Florida Panthers

Calder runner-up Stone says injured wrist is ‘100 percent’

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It’s been a pretty good summer for breakout Sens forward Mark Stone.

He finished second to Aaron Ekblad as the NHL’s top rookie, scored a three-year, $10.5 million extension from the Sens and, this week, confirmed there’s no lingering effect from the P.K. Subban slash he took to the wrist during Ottawa’s opening-round playoff loss to Montreal.

“It’s felt great out there the last couple of skates,” he told the Ottawa Sun. “The shot feels good. The hands feel good. My legs are starting to come along. I feel good and I feel like I’m 100 percent.”

That wasn’t the case this spring, when Stone suffered a microfracture from the Subban slash — an incident that set off a mini-firestorm between two clubs. Following the series, which the Habs won four games to two, Stone expressed frustration over how much the injury — which occurred in the second period of Game 1 — limited him.

Stone played through the injury, but needed to freeze his wrist before and sometimes again during each game.

“It was just frustrating not being able to feel parts of my wrist and parts of my fingers,” he explained. “It definitely didn’t help my shot, but I was able to play through it.”

Now healthy, Stone can focus on two major tasks — getting Ottawa back into the playoffs, and avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump.

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

After another disappointing finish in the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to change course by replacing GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma with Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston respectively prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The results, at least as far as last season was concerned, were not desirable.

To be fair, Pittsburgh was strong for much of the campaign and was even in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy through March 12 with a 39-18-10 record. However, they went 4-9-2 for the remainder of the season and they just barely secured the second Wild Card seed. That set up a first round series against the New York Rangers that the Penguins lost in five games.

For a team that’s home to two of the best forwards in the league, the Penguins’ big weakness last season was actually their offense. Years of subpar drafting beyond first round picks and a top-heavy salary balance sheet seemed to finally catch up with the Penguins as they were thin on scoring threats outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen provided the Penguins with at least 57 points each in 2013-14, but the 35-year-old Kunitz slid to 40 points, Neal had been dealt to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, and Jokinen left as an unrestricted free agent. Consequently, Malkin and Crosby were the only Penguins players to record more than 57 points last season.

Pittsburgh went from being tied for the fifth best offense in 2013-14 to finishing in a tie for 18th just one season later. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a strong campaign and that continued into the 2015 playoffs, but the Penguins provided him with just eight goals of support over five games against the Rangers.

Off-season recap

Rutherford has moved to bolster the Penguins’ offense over the summer. He brought Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster trade with Toronto that also involved the Penguins conceding 2014 first round pick Kasperi Kapanen. Nearly a month later, Pittsburgh acquired Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second round pick from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third round selection.

Pittsburgh further addressed its forward depth with the signings of Eric Fehr (three years, $6 million) and Matt Cullen (one-year, $800K).

Combine that with the return of Pascal Dupuis (blood clots) and Pittsburgh’s group of forwards should look significantly different this season.

McDavid, Eichel headline NHLPA Rookie Showcase

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This year’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase won’t be lacking star power.

The top two picks at this year’s entry draft — Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel — will be in attendance, along with 38 other prospects that’ll descend upon Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 1 for photo ops and media availability.

The list of invitees, per the players’ union:

Connor McDavid (Oilers), Jack Eichel (Sabres), Dylan Strome (Coyotes), Mitch Marner (Maple Leafs), Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes), Ivan Barbashev (Blues), Chris Bigras (Avalanche), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Blue Jackets), Madison Bowey (Capitals), Connor Brown (Maple Leafs), Michael Dal Colle (Islanders), Nikolaj Ehlers (Jets), Robby Fabbri (Blues), Zach Fucale (Canadiens), Nikolay Goldobin (Sharks), Ryan Hartman (Blackhawks), Connor Hellebuyck (Jets), Julius Honka (Stars), Kasperi Kapanen (Maple Leafs), Ronalds Kenins (Canucks), Slater Koekkoek (Lightning), Dylan Larkin (Red Wings), Sonny Milano (Blue Jackets), Samuel Morin (Flyers), Mike Matheson (Panthers), Michael McCarron (Canadiens), Josh Morrissey (Jets), Brendan Perlini (Coyotes), Nic Petan (Jets), Emile Poirier (Flames), Shane Prince (Senators), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), John Quenneville (Devils), Mike Reilly (Wild), Nick Ritchie (Ducks), Travis Sanheim (Flyers), Mackenzie Skapski (Rangers), Brady Skjei (Rangers), Shea Theodore (Ducks) and Jake Virtanen (Canucks).

This will mark the seventh year the PA has gathered rookies for its annual event. Last year’s Rookie Showcase featured 33 players, including Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and fellow finalist Johnny Gaudreau.

Luongo: Panthers cannot accept anything ‘beneath’ playoffs

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When you miss the playoffs as often as the Florida Panthers do, it may be tough to raise expectations.

Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr are far more accustomed to success after game 82 of a season, however, and the Panthers’ goalie is adamant that the team must set its sights on the postseason.

NHL.com transcribed some of Luongo’s more confident comments:

“Last year we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get; we had a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff,” Luongo said. “This year it’s time to take that next step. It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable. I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”source: Getty Images

Florida did make some strides, but falling seven points short of the playoffs is more of a sign of work to do than some might expect (especially after it was sold as “just an extra win every six weeks”). In the age of “loser points,” seven standings points is actually a pretty significant margin.

That said, the Panthers were growing together, as Luongo mentioned. Setting the bar higher is important for young players who are developing as well as veterans who want to earn a few more shots at glory.

Want more on Luongo and the Panthers? PHT covered a lot of bases on that subject a few days ago:

Luongo is under pressure

How well will they mix the old with the new?

Panthers’ outlook in 2015-16

Boston Bruins ’15-16 Outlook

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Considering the significant changes that took place this summer, you’d think that the Boston Bruins fell from contender to cellar-dweller.

In truth, they didn’t miss the 2014-15 postseason by much, falling two points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh. Losing Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic won’t help matters, yet it’s not outrageous to imagine them back in the playoffs next season.

They do still employ Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, after all.

Now, it’s reasonable to wonder if they’re still a Cup contender, but what are their chances of making the playoffs?

Let’s ponder that in a slightly different way: by looking at how they compare to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Division opponents

Lightning – Tampa Bay made a huge leap last season, but they didn’t lose any significant players and are buoyed by young talent. They’re likely out of Boston’s league right now.

Canadiens – Some question Montreal’s possession merits, yet the Habs’ results have been satisfactory so far.

Senators – A clash of fading veterans in Boston and up-and-comers in Ottawa made for an exciting stretch run in 2014-15. Expect a sequel.

Red Wings – A franchise experiencing comparably large front office changes, although Detroit made some key additions instead of subtractions this summer. These two veteran-heavy teams may just battle it out in the bubble.

Panthers – The Bruins must watch out for a team brimming with young talent and familiar faces from the past in Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.

Sabres – Much improved, yet it’s an open question regarding how far Buffalo must go to merely be respectable again.

Maple Leafs – Lottery fodder, you’d think

Metro considerations

Capitals and Islanders – Two teams that may only climb further out of Boston’s reach in the race for playoff spots.

Rangers – Could this team be a little vulnerable? Martin St. Louis’ retirement and Carl Hagelin’s trade lowers the skill level a bit, while a regime change is in order with Jeff Gorton taking over GM duties for Glen Sather. One would think that the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners hold an edge over Boston, perception-wise.

Penguins – Pittsburgh was right there with Boston as far as almost missing a playoff spot goes. The Pens’ outlook sure looks different with former Bruin draftee Phil Kessel in the mix, though, right? If it does come down to these two teams, just imagine Kessel being the deciding factor.

Blue Jackets – A dangerous team that almost seems like it’s being built in the bruising, Bruins’ mold.

FlyersDevils and Hurricanes – You’d think these teams will struggle in 2015-16, but at the same time, it’s dangerous to write these franchises off entirely. Still, you’d think that the Bruins would pass them by.

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Looking at the East teams, do you think the Bruins might make the playoffs? Could they even threaten to win the Atlantic or, conversely, fall into the lottery? It’s an interesting outlook when you try to ponder Boston’s place compared in this mix.