Toronto center Jay McClement is better known for preventing goals with his shutdown prowess, but last night in Tampa he put his hands to good use with a stunner.
Earlier this season there was speculation the Florida Panthers might dump as many of their veterans as possible near the March 5 trade deadline. That talk died down following the Panthers’ improvement after hiring Peter Horachek as interim coach, as well as the new ownership’s willingness to spend to the salary cap next season.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was believed among those on the trade block, based partly on rumors suggesting he could return to Russia this summer as a free agent. Kulikov strongly denies this, telling the George Richards of the Miami Herald of his intent is to play in the NHL. He adds he has no idea where those rumors came from. Panthers assistant GM Mike Santos said the club’s intent is to re-sign the 23-year-old blueliner.
Though Panthers GM Dale Tallon isn’t expected to engage in a massive trade deadline sell-off, he could move a couple of his pending unrestricted free agents. The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa believes Tallon’s priority is getting good returns for winger Brad Boyes and defenseman Tom Gilbert.
Thomas Vanek’s days with the New York Islanders appear to be numbered. Newsday’s Arthur Staple cites sources claiming Vanek rejected a substantial offer in the range of his current seven-year, $50- million contract.
Staple claims GM Garth Snow is now entertaining offers for the 30-year-old winger. The Islanders acquired Vanek earlier this season by shipping Matt Moulson, a conditional 2014 first round pick and a 2015 second round pick to the Buffalo Sabres. Snow could seek a similar return for Vanek. The Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins could have interest in Vanek as a playoff rental player.
Last month, Vanek said he would understand if Snow moved him at the trade deadline and didn’t rule out returning to the Islanders this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Considering he dismissed such a lucrative offer from the Isles, it’s unlikely they’ll seriously pursue him via free agency.
By Gareth Bush
When Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner were first paired together, the possibilities were endless.
By forming a dynamic duo of high-octane, inexperienced defensemen fuelled by promptitude and youthful enthusiasm, Maple Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle knew he was “taking a risk.” Both love to push the tempo, enter the opposing zone and create scoring chances as if they’re forwards. If you didn’t know better, you’d think someone is controlling them on Xbox.
“I think they’re the fastest pairing in the league,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “They’ve got great skating ability and have been really good for us when you look at their age together.”
When he made the club out of training camp at the start of the season, Rielly, 19, was put to work right away, averaging more than 17 minutes a game. His defensive partners, however, were experienced blueliners expected to make up for potential rookie mistakes and ease his transition to the NHL. By Jan. 9, Phaneuf, Cody Franson, John-Michael Liles, Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser had all been paired with Rielly, who Toronto drafted fifth overall in 2012. Thus far, the reviews have been positive.
“I talked a lot with (Rielly) just to make sure he was comfortable and everything was going fine, but he’s well beyond that,” Franson said. “He plays with ice in his veins. There’s not much to be said with him anymore.”
Phil Kessel’s hat trick Saturday night was appropriate for a couple of reasons. First, because it came against the Ottawa Senators, a team he’s historically scorched. Second, because it elevated the 26-year-old to the 30-goal mark for the fifth time. He’s reached that level every season except his rookie year with Boston and the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Read more
The Maple Leafs dealt defenseman Mark Fraser to Edmonton Friday in exchange for minor-league forward Cameron Abney and the rights to KHLer and restricted free agent Teemu Hartikainen. If you’re underwhelmed by the move, you probably need to adjust your whelm expectations as the NHL’s trade deadline approaches, because these types of defensive depth deals – and not blockbuster moves for marquee blueliners – are what NHL people expect to see.
Sure, there’s a possibility an elite defenseman such as Phoenix’s Keith Yandle moves on to a new team. And if the Rangers can’t get Dan Girardi’s signature on a contract extension, teams will line up to bid on his services. But take a good look at the larger pool defensemen believed to be available. There’s far more demand than supply for high-quality players of that position. Read more
There’s a well-documented scene in the third episode of this year’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic in which Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Greg Cronin asks the players whether they are a friend or enemy of complacency. Cronin singles out a bewildered Nazem Kadri and asks him the question, to which the rather confused Kadri replies, “Friend?”
That was rather unfortunate. But there’s also some truth to it, no? And that is why the Maple Leafs will have to think long and swallow hard before extending Kadri’s contract, something they can do this summer. Kadri has one more year remaining on his bridge deal that pays him $2.9 million. Do the Leafs extend him for eight years and lock him up long-term? Given the body of work so far, that would be an extremely risky proposition.
It’s not that Kadri is a friend of complacency, it’s just that it seems to find him. Offering him a long-term deal might be a move the Leafs would regret, since it seems – at this stage of his career anyway – that this young man plays better the less security and comfort he has. To wit: after scoring two goals in the Leafs 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night, Kadri is on a run of three goals and nine points in his past seven games. That run coincides with rumors that began circulating that he was on the trade block.
Even Kadri himself admits he’s been known to be a better player when he plays on the edge.
“I’m always the type of person to play when everyone doesn’t think that highly of you,” Kadri said. “That’s certainly something I want to be remembered for. Everyone hops all over me and I start playing well. I think we should just cut that out and just keep playing well.”
Actually, the game against the Lightning provided a microcosm of both the good and not-so-good when it comes to Kadri. On his first goal of the evening, he jumped on a Tampa turnover and fired a high, hard wrist shot that not many goaltenders in the NHL could stop. On his second, he took a pass from Joffrey Lupul in front and displayed a dirty set of mitts in tight. Pure, unadulterated skill that probably no other player on the Leafs roster would be capable of displaying. But then the Lightning’s second goal to tie the game came largely because Kadri wasn’t nearly hard enough on the puck in the corner and lost a battle to Ondrej Palat.
So what to do with Kadri? Well, fortunately for the Leafs, they have another season to see whether or not Kadri can develop any long-term consistency to his game. One person in the press box Tuesday night compared Kadri to Mike Ribeiro, saying the skill is definitely there, but the real question is whether or not you can win with him. The only problem is the person making the comparison was an employee of the Maple Leafs.
For his part, Kadri has never lacked in confidence. That’s a good thing. Now if he could only get a comfort level and continue to produce. “I know I can help this team win,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
THE STAMKOS EFFECT: There has been a lot of debate over how many NHL games Steven Stamkos should play before going to the Olympics. As far as this corner is concerned, it’s a moot point. Stamkos is an elite player who would probably need about a period-and-a-half to find his game.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper agrees. Even though his is just one voice in the organization, he wouldn’t have a problem if Stamkos’ first game back is also Canada’s first game in Sochi, which is scheduled for Feb. 13 against Austria.
“He has to play his first game at some point,” Cooper said. “If it were in the Olympics, it would be with lots of good players around him on a bigger ice surface where hitting probably isn’t as prevalent because it is the Olympic sheet. It might make it easier for him to play his first game over there. For me, personally, I’d have no problem with that.”