The eye of every Canadian hockey fan and every Tampa Bay Lightning fan is on the status of Steven Stamkos. When you score 60 goals in the NHL, people tend to obsess over your recovery from an injury. And it increases four-fold in an Olympic year.
Stamkos, of course, hasn’t played a game since Nov. 11 when he broke his leg crashing into the net. He still has 14 goals on the season, which is more than Daniel Sedin, Patrice Bergeron, Jason Spezza, Alex Semin and a slew of other world-class players. He’s still on Team Canada’s roster because the feeling is he’ll be ready for Sochi – but Sochi is creeping up fast. Read more
By Josh Elliott
He’s an Olympian, a former 30-goal scorer and he skates for a team under one of the brightest spotlights in the NHL. He’s also the longest-serving Toronto Maple Leaf right now, but Nikolai Kulemin has never been a headline-grabber.
Maybe Kulemin, 27, would get more media attention if his birth certificate read Mimico instead of Magnitogorsk, but Russia’s Olympic brain trust has certainly been paying attention to him. Kulemin was named to the 25-man Russian team in January, ahead of the likes of Alexander Semin, because of what he does outside the spotlight.
“It’s really exciting and it’s going to be a good experience for me,” he said. “I’m so happy to get it.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs current six-game winning streak has quieted calls from fans and analysts for management to shake things up with a trade.
Amid the hubbub last week over center Nazem Kadri’s trade status, the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox claims a rumor circulating during the recent CHL/NHL Top Prospects game involved Leafs goalie James Reimer heading to Edmonton this summer for Oilers sophomore right winger Nail Yakupov.
The Oilers’ recently traded Devan Dubnyk to Nashville and acquired Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles. However, it’s widely assumed they will pursue a more experienced starter this summer via free agency or trade.
Just two weeks ago things were starting to look grim for the Maple Leafs. From Jan. 4-10 Toronto lost four games in a row and were outscored 21-7 during that span. Memories of past collapses stirred Leafs Nation to wonder if the same was about to happen in 2013-14 and calls were being made to change the coach, change the roster, change anything.
But now that seems so long ago. Toronto, the most unpredictable team in the NHL this season, has now won six in a row. The last time they went on a run like this was from Dec. 23 2005 through Jan. 2, 2006, the first season of the salary cap era.
In the world of sports, eight years can feel like a lifetime. The last time the Leafs were winning as much as they are right now, all of the following were also going on:
• Chris Pronger was still beloved in Edmonton
• Dany Heatley was in his first season with the Ottawa Senators after being acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers. He would score 50 goals in 2005-06…and score 50 more the following season as well.
• The Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks were the worst five teams in the NHL. Read more
By Gareth Bush
The scene feels all too familiar. The Leafs are defending a 4-3 lead at the TD Garden with less than a minute to go as the puck comes to the point, resting gently on Patrice Bergeron’s blade. The moment lasts a second at most, but feels like an eternity to a Leaf fan base that still hasn’t digested what materialized the last time around.
Bergeron lets a shot fly as the Leafs look on, overcome with deja vu.
But Tim Gleason doesn’t quite understand this feeling. After all, it’s only his fifth game as a Leaf. He doesn’t know how this scene is supposed to inevitably close.
Many traits describe what Gleason has brought to Toronto’s defense since being acquired from Carolina on New Year’s Day: toughness, grit, fortitude, even “truculence.” But Gleason chooses a word of his own.
“Stupidity,” he says.
This goal would have been impossible until this season. Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf used the new hybrid icing rule to spring sniper Phil Kessel by banking a rink-wide pass off the boards, allowing Kessel to win a foot race for the puck and then bury it behind Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov.
As the rebuilding Calgary Flames struggle through the remainder of this season, president of hockey operations Brian Burke admits chasing potential trade partners and searching for a new GM is taking up much of his time.
Burke told the Calgary Herald’s Scott Cruickshank he hasn’t thought about which current Flames would be considered “untouchables,” but given his club’s position in the standings he believes it’ll be a short list.
The Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis speculates promising rookie center Sean Monahan, captain Mark Giordano and “a handful of young prospects” will likely be on that list. Center Matt Stajan, recently re-signed to a four-year, $12.5-million contract, will also be on it.
It’s widely assumed pending unrestricted free agents Mike Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak and Chris Butler will be dealt before the March 5 trade deadline. Francis speculates defenseman Dennis Wideman ($5.3 million per season) and winger David Jones ($4 million per) could also hit the trade block.
Cammalleri’s offensive skills should attract the most interest, provided he makes a full recovery from a recent concussion. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings have their eye on the 31-year-old winger. TSN’s Darren Dreger also believes Cammalleri is on the Kings’ wish list of playoff rentals.
When the Colorado Avalanche matched the offer sheet Ryan O’Reilly signed last Feb. 28 from the Calgary Flames, they couldn’t trade him for one calendar year. With O’Reilly’s trade restriction ending just before this year’s trade deadline, The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater recently expressed concern over O’Reilly’s future in Colorado.
Given last summer’s front office changes and O’Reilly’s strong contributions to the club’s improvement this season, Dater doubts the Avs shop the 22-year-old after his trade freeze is lifted. Dater subsequently reported the two sides peacefully agreed to postpone contract talks until the summer.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun also noted O’Reilly’s trade restriction will soon be lifted. LeBrun claims numerous NHL clubs are closely watching what the Avalanche do with the versatile youngster, who can play center or the wing.
The cost of qualifying O’Reilly’s rights ($6.5 million) and his contentious contract talks with the previous front office explain the musings over his trade status. It remains to be seen if the Avalanche pay O’Reilly more than leading scorer Matt Duchene, who’ll earn $6 million on average over the next five seasons, starting in 2014-15. They must also re-sign restricted free agent goalie Semyon Varlamov and decide if they’ll trade or retain pending unrestricted free agent center Paul Stastny.
With the Avalanche currently among the top teams in the Western Conference, they’re unlikely to move a valuable player like O’Reilly. He’s a restricted free agent so they don’t have to worry about losing him for nothing in the off-season. If they must shop a player to address a need elsewhere in the lineup, Stastny seems the likely candidate.