Separation between East’s have & have-not teams will make NHL trade deadline unique

Cody Franson (Abelimages/Getty Images)

If you don’t know by now the NHL’s points system is essentially a competitive funhouse mirror designed to give more teams the appearance they’ve got a shot at a playoff spot, you should. The league has, to the credit of its business acumen, recognized more teams can sell tickets to fans deeper into their regular-seasons if those fans see the teams are only four or five points out of a post-season berth; now, there’s very likely a very slim chance that team can leapfrog a bunch rivals playing each other down the stretch for one of the last playoff positions, but that’s not the point. It’s a mirage of sorts, and it works.

But the way things are shaping up in the Eastern Conference this year, not even the “loser point” looks like it’s going to create the illusion of competitiveness between the teams that make the post-season and the ones that don’t. Of course, most teams still have approximately 35 games to play, so you can’t be sure about anything just yet, but with the trade deadline set for March 2, it’s starting to look like the East’s eight non-playoff teams are going to serve as a feeder system for the much tighter West. Read more

Radek Dvorak calls it quits on 18-year, 1,260-game NHL career

Radek Dvorak (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images Sport)

Veteran right winger Radek Dvorak, who played 1,260 career regular-season NHL games with eight teams over 18 years, retired Tuesday.

The 37-year-old Dvorak was drafted by the Florida Panthers 10th overall in 1995, and developed into a solid, if unspectacular forward who could play defense (he still holds Florida’s team record for most shorthanded goals, with 16). He had a 31-goal campaign for the Rangers in 2000-01, but never scored more than 20 in a single season after that. Having had two separate stints with the team, he’s second in Panthers franchise history in games played (613), but also spent time with the Blueshirts, Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks and the Carolina Hurricanes. And he represented his homeland at the 2002 Olympics, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and numerous IIHF World Championships. Read more

Is Aaron Ekblad’s historic age-18 season an anomaly or a new trend?

Matt Larkin
Aaron Ekblad has been one of the league's best blueliners after jumping right to the NHL as an 18-year-old. Others who have made a similar transition believe teenage D-men will reach the NHL more and more often. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Aaron Ekblad’s maiden NHL voyage is equally predictable and shocking.

On one hand, everything the mammoth defenseman has accomplished with Florida matches what the world expected of him. Prospects didn’t come more can’t-miss than Ekblad, who at 15 was the first defenseman to earn exceptional status and join the OHL a year early, a la the John Tavares rule. Ekblad logged Clydesdale minutes with the Barrie Colts. He spearheaded a serious stab at the Memorial Cup in 2013. He manned Canada’s blueline at the 2014 world juniors with middle-aged poise. Months after the Panthers made him the first D-man in eight years to go first overall in the NHL draft, he entered the world’s best circuit already 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds.

Ekblad wasn’t old enough to legally drink, and he was barely eligible to attend an R-rated movie without mommy and daddy, but he was as ready as he could possibly be, built like a tank and noticeably polished in interviews. It seemed like the kid would make it look easy, and he largely has. His 24 points after 40 games placed him third among rookies and miles ahead of the pack for the lead among freshman blueliners. Only Damon Severson averaged more minutes among rookies. It was precisely the smooth transition Ekblad was supposed to make.

“I didn’t feel intimidated at all, actually,” he said. “I had guys like Willie Mitchell, and obviously this is a young team, so guys like (Aleksander) Barkov and (Nick) Bjugstad were able to welcome me with open arms. So that counts as fairly easy in my mind.”

Fairly easy? It makes you want to grab Ekblad’s enormous shoulders and shake him. Don’t you realize what you’ve done?

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Rumor Roundup: What to watch as trade deadline draws near

Fleischmann Kopecky featured

With the 2015 NHL All-Star Game now history and teams returning to action on Tuesday, the focus shifts toward the approaching NHL trade deadline on March 2. It’s expected trade activity will increase over the next five weeks as more clubs fall out of playoff contention.

As the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch observes, only four teams – Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers – can be considered non-contenders and therefore sellers in the trade market. Between now and the trade deadline, Garrioch believes they will be joined by the Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. Read more

Which skills are the hardest? The all-stars weigh in

Bobby Ryan skates in on Corey Crawford (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

COLUMBUS – The moves that NHLers can pull off are incredibly impressive, especially since they perform them in front of thousands of people live and many more on TV. The All-Star Game’s skills competition puts many of those tricks on display, but which are actually the hardest? The players themselves have weighed in.

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After 22 seasons, Ray Whitney officially announces retirement

(John Russell/Getty Images)

When you think of players who scored 1,000 points in the NHL, the last name to come to mind is often Ray Whitney. And on Wednesday, one of the NHL’s best and quietest scorers called it a career.

Whitney, 42, was prolific with every team he ever went to, and a model of consistency. He was a 10-time 20-goal scorer, nine-time 60-plus point getter, yet was only named to any of the league’s season-ending all-star teams on one occasion, a second team nod in 2011-12. Read more

Don’t look now, but Panthers may be a playoff team after all

Adam Proteau
Nick Bjugstad (Getty Images)

After their 4-2 win over Edmonton Sunday, the Florida Panthers are one point out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, with three games in hand on the team (Boston) they need to beat out for that spot. Florida is 8-3-1 since Dec. 13, and they’ve won three in a row.

I have no problem admitting I was skeptical before the season began when it came to Florida’s playoff chances, but they’re slowly winning me over. Thanks in large part to the play of goalie Roberto Luongo, rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad and third-year center Nick Bjugstad, we’re starting to see some serious progress from an organization that’s been all but bereft of it for the past two decades. Considering team ownership desperately needs to see a strong on-ice showing in order to help rebuild trust with the ticket-buying public, it couldn’t have come at a better time for it.

What stands in the Panthers’ way from their first post-season appearance since 2012 (and only the second since 1999-2000)? The same things that stand in the way of most bubble playoff teams: Read more

Five AHL players to watch the rest of the season

(Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Every season, there are a few players who tear up the AHL and shock the big league when they finally make the jump. Last season, it was Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist. This season, Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman is making a name for himself.

So who are the players to watch from North America’s second best league? One of them, Teemu Pulkkinen, will likely make his debut tonight as a member of the same Red Wings Nyquist broke in with last season. Another, Teuvo Teravainen, worked his way in to the Chicago Blackhawks lineup following Kris Versteeg’s injury, but he was scratched on Thursday before drawing back in on Friday.

Another AHL notable, Pittsburgh’s Derrick Pouliot, is up with the big club, though he hasn’t seen game action since Jan. 2. Were he in the AHL at the moment, he, too, would make the list. But here are the five AHL players to watch in the latter half of 2014-15. Read more