Leafs’ luck: Bernier gives up long distance goal, things unravel in third


Yikes. Sometimes that’s all you can really say about an especially bad goal.

Every tally has been precious for the offense-starved Toronto Maple Leafs, so giving up a soft one hurts that much more. That’s exactly what happened early in the third period tonight, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored from his own blue line on a sleepy Jonathan Bernier:

Rule of thumb: when people are bringing up Vesa Toskala’s name in Toronto, you know things are going poorly.

Update: Yep, the third period ended up being pretty rough for the Maple Leafs overall.

Phil Kessel first-period goal wasn’t nearly enough for the Maple Leafs to secure a standings point. Martin Hanzal scored the game-winner at the 3:47 mark of the third period and Sam Gagner found the net for an insurance tally with three-and-a-half minutes left.

Almost as disturbing for Toronto is that a flailing Arizona team hogged the puck. The Coyotes generated a 45-25 shot advantage on Thursday with a 21-6 second period being most glaring (even without featuring a single goal).

It’s one thing to be dominated by a contending team; it’s another to be handled thoroughly by a squad seemingly in free-fall mode. Bad times for the Maple Leafs.

Gaudreau, Wilson, Gagner named NHL’s three stars of the week


Calgary rookie Johnny Gaudreau, Nashville’s Colin Wilson and Arizona’s Sam Gagner have been named the NHL’s three stars for the week ending Dec. 28, the league announced on Monday.

The details:

Gaudreau led the NHL with five goals (5-0—5) and shared the League lead with a +5 rating to power the Flames (19-15-3, 41 points) to a pair of wins.

Wilson tied for second in the NHL with 4-1—5, scoring in all three games to lead the Predators (23-9-2, 48 points) to four of a possible six standings points.

Gagner led the NHL with six points (2-4—6) in three games to help the Coyotes (13-18-4, 30 points) pick up a pair of victories.

Gaudreau’s performance was especially crucial given the timing — Calgary was mired in a seven-game losing streak before his natural hat-trick in last Monday’s 4-3 OT win over L.A.

We should also mention that Gagner’s outburst came after he was parked as a healthy scratch by head coach Dave Tippett earlier this month.

Gagner back in Coyotes lineup after ‘frustrating’ healthy scratch


With just three goals and 10 points in 27 games, it’s safe to say Sam Gagner’s first season in Arizona hasn’t gone especially well — which culminated with his healthy scratch in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Wild.

Tonight, Gagner will draw back in for a tilt against Edmonton, but still sounds like he’s stinging a bit from his stint in the press box.

“I don’t think this one was as expected,” Gagner told the Arizona Republic, alluding to an earlier healthy scratch during his Oiler days. “I don’t think this one was as expected. I feel like I want to be out there helping the team get out of it. It is what it is.

“It upsets you and it fires you up, and it makes you want to go out and prove yourself. I’m not happy with the way my season’s gone personally or the way the season’s gone for the team.”

Gagner, 25, was the biggest acquisition in Arizona’s quiet summer, coming from Tampa Bay along with B.J. Crombeen in a cap-clearing move by the Bolts (the Coyotes sent just a sixth-round pick in return.) On paper, the move looked to be a nice get for the Coyotes — they didn’t give up any assets, and Gagner was pegged to replace the offense left following the Mike Ribeiro buyout.

Now, though, the move doesn’t look as sharp.

Gagner’s struggled to fit into Dave Tippet’s system, one that is predicated on defensive awareness and sound two-way play. Case in point: Tippett’s explanation as to why he parked Gagner on Saturday…

“There’s a second effort without the puck that I think can improve in his game and sometimes when offensive players get in a slump, they think the only way to get out of it is to create offense.

“So they start thinking about not defending and just all about offense and in actual fact, good defense lets you play good offense because it lets you play in the offensive zone. Simple as that.”

Given Arizona’s woeful season, their fuzzy financial future and GM Don Maloney’s earlier roster shakeup, it’s fair to speculate that Gagner could be in play come trade deadline time. He’s in the second of a three-year, $14.4 million deal with a $4.8 million cap hit — a little spendy given he’s in a down year, but possibly worth a shot for a team needing center depth and willing to gamble on Gagner for next season as well.

Jooris’ hat trick leads Flames past Coyotes


Flames’ rookie Josh Jooris scored his first career hat trick to lead Calgary over Arizona 5-2 Tuesday night.

David Jones and Sean Monahan had the other goals for the Flames, who have now won three straight and four of five.

Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman and Curtis Glencross each had two helpers in the win.

With the win Calgary remains perfect against Arizona having beaten the Coyotes three times in the past 19 days.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Sam Gagner had the Coyotes goals. Arizona has now lost four of five.

Jooris, who scored his sixth, seventh and eighth goals of the season, joined some exclusive company.

Coyotes ‘hope we can make a deal’ with trade target Vermette


Three weeks ago, we welcomed Antoine Vermette to the trade rumor mill on the heels of a report from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, which explained the “in limbo” Vermette was “trying really hard” not to think about his uncertain future.

Today, the Arizona Republic dug deeper into Vermette’s murky situation:

The Coyotes hope they’re able to retain Vermette, whom they initially acquired via trade in 2012. Since an extension wasn’t reached before the season, contract talks have been tabled for now.

[GM Don] Maloney is also awaiting for clarity on the team’s budget, which he expects will come once Andrew Barroway’s addition to the ownership group is approved by the NHL.

“He’s an important player for us, and we hope we can make a deal that makes sense for both parties,” Maloney said.

Vermette’s situation is complex. It’s no surprise the Coyotes want to keep him; he’s a talented, two-way center that’s durable (hasn’t missed a game in six years) and still only 32 years old. He led Arizona in goals last year, with 24, and played nearly 20 minutes a night.

He’s been very good this season as well. Vermette currently leads the Coyotes in scoring (16 points in 23 games) and has reportedly drawn interest from a number of teams across the league as the arms race for center depth continues.

And that’s the rub.

Heading into free agency this summer, Vermette will likely get a raise on the $3.75 million he made annually on his last deal. That could put Arizona in a difficult spot — aside from an uncertain financial future and new ownership coming aboard, the club could finally go all-in on the proposed youth movement Maloney wanted to implement this season, but pulled back on prior to the start of the campaign.

The Coyotes have spent two recent first-round picks on centers — Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson — and it’s possible both could be with the team next season… if there are spots available. Martin Hanzal probably isn’t going anywhere (under contract through ’17) and Sam Gagner is on the books through 2016, which means Vermette might have more value to Arizona as a trade chip at the deadline, rather than a roster player beyond this season.