Mike Halford

Mark Giordano, Nate Thompson, Francois Beauchemin

After recovering from broken leg, Flames’ Bouma (lower body) out for ‘quite a bit of time’

The 2015-16 campaign is one Lance Bouma will probably want to forget.

Calgary’s hard-nosed energy guy, Bouma — who’s already missed two months this season with a broken leg — will now be sidelined for “a few weeks” with a lower-body injury, per Flames head coach Bob Hartley.

Bouma, 25, is coming off a solid ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career-highs in goals (16), assists (18) and points (34), earning himself a three-year, $6.6 million contract extension in July.

Year one of that extension was derailed before it ever got started, though.

Bouma’s leg was broken on a Ryan Reaves hit in mid-October, an injury that kept him out of the Calgary lineup until Dec. 22. He managed to play in eight games before getting hurt again, scoring his first goal of the year in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay last week.

As mentioned above, Bouma is a valuable grinder for the Flames. He’s firmly entrenched as a top-nine forward and finished seventh in the NHL in hits last year, with 264.


All quiet in Columbus, as Rychel won’t discuss trade request

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Kerby Rychel, the Blue Jackets’ first-round pick (19th overall) at the ’13 draft, has been at the center of controversy over the last few weeks, thanks to reports he requested a trade out of Columbus.

This week, after being recalled in the wake of the Ryan JohansenSeth Jones trade, Rychel was asked about that request.

But he wouldn’t bite.

“I’m just here to play hockey,” Rychel said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “I don’t want to discuss anything like that right now.”

Rychel, 21, had apparently become frustrated with his lack of chances at the NHL level, having spent most of last year and this season with AHL Lake Erie.

While that frustration clearly didn’t affect his play — he had 20 points in 21 games with the Monsters this year, and was named to the ’16 All-Star Classic — rumblings about his trade demands were always front and center in Columbus.

At GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s presser following the Johansen-Jones trade, Rychel once again became a topic of conversation.

Q: Kerby Rychel requested a trade over the summer. I think he still desires one. How do you handle that? Is he officially on the trade market, or do you just soldier on and do what’s best for the Blue Jackets?

Kekalainen: Kerby Rychel requested a trade per whom?

Q: Per Kerby Rychel’s agent… per Kerby Rychel, period. Did he not request a trade?

Kekalainen: I’m just wondering where that’s coming from, that all. I’ll have the same answer as the Tampa Bay Lightning had [with Jonathan Drouin] — we will operate with the best interests of the Columbus Blue Jackets in mind, and that’s the only thing we’re worried about.

Rychel performed well in his first game following his latest recall, notching an assist in Saturday’s 4-3 OT loss to Carolina.

While his minutes were still low (just 11:14 TOI), it sounds as though he’s expecting to play a bigger role with the Jackets this time around — which would be his biggest role with the organization to date.

“By the sounds of it, me and [fellow recall Josh Anderson] are going to get an opportunity to play here,” Rychel said. “It definitely feels a bit different this time.”

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

Carolina Hurricanes v Florida Panthers

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

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

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.