Mike Halford

Carolina Hurricanes v Florida Panthers

Staal: Contract uncertainty ‘more challenging than I thought it would be’

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Going in, Eric Staal knew this season was going to be tough.

He just didn’t know how tough.

This week, the Carolina captain admitted the uncertainty of a contract year — he’s in the last of his monster seven-year, $57.5 million deal — has been hard to deal with.

“It’s been more challenging than I thought it would be, but I’m doing my best,” Staal said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “Doing my best to contribute and try and help this team win and play hard.

“I have a family. There’s things you think about. My brother’s playing here. There are a lot of different things you think about.”

The Staal contract situation has dragged on throughout the campaign. Just prior to the start of the regular season, reports suggested he and the club weren’t close on an extension but, in November, he expressed his desire to remain in Carolina.

In early December, though, another report surfaced — claiming GM Ron Francis and Staal’s agent, Rick Curran, had mutually agreed to put off any contract talks until the new year.

Well, the new year is upon us.

And not much has changed.

The next big benchmark, of course, is just 48 days away — the NHL’s annual trade deadline, where Staal figures to be in play, assuming he’s not extended by that point.

That will only add another layer to what was already a complex situation; the ‘Canes seemingly have to get something in return for Staal should they opt not to re-up with him, even though they are technically “in” the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

(Carolina is just four points back of New Jersey for the final wild card spot, but would need to leapfrog four teams — Philly, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Tampa Bay — to get there.)

In response to all this, Staal offered up the usual cliches.

Which, given the circumstances, is pretty fair.

“You try not to worry about it too much, and play, and hopefully we can get on a little bit of a run here and go from there and let it sort itself out,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Canucks waive Higgins, Jackets waive Connauton

Chris Higgins
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Pair of transactions to pass your way…

— In Vancouver, the club has taken the latest step in trying to resolve the Chris Higgins situation by placing the veteran forward on waivers. The decision comes after the club 1) announced its intention to try and trade the 32-year-old, but 2) was unable to find a suitor.

It seems highly unlikely anyone will claim Higgins, mostly because of his contract situation. He has this year and the next remaining on his four-year, $10 million deal with a $2.5M annual cap hit.

Should he clear, Vancouver could try to send Higgins to the AHL. But there are other options.

The club could “do right” by Higgins and buy him out, in order for him to find a new situation elsewhere. It could also try and work a trade after he clears, in which it would retain salary, or take on an equally onerous contract — or both.

— Columbus has waived defenseman Kevin Connauton who, ironically enough, began his NHL career in Vancouver.

Connauton, 25, is in the last of a three-year, $2.05M deal with a $683,333 cap hit. Though he did show well at times over his two seasons with the Blue Jackets, he’s been a healthy scratch in each of the last five games.

Columbus has a bit of a logjam on defense right now, having acquired Seth Jones in the Ryan Johansen trade and having recently returned Cody Goloubef from a broken jaw.

Prior to today’s move, the club placed d-man Andrew Bodnarchuk on waivers (he was claimed by the Avalanche).

Connauton could be claimed as well. A decent offensive defenseman — he had eight points in 27 games this year — he’s still relatively young and could be had on the cheap.

In midst of breakout year, Palmieri has ‘very good’ chance of re-upping with Devils

Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, Jiri Tlusty, Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josefson
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In June, the New Jersey Devils made the move to acquire Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim.

As far as offseason acquisitions go, it’s harder to find one that’s worked out better for both the player and the club.

Thriving in a larger and expanded role from the one he had as a Duck, Palmieri’s already surpassed his career-high in goals (17) and matched his career best in points (31).

The Devils, meanwhile, have found themselves a potential cornerstone player for the future — assuming a new contract can be worked out.

Per GM Ray Shero, that’s not expected to be a problem.

“The chances of us re-signing him are very good,” Shero explained, per NorthJersey.com. “I don’t want to put a timetable on it or take Kyle’s eye off the ball here in terms of how he’s playing. When you trade for someone like him, that’s what you’re looking to add to your team and I think it’s been a good fit for him and for us.”

Palmieri, 24, is in the last of a three-year, $4.4 million deal with a $1.46M cap hit (and a pending RFA). Per NorthJersey, he’s “open to signing a long-term extension that would take him beyond when he’d be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.”

If that’s the case, Palmieri figures to get a pretty tidy raise.

At the time of writing, Palmieri’s 17 goals have him sitting 15th in the NHL, tied with the likes of Ryan O'Reilly (he of the $52.5 million contract) and Max Pacioretty (he of the $27 million dollar contract).

While it’s highly, highly unlikely Palmieri gets to those numbers — virtually impossible to match O’Reilly’s mega-deal — it does highlight what agent Steve Bartlett might bring to the negotiating table.

But at the end of the day, Shero’s probably right in saying the Devils’ chances of keeping Palmieri are strong. He’s a local guy, having grown up in Montvale, and the opportunity he’s received in New Jersey was long overdue.

Hindsight being 20/20, one wonders if the Ducks made a mistake in not expanding Palmieri’s role, especially since they used a first-round draft pick on him in 2009.

After 35-game absence, Quincey (ankle) back for Detroit

Detroit Red Wings v Columbus Blue Jackets
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Detroit will have one of its blueline regulars back for tonight’s tilt in Los Angeles.

Veteran Kyle Quincey, out since Oct. 23 because of an injured ankle that require surgery, will suit up for the first time in 35 games when the Wings take on the Kings at Staples.

To make room for Quincey, Detroit waived fellow blueliner Jakub Kindl over the weekend. Kindl cleared and is off to AHL Grand Rapids, but that only solves part of head coach Jeff Blashill’s problem — he still needs another d-man to come out of the lineup so Quincey can draw in.

Prior to getting hurt, the 30-year-old had one goal and two assists in seven games, while averaging 18:59 of ice time per game.

 

Goalie nods: Vancouver welcomes back red-hot Luongo, who ‘didn’t go to Florida to retire’

Roberto Luongo

It’s always a story whenever Roberto Luongo faces his old team, the Vancouver Canucks.

And today was no different.

Ahead of Monday night’s tilt between the Panthers and Canucks at Rogers Arena, Luongo held scourt with the Vancouver media to talk about a number of things — specifically, thoughts on his red-hot team, which heads into tonight looking for a 13th consecutive victory.

“I didn’t go to Florida to retire,” Luongo explained, per Sportsnet. “I went to try and turn the corner of the franchise and have at least one more kick at it.”

Luongo, who turns 37 in April, is enjoying one of the best seasons of his lengthy career. He’s headed back to the All-Star game — his second in as many seasons — on the strength of an 19-11-3 record, 2.06 GAA, .931 save percentage and three shutouts.

Despite being one of the older starting netminders in the league, Luongo has also emerged as a real workhorse for the Panthers. He sits eighth in games played and fifth in saves, with 980. It’s all part of the reason he’s in serious discussion for this year’s Vezina trophy, something he’s never won (closest he came was runner-up to Martin Brodeur in ’07).

Yet every time he plays the Canucks, the conversations eventually turn to his tumultuous time with the organization.

And once again, this time was no different.

“I did a lot of growing up in Van. Unfortunately, when I figured it out it was a little too late for me there,” Luongo told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. “I just look at things differently now. I keep it in mind that I’m playing the game that I love, and I’m going to enjoy these moments.

“I don’t think about the stuff surrounding me that sometimes can become distractions.”

For the Canucks, Jacob Markstrom — part of the trade that sent Luongo to Florida — will start in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Potential marquee matchup brewing in New York, as the Bruins look likely to put Tuukka Rask up against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

Martin Jones, coming off a 7-0 shutout of Toronto over the weekend, starts for the Sharks in Calgary. The Flames will go with Karri Ramo.

— The Wings will give Jimmy Howard a shot (or Petr Mrazek a night off, depending on how you look at it) in Los Angeles. The Kings, as per usual, are going with Jonathan Quick.