Mike Halford

Ron Francis
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For Francis, trade deadline could be defining moment as ‘Canes GM


In April, Ron Francis will celebrate the second anniversary of his hiring as Carolina’s general manager.

But prior to that, he’ll have experienced what’s easily his biggest task to date.

This year’s trade deadline is a crucial one for both Francis and the organization. Two faces of the franchise — Cam Ward and captain Eric Staal — are pending UFAs, as are a slew of potentially movable veterans: Kris Versteeg, John-Michael Liles, Riley Nash and Brad Malone, to name a few.

But it’s not as simple as Francis putting a “YARD SALE” sign on the lawn and waiting for buyers.

Heading into tonight’s game in Calgary, Carolina is right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase, just three points back of Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot.

The ‘Canes also have an interesting month of February.

Starting Feb. 12, the club will play eight of 10 games at home, where the ‘Canes have been pretty good this season. They’re 12-9-5 at PNC and have won their last two home dates emphatically, 5-2 over Calgary and 5-0 over Chicago.

MORE: The Carolina Hurricanes are legitimately quite good

So Francis has a tough decision on his hands. Stick with the long-term vision, and recoup assets/draft picks by flipping UFAs by the deadline?

Or keep the group together, and make a playoff push?

Here’s a quick look at where things are at with some of the players mentioned above.

Staal/Ward: Both represented by agent Rick Curran, who told the Raleigh News & Observer this week there’s “nothing new to report” on extensions for both.

Of Ward and Staal, the latter is the hottest commodity in terms of trade potential, but he told the News & Observer Francis has yet to approach him about waiving his no-trade clause, nor has Francis asked for a list of potential trade partners.

Versteeg: An interesting commodity. While he’s not the player he once was, he’s still in the midst of a solid bounce-back campaign (31 points in 50 games) and has a wealth of playoff experience, with two Stanley Cups on his resume.

The real key, of course, is that Versteeg’s $4.4 million cap hit has been cut in half due to Chicago retaining salary from a previous trade.

It stands to figure several teams would be interested in a versatile forward that logs 16:30 TOI per night and can score at a reasonable clip — especially at a $2.2M hit.

Recently, Versteeg said he “would not be shocked” if he’s traded by the deadline.

Liles: His name was floated by the News & Observer earlier this week. The veteran defenseman has enjoyed a good season in Carolina — he’s been durable (averaging over 20 minutes while appearing in all 51 games) and his offense has increased lately, with four goals in his last 11 games.

Head coach Bill Peters was full of praise for the 35-year-old, calling Liles “a real good pro,” that’s been “excellent with our young guys.”

Liles is in the last of a four-year, $15.5 million deal with a $3.875M cap hit. It’s worth noting his salary is only $2.75M this season.

Related: ‘Canes compare Faulk to Duncan Keith, talk up Norris potential

NHL on NBCSN: Wings visit Lightning in Atlantic Division showdown

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Detroit will look for its third win of the season tonight against Tampa Bay at Amalie, and you can catch all the action on NBCSN starting at 8 p.m. ET.

If you’re looking for another viewing option, you can catch the game online using NBC Sports’s Live Extra:


The Wings and Lightning come into tonight’s action tied on 58 points, though Tampa has the edge on second place in the Atlantic thanks to the ROW tiebreaker (25 to Detroit’s 24).

Tonight is the first of Florida back-to-backs for the Red Wings, as they’ll travel to Sunrise tomorrow to take on the Panthers.

Head coach Jeff Blashill will give Petr Mrazek the start this evening and could go back to him on Thursday, as Mrazek has emerged as one of the NHL’s top netminders this season and thrust himself into the Vezina conversation.

For the Bolts, no starter’s been named yet but it’s expected Ben Bishop, fresh off a solid All-Star outing in Nashville, will go in goal.

Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

Martin Brodeur believes Lightning’s Bishop is an elite goalie

Stamkos won’t deny it — contract situation’s ‘in your head, for sure’

Datsyuk calls on Wings for more offense — ‘it would be a much easier game’

Larkin wins fastest skater, breaks Gartner’s 20-year-old record

Little-used Galiev to replace Ovi on Caps’ top line tonight

Stanislav Galiev
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Tuesday night could be a big one for Stanislav Galiev.

Galiev, the skilled Russian winger that’s only appeared in 13 games this year, will replace the “suspended” Alex Ovechkin on Washington’s top line tonight — next to Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie — when the Caps host the Panthers at Verizon.

(Ovechkin’s “suspension” is the one game he’s forced to sit out after missing he 2016 NHL All-Star weekend in Nashville.)

For the 24-year-old Galiev, this is a pretty huge moment.

He’s been “stuck” in the NHL for most of this year because of his contractual situation — since he’s no longer exempt from waivers, the Caps are loathe to try and pass him through, for fear of a team making a claim. But clearing waivers is the only way Galiev could get down to AHL Hershey, which would undoubtedly serve his development better than eating popcorn in the press box on a near-nightly basis.

Galiev did get to play five games for the Bears earlier this year but, because he was there on a conditioning assignment, he couldn’t stay longer than two weeks.

As for tonight?

Caps head coach Barry Trotz figured he should give Galiev a run with two talented offensive players, a decision that was also swayed by not wanting to break up the chemistry of other lines.

“He’ll have some fresh legs, obviously,” Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “I have a sort of secondary plan. I don’t want to break up every line just because we’re missing two guys. I’d like to just sort of keep as much as I can in control, and then I sort of have a secondary plan for lines, so we’ll just sort of feel it out and see who’s going. There might be lots of changes on the lines, or they might not.”

Goalie nods: Isles give Berube second career start

New York Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube (30) misses the save on a goal scored by Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
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Curious move from Isles head coach Jack Capuano for tonight’s game against the Wild — even though starting netminder Jaroslav Halak and backup Thomas Greiss are healthy, it’s third-stringer J.F. Berube that’ll get the start in goal.

Why? Well, while the rest of the NHL was enjoying time off during the All-Star break, Berube set the AHL on fire by winning four straight games with a sparking .967 save percentage, and one shutout.

“He’s been playing,” Capuano said of Berube, per the Isles website. “The fact that he’s been playing, playing well and won his last four starts with a .967 save percentage, he deserves to get in there.”

Berube, 24, was claimed off waivers from Los Angeles prior to the start of the regular season. While he’s spent the majority of the year with New York’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, he has appeared in one previous game for the Isles, stopping 30 of 34 shots in a 4-1 loss to Chicago back in early October.

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk starts in goal.


James Reimer starts for the skidding Maple Leafs in Boston. No definitive word on a B’s starter yet, though Tuukka Rask appears likely.

— Marquee matchup at Prudential as Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers take on Cory Schneider and the Devils. Schneider is coming off his first-ever All-Star Game appearance.

Mike Condon gets the nod for Montreal in Philly, while the Flyers look like they’ll counter with Steve Mason. Anthony Stolarz is expected to back Mason up, now that Michal Neuvirth is out injured.

Craig Anderson goes for the Sens in Pittsburgh, while Marc-Andre Fleury counters for the Penguins.

— Battle of the backups tonight in Washington: Al Montoya versus Philipp Grubauer. Montoya and Grubauer are giving Roberto Luongo and Braden Holtby a night of rest, after the two participated in Nashville for the ASG.

— The Jets will continue to roll with Connor Hellebuyck as they host the Stars. Dallas looks as though it will go with Antti Niemi.

— No confirmations out of Nashville, but Pekka Rinne is likely for the Preds, Brian Elliott for the Blues.

Corey Crawford will assume his usual starting gig in Colorado tonight, while the Avs will go with Calvin Pickard as Semyon Varlamov continues to attend to his legal issues.

— In John Tortorella’s first game behind the bench since breaking his ribs, Joonas Korpisalo will start for Columbus. He’ll go up against Cam Talbot, who gets the nod for the host Oilers.

— January’s rookie of the month, Louis Domingue, will once again start for the Coyotes tonight. Jonathan Quick, fresh off an All-Star Game victory for the Pacific Division, looks like he’ll go for the Kings.

— The same can’t be said for Quick’s running mate at the ASG, Anaheim goalie John Gibson. He’ll get the night off tonight as Frederik Andersen will start for the Ducks. Martin Jones goes for the Sharks.

Sestito clears waivers after inking one-year deal with Pens, expected to re-join AHL team

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 22: Tom Sestito #29 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 22, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. The Canucks defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Looks like Tom Sestito will soon be back at work in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

After a busy 24 hours in which he signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Penguins and was then exposed to waivers, Sestito cleared on Monday and is expected to head back to WBS, where he’s scored six points in 19 games this year.

A well-traveled enforcer, Sestito originally joined the Pens on an AHL professional tryout contract and has since sort of morphed his game — he’s only fought three times this season, a far cry from the 18 scraps he had during the 2010-11 AHL campaign.

“He brings a different dynamic that other prospects don’t have,” Penguins associate general manager Jason Botterill said, per the Tribune-Review. “With more divisional games here in February and March, you just never know when you’re going to need that element.”

Sestito’s new contract would pay him $575,000 at the NHL level, should he get recalled. He hasn’t played in a big-league contest since last season, when he appeared in three games for Vancouver.