Mike Halford

Scott Darling, Zack Kassian

Habs send Kassian to AHL after clearing waivers, say he’s not a ‘priority’

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Twenty-nine NHL clubs passed on claiming troubled Montreal forward Zack Kassian off waivers today.

And the 30th doesn’t appear to have any interest in him, either.

After the Habs announced Kassian cleared waivers and was assigned to their AHL affiliate in St. John’s, head coach Michel Therrien offered this rather blunt assessment of where the 24-year-old stood:

Yesterday, Kassian was reinstated from Stage Two of the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

Almost immediately afterward, the Habs put him on waivers.

Kassian was originally placed in the SABH program on Oct. 5, and suspended without pay until clearance. That came just days after he was involved in an early morning car accident in Montreal, in which Kassian was a passenger in a SUV driven by a 20-year-old female.

Montreal police later confirmed that while speed didn’t play a factor in the collision, alcohol may have.

On Oct. 7, Vancouver GM Jim Benning — who traded Kassian to Montreal in exchange for Brandon Prust this summer — confirmed that Kassian went through Stage One of the SABH while with the Canucks.

Kassian has yet to appear in a regular-season contest for the Canadiens.

Devils put reigning AHL MVP O’Neill on waivers

Brian O'Neill, Calvin de Haan

New Jersey has placed forward Brian O'Neill on waivers, per Sportsnet.

O’Neill, 27, was acquired by the Devils just prior to the start of the season in a trade with Los Angeles. A career minor-leaguer, O’Neill made waves last season by capturing AHL MVP honors with Manchester, on the strength of 78 points in 69 games.

Stuck behind a bevvy of talented forwards in Los Angeles, he got an opportunity for a more significant role in New Jersey this year. O’Neill made his NHL debut and appeared in 22 games for the Devils, scoring two points while averaging 10:22 TOI per game.

Per The Record, the O’Neill transaction was in order to clear roster spots for Tuomo Ruutu and Travis Zajac to come off IR. Zajac hasn’t played since Dec. 3, while Ruutu has been out since Oct. 16.

It’ll be interesting to see if someone takes a flier on O’Neill. He’s got a relatively low cap hit — $562,000 — and, with the Devils, showed he could play as a bottom-six forward at the NHL level.

For streaking Avs, Varlamov has ‘been our best player, no doubt’

Tampa Bay Lightning v Colorado Avalanche
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The first two months of the season were not kind to the Colorado Avalanche and No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov.

This month, though? Different story.

The Avs won for the sixth time eight games on Tuesday night — a 3-0 victory in Chicago — which is the same amount of games they won in all of November.

Considering we’re barely halfway through December, that’s pretty good — and the biggest reason for the club’s success has been Varlamov.

“I think he’s been our best player, no doubt. I think we all know that,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said following last night’s victory. “We all knew how good Varly could be and how important he is for this hockey club.”

Varlamov’s save percentage was an ugly .889 in October. In November, an even uglier .885.

Talk about a turnaround.

Colorado, known its lacklustre possession metrics and shot totals, hasn’t started slamming the door shut — the Avs have given up nearly 33 shots per night in December. Varlamov, though, has stopped 189 of 196 pucks faced for an eye-popping .964 save percentage, stoning the likes of the New York Rangers (the NHL’s sixth highest-scoring team), Minnesota (ninth) and Chicago (12th) in the process.

“He stole one for us in St. Louis the other night,” Landeskog noted. “Tonight [versus ‘Hawks], he was overall solid. He made the big saves when we needed them.”

Performances of this nature are what head coach Patrick Roy envisioned — and expected — when he called out Varlamov in late November.

We contrasted Roy’s approach with that of Carolina’s Bill Peters, who refused to publicly call out Cam Ward and Eddie Lack for their lacklustre efforts this year. At the time, there was no telling how Roy’s critiques of Varlamov would play out; the coach was desperate for results (just 10-14-1) and, as such, desperate to do whatever he could to snap Varlamov out of his funk.

For now, Roy’s strategy seems to have worked.

Bruins recall Khokhlachev ahead of Pens tilt

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins

Boston could have some added firepower in the lineup for tonight’s Rivalry Night game against Pittsburgh — this morning, the club recalled forward Alex Khokhlachev from AHL Providence.

Khokhlachev, 22, currently leads Providence in assists (14) and points (20) — in just 17 games played. The talented Russian has spent a bit of time up with the parent club this season, and appeared in two games for the B’s.

Khokhlachev is available for selection for tonight’s contest. Yesterday, Boston put Zac Rinaldo on IR with an upper-body injury.

The B’s had an optional skate this morning, so it’s unclear what line he would project to play on — but the last time “Koko” was up, he opened alongside Loui Eriksson and David Krejci.

Related: Khokhlachev to Bruins: Give me a chance

The Torts-Johansen relationship continues to deteriorate

Tortorella
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Since John Tortorella took over for Todd Richards in Columbus, star center Ryan Johnansen has been told he’s out of shape, sent away from the club for a few games (to deal with a mystery illness) and demoted to the fourth line.

Now, he’s been benched.

Johansen didn’t play a single shift in the third period of Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to Dallas, and finished with a season-low 11:03 TOI.

“That was coach’s decision,” Tortorella explained, per the club website. “No explanation. I just didn’t play him.”

Knee-jerk reactions to this focused largely on Tortorella, because it’s Tortorella.

But for further context, do consider what the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline wrote about Johansen’s “effort.”

Johansen played a lethargic first two periods. Many of his passes were way off-line, and there were several neutral-zone turnovers and failed clearing attempts.

I’ve seen suburbanites skate harder on the Columbus Zoo’s holiday pond.

I’ve mentioned this a few times, but it bears repeating — Johansen is a client of agent Kurt Overhardt. Some of Overhardt’s other clients include Kyle Turris (who forced a trade out of Arizona) and Ryan Kesler (who reportedly forced a trade from Vancouver, which Overhardt later denied).

Knowing that, now consider the existing contention between the Johansen camp and Columbus prior to the Tortorella hire — Johansen’s now-infamous holdout, which cost him all of the 2014 preseason.

Doesn’t this situation sound like one that’ll end with a “fresh start?”

Related: Welcome Ryan Johansen to the trade rumor mill