why they team was doing that.

Many great goalies in the league benefit from having a great defense in front of them both on the blue line and at forward. Dubnyk’s time in Edmonton hasn’t really seen either of those things.

If you just focus on the defensemen, of the four guys who logged the most average minutes (Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Ladislav Smid, and Nick Schultz) they combined for a plus-minus rating of minus-30. Even with a flawed stat like plus-minus that’s astoundingly poor. They’ve added Boyd Gordon to strengthen the forward defense, but unless the blue line gets better the struggles will continue.

If the Oilers find a new dedication to defensive play under new head coach Dallas Eakins, Dubnyk could see a boost in his numbers and perhaps even a chance to show what he’s got in the postseason.

Antti Niemi is San Jose’s rock in goal

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The San Jose Sharks owe much of the credit to their strong finish last season to goaltender Antti Niemi. What’s not so strange about giving credit to him is that he’s been everything they hoped he would be since coming over from Chicago three years ago.

After not getting a lot of credit for helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, Niemi arrived in San Jose thanks to some nifty salary cap strategy by GM Doug Wilson. Chicago wanted to hang on to Niemi but after the Sharks forced their hand to retain then restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson via offer sheet, the cap strapped ‘Hawks had to let Niemi go when San Jose pounced on him.

Since then, he’s been the rock in goal for the Sharks that Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t.

The past three seasons have been sneakily great for the Finnish netminder. Check out his numbers while he’s been in San Jose:

2010-2011:   35-18-6   .920   2.38
2011-2012:   34-22-9   .915   2.42
2012-2013:   24-12-6   .924   2.16

What makes his stats last season so incredible is he led the NHL in not just wins but also minutes played. With a workload like that, you’d expect him to wear down. Instead, he was just as strong through the playoffs and was only unseated by a white-hot Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings. No wonder he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

When you compare those numbers to what Nabokov did at the same age (27-29) in San Jose, Niemi stands even taller. The Sharks also didn’t hear many questions or worries about how Niemi would hold up in the playoffs, something that often occurred (still occurs?) with Nabokov.

Now the Sharks just have to hope new backup Alex Stalock can help make sure he stays fresh deep into next season and the playoffs. With Niemi having a great chance to make the Finnish Olympic team, they’ll need that help.

San Jose may not have known at the time that they made a big upgrade in goal when they signed Niemi, but that’s just what they got.