Mike Halford

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

McLellan laments Nugent-Hopkins loss: ‘For me, he’s like Joe Pavelski’

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If there was ever any doubt about how highly Todd McLellan thinks of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it was laid to rest this week.

“Nuge for me — and I’ve told Nuge this — he’s like Joe Pavelski,” McLellan told the Edmonton Sun, after Nugent-Hopkins was ruled out for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. “I trust him in every situation. He’s real competitive.”

That McLellan used the Pavelski comparison is telling.

The two were side-by-side in San Jose for seven years and, under McLellan’s watch, Pavelski emerged as one of the league’s best goalscorers, potting a career-high 41 during the ’13-14 campaign.

Now, Pavelski is the Sharks’ captain.

McLellan’s comments are also noteworthy given RNH has been in trade talks for most of this season. With budding star center Connor McDavid in the fold and the emergence of Leon Draisaitl as a capable No. 2, there’s been chatter about Nugent-Hopkins being expendable.

Last week, those trade talks were further stoked when a Sportsnet report claimed the Oilers had offered Nugent-Hopkins to Nashville in exchange for Seth Jones, prior to Jones going to Columbus for Ryan Johansen.

Yet despite that, McLellan continued to go to bat for his young pivot.

“Nuge gets a bad rap for being soft,” he explained. “He’s the farthest thing from soft.”

‘Not an easy situation’ in Anaheim, says Khudobin

Anaheim Ducks goalie Anton Khudobin deflects a shot by the San Jose Sharks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In reading the headline above, you might think Anton Khudobin was talking about his team’s well-documented struggles.

But he’s not. He’s talking about his own.

Khudobin, acquired at the draft to be Anaheim’s backup netminder this year, has been bumped down to third string after John Gibson usurped Frederik Andersen as the team’s No. 1. That means Khudobin’s now spending a fair bit of time with AHL San Diego — not the ideal spot for a 29-year-old veteran making $2.25 million this season.

“It’s not an easy situation to be in,” Khudobin said, per the O.C. Register.

Given where he was just two seasons ago, Khudobin’s probably surprised where he’s at.

After a good cameo as Tuukka Rask‘s backup in Boston during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, Khudobin signed in Carolina on the cheap ($800,000) and emerged as one of the NHL’s best bargains, going 19-14-1 with a .926 save percentage and 2.30 GAA.

That performance netted him a two-year, $4.5M extension from the ‘Canes — a pretty nice raise — but that’s when things started to go south.

Khudobin struggled in his first year of the extension and, as mentioned, was flipped to Anaheim at the draft in exchange for James Wisniewski. With his contract set to expire at season’s end, the plan — as laid out by Ducks GM Bob Murray — was for Khudobin to back up for a year, allowing Gibson further seasoning in the American League.

But, obviously, it’s worked out much differently.

“It’s a hard situation,” Khudobin said. “In that case, somebody has to go. In my mind, if they’re going to find me a place where I can go and play and be on an NHL team, it’s great.

“If not, then I just have to wait until the end of the season.”

‘Canes put Ward on IR with concussion

Cam Ward
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Significant shakeup in goal in Carolina — the club has placed veteran Cam Ward on injured reserve with a concussion, and recalled Daniel Altshuller from AHL Charlotte.

How Ward suffered his concussion is unclear at the moment. In his last outing, a 3-2 OT loss to Vancouver, he stopped 19 of 22 shots and played the entire game — though it’s worth noting that, in the game followin, Eddie Lack was left in for all five goals in a 5-0 drubbing against Pittsburgh.

Ward, 31, has had an erratic year, going 14-11-5 with a 2.42 GAA and .905 save percentage. That said, he was playing some of his best hockey at the time of his injury — in five games in January, he’d stopped 124 of 134 shots for a .925 save percentage.

Looking ahead, it sure seems as though Lack will carry the load moving forward. Altshuller is only 21, and this year marks his first in the American League after spending time with ECHL Florida.

Carolina’s third-round pick in 2012, Altshuller has played well for the Checkers this season, going 9-1-1 with a 1.71 GAA, a .941 save percentage and one shutout in 11 games.

Looking even further ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how this injury affects Ward’s status within the organization. A pending UFA, there hasn’t been much movement on a new contract and he could be headed to market this summer.

Goalie nods: After 17-game absence, Bobrovsky back for Columbus

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sergei Bobrovsky will look to get his injury-plagued campaign on track tonight, when he and the Jackets host the Capitals at Nationwide.

Bobrovsky, who hasn’t played since exiting a Dec. 8 loss to the Kings late in regulation, will be back in for the first time in 17 games tonight — a huge addition for a Blue Jackets team that’s been rolling with AHL netminders Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg over the last month.

(Columbus’ backup netminder, Curtis McElhinney, is also currently out injured.)

Bobrovsky is 11-12-1 this year, with a 2.52 GAA and .916 save percentage. Not terrific numbers, but he was playing great at the time of his injury — in four games in December, the former Vezina winner stopped 115 of 120 shots for a .950 save percentage.

That came on the heels of a month of November in which Bob’s save percentage was an impressive .940.

For the Caps, Braden Holtby‘s in goal.

Elsewhere…

Jonas Hiller gets another start as the Flames take on the Devils in New Jersey. No surprise that the home team is going with its usual starter, Cory Schneider.

Ryan Miller will look to build on his 47-save win over the Isles on Sunday, with a start tonight at MSG. Henrik Lundqvist counters for the slumping Rangers.

James Reimer goes up against Steve Mason as the Leafs take on the Flyers at Wells Fargo.

Mike Condon will get another chance to stymie the Bruins (he was terrific in Montreal’s 5-1 win at the Winter Classic). No definitive word out of Boston yet, but it looks like Tuukka Rask will start.

Anders Nilsson gives Cam Talbot the night off for the Oilers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy gives Ben Bishop the night off for the Bolts.

— The red-hot Corey Crawford gets the nod as Chicago invades Nashville. The Preds will go with the slumping Pekka Rinne, who is going to the All-Star Game ahead of Crawford this year despite posting pretty pedestrian numbers.

Kari Lehtonen is likely for the Stars tonight in L.A. Jonathan Quick is likely for the Kings.

What will the Rangers do with Keith Yandle?

Keith Yandle, Alex Killorn
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One of the NHL’s top offensive defensemen and a staple in the Rangers lineup, Keith Yandle is a pretty valuable commodity.

But as far as he and his head coach go, there’s only one place for Yandle — and that’s in New York.

“As soon as I got traded here I was all in, my family was all in,” Yandle said, per the Daily News. “I love my situation here. I love playing here, being here.”

Blueshirts bench boss Alain Vigneault was almost as effusive in his praise of Yandle as Yandle was of playing in the Big Apple. AV said “when Yands is on top of his game moving the puck he’s a very good player,” adding ” I would like him to be a Ranger and help us win.”

Thing is, the situation goes beyond Vigneault and Yandle.

First, there’s the fact the 29-year-old is in the last of a five-year, $26.25 million deal that pays $5.25M annually, meaning he’s primed to hit free agency on July 1. Given he finished first among blueliners with 46 assists last year, and has 23 points through 45 games this year, it’s fair to suggest Yandle will garner a pretty significant payday, regardless of where it comes from.

Back in November, agent Jerry Buckley told the Post there were no talks and no timetable for an extension for Yandle. The Daily News reports there have since bee some discussions between Buckley and Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, but still no timetable.

So, what’s the plan?

As odd as it seems for a club in playoff contention, Yandle could be traded. Part of that stems from the fact that, because of New York’s current salary structure, he might be impossible to retain:

The Coyotes agreed to continue paying half of Yandle’s salary after last year’s trade, so the Rangers are only on the hook this season for $2.625 million. In unrestricted free agency this summer, though, Yandle will command more than his total current salary of $5.25 million, and the Blueshirts already have $15.9 million committed to the contracts of Marc Staal (current no-move clause), Dan Girardi (current no-trade clause) and Ryan McDonagh (captain, not going anywhere).

Dan Boyle’s $4.5 million salary will come off the books, but Boyle plays the right, Yandle the left, and left-handed 2012 first-round pick Brady Skjei ($925K) is a heavy favorite to make the NHL jump next fall.

In this regard, it’s all about asset management. Does Gorton try and recoup something for Yandle, to avoid letting him walk for nothing? Or does Gorton take that risk, and hope that Yandle’s presence will translate into a lengthy playoff run?

Whatever the case, the clock is ticking. The NHL’s trade deadline is just 41 days away.