Mike Halford

EDMONTON , AB - DECEMBER 11: Emerson Etem #96 of the New York Rangers puts on the brakes against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on December 11, 2015 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.(Photo by Dan Riedlhuber/Getty Images)

As trade rumors swirl, Rangers send Etem for conditioning stint

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Plenty of smoke coming from the Big Apple on Friday.

Officially, the Rangers sent forward Emerson Etem to AHL Hartford on a conditioning stint, per the Daily News.

Blueshirts head coach Alain Vigneault said Etem’s stay in the minors will be three games long.

But that’s not the whole story about the 23-year-old forward, who was acquired from Anaheim in the Carl Hagelin trade at the draft. It also sounds as though he’s smack in the middle of some serious trade rumors:

Almost immediately, Etem’s name was linked to Vancouver. Back in 2009-10, Etem starred as a rookie in WHL Medicine Hat under now-Canucks coach Willie Desjardins.

Etem scored 37 goals as a 17-year-old and, following the season, was taken 29th overall by Anaheim at the draft.

Though the speedster has shown flashes of real talent over his career, Etem has struggled to maintain consistency at the NHL level. He’s appeared in just 19 games for the Rangers this year, going goalless with just three points.

See you in February? Habs say Price won’t return before All-Star Game

Carey Price
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Looks like Montreal is taking a very, very cautious approach with Carey Price‘s return from injury.

Price, who’s been out of the lineup since Nov. 25, will remain out until after the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, set to be played in Nashville on Jan. 31.

At first glance, the decision might seem rife with concern — the reigning NHL MVP has already missed a ton of time this year, and will now essentially be shelved for another month — but, digging a little deeper, the move is logical.

See, the Habs had a really busy December. It ended with a six-game road swing that extended into this month, with the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium and Tuesday’s 4-3 loss in Philly.

As a result, the schedule makers gave Montreal a pretty light January.

The Habs actually only have eight games left before the ASG: versus Pittsburgh, versus Chicago, at St. Louis, at Chicago, versus Boston, at Toronto, then a home-and-home set with Columbus to close things out.

The decision to keep Price parked was probably made easier by the recent play of Mike Condon. His last two starts have been great — he stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 5-1 win over Boston at the Winter Classic, then made 19 saves on 20 shots in a 2-1 victory against the Devils on Wednesday.

All told, Condon’s sporting a .930 save percentage in his last five appearances.

Kassian opens up about struggles with alcoholism

Henrik Sedin
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Poignant piece here from the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones on Zack Kassian, the troubled former first-round pick that — after spending several months in the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program — is now trying to work his way back into the league, currently plying his trade with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

Some of the more intriguing parts of the article:

— Kassian admitted he’s an alcoholic and has stopped drinking, period. “In no sense am I cured or fixed,” he said. “But I have a good foundation to build off going forward.”

— At 24, he realizes this is probably his final kick at the can. Kassian’s now with his fourth franchise (drafted by Buffalo, traded to Vancouver, traded to Montreal, traded to Edmonton).

“I’m really looking to turn the corner. The one thing I believe throughout all this is that it has really built my character.

“It’s something that I had to go through to get it. Finally. Sadly. But I’m very confident that I do have a grasp on it and I am moving forward.”

Kassian says he absolutely, completely, totally, 100% understands this is it for him.

“Most definitely this is my last chance,” he said.

— He’s been a fairly noteworthy contributor for Bakersfield in what, admittedly, is a pretty small sample size. He fired four shots on goal in his team debut, then scored a goal in his second outing.

— Kassian clearly has an eye on an NHL return in the near future. “They have a lot of skill and talent up there,” he said, referencing all the quality young players on the Oilers roster. “I’m looking to bring some sandpaper.”

Johansson to have disciplinary hearing for Hickey headshot

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On Friday, NHL came calling for Marcus Johansson.

Johansson, who delivered a questionable hit to the head of Isles defenseman Thomas Hickey last night, will have a disciplinary hearing for his actions, the Department of Player Safety announced today.

The hit occurred in the first period, earning Johansson a two minute illegal check to the head minor. Hickey was momentarily shaken up but did return to the game, and finished with 22 shifts for just over 15 minutes of ice time.

Reactions to the hit were mixed. Isles fans at Barclays were vociferous in their objections, and several on social media speculated the DoPS would be having a word with Johansson.

That said, Caps head coach Barry Trotz jumped to the defense of his player (unsurprisingly).

“I watched it,” said Trotz, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “Their guy was putting the puck into the zone. Marcus came into him and got him with a shoulder. Marcus is not that type of player at all.

“It’s unfortunate, but (Hickey) was bent over when he shot it. His head came down a little bit and Marcus was trying to hit him through the crest (on his jersey). I didn’t think there was anything malice or anything vicious on it. It was just a hard hit.”

Should Johansson be suspended, he’d be the second Caps forward to suffer such a fate this week. Earlier, Zach Sill was banned two games for boarding B’s d-man Adam McQuaid.

Video: Caps-Isles rivalry intensifies with Johansson headshot on Hickey

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The Capitals and Islanders developed a pretty healthy dislike for each other during last year’s playoff round, and that bad blood carried over to Thursday night.

In the first period of tonight’s game in Brooklyn, Washington forward Marcus Johansson caught Thomas Hickey with an illegal check to the head:

Johansson only received a two-minute minor on the play, one that temporarily forced Hickey from the contest. (Upon returning, Hickey was then blasted by Caps tough guy Tom Wilson.)

The Johansson hit wasn’t well received in Barclays — as you can imagine — and drew the ire of several on social media as well:

One can expect the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to review the incident.