Author: Mike Halford

Chicago Blackhawks v Philadelphia Flyers

Timonen to make series debut tonight for ‘Hawks

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CHICAGO — Kimmo Timonen will play for the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“He gives us some predictability,” head coach Joel Quennville said of Timonen on Wednesday, confirming the veteran d-man would play tonight. “I think his coverage in the D zone, strength in the puck area. He’s smart, experienced.

“I think he did a good job for us throughout the playoffs. Gives him a chance to get in here in an good moment, a big moment. His reads and his position awareness and coverage in his own end will help him.”

So we know Timonen’s in, but the rest is uncertain. There’s been no firm update on the health of Johnny Oduya, who was injured during Game 3 and played just 9:10 over the final two periods.

If Oduya plays (and per Quenneville, it sounds like he will), it’s probable that Kyle Cumiskey — who, like Timonen, is a left-handed shot — will be the odd man out on defense. Cumiskey took some serious heat for losing Cedric Paquette on the game-deciding goal in Game 3, and finished with just 7:38 TOI.

Should things play out this way, Trevor van Riemsdyk would stay in on defense over David Rundblad for the second straight game.

As for the 40-year-old Timonen, he’s set to make his series debut and will play for the first time since Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Ducks — which was 16 days ago. That contest, a 5-4 Anaheim win in overtime, was one of Timonen’s roughest outings in what’s been a forgettable playoff; the veteran Finn was minus-2 in just 8:06 of ice time, and received just three shifts in the third period and OT.

“Coaches make the decisions, they put the best lineup on the ice and that’s it,” Timonen explained. “I’m just the one piece of the team here.

“I decided I’m going to work hard at the practice and stay positive and make sure if that chance comes I’m ready to go, and it looks like it’s here.

Would Pittsburgh really make a play for Brandon Saad? (Updated)

Daniel Sedin Sheldon Brookbank
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CHICAGO — At the moment, Brandon Saad is a key part of a Chicago Blackhawks team looking to win its third Stanley Cup in the last six seasons.

Not long from now, though, Saad will be something else — a restricted free agent.

And that has people talking.

On TSN’s Insider Trading yesterday, Pierre LeBrun offered this nugget (transcript courtesy Today’s Slapshot):

[Saad’s] a guy you’ve heard his name attached to offer sheets maybe because the Hawks have all of these salary cap problems. I’ll tell you this. I know this. He’s a Pittsburgh native and the Penguins do have interest. What a splash that would make. They need a top-6 winger.

I don’t think that Brandon Saad is going anywhere. The Blackhawks covet him way too much. But it’s worth noting, the Penguins like the player.

There’s also this, from DK on Pittsburgh Sports’ Josh Yohe:

[Penguins GM] Jim Rutherford can’t comment on other teams’ players because of NHL tampering rules, but I mentioned Saad as an example when posing a general question to the Penguins’ GM about pursuing restricted free agents.

He isn’t against it.

“Let me say this about restricted free agents out there: We’ll always play within the rules,” Rutherford said. “If there is a situation that comes up, we’ll think about it.

“As long as it’s OK under the CBA, if there’s a player out there that we think can make us better, we won’t be afraid to consider making an offer.”

Now before we go too deep here, remember — offer sheets are rarely signed (Brough broke down the reasons why quite thoroughly last week.) It also seems really, really unlikely Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman would let his prized youngster go under any circumstances; last week, Bowman flatly told the Chicago Tribune he’ll get Saad signed.

But it’s easy to see why there’s smoke around Saad-to-Pittsburgh.

As mentioned above, there’s the hometown connection. The Pens are also always on the lookout for wingers to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the 22-year-old Saad, a blossoming star that scored a career-high 23 goals this year, would be more of a long-term solution (rather than some of the short-term fixes the club tried previously.)

And then there’s Chicago’s financial future.

How much can the ‘Hawks afford to pay Saad? Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews start pulling down $10 million cap hits next year and Bowman has his eye on an extension for Brent Seabrook, who’s unrestricted after next season. On the RFA front, Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom need new deals this year, and Andrew Shaw the next.

Now remember — for all this talk about how an offer sheet would make sense, it just doesn’t happen all that often. The last one signed was in 2013 (Ryan O’Reilly with Calgary) and the last player to actually leave via the offer sheet?

Eight years ago. When Dustin Penner bolted Anaheim to join the Oilers.

Update: It’s worth noting that, because of the Daniel Winnik trade at this year’s deadline, Pittsburgh doesn’t own its own second-round pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft — which they’d all but assuredly need to sign Saad to an offer sheet. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of acquiring him via trade (or, trading with Toronto to get the pick back), but it does put the rumors in a different light.

Detroit parting ways with deadline pickup Cole

Erik Cole
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The Erik Cole era in Detroit will be short lived.

Cole, who arrived from Dallas at the deadline but played just 11 games before suffering a season-ending spinal cord injury, won’t be brought back next season, GM Ken Holland announced on Tuesday.

Cole, 36, had a pretty nice campaign prior to suffering his injury. The veteran scored six points in 11 games with the Wings, averaging 14:39 TOI per night. Overall, Cole averaged an impressive 0.57 points per game this year between Detroit and Dallas, his highest rate since scoring a career-best 35 goals with Montreal in 2011-12.

As such, it’ll be interesting to see where he lands in free agency. Clubs looking for a veteran presence on the wing could do worse and Cole does have plenty of playoff experience, having appeared in 46 career contests while playing in a pair of Stanley Cup Finals (winning it all with Carolina in 2006).

As for Detroit, this marks the second straight year a veteran deadline pickup failed to net significant returns — last year, the club acquired David Legwand from Nashville and, after a quick start, he struggled to make an impact in an opening-round playoff loss to Boston.

Those deals could end up hurting the Red Wings down the road. For Cole, they gave up prospects Mattias Backman, center Mattias Janmark and a second-round pick in this year’s draft; for Legwand, they gave up Calle Jarnkrok and a second-rounder in last year’s draft.

Quenneville believes Oduya will be ‘all right’ for Game 4

Johnny Oduya
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CHICAGO — Sounds like Chicago’s blueline won’t be even further thinned out at the Stanley Cup Final.

The day after a 3-2 defeat to Tampa Bay in Game 3, Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said that injured defenseman Johnny Oduya — who played just 9:10 over the final two periods last night — looked to be OK and could be ready to go for Wednesday’s Game 4.

“I think he’ll be all right,” Quenneville said on Tuesday. “He looked all right today. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”

The ‘Hawks can ill-afford to lose Oduya’s services. He’s averaging over 24 minutes a night as one of Chicago’s much talked-about top-four defensemen and, if he’s out, the club would suddenly then have to promote one of Kyle Cumiskey, Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad or Kimmo Timonen into a more prominent role — which could prove problematic given all four have their, ahem, limitations.

Not much is known on the severity of Oduya’s injury. It’s of the upper-body variety, and was believed to have occurred on a second-period hit from Tampa Bay forward Ondrej Palat.

Pittsburgh permitted to interview Oilers’ Nelson about AHL gig

Todd Nelson
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Looks like Todd Nelson might get his desired head coaching gig after all.

Nelson, who finished last year as the interim bench boss in Edmonton, has been granted permission by the Oilers to interview for Pittsburgh’s AHL gig in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pens GM Jim Rutherford told the Tribune-Review.

Nelson, 46, was replaced in Edmonton by Todd McLellan, who was officially hired last month. While it was believed the Oilers wanted to retain Nelson — possibly as McLellan’s assistant — various reports said Nelson was chiefly interested in securing another head coaching gig, be it at the NHL or AHL level.

A return to the American League would make sense (the Wilkes-Barre job has been vacant since John Hynes was hired by the Devils). Nelson enjoyed a fair amount of success with Oklahoma City prior to taking the Edmonton job, taking the Barons to the Calder Cup playoffs four straight times from 2011 to 2014.

Nelson also has ties to the Pittsburgh organization. The Pens took him in the fourth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, and he later went on to appear in one NHL contest for the team.

Per the Trib, the Penguins won’t be required to send a compensatory pick to Edmonton if they hire Nelson.