Around the rink – March 19; Kaberle’s return to Toronto, Buffalo-Atlanta showdown

All times Eastern

2:00 p.m.

Columbus @ Minnesota

An early start to the day in St. Paul thanks to the WCHA college hockey championships at night and for the Wild it’s a true make it or break it game. They’re six points out of the eighth spot in the West and a loss to the Jackets pretty much ends their playoff hopes. The return of Mikko Koivu hasn’t given them the boost they were hoping for and the scoring hasn’t shown up enough for them. Hope is a good thing to have and for the Wild it’s all they’ve got right now for the postseason. The Jackets will be hoping to play spoilers and help the Wild join them in misery in waiting until the NHL Draft.

7:00 p.m.

Atlanta @ Buffalo

Buffalo hangs on to the slimmest of advantages in the East playoff race and they’ll be hoping to get a little breathing room against the desperate Thrashers. They’ve got the tiebreaker over the Hurricanes in spite of both teams being tied with 76 points. Atlanta, meanwhile, has 72 points and a win gets them more into the thick of things for the playoffs. Calling this a crucial game for both teams is quite accurate. For teams that may or may not make the playoffs, games like these are their playoff warm up.

Boston @ Toronto

Toronto is hanging on to hope for the postseason by a thread and wouldn’t it figure that they’d have to deal with the Bruins to keep it alive. Making things more awkward, it’ll mark the return of Tomas Kaberle to Toronto, only now as a member of the Bruins. If you’re thinking he’ll get booed, think again. Expect to see James Reimer in goal for Toronto to keep their hopes alive and after J.S. Giguere and the Leafs offense had a spectacular failure against Florida the other night, don’t expect Ron Wilson to make those same mistakes again. For Boston, they’re hoping to gain ground on lurking Montreal in the Northeast Division. The Habs are just two points back of the Bruins but the B’s have two games in hand, meaning a win here goes a long way to securing the division title.

Tampa Bay @ Ottawa

The Lightning are six back of Washington for the division lead in the Southeast but they’re just two behind Pittsburgh for the fourth seed and home ice in the first round. Ottawa has 61 points and the third worst record in the NHL, ahead of just Colorado and Edmonton. Clearly, two teams in very different places. A win for Tampa Bay is huge here if they hope to get home ice. While Pittsburgh doesn’t show many signs of weakening, the Lightning must beat teams like Ottawa to put the pressure on the Pens.

NY Islanders @ Florida

Not every game is going to be one that grabs your attention. Instead, these two will be doing battle over who gets a better advantage in the lottery. Florida is just one point better than the Isles and the Isles are on a two game losing skid. Florida has been typically inconsistent of late alternating wins and losses. If you’re fired up for who wins between the fourth and fifth worst teams in the NHL, you’re a stronger person than most.

8:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Nashville

It’s a huge game for the Predators at home as they’re one point behind Calgary for eighth in the West and two behind Dallas and Chicago. A win puts them back in a great place in the West while a loss falls away as a missed opportunity. A Detroit win would put a virtual lock on the Central Division crown over Chicago. The Wings have a ten point lead on Chicago right now and adding to that would make it nearly impossible for the Hawks to get back in it.

Philadelphia @ Dallas

The Flyers could stand to get a win to continue to keep their lead in the Eastern Conference. With the Capitals continuing to win behind them, getting wins (or even points) is huge. Fortunately for Philly, they have three games in hand on Washington. Dallas sits in sixth in the West with 84 points just one point behind L.A. and five behind Phoenix. The Stars would like to at least just keep up with the joneses and a win would do that. With how things go in the west, any losses at all are a huge set back. With how both teams are playing, this should be one of the more fun games to see tonight.

10:00 p.m.

Colorado @ Edmonton

The two worst teams in the NHL square off to see who wants the best shot at the first pick in the 2011 draft the most. A win by Colorado would put them seven points off of the Oilers for worst record whereas an Oilers victory makes Colorado a real threat to finish the year as the NHL’s worst team. While there’s no real front-runner for the consensus player to be taken number one in the draft, both of these teams should have a huge interest in Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson.

10:30 p.m.

Anaheim @ Los Angeles

It’s the first of three games these two will play against each other over the next few weeks before the end of the season and each one should be vital for both teams when it comes to the playoffs. L.A. is currently in fifth in the Western Conference with 85 points while the Ducks are two points back of Calgary for eighth with 81. The Kings embarrassed themselves at home against St. Louis on Thursday night and facing off against their neighborly rivals should be the potion they need to wake up. The Ducks are winners of six out of their last eight games and coming off a win over the Blues on Wednesday.  It’s got the makings of a barnburner in L.A.

St. Louis @ San Jose

The Sharks would like to keep the surging Coyotes off their heels and a win would extend their lead in the Pacific to three points. Now that Phoenix has reemerged as a threat to the top spot in the division, the Sharks will be tested to see how they handle the stress of being pursued. St. Louis would like to make their California road swing a memorable and potentially spoileriffic one by dealing the Sharks a loss. If they can defend the way they did in their 4-0 win over Los Angeles, the Sharks are in for a world of trouble.

 

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    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

    NEW COACHES

    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

    CAMP TRYOUTS

    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

    EARLY START

    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

    Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

    BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

    CAMP ROSTER

    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.