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Gionta, Wisniewski could be NHL-bound right after Olympics

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) The next flights Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski take could land them back in the NHL.

As the longtime NHL veterans try to win a medal for the United States at the Olympics, their agents are talking to teams about getting them contracts once the tournament is over. Gionta and Wisniewski will have about a day and a half to sign between the end of the Olympics and the deadline to be eligible for the playoffs. They are ready to jump back in.

“If somebody wanted me, I’m ready to go,” Wisniewski said Monday. “Hopefully I can come out here and have a great Olympics. It’s not like I’m going to be expensive. You don’t have to give up future considerations. I’ve played in the highest level for over a decade and now playing in the Olympics, so it’s not like I haven’t been playing good, competitive hockey.”

Not far removed from the NHL, Gionta and Wisniewski are drawing interest to sign for the rest of this season. Gionta could give a contending team some scoring in a top-nine role on right wing, and Wisniewski is a right-shooting power-play defenseman who, correctly, would come cheap.

“Gio, he looks like hasn’t missed a beat,” forward Brian O’Neill said. “He hasn’t played that much hockey this year, but he looks as sharp as ever. It’s a testament to their work ethic, and it’s not a coincidence they’ve had such great careers. They take their health, their fitness, extremely important and they’re ready to go and James Wisniewski’s in the same boat as Gionta. … I’m sure they’ll have a couple of offers once the Olympics are over.”

Gionta played the most recent of his 15 seasons in 2016-17 and has been practicing with the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans. Wisniewski was limited to 15 NHL games since March 2015 because of knee injuries and has since played in the minors, Russia and Germany.

Neither player feels ready to call it a career, and neither looks finished. Wisniewski might not have the burst of his youth, but coach Tony Granato said the 33-year-old “can still shoot it,” and the 39-year-old Gionta is zipping around in practice with the U.S. college kids.

“He looks pretty young,” 21-year-old forward Ryan Donato said. “He’s one of those guys that although he may have a lot of NHL experience and played in the league for a long time and played with my dad even, he’s one of those guys that always keeps the energy up and is flying around during practice and probably is one of the guys that’s still in the best shape out of all of us, too.”

Gionta feels fresh and in game shape after playing in the pre-Olympic Deutschland Cup in November and one game for Rochester. The U.S. captain has been planning for the Olympics since the summer but has spoken with agent Steve Bartlett to prepare for the tight turnaround to try to get something done before the afternoon of Feb. 26.

“We have been in touch with a few teams that have expressed interest, but they know my main focus is over here and we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it after the tournament’s over,” Gionta said. “This is the focus now, and when this is over, I’ll look to that.”

Wisniewski has been looking to get back since the Carolina Hurricanes bought him out in the summer of 2016. Three ACL tears in his right knee and most recently one in his left knee slowed Wisniewski but didn’t stop him, and he said playing in Germany and preparing for the Olympics brought back his passion for the game.

“Finally it paid off,” Wisniewski said. “If I would’ve had to hang `em up on that, it would’ve been pretty disappointing, but now it’s a dream come true for me.”

As Wisniewski lives out the dream of being an Olympian, he certainly sees it as a showcase for NHL scouts and has thought about what the 36 hours after the final could be like.

“Hopefully we’re playing for the gold medal and then what a better way than to sign another NHL contract,” Wisniewski said. “It’s really up to me. I’ve got to show that I can play and catch somebody’s eye.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

PHT Morning Skate: The hockey world remembers Ray Emery

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Remembering Ray Emery. (TSN.ca)

• A tragic end for Ray Emery, a polarizing figure who led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final. (Ottawa Sun)

• After signing a six-year, $37 million contract last week, a look at how an agent change changed the course of Connor Hellebuyck‘s career. (InGoal Magazine)

Logan Couture, who committed the next eight years of his NHL career to the San Jose Sharks on July 1, is ready to pay it forward. (The Hockey News)

• A move out the wing helped Claude Giroux revitalize his career, and helped Sean Couturier to have a career year, but could a move back to center be the best move for the Flyers going forward? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• A lengthy look at the single best contract for each of the NHL’s 31 teams. (ESPN)

• Vegas’ top line is good, but best top trio hockey? Nope. (Knights on Ice)

Ryan Kesler could miss the entirety of next season and the Anaheim Ducks don’t appear to be worried about it. (Anaheim Calling)

• It wasn’t just New York Islanders fans who felt the sting of his departure on July 1. His own teammates need to pick themselves back up as well. (Sportsnet)

• He’s one the greatest names in Detroit Red Wings history. It’s time to retire Sergei Fedorov’s No. 91. (Detroit Free Press)

• A look at Nathan Walker and the future of international hockey. (Puck Prose)

• Well, this is interesting: Troy Stecher’s closest comparable as he heads to arbitration is in Jim Benning’s family. (Vancouver Courier)

• A look at how Paul Bissonnette has forged a career in multimedia after forging one as a fourth-liner in the NHL. (Forbes)

• After signing Devon Shore to a two-year, the Dallas Stars are still in decent shape in terms of the salary cap. (Blackout Dallas)

• Oilers Nation is doing a player-by-player review from last season, and this particular review looks at if Edmonton is going to miss Patrick Maroon more than they think. (Oilers Nation)

• When Devils’ head coach John Hynes expects to fill his coaching staff and what he wants in an assistant. (NJ.com)

• How Andrej Sustr found healing through art. (NHLPA)

• The rollercoaster of a ride that was the first season of Fanatics handling official NHL apparel. (Scotty Wazz)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canadiens make a good move: Solid deal for Danault

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Unanimously good moves haven’t happened regularly for the Montreal Canadiens these days, so it’s worthwhile to appreciate even what would seem like easy calls.

With that in mind, signing useful forward Phillip Danault to a nice three-year contract ranks as one of Marc Bergevin’s best decisions in some time, whether you can chalk up the value to RFA leverage or not. The Canadiens confirmed that the cap hit is a reasonable $3.083 million per season.

Danault, 25, has essentially been a point-every-other-game player for Montreal. He scored 25 points in 52 games this past season after a relative breakthrough in 2016-17, when he collected 40 points in 82 contests. Not too shabby.

It’s conceivable that Danault could maybe chip in a bit more if leaned upon in a bigger way, as he averaged 16:35 minutes per game, with a touch less than a minute (56 seconds) of that average happening on the power play.

Now, it’s not as though the Canadiens are being foolish in playing him in his current role, as it’s plausible that he’s best served as a supporting cast sort of asset. The point is that Danault seems to make good use of his time, might be able to do a tad bit more, and tends to check out reasonably well from a possession standpoint. He’s not the type of player who will win you a Stanley Cup, yet he’s also the sort of guy who wouldn’t take much off of the table, either. In other words, this is a justifiable contract and could even be a nifty value.

Faint praise? Pretty much, but it’s better than the usual reaction for Bergevin & Co. (laughter, mockery).

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.

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery passes away at age 35

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Terrible news on Sunday: former NHL goalie Ray Emery passed away at age 35.

Toronto photojournalist Andrew Collins first reported the sad news, which was confirmed by Hamilton Police. Multiple reporters, including Collins, indicate that drowning was the cause of death.

The Ottawa Senators drafted Emery in the fourth round (99th overall) in 2001, and some of Emery’s best moments happened with the Sens, including a run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. Emery played in 287 NHL regular-season games and 39 playoff contests, also suiting up with the Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, and Chicago Blackhawks. Emery last played in the NHL in 2014-15 with the Flyers, while his last hockey season came in 2015-16, when he split that campaign between the AHL and Germany’s DEL.

In 2012-13, Emery and Corey Crawford were awarded the William Jennings Trophy, which is handed to the goalie (or in that case, goalies) who produced the lowest GAA during the regular season. He also enjoyed a moment with the Stanley Cup during his time with Chicago:

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Emery stood out thanks to his personality as much as his goaltending, with his one-sided fight against Braden Holtby ranking as one of his most memorable moments in the NHL.

While his NHL career was brief, Emery made an impact, as you can see from an outpouring of emotion from fans and former teammates, including Daniel Carcillo and James van Riemsdyk. Plenty of people around the hockey world also shared their condolences, including Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, who was familiar with Emery during his stint with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk released a statement in memory of Emery.

“On behalf of the Ottawa Senators, I wish to express my sincere condolences on the passing of Ray Emery. Ray was instrumental in our run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, and at his best he brought a competitive edge and combative mentality to the game. On behalf of our entire organization, I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ray’s family, friends and loved ones.”

Blue Jackets get nice value with Bjorkstrand; Panarin meeting looms

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With agitating uncertainty surrounding the long-term futures of Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin, it’s probably wrong to say that the Columbus Blue Jackets wrapped up their “to-do list” on Sunday.

They’ve at least taken care of the matters that are more in their hands this weekend.

On Saturday, defenseman (and potential-gone-wrong) Ryan Murray accepted Columbus’ qualifying offer in something of a shoulder shrug signing. The next day, it was more of a fist bump, as intriguing forward Oliver Bjorkstrand agreed to a friendly three-year deal.

The team didn’t confirm this in its release (because reasons), but the cap hit is a thrifty $2.5 million per season, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline and others.

During his first season in the NHL, the 23-year-old showed promise, scoring 11 goals and 40 points despite modest ice time (an average of 14:18 TOI per game). The Athletic’s Alison Lukan notes that Bjorkstrand checks many of the analytics boxes – rarely a bad sign – so there’s some very genuine optimism that the Dane will deliver strong value.

Personally, it’s also nice to see that he’s hungry to score more goals.

Speaking of the to-do list regarding items they might not have the power to address, Panarin announced that he and his agent will meet with Blue Jackets brass on Monday. Maybe a contract extension actually could happen? Maybe a different sort of resolution is coming?

A lot rides on that situation, yet it doesn’t hurt to land good values at a nice price. That’s absolutely the case with Bjorkstrand.

Really, value might be one of the themes of this Blue Jackets summer, as Bjorkstrand joins Anthony Duclair and Riley Nash as potentially wise bets. Cap Friendly notes that Columbus has its RFAs signed with $5.6M in cap space remaining, so perhaps they have more up their sleeves?