Mike Halford

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches up to make a glove save against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Denver. Philadelphia won 4-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP

Goalie nods: Stolarz debut on hold as Flyers give Mason seventh straight start

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Even with the arrival of Ray Emery, Anthony Stolarz is still Philly’s No. 2 netminder — GM Ron Hextall confirmed as much on Tuesday.

But for now, Stolarz will have to be content with just being the backup, because his time to play still hasn’t arrived.

Tonight, Steve Mason will make his seventh straight start when Philly hosts Washington at Wells Fargo. The decision isn’t a huge surprise — the Flyers are fighting for their playoff lives, not the greatest time to throw the 22-year-old Stolarz into the mix — but it will be taxing for Mason, who has played an awful lot of hockey this month.

Tonight’s start is Mason’s 12th in March, meaning he’s played in all but two of his club’s games. Thankfully for Philly, he’s shown little ill-affect from that heavy workload, going 7-2-2 with a 1.97 GAA and .929 save percentage — a performance that’s gone a long way in Philly vaulting into its current wild card position.

The only question now is when — or, if — Stolarz will make his NHL debut. Philly has just six games left after tonight’s game against Washington, and it’s conceivable Mason will play them all.

Not that head coach Dave Hakstol would tip his hand about future plans.

“We make our decisions on a day-to-day basis who will start as our goaltender for any given game,” Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “We’ve done that all year long and we’ll continue to do that.”

For the Caps, Braden Holtby will be in goal.

Elsewhere…

Andrew Hammond takes on Michael Hutchinson as the Sens visit Winnipeg.

Jonas Hiller gets back into the Flames net. John Gibson starts for Anaheim.

Staal readies for ‘unique, different emotions’ in Carolina return

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Eric Staal has made the mundane commute hundreds of times over the years from his home in Raleigh to the Carolina Hurricanes’ rink.

But it will be different Thursday night. When he walks into the arena, he’ll make a left into the visitors’ dressing room.

The former Hurricanes captain and face of the franchise will play his first game as a visitor at PNC Arena with his new teammates, the New York Rangers.

“You don’t really know how you’re going to feel until you really experience it,” Staal said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of unique, different emotions just in general because of being there and being there so long. … It’s going to be a lot different.”

Trades happen all the time in pro sports, but for Carolina, this deal was different.

The team’s second overall pick in 2003, Staal led the team with 28 postseason points during their Stanley Cup run three years later. He took over as captain in 2010, captained an All-Star team played here the following year and remains the franchise’s career leader in nearly every category, including 909 games played, 332 goals and 775 points.

But with his seven-year, $55.75 million contract expiring this summer, the 31-year-old, four-time All-Star and Carolina general manager Ron Francis couldn’t agree on a new deal. So on the day before the deadline – and after he’d arrived at the arena for that afternoon’s game against St. Louis – the Hurricanes dealt him to the Rangers in exchange for a prospect playing in Finland and two second-round draft picks.

He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent over the summer but says the possibility of being a Hurricane again down the road didn’t come up when he and Francis discussed the trade.

“Obviously, it was an emotional day, just the trade and then signing the (no-trade) waiver and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “Never really talked a lot about anything otherwise, other than having this opportunity, and when I got to New York, just focused on this year with them and bringing everything I can to this team because they’ve welcomed me with open arms. … We’ll worry about that kind of stuff after the season and into the summer.”

Staal has three goals and seven assists in 14 games with his new team while averaging 16:22 of ice time after never averaging less than 18:45 in any season with Carolina since he was a rookie.

But barring a total collapse, he’ll skate in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, when the Hurricanes made their only postseason appearance since winning the Cup a decade ago. The Rangers have 95 points, second-most in the East.

“It’s why you play. It’s why I wanted to be in the NHL and why I want to compete every year. … I think it’ll be a whole other ball game once I actually get out there for warmups in Game 1 of a playoff series. I think it’ll be a whole set of emotions that, to be quite frank, has been way too long since I got to experience.”

This homecoming also marks the latest all-Staal reunion. Jordan Staal, who the Hurricanes acquired from Pittsburgh four years ago, goes up against a Rangers team with Eric and another brother, defenseman Marc Staal.

“I think it’ll be weird just because I used to play against him when he was in a Penguin uniform, and now he’s in a Hurricane uniform that I was wearing,” Eric Staal said.

The Rangers haven’t played since Sunday, so that break in the schedule cleared time for Staal to head back to North Carolina early to spend some time with family. He’s staying at his north Raleigh house instead of the team hotel and will make that familiar drive to the arena, even though he’ll turn down that unfamiliar hallway to the guests’ dressing room instead of the other one, the one he used to call home.

“The routine will be very, very similar,” he said, “except that we’ll go to the left instead of the right.”

Vesey camp says Nashville’s version of events is ‘not accurate’

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As expected, the Jimmy Vesey camp — led by advisors Peter Fish and Pete Donatelli from Global Hockey Consultants — has released a statement in the wake of Nashville’s claims that Vesey said he’d sign with the Predators at the conclusion of his Harvard season, only to change his mind and test free agency.

The statement, per TSN:

After being fully advised of his options and upon the recommendation of his advisors and counselors, Jimmy Vesey shall become an Unrestricted Free Agent on August 15, 2016. The Nashville Predators were informed of this decision. Nashville now claims and it has been widely reported that they were without knowledge of this possibility and that this lack of knowledge precluded the hockey club from acquiring a player at the Trade Deadline. This contention is not accurate. The Nashville Predators were informed prior to the Trade Deadline that they should conduct their business as they saw fit, and that the potential of signing or not signing Jimmy Vesey should not be a factor in their decision.

The club has further claimed that the decision to elect Unrestricted Free Agency is bizarre and does not make sense financially. If this election was based solely in regard to money Jimmy would have signed after his third college season, burned a year off of his Entry Level Contract, and been eligible for both signing bonus and salary compensation. A full analysis of his options was conducted. Whether Jimmy will lose any money is speculative at best. However, it is believed such a a loss, if any, can be more than made up as a result of on ice and off ice opportunities in the City and Organization of his choice. Without question there will be excellent opportunities presented to Jimmy and his success, including financial success on and off the ice, will be determined by hard work, ability and the opportunity to choose the City and Organization that best suits his skill set.

The decision to become an Unrestricted free Agent was ultimately determined by what was best for Jimmy Vesey’s hockey career. This election, although unrelated to the determining hockey factors, will also allow Jimmy to graduate from Harvard University this spring. Jimmy and his family are very proud and pleased that this will indeed happen. The Harvard community and alumni have rallied around him. Jimmy is very appreciative of this support and the fact he will now be able to graduate.

Yesterday, Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton went into greater detail of David Poile’s original claims that the Preds had asked Vesey about his intentions prior to the trade deadline.

Fenton told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central that, on Feb. 8, he spoke with Vesey following the consolation game of the Beanpot Tournament at TD Garden. Fenton said he asked Vesey three times if he would be signing with the Preds, and Vesey (allegedly) replied “yes, I’m going to sign with the Nashville Predators.”

Nashville, who believed Vesey would slot into the top-six forward group, claims it intentionally left a spot open for the Harvard sniper, instead of filling it with a deadline acquisition.

In related news, a report from the Boston Herald claims Vesey is looking to sign with the Bruins once he hits free agency.

Coyotes sign Wood, acquired in Boedker trade

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Kyle Wood of the Colorado Avalanche poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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One of the two unsigned prospects Arizona acquired for Mikkel Boedker has put his name on the dotted line.

OHL North Bay d-man Kyle Wood, taken 84th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Coyotes on Wednesday, the club confirmed.

Wood, 19, is known largely for his size — 6-foot-5, 223 pounds — thought he did have a good offensive campaign this season, scoring eight goals and 39 points in 49 games.

While there was no specific reason given why Colorado never signed him to an ELC, Wood did miss significant time to injury during the ’13-14 campaign. He also had to work on particular aspects of his game, per North Bay head coach Stan Butler.

“Sometimes he gets caught standing still and that was one of the things that Colorado was concerned about,” Butler said, per BayToday.ca.  “He’s a big body. With big players it takes them a while to get their skating going.”

With Wood signed, Arizona’s focus will now likely shift to the other prospect acquired in the Boedker trade — Conner Bleackley, the 23rd overall pick in ’14.

The WHL Red Deer product has fallen on hard times since getting drafted.

Shortly after getting picked, Bleackley’s junior coach, Brent Sutter, said he wasn’t ready for NHL hockey.

Bleackley then barely spent any time at Avs camp last fall, getting sent back to junior after arriving in inadequate shape, putting forth what Patrick Roy called a “disappointing” effort.

In September, Bleackley — who never received a contract from the Avs — said his lack of an entry-level deal was “in the back of my mind a lot.”

Bleackley is currently sidelined with a wrist injury.

Panthers lose ‘best player’ Trocheck (foot) for rest of regular season

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The news is in on Vincent Trocheck, and it isn’t good.

Trocheck, who’s racked up 26 points in Florida’s last 27 games, is in a cast and on crutches after taking a shot to the foot in Tuesday’s loss to the Maple Leafs.

Per the Florida Sun-Sentinel, Trocheck is expected to miss the remainder of the Panthers’ regular season — six games left — and could also be out for the first week of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

At 22, Trocheck is enjoying a terrific breakout campaign in Florida. He sits third on the team in scoring, with 53 points through 76 games, and is tied with Jaromir Jagr for the team lead in goals (25).

In fact, Jagr went so far as to say Trocheck’s been the team’s top individual performer lately.

“He was our best player for a long time,” Jagr said following the loss to Toronto. “It’s tough. Not only we lost this game, we lost our best player.

“Hopefully somebody else is going to step up, but he was playing so well.”

With Trocheck out, the Panthers have recalled Rocco Grimaldi from AHL Portland.