New Year in fantasy hockey: West edition

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So, the year is still pretty new. Let’s celebrate 2018 by considering every NHL team, whether it be asking burning questions, pondering make-or-break situations, and pointing out interesting tidbits.

This week, we’ll roll with the Western Conference, because they win the epic battle of alphabetical order and to reduce risks of people complaining about “East Coast Bias.” Next we’ll we go with the East.

Anaheim: What is this team?

Honestly, it’s easy to forget that Ryan Kesler is finally back. The pugnacious pivot is at five games played now, with his first goal coming last night against Edmonton. Between Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, and plenty of others being hurt, injuries leave the Ducks’ with an “Incomplete” on their mid-term report card.

The good and bad news is that there’s some uncertainty with this team. Maybe you can take advantage of that?

Arizona: Antti Raanta could be a wild card.

Quietly, Raanta has actually been OK this season, sporting a .915 save percentage, in range of his .916 career average. Raanta stopped 37 out of 39 shots to help the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in OT last night.

Wins should be tough to come by, but Raanta may be worth a look if you’re desperate for goaltending. With his next contract on the line, motivation won’t be in short order.

Calgary: Can Mike Smith keep this up? At 35, he’s carrying a big workload, and the Flames traded away a possible insurance policy – albeit a flimsy one – in Eddie Lack. Even if Calgary has some other goalies with future potential, is anyone ready if he hits a wall?

Chicago Jonathan Toews could be starting a hot streak with two straight two-point games after a six-game drought. Consider last season, when he scored more points after the All-Star break (30 points in as many games) than he did before it (28 points in 42 games).

Colorado: Will Nathan MacKinnon continue to rise among the NHL’s best, as he’s been doing – delightfully – so far? More on that here.

Dallas: John Klingberg already has 36 points in 42 games, leading NHL defensemen by five points. You don’t hear a ton about the 25-year-old blueliner thanks to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but he ranks as one of the great fantasy steals of this season.

Edmonton: Oilers in need of new contracts are the most intriguing, and recently suspended winger Patrick Maroon has quite a bit to lose if this team decides to sell, especially if Edmonton does so soon.

Beyond Maroon, interesting situations to watch include Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Other guys, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, could also be up for grabs. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess worth monitoring.

Los Angeles: Is this Marian Gaborik resurgence real? Maybe it’s as real as Dustin Brown‘s rebound?

The often-injured scorer has 13 points in 18 games this season, with an active three-game point streak (two goals, two assists). Gaborik scored 21 points in 56 games in 2016-17 and 22 in 54 in 2015-16, so this would be quite the turnaround if this isn’t a fluke. Some of it very well could be considering his 17.1 shooting percentage, so be warned.

Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk sure seems to be back, and the same seems to be true of the Wild. Probably not a coincidence.

Dubnyk has won six times, lost once, and stopped all 10 shots in another period of relief work where he wasn’t credited with a win or a loss.

Nashville: With Filip Forsberg out four-to-six weeks, it’s crucial to keep an eye on who will trot out with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Calle Jarnkrok first drew that assignment, while Pontus Aberg got the nod on Thursday. Then again, maybe it’s not worth the work if you’re the low-maintenance type.

San Jose: Joe Thornton is tied for the Sharks’ scoring lead alongside Brent Burns with 27 points, which is remarkable.

Also remarkable: Kevin Labanc isn’t far behind with 20 points. He’s getting dangerously close to convincing me that his last name shouldn’t have an “l” in it.

St. Louis: The Blues get a lot from guys you’d expect, but the boost comes from the unexpected. Brayden Schenn still leads the Blues in scoring with 42 points while Carter Hutton has an absurd .947 save percentage starting 11 games and appearing in 14.

Vancouver: This is a bad time to invest in the Canucks.

They start a seven-game road trip on Saturday, and during that time, they deal with two back-to-back sets. This team’s been way more competitive than expected, but it’s likely to be a tough January.

Vegas: William Karlsson, as an RFA, has a lot of incentive to keep his strong work going. So do a lot of Golden Knights, who also face a tough schedule in the near future. Karlsson stands out as a risk for regression, with an unsustainable 26.3 shooting percentage.

Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele‘s last game before that unfortunate injury came on Dec. 27. Since then, Blake Wheeler hasn’t really missed a beat as the new center of the top line, generating four goals and one assist in three games.

Reminder: the guy is a star.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Panthers offer Sarah Nurse deal to lead girls hockey program

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    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are trying to sign a high-scoring forward who has an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, with hopes of getting the deal done in the coming days.

    If it happens, she won’t be playing for the Panthers.

    Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward who had a highlight-reel goal against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin during the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, has the chance to run the Panthers’ new program designed to get more girls playing hockey.

    Florida president Matthew Caldwell offered the job to Nurse publicly – very publicly, at a lectern, with a microphone, before a crowd of onlookers. And he was serious.

    “I’m going to embarrass you, but we’re going to offer you a job today,” Caldwell told Nurse, who was seated in the crowd. “We want you to be the face of our girls program at the War Memorial. So, are you in? On the spot? We don’t deal with agents, OK. I’m a tough negotiator.”

    The idea to hire Nurse was first floated to Caldwell by Melissa Fitzgerald. She’s the general manager for the War Memorial, which is the two-rink facility being refurbished by the team and will become its practice headquarters.

    “We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks,” Caldwell told The Associated Press. “Our youth hockey team kind of brought it up as a joke to me, but I said, `Let’s think big. We’re building this huge facility. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”‘

    The only part Caldwell was less than serious about with Nurse was how the Panthers don’t deal with agents. He spoke with Nurse’s representative, Thomas Houlton, after the event.

    Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and Caldwell spoke for about 15 minutes after the event, which was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, and dozens of kids who got to play ball hockey afterward.

    Nurse played for Canada’s world-champion teams in 2021 and 2022, along with Canada’s Olympic gold winners at the Beijing Games last year.

    She was one of five women’s players from USA Hockey and Team Canada – the two most dominant women’s national teams in the world – who were part of the skills events. She wore custom skates highlighting Black History month and the Black Girl Hockey Club, a nonprofit focused on getting more Black girls and women into the sport.

    She used a move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics against Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie.

    U.S. star Hilary Knight didn’t think Nurse’s goal should have surprised anyone, saying, “she’s a top scorer.”

    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.