Mike Halford

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 4: Eric Gryba #62 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 4, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Gryba back with Oilers on training camp PTO

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Eric Gryba is returning to Edmonton, though not with the security he’d like.

The veteran d-man has agreed to attend Oilers training camp on a PTO, per the Journal. The decision comes after Gryba spent nearly the entire offseason hoping for a contract from another NHL club — an offer that never came to fruition.

So, it’s the tryout route.

The 28-year-old was acquired by Edmonton at the 2015 draft, and proceeded to play 53 games last year. Over that spell, Gryba did what Gryba does — throw plenty of hits, rack up plenty of PIM and man the penalty kill.

Limited offensively and not the fastest skater, Gryba will be in a battle to secure a contract in Edmonton. The club’s top six projects to be comprised of Oscar Klefbom, Brandon Davidson, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse, Mark Fayne and newly acquired Adam Larsson, with Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Osterle in the mix for depth spots.

 

Rask, Lundqvist make World Cup debuts as Finland-Sweden rivalry renews

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 18: Tuukka Rask #40 of Team Finland takes part in warmups prior to the game against Team North America at the Air Canada Centre on September 18, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Finns are making a significant change ahead of today’s virtual must-win against Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey.

And so are the Swedes.

Pekka Rinne, Finland’s opening night starter in goal, will be replaced by Tuukka Rask, head coach Lauri Marjamaki confirmed on Monday.

Meanwhile, Team Sweden bench boss Rickard Gronborg announced that Henrik Lunqvist, who missed the opener due to the flu, would be in net after Jacob Markstrom performed admirably in a win over the Russians.

The decision to bench Rinne is a tad surprising, though hardly shocking. The Nashville ‘tender wasn’t to blame for a lopsided 4-1 loss to Team North America — he made 39 saves, and Marjamaki called him Finland’s best player — but he did fight the puck on certain occasions.

Outside of Rinne’s performance, it’s clear Marjamaki and the Finnish coaching staff needed to shake something up.

That’s probably why they’re going with Rask, who has starred internationally in the past. He was stellar at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, posting a 1.73 GAA and .937 save percentage in helping the Finns capture bronze.

As for Sweden, it was expected Lundqvist would regain the starter’s net when healthy.

It’s early, but Columbus has to be thrilled about Bobrovsky

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 19: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of Team Russia stops Dylan Larkin #71 of Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. Team Russia defeated Team North America 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been said the Blue Jackets will only go as far as Sergei Bobrovsky will take them.

Debatable, sure. But after watching Team Russia at the World Cup, it’s easier to make the argument.

In the wake of Bobrovsky’s scintillating effort in a 4-3 win over Team North America — 43 saves, 19 on the power play — it’s clear the most valuable Russian isn’t Alexander Ovechkin, or Evgeni Malkin, or Vladimir Tarasenko.

It’s Bob.

“I would like to thank Sergei Bobrovsky for this win,” Artemi Panarin said, per the Russian Hockey Federation. “If he hadn’t played so well, the score would have been different.”

Bobrovsky was terrific, a continuation of the form shown throughout the exhibition and World Cup campaign. All told, he’s stopped 144 of 155 shots faced — a .929 save percentage — and posted his best performances against (arguably) the two best teams in this tournament: Canada, and TNA.

All of which is music to Jarmo Kekalainen’s ears.

The Blue Jackets GM knows how vital Bobrovsky is to the club’s success. When the franchise broke a four-season playoff drought in 2013-14, Bobrovksy was a big reason why. He started 58 games that season, going 32-20-5 with a .923 save percentage. He captured the Vezina, and was Columbus’ clear MVP.

Likewise, it was Bobrovsky’s struggles that played a major role in the Jackets’ disaster of a 2015-16 campaign. Not only did his save percentage fall to .908, a recurring groin injury limited him to just 37 appearances.

Add it all up, and the formula is simple — Columbus needs Bobrovsky to make a lot of starts, and play well in those starts.

Which is why keeping him healthy is so important.

This summer, Columbus hired a “high performance” consultant by the name of Nelson Ayotte. The purpose of the hire was to “bridge the gap between the medical staff and the staff of strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins,” but Kekalainen specifically pointed out it was “a huge priority” for Ayotte to keep Bobrovsky healthy.

So far, so good. Bobrovsky already seems to have benefited from tweaks to his offseason training regimen.

But it’s a bit alarming to think just how much is riding on him this season.

Columbus is desperate to get back into the postseason after missing in each of the last two years. The management group of Kekalainen and president John Davidson has to be feeling the pressure, especially with a $69 million payroll and some of their highest profile moves (like signing Nathan Horton, then trading Horton for David Clarkson) going bust.

Kekalainen’s already played one of his biggest cards — firing Todd Richards in favor of John Tortorella — and Torts will undoubtedly be feeling heat this season, especially if the U.S. flames out of the World Cup.

So over to you, Bob. No pressure.

Nichushkin agrees to two-year deal with CSKA Moscow

Valeri Nichushkin
AP
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Valeri Nichushkin is on his way back to Russia.

Nichushkin, the Dallas forward who had his KHL rights acquired by powerhouse CSKA Moscow on Monday, has agreed to a two-year deal with the club.

CSKA announced news of the contract on Tuesday. Per our hasty Google translation, it has to be pointed out that CSKA said the deal had only been “agreed” upon, and will be signed “in the near future.”

What this means for Dallas remains to be seen.

It could provide the club one final chance of reaching a new deal with the still-unsigned RFA, and perhaps try and smooth out the rocky relationship between Nichushkin and head coach Lindy Ruff.

As pointed out by Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko yesterday, Nichushkin doesn’t want to play for Ruff but does want to return to the Stars someday. That could be why his deal with CSKA is for two years — the same amount of term left on Ruff’s deal in Dallas.

The 10th overall pick in 2013, Nichuskin looked like a budding star following a 14-goal, 34-point rookie campaign. But a major hip injury and surgery sidelined him for almost all of his sophomore campaign, which set things up for an acrimonious third year.

Ruff sent a message right at the start of the season, making Nichushkin a healthy scratch while adding the 21-year-old needed to “get his head in the right place.”

In late March, an interview with with Russian news outlet Sport-Express made waves, as Nichuskin said he didn’t feel Ruff trusted him, or played him enough.

Not long after, Nichuskin’s agent tried to clear the air.

“Val loves it in Dallas,” Mark Gandler told the Morning News. “He’s very happy there.”

Related:

Despite erratic year, Stars say Nichushkin still ‘very important player to us’

Under Pressure: Valeri Nichushkin

Report: Panthers want Ekblad pulled from World Cup amid concussion concerns

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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Florida isn’t taking any chances with Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad, the franchise defenseman that was shook up on a Leo Komarov hit during North America’s win over Finland on Sunday, is reportedly on his way back to South Florida and expected to miss the remainder of the World Cup, per the Miami Herald.

From a source within the Panthers organization, the Herald reports Ekblad suffered a “mild concussion” on the hit. Florida also told the NHL it doesn’t want him playing in the tournament anymore.

Team North America brass, meanwhile, isn’t saying much.

GM Peter Chiarelli said Ekblad is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, and head coach Todd McLellan reiterated that diagnosis following North America’s 4-3 loss to Russia on Monday night — a game in which Ekblad was scratched and replaced by Jacob Trouba.

“Upper-body, day-to-day, don’t know how long he’ll be,” McLellan said. “And it’s a big loss.”

It’s not coincidental that “TNA” lost its first game without Ekblad in the lineup. The first overall pick in 2014, Ekblad burst onto the NHL scene and has emerged as arguably the best young defensive prospect in hockey.

After capturing the Calder in ’14-15, he racked up an impressive 15 goals and 36 points in his sophomore campaign last season, receiving a handful of Norris votes in the process.

Ekblad quickly emerged as a linchpin on the North American blueline. He averaged close to 22 minutes per game in the three exhibitions, finishing with two goals and an assist, then played a team-high 23:53 in the win over Finland.

It’s pretty obvious why the Panthers want Ekblad out of this tournament.

He’s a budding star, already one of the faces of the franchise and a major investment — this summer, he inked a monster eight-year, $60 million extension with Florida, one that will keep him with the organization through 2025.

Because of that, it’s almost impossible to think Ekblad will return to play for Team North America in this tournament.