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Returns of Hansen, Tanev have been key for Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks could not afford to have another injury-filled season. They just aren’t deep enough to lose key players for extended periods.

And yet, another injury-filled season is exactly what they’ve had. According to the website Man-Games Lost, Vancouver’s been the NHL’s fifth-most impacted team by injuries to their skaters, after Winnipeg, Detroit, Buffalo, and Boston.

The Canucks have only just started to get healthy again. First-line winger Jannik Hansen returned Dec. 11 after missing 16 games with a fractured rib. Top-pairing defenseman Chris Tanev returned Dec. 16; he’s missed 23 games in all with an ankle injury.

In a related story, with last night’s 4-1 win over Winnipeg, the Canucks improved to 2-0-1 in the three games that both Hansen and Tanev have been back. The former has three goals in those three games; the latter is plus-3 with two assists.

“Jannik brings a lot of speed to our line and gives us a lot more room to work down low and off the rush,” said Henrik Sedin, per the Canadian Press. “He’s done a great job since he’s been back.”

The Canucks still have injuries. Defensemen Alex Edler, Erik Gudbranson and Philip Larsen are all out with various ailments. Up front, winger Derek Dorsett is done for the season after undergoing neck surgery.

But Edler (broken finger) should be back shortly after the Christmas break, and that should provide a boost similar in strength to the returns of Hansen and Tanev. They may also, finally, get forward Anton Rodin into the lineup. He’s yet to play for them due to a lingering knee injury, but he’s been down in the AHL on a conditioning stint, and the reviews have been good.

The Canucks (14-16-3) could use all the boosts they can get. They’re currently four points back of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. While that doesn’t sound like much of a deficit, with all the three-point games in the NHL, it’s a considerable amount of ground to make up.

In fact, according to the website Sports Club Stats, the Canucks will need to go in the neighborhood of 26-17-6 in their remaining games to get into the playoffs.

Is that likely to happen? No, probably not.

But if they can avoid further injuries, it’s at least in the realm of possible.

Related: The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

Nothing is going right for the Colorado Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche last made the playoffs, it was their goalie, Semyon Varlamov, who helped them the most.

Varlamov went 41-14-6 with a .927 save percentage during that magical 2013-14 season, and for that he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.

But there’s nothing magical about the Avs (11-18-1) anymore. They’re the NHL’s worst team, four points back of the second worst, Arizona. Varlamov, meanwhile, is 6-12-0 with a .904 save percentage, and to make matters even worse, now he’s battling a sore groin.

Varlamov’s backup, Calvin Pickard, has been forced to start the last three games, all of them losses. Pickard’s record is 5-6-1 with a .903 save percentage. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.

“Right now it’s major breakdowns that are hurting us,” said forward Jarome Iginla, per the Denver Post. “Our goalies are playing well. It’s unfortunate we’re leaving them … with a few two-on-ones and breakaways. That’s all of us. That’s forwards covering for the D, the D making the right reads. It’s all of us in front of the goalies, and we’re not good enough in that area right now.”

Even great goaltending may not be enough to rescue these Avs, who have the NHL’s second-worst offense (2.17 goals per game), barely ahead of the Coyotes (2.16). Only two Colorado players, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, are providing much in the way of scoring. And even then, Duchene’s team-high 22 points do not crack the top 50 league leaders.

Bottom line: the Avs’ season has been a disaster.

And frankly, it was a disaster before it even started, with Patrick Roy abruptly quitting in August, forcing a frantic coaching search that ended with the hiring of Jared Bednar.

Read more: Bednar rips Avs’ lack of intensity, a familiar refrain this season

Yes, the Avs have had to deal with injuries to Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog. But then, other teams have dealt with much worse, and all of them have dealt with it better than the Avs.

So, what happens now?

To date, GM Joe Sakic has been hesitant to make any big changes.

“It’s early in the year,” he said a few weeks back. “First of all, changes are hard to do, especially this time of year. … We know we have certain guys who can give more, and those guys know they can give more, but it’s not like it’s a whole thing. We’re not as consistent as we need to be.”

At the time, Sakic noted the Avs were only two games below .500 — “a four-game swing and you’re two games over .500 and right back in it.”

Today, they’re seven games below .500. To make the playoffs, it’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 29-16-7 the rest of the way.

So essentially, they’re already out of it, save for a miraculous turnaround that does not in any way appear imminent.

That may soon require Sakic to move to Plan B and start selling off veterans like Iginla, or even consider dramatic changes to the core.

At the very least, this core may only have the rest of the season to show Sakic it’s worth keeping together. With attendance suffering and interest dwindling, it will be hard to sell fans more of the same if there isn’t some sign of life down the stretch.

The Avs’ next game is Tuesday in Minnesota against a Wild side that’s won seven straight.

Pre-game reading: Radulov has been a real hit in Montreal

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— Up top, Tuukka Rask is focused on getting the Bruins back to the playoffs. He’s gonna have to be good, and busy, especially if Anton Khudobin can’t find some consistency in the backup role.

— Has any player resurrected his reputation more than Alex Radulov has this season in Montreal? “The big Russian forward has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most popular players, if not the most popular,” writes the Montreal Gazette. It sounds like Radulov was a real hit Wednesday when the Habs visited Montreal Children’s Hospital to spread some Christmas cheer. He forgot his teeth, which is always good for a few laughs. (Montreal Gazette)

— Pierre LeBrun breaks down the Los Angeles Kings’ situation ahead of the expansion draft. “It’s a given that Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin will be protected.” What’s in question is whether they’ll protect a fourth defenseman, Brayden McNabb, which could leave forwards like Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, and Trevor Lewis unprotected. A tough decision for GM Dean Lombardi, who still has to get Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson signed to extensions. Shedding Gaborik’s cap hit may actually be advantageous for the Kings, which makes you wonder if Vegas would bite. (ESPN)

— The statistics don’t look good for the slumping Detroit Red Wings. “Particularly alarming has been their inability to generate shots, a category in which they currently sit 30th in the league. They’re 26th in overall shot share as a result, sandwiched between the Senators and Canucks, and in a rather unfamiliar neighborhood.” Indeed, the playoff streak may be coming to an end in the Motor City. (Sportsnet)

— Todd McLellan on coaching Connor McDavid: “I think coaching a superstar from the start of his career is probably a little easier than taking a job where your team’s superstar has already been in the league for seven or eight years and he’s in his prime and you have to figure him out. We’re growing together as a team, a coaching staff and a superstar.” An interesting remark, and probably a fair bit of truth to it. Recall all the hand-wringing when new coaches have taken over the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and especially the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin. (CBC.ca)

— Remember the name Cale Makar, who’s making quite an impression with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Some believe the 18-year-old defenseman should have been invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors camp. Makar was not draft-eligible in 2016. Where he’s selected in 2017 remains to be seen, but one NHL scout said he “has skill that could make him best defenseman in North America for the draft.” (TSN)

Enjoy the games!

Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson joins Seattle arena group

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There has been another twist in the ongoing Seattle arena story.

The day after leading his team to a win over the Patriots, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson announced via Twitter that he has joined Chris Hansen and his partners with the investment group working to build a brand new multi-purpose arena that could be the home for an NBA franchise or possibly an NHL expansion team in the city’s SoDo neighborhood.

“I’m excited to announce I’ve partnered w/ the Sonics Arena Group to help bring the @NBA & @NHL to the best fan base in the world,” Wilson tweeted from his verified account.

A Super Bowl champion with the Seahawks, Wilson’s star power and popularity with sports fans in that market could be a major boost to the investment group as it looks for permission from the city to move forward with this project.

The latest from King 5 News:

The Hansen group’s effort to build a new arena is currently in limbo, with the city council refusing to approve a street vacation in SODO that is needed for building the proposed arena. In the meantime, Mayor Ed Murray announced the city is seeking bids from groups to remodel Key Arena in Seattle Center, the former home of the Sonics.

When asked whether Wilson was expected to campaign at City Hall to get the project done, one source replied, “He is prepared to do that.”

Last month, in a major turn of events in this story, it was reported that Hansen and his investment group offered to forgo public funding for the arena project.

The very next day, another report from King 5 News stated that the mayor’s office was exploring the idea of renovating Key Arena, the old home of the Sonics before the team left Seattle.

Monday’s news certainly adds another element to this whole saga. It also shows the Hansen investment group is making a strong push to try to get something done with the city, which would be vital to the prospects of getting an NHL team in Seattle.

“We’re not paying a lot of attention to Seattle,” said commissioner Gary Bettman, per NHL.com.

“If they ever put a shovel in the ground and actually build a building instead of just talking about one we might pay attention. But it’s not something we’re monitoring. We’re not focusing on future expansion at this point and we’re not focusing on Seattle over anywhere else.”

Related:

Tim Leiweke could play role in redevelopment of Seattle’s KeyArena

Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle