Author: Mike Halford

Austria v Sweden - 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship

New Oilers goalie Nilsson ready ‘to challenge for the No. 1 job’

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Back in July, Edmonton made an intriguing, under-the-radar move by acquiring the rights to KHL goalie Anders Nilsson.

The deal didn’t garner much attention, possibly because the Oilers had already made a bigger splash in goal — trading for ex-Rangers backup Cam Talbot at the draft — and, of course, they still had Ben Scrivens in the mix.

But the attention could soon be on Nilsson.

“My mindset is to challenge for the No. 1 job,” the Swedish stopper told the Edmonton Journal. “That’s why I signed the one-year contract and it’s up to me to perform.”

Nilsson, 25, is an interesting entity.

Picked 62nd overall by the Isles in 2009, he appeared in 23 games for New York over three seasons before signing with KHL team AK Bars Kazan last summer. A few months later, the Isles traded Nilsson’s rights — he was an RFA upon leaving for Russia — to Chicago, as part of the Nick Leddy deal.

In Russia, Nilsson boosted his stock by going 20-9-8 with a 1.71 GAA and .936 save percentage. He also played for Team Sweden at the 2015 Worlds, splitting time with Jhonas Enroth.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder signed with Edmonton almost immediately upon being acquired, seemingly determined to resurrect his NHL career. With the Oilers, he’s projected to battle Scrivens for the No. 2 gig behind Talbot — who, tentatively, is penciled in as the No. 1 — but if the last few years in Edmonton have shown anything, it’s that minutes in net are constantly up for grabs.

Trade target Cowen says Sens’ support has been ‘awesome’

Jared Cowen

It’s safe to say Jared Cowen knows he hasn’t lived up to expectations in Ottawa.

And it’s safe to say he appreciates the Sens sticking with him — even though teams have called about a potential trade.

“It’s awesome to have that support and I feel that same way about myself,” Cowen said this week, per the Ottawa Sun. “I know that it’s not just me that feels I can be a lot better and be the player that I know I’m going to be and I want to be.”

Cowen, taken ninth overall in 2009, has struggled to replicate the success he found during his rookie year in 2011-12, when he scored 17 points in 82 games, averaged nearly 19 minutes a night and received a handful of Calder votes — pretty impressive for a 21-year-old defenseman.

Injuries have played a role in Cowen’s declide — hip and abdominal issues sidelined him for extensive periods — and that’s led to teams inquiring about potential availability, given his size (6-foot-5, 228 pounds) and the fact Cowen only turned 24 in January.

Doesn’t sound like Ottawa is willing to make a move, however.

From the Sun:

Senators GM Bryan Murray along with assistants Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee have received a lot of calls from teams interested in Cowen but dealing him wasn’t an option because it’s difficult for any organization to give up on a young defenceman who still has upside potential.

With two years left at $3.1 million per-season, the Senators want to see what they’ve got in Cowen and that’s why he hasn’t been dealt. He’s looking forward to a big year under coach Dave Cameron and wants to show he can return to the form.

One would assume Cowen’s in the group of seven defensemen Ottawa will mostly rely on this year, along with Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Cody Ceci, Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Borowiecki and Chris Phillips.

That said, there are other blueliners knocking on the door, including Chris Wideman, a minor-league standout that won last year’s Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman.

Report: Jets offer camp PTO to Raffl, older brother of Flyers’ Michael

Germany v Austria - 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
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There’s probably a joke opportunity about Winnipeg trying to win the Raffl, but we’re not going to go there.

Instead, we’ll simply pass along word that, per Austrian news outlet Kurier, Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has received an offer to attend Jets training camp on a professional tryout.

Raffl, 29, was never drafted by an NHL club and has spent his entire career playing in Europe — he did, however, have a two-year stint playing Canadian junior hockey, with WHL clubs Kelowna and Swift Current.

Since then, he’s spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg. Last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria (serving as team captain) at the World Hockey Championships.

Listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, the elder Raffl has good size — bigger than his brother, who’s listed at 6-foot, 190 — and there’s obvious hope he, like his brother, can be another diamond in the rough.

Philly brought over the younger Raffl in ’13-14 and he immediately contributed, with nine goals and 22 points in 68 games.

Last year Raffl scored 21 goals for the Flyers, fourth-most on the team.

Ex-‘Hawks goalie Raanta tees off on former club

Antti Raanta
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Former Chicago netminder Antti Raanta — traded to the Rangers at the draft after losing his backup gig to Scott Darling — was apparently none too pleased with how his time as a Blackhawk ended.

From Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat:

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Despite posting relatively solid numbers over parts of two seasons with Chicago — 34-20-9, .912 save percentage, 2.41 GAA — Raanta fell out of favor with head coach Joel Quenneville last year, and was eventually supplanted by Darling, who briefly took over the No. 1 gig during the playoffs.

In that same Ilta-Sanomat interview, Raanta touched on his relationship with coach Q.

From Puck Daddy:

According to Raanta, Blackhawks were suffering of weak team spirit and head coach Joel Quenneville didn’t seem to like him. 

“I noticed that coach didn’t like me, in that position it is pretty difficult to fight the windmills,” Raanta said.

Last season, Raanta was demoted to AHL Rockford in February after allowing two goals on 16 shots in a loss to the Bruins, Chicago’s fifth loss in seven games on an eight-game homestand.

Darling was promoted, and the B’s game proved be Raanta’s last in a ‘Hawks uniform.

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Report: Devils captain Salvador to retire this week (Update: Official)

Bryce Salvador #24 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the New York Islanders at the Prudential Center on September 19, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.
(September 18, 2013 - Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
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The 10th captain in New Jersey Devils history is about to hang up his skates.

From NorthJersey.com:

An answer on captain Bryce Salvador’s future is expected by the end of the week, though, with a retirement announcement appearing to be the likely conclusion.

“We’ll probably have some news later in the week on Bryce and we’ll kind of see what direction he is going,” Devils GM Ray Shero said today. “I don’t anticipate this will be a situation that’s ongoing for a lot longer one way or the other. I anticipate that relatively soon there will be some sort of information.”

UPDATE: Per an NHLPA release, Salvador has officially called it a career.

“I would like to thank my wife, April, for her unconditional and ongoing support, and love. I’m blessed and so thankful that my two sons, Pierson and Hudson, were able to see and remember me play as I thought my career was over when I missed the entire 2010-11 season due to injury,” Salvador said in a statement. “To my parents, and my extended family, as well as Bonnie and Gerald, thank you for all your love and support.

“I would like to thank the Lethbridge Hurricanes and GM Bob Bartlett, the St. Louis Blues and GM Larry Pleau, and the New Jersey Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello, for giving me the opportunities to play hockey. Thanks also to my teammates, the owners of each of these organizations, and to the fans for bringing excitement and energy to every game. I look forward to a continued involvement in hockey for years to come.”

Salvador, 39, appeared in just 15 games last year, missing extensive time with nerve damage and a bulging disc in his lower back. There was talk of him potentially returning to the team this fall in some capacity — possibly on a training camp PTO — but now he’s walking away from the game after a 14-year career.

It was, by all measures, a pretty solid run.

A sixth-round pick back in ’94, Salvador appeared in nearly 800 games with the Blues and Devils, and was a huge piece of New Jersey’s Stanley Cup run in 2012. Never known for his offense, Salvador scored 14 points in 24 games to finish second among all d-men in playoff scoring.

Following that run, the Devils signed Salvador to a fairly lucrative three-year, $9.5 million deal and, prior to the start of the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, named him captain.

Salvador also addressed his retirement in a recent Players Tribune piece. You can read it here.