Youngsters dazzle at the AHL’s All-Star skills competition

Eric Comrie (Photo by Graig Abel Collection/Getty Images)

While John Scott was being carried on the shoulders of his all-star teammates in Nashville (I can see the reports now: Joe Pavelski, day-to-day, hernia. Brent Burns, day-to-day, hernia…), the American League’s finest were having their skills competition at their all-star festivities in Syracuse. And there were some pretty nice performances for fans of a couple NHL franchises.

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AHL to stream All-Star Challenge for free — here are five players to watch

Mikko Rantanen (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Fans will be watching Nashville this weekend as the some of the world’s greatest players gather for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, but hockey fans looking to watch some great up-and-coming talent can tune into AHL’s skills competition Sunday and All-Star Challenge Monday.

The events, which will in large part mirror those of the NHL, will give fans the opportunity to see talents who could be breaking into the big league in a few season’s time. Best of all, there’s no reason not to be able to watch the game, either, as Canada’s Sportsnet and 25 regional networks in the United States will be carrying both Sunday’s skills competition and the mini-tournament Monday evening. And for fans without access, the league is offering a free stream of the All-Star Challenge. By going to AHLLive.com Monday evening, fans can access the broadcasts by entering in ‘ASC2016’ as a promotional code.

Unlike the NHL, which has gone full 3-on-3 for its All-Star Game, the AHL has decided to change the format up to increase action at the tail-end of the games. Four teams — one from each the Atlantic, North, Central and Pacific divisions — will play a six-game round-robin. Games will last nine minutes with play switching from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 at the midway mark of each game. The top two teams when round robin play concludes will square off in the final — a six-minute, 3-on-3 game.

The AHL all-star weekend has, in the past, featured players such as Patrice Bergeron, Logan Couture, Tyler Johnson, Gustav Nyquist, Tuukka Rask, Cory Schneider, Patrick Sharp and P.K. Subban, so if you need more reason to watch, it could be your chance at watching a few future NHL all-stars before they make their climb to the NHL. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Will Bruins be forced to trade Loui Eriksson?

Loui Eriksson. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The contract status of Boston Bruins’ right wing Loui Eriksson continues to draw media attention. Eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, the Bruins hope to re-sign the 30-year-old right wing, who’s been among their best two-way players this season. Doing so, however, could cost more than they’re willing to pay.

Eriksson’s current annual cap hit is $4.25 million. Given his value to the Bruins over the past two seasons, The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa believes the veteran right wing is justified in seeking $6 million per season. The Bruins will have the cap space to accommodate that, but not if he’s seeking a lengthy extension.

CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty doubts Bruins GM Don Sweeney will hand Eriksson a five- or six-year deal at $6 million per. Eriksson is represented by agent J.P. Barry, and Haggerty points out Sweeney last year traded away Barry clients Carl Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton.

Shinzawa and Haggerty agree Eriksson could fetch a first-round pick and a top prospect, but the Bruins need a return that helps them now and in the future. They speculate Sweeney could offer up Eriksson to the Minnesota Wild for a young defenseman like Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. Haggerty also suggests the Anaheim Ducks or Winnipeg Jets as potential destinations.

The Wild and Ducks could be the best fit. Both clubs are deep in young blueliners and need scoring punch to remain in the Western Conference playoff chase. The Jets, however, are fading in the postseason race and are unlikely to acquire a rental player.

JETS FOCUSING ON SIGNING BYFUGLIEN, TRADING LADD

With the Winnipeg Jets mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, there’s growing speculation over GM Kevin Cheveldayoff ‘s plans for pending UFAs Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. As their playoff hopes fade, Cheveldayoff could re-sign one and shop the other by the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Recent reports suggests the focus is shifting toward re-signing Byfuglien. TSN’s Gary Lawless claims contract talks between the Jets and Ladd recently broke off. He suggests uncertainty over the contract status of their captain is contributing to the Jets’ struggles this season.

It’s believed Ladd, 30, seeks a six-year deal worth over $6-million annually, which Lawless doesn’t believe the left winger will get from the Jets. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman guesses Cheveldayoff won’t go over $6 million.

If the Jets part ways with Ladd, his leadership, experience and Stanley Cup pedigree (championships with Carolina in 2006 and Chicago in 2010) makes him an attractive playoff rental. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun suggests the Florida Panthers as a good destination, though he’s unsure if the Panthers have the assets to swing it.

Ladd carries a modified no-trade clause, but maybe he’ll be receptive to joining the Panthers. They’re surging in the standings and he knows Panthers GM Dale Tallon from their days with the Chicago Blackhawks. It was Tallon who brought Ladd from Carolina to Chicago at the 2008 trade deadline.

LEAFS TRYING TO DEAL BERNIER, WINNIK

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ trade candidate guessing game continues. While it’s anticipated the Leafs will peddle most of their pending UFAs, The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle reports players with term remaining on their contract could be shopped. He claims forward Daniel Winnik and goaltender Jonathan Bernier are available.

Winnik, 30, has one season remaining on his contract at a salary-cap hit of $2.25 million, while the 27-year-old Bernier carries $4.15 million for 2016-17. Mirtle acknowledges their poor performances this season makes those contracts difficult to move.

Bernier’s fate could also depend upon the Leafs’ contract talks with pending UFA James Reimer, who’s been superb this season but plagued by injuries. If the Leafs can’t reach an agreement with the 27-year-old Reimer before Feb. 29, they’ll likely listen to trade offers.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.)

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

Luckily for Milan Lucic, things ain’t the way they used to be

Lucic

It’s reasonable to expect that a suspension given for an on-ice crime that was committed more than 20 years ago would be a lot different than one of a similar nature in today’s game. And that was certainly the case when Milan Lucic of the Los Angeles Kings was sentenced for his gratuitous punch to the head of Arizona Coyotes defenseman Kevin Connauton, but not in the way you’d think.

Lucic served one measly, meaningless and inconsequential game for slashing and drilling an unsuspecting opponent in the head with a sucker punch and forfeited 0.1 percent of his salary this season. It was literally the least the NHL could do. Yes, Connauton slashed Lucic across the wrists and made a boo-boo, for which he was penalized two minutes for slashing. Which players such like Lucic seem to think should be just cause for losing your mind and taking matters into your own hands.

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Prodigal son Keon not back yet, but Shanahan takes great first step

Ken Campbell
Dave Keon (left) and Dick Duff

As far as repairing the relationship between Dave Keon and the Toronto Maple Leafs is concerned, it’s a good first step. But that’s all it is.

With the player some think is the greatest ever to wear a Maple Leaf uniform due to be honored by the organization tonight, which will be followed in the spring with a statue on Legends’ Row along with Turk Broda and Tim Horton, some have characterized the proceedings as an indication that the prodigal son has come home, that Keon is ready to embrace and re-engage with the organization to which he has been estranged for more than 40 years.

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What do the surging Hurricanes do about Eric Staal?

Jordan Staal (left) and Eric Staal (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

When the calendar turned to the month of December, the Montreal Canadiens were in first place in the NHL standings, a full 12 points clear of the last playoff spot. The Carolina Hurricanes, on the other hand, were tied for last place in the Eastern Conference and pretty much where everyone predicted they’d be, battling hammer and tong for the right to draft Auston Matthews first overall.

So here we are a mere 52 days later and the Hurricanes flew into the eye of the storm – they’re due for six inches of the white stuff in Raleigh tonight – Thursday night after a sluggish 1-0 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs tied with the Canadiens with 50 points. That has more to do with the Canadiens ineptitude over the past month-and-a-half to be sure, but to chalk it up to that exclusively would be to ignore the fact that the Hurricanes are indeed a group that is coming together a little quicker and a little more dramatically than everyone thought they would.

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The hockey gods are smiling on the Maple Leafs, at last

Mike Brophy
Mike Babcock. (Getty Images)

Apparently the hockey gods take notice when you start doing things the right way.

They have certainly been smiling down on the Maple Leafs since Toronto did an about face and started heading in a completely different direction. The right direction.

When Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan fired coaches Randy Carlyle and his interim replacement Peter Horachek and replaced them with Mike Babcock, widely regarded by many to be the best coach in hockey, it was obvious Shanny was serious about shutting down the country club in Toronto and making it a place of hockey business.

To emphasize that point, Shanahan gave Babcock an ironclad eight-year, $50 million contract with more clout than any NHL coach has ever had.

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What’s happening to this beautiful game?

Toronto vs. Columbus (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Driving to the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday night, your trusty correspondent had high hopes for an exciting, back-and-forth game. And I mean that in all sincerity.

Here’s why. It was a game that pitted the 27th-best team in the NHL against the 30th-best team in the NHL. For the cup-is-half-empty-crowd, that would be the fourth-worst team in the world’s best league against the absolute worst team. In my experience, those kinds of games are usually the most entertaining because I’ve always believed the worse the players, the better the game is to watch. More mistakes equal more chances. The problem with the NHL today is not that the players are not good enough, it’s that they’re too good.

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