Bodog’s oddsmakers aren’t worried about Alex Ovechkin’s tough 2010-11

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To most casual hockey fans, Alex Ovechkin fell off the map last season. It’s tough to fault that mindset when you consider the fact that Ovi makes about $10 million per year – not counting endorsements involving chocolate and magic powers.

The thing is, sometimes the bounces just don’t go your way. That’s exactly what happened to Ovechkin in 2010-11; the Washington Capitals superstar connected on a career-low 8.7 percent of his shots (the only time he’s ever been under double digits). To give you an idea of how big of a drop that is, Ovechkin took an almost identical amount of shots the last two seasons: 368 in 09-10 and 367 in 10-11, yet he scored 50 goals (13.8 percent) in 09-10 and 32 last season.

It’s fair to assume that at least some of that wasn’t related to luck – maybe Ovechkin was a little worn down, perhaps the Capitals’ decelerated system handcuffed him a bit – but the smart money is on a bounce-back season. In fact, big gambling Web site Bodog wasn’t fooled by Ovi’s off year; they gave him the best odds to win the Hart Trophy next season.

Here are their top six choices (with a tie for fifth):

Ovechkin 4/1 odds
Steven Stamkos 11/2
Sidney Crosby 13/2
Daniel Sedin 12/1
Henrik Sedin 14/1
Pavel Datsyuk 14/1

Interestingly, the Anze Kopitar bandwagon keeps getting more crowded, as the Los Angeles Kings’ previously underrated star was the next highest choice with 25/1 odds. It’s surprising – but delightful – to see the Kings’ marquee talent (not named Drew Doughty) get so much attention after sliding under the radar for quite some time. Maybe that has something to do with LA’s proximity to Las Vegas, but it’s still pleasant to see him get his due.

Here are the top three expected finalists for the Vezina Trophy:

Ryan Miller 5/1
Tim Thomas 7/1
Roberto Luongo 15/2

Looking down the list, Pekka Rinne (10/1) and Tomas Vokoun (18/1) are interesting dark horse choices, with Jonas Hiller (25/1) being an intriguing sleeper as well.

Moving on, here are their guesses for the Norris Trophy:

Shea Weber 4/1
Zdeno Chara 9/2
Nicklas Lidstrom 13/2

Interestingly enough, the Norris process is the only one with the same three anticipated finalists as there were last season. It’s honestly a bit surprising – but likewise delightful – to see Weber get the appreciation he deserves. As far as other awards, Bodog pegs Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn over 2011 top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the Calder Trophy and Stamkos tops Ovechkin for the Maurice Richard Trophy.

If you are a gambling fan, Vokoun at (18/1) sure seems appealing. Michal Neuvirth is likely to steal his fair share of starts, but that setup didn’t really hurt Tim Thomas in 2010-11. (Of course, Thomas put together a historic year, but don’t count out Vokoun for big numbers playing behind the first truly dominant team of his impressive career.)

There are plenty of ways to predict how the 2011-12 season will pan out, but looking at gambling odds can be an interesting way to gauge public opinion. So far, the oddsmakers seem like they know their stuff – for the most part, anyway. What do you think about those choices, though?

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

marc-andre fleury
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.