Cody Stokowski, Camrose, Alta.
Cody Stokowski, Camrose, Alta.
Jonathan Huberdeau has missed the entire campaign and Aleksander Barkov has been out for nearly a month, and it could be a while yet before either return to the Panthers’ lineup.
The Florida Panthers’ attempt to build on one of the most successful seasons in franchise history has been marred by a slew of injuries to key players, and it could be a while yet before two of the team’s brightest young stars are back in the lineup.
Panthers interim coach and GM Tom Rowe said Thursday that Jonathan Huberdeau shouldn’t be expected back in the lineup anytime soon, and he stayed away from indicating a timeline for Aleksander Barkov, who has been out of action since midway though a Dec. 28 meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Asked about the possibility of the injuries to Huberdeau and Barkov being potentially season-ending, Rowe said that worry is there whenever a star player is out.
"Those are two franchise-type players and we're certainly not going to rush them back," Rowe said, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "They'll be back in the lineup when everybody feels they're ready to play. You're always concerned about it [being season-ending], but we're not consumed with it every day. We're moving forward and playing with the guys we have, and when they're ready to come back, they'll be welcome. It'll be a huge boost to us.”
The indication was that Huberdeau could potentially be back into action early in March, which would be slightly longer than originally expected. When Huberdeau first suffered the injury to his Achilles in the Panthers’ final pre-season game back in October, the expectation was that he would miss somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 months. An early-March return would put Huberdeau’s absence up to five months and would only allow him to get into action for a handful of games this season.
Huberdeau’s loss has already been impactful this season, as the Panthers have struggled greatly on offense with one of their top guns out of action. Huberdeau was coming off of a career-best 20-goal, 59-point season with the Panthers in 2015-16 and the 23-year-old was primed to take another step forward in his growth before being sidelined with the ailment. Without Huberdeau, the Panthers’ offense has mustered 111 goals this season, and only the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes are averaging fewer goals per game.
The Panthers struggles without Huberdeau have been exacerbated by the additional loss of Barkov, who manned the top line alongside Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr for much of the 2015-16 campaign. At the time Barkov exited the lineup, he was Florida’s leading scorer with nine goals and 27 points in 36 games, with a five-point edge on second-place Jonathan Marchessault.
There is a bit more clarity on what is ailing Barkov, though. The initial report was that Barkov would be sidelined with a lower-body injury, but Rowe revealed the 21-year-old is dealing with an upper-body ailment. The exact nature of the injury hasn’t been announced, however.
Given Huberdeau won’t be back in the near future, the Panthers will have to hope Barkov is in line to make his return post-all-star break or shortly thereafter. Every game without both Huberdeau and Barkov is a tough one for Florida, and with only 35 games remaining on their schedule, the Panthers could be in tough to find their way back into the post-season.
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The breakaway challenge is gone, replaced by a long-distance target shooting competition. But wouldn't it be more fun if the players used their shots to break stuff?
The NHL All-Star festivities are fast upon us and there will be change again this year. Gone is the breakaway challenge, which, let's face it, ran the gamut from uplifting to supremely awkward. You could see the pained expressions on some of the players who took part and it's fine to blame humble hockey culture as the problem, but it was never going to be the NBA's slam dunk contest anyway.
The new event this year in Los Angeles will be a the four-line challenge, which invites players to hit targets from the blue line, center ice, the far blue line and the far goal line. Goalies can take shots from the far goal line too, in search of extra points.
This sounds OK to me, particularly if the players are winging the pucks at the target (imagine someone taking a slapshot from center ice and hitting a bullseye?), but I actually had another idea the other day, which I humbly present to you, the fan.
Let the players break stuff.
"it was really fun," Matthews said. "You don't get an opportunity to do that all the time. It was a blast – we were shooting at veggie trays and chocolate fondue and cameras."
For me, the random objects are fun, but what I'd really like as an event is for the divisional all-stars to have a competition in which they see who can do the most damage to a car, just by shooting pucks at it. Yes, Gen Xers, I am proposing that the NHL adapt the bonus level from Street Fighter II:
Now, I don't expect the competitors (two guys per team, shooting at the same time) to actually take apart the car like our good friend Ryu, but I bet they could do some pretty good damage in, let's say, one minute of shooting. Obviously you'd have tarps on the ice to catch any broken glass and obviously it would be an old car with no fluids in it (we don't want it to blow up…or do we?). And hey, we can even toss in a charitable element – like whichever teams wins, they get to donate 10 new cars to the cause of their choice. Admit it: you're a little curious about what Shea Weber or Dustin Byfuglien could do to an old Volkswagen Jetta.
Because most Toronto writers flocked to Frankie Corrado this morning (#FreeFrankie), I wasted a minute of Matthews' time by asking him what he thought of my All-Star car smash challenge. Would it be fun for players?
"I guess so, I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I hit my car a few times growing up – my parents weren't too happy about it – but I guess if it was a car no one cared about, it would be fun to do some damage to it."
Sounds like a resounding "yes" to me. And if the NHL needs a judge for a damage panel? I'm willing to volunteer.
The Avalanche are on pace to have one of the worst seasons of any team post-lockout, but embracing failure can be the recipe for future success that Colorado needs.
There was a moment in Tuesday’s game between the Avalanche and Blackhawks where it appeared Colorado was going to pull off what would have been one of their most significant wins of what has been a troubling season. A three-goal second period had the Avalanche ahead 4-3 with an 18-14 shot advantage over one of the Western Conference’s best teams.
Then the wheels fell off. In the third, the Avalanche were outshot 12-5, Blackhawks rookie Vinnie Hinostroza potted two goals in three minutes before the midway mark of the frame and the game was capped off with an empty-netter from Chicago’s Tanner Kero. A once-promising one-goal lead was washed away. Colorado left the ice having suffered it’s 28th defeat in 42 games.
But was anyone all that surprised? This season’s Avalanche bunch has been arguably one of the worst teams the league has seen in the post-lockout era, and that’s not the least bit hyperbolic.
In the decade-plus since the lost 2004-05 campaign, the NHL record for most regulation losses by a team in a season in 51, which the Buffalo Sabres did back-to-back in 2013-14 and 2014-15. By comparison, the Avalanche are on pace to lose 55 games in regulation. The worst points percentage came when the 2013-14 Sabres picked up only 52 of a possible 164 points. As of Wednesday, the Avalanche are on pace to finish with a .321 points percentage, the second-worst post-lockout mark. That would give Colorado a grand total of 53 points, and that’s rounding up.
Then there’s the Avalanche’s sixth-worst post-lockout goals for per game of 2.05, 14th-worst goals against per game of 3.38 and the kicker — and the reason it could have been expected that the Colorado would blow the one-goal lead against Chicago — an 11th-worst win percentage when leading after two periods. For every three games the Avalanche have led after 40 minutes this season, they’ve lost two. That’s not a recipe for success.
With the Avalanche mired in the league’s basement, five points back of the Arizona Coyotes, there’s no hope of saving this season. It’s gone. It’s over. The only thing left is playing out the year, because the post-season is an impossible goal and climbing the standings doesn’t really serve to help Colorado all that much, aside from maybe selling an extra ticket here or there. Instead, the Avalanche should be using the remainder of this season to chart the course forward.
One of the best things that will happen when the season ends is the opportunity for Jared Bednar to have an entire off-season to work with his staff. Thrust into the coaching position only weeks before the start of the campaign as a result of former coach Patrick Roy’s abrupt decision to resign, Bednar was thrown to the wolves as a first-time NHL bench boss. That said, some improvements, albeit minor, can already be seen. For instance, the Avalanche have seen their league-worst possession rate in 2015-16 increase by nearly 2.5 percent. It’s a small step, but an important one with what we know about the impact of possession on positive results.
But the biggest step for Colorado has to be a fundamental change in mindset. Visions of the 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy season continue to linger, but the truth is this team is nowhere near ready to compete and there’s not a trade or two that is going to change that fact. The Avalanche are a basement team with holes up front and on the back end. The best thing Colorado can do is accept that they’re a near-historically bad team in this era of incredible parity.
Lucky thing is the Avalanche have the ability to jumpstart a rebuild. Unlike other teams who have had to start anew, such as the Sabres and Coyotes, the Avalanche have the benefit of a trio of young stars in Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog who could potentially fetch a solid return.
MacKinnon has been rumored to be an untouchable in Colorado and with good reason as the 21-year-old has game-changing ability. He is undoubtedly the star you build around, a 20-goal, 50-point player who's still years removed from his prime. His combination of speed and skill was made for today's game and it doesn't hurt that he's being mentored, at least in part, by Sidney Crosby, who he trains with in the off-season. Though MacKinnon has yet to match his 24-goal, 63-point rookie output, that level of production doesn't seem all that unattainable moving forward. And there's the little things MacKinnon does well, too, like win faceoffs, drive play and play big minutes up front as the team's top-line center.
With MacKinnon as the centrepiece, though, it's time for the Avalanche to part ways with one or both of Duchene and Landeskog.
At 26, Duchene has been mentioned from time to time in the rumor mill, but the time appears to be right for him to move on. He has two years remaining on his deal after this season with a $6-million cap hit, but coming off of a 30-goal, 59-point season and again in line to near the 30-goal plateau, that might not be too difficult to move. His value has never been higher, he’s in the prime of his career and, if dealt, he could fetch a considerable package in return. And while Landeskog, 24, won’t command quite the same return, a consistent 20-goal scorer with some fire to his game would draw some interest at the right price.
There also has to be consideration given to dealing away other current contributors. Tyson Barrie, for instance, would draw interest if he was on the block. Colorado doesn’t look to be in any position to compete during what could be some of the best years of his career and, in terms of a return, now might be the time to get the most out of Barrie. Regardless of who goes, though, the most important thing for the Avalanche to recoup would be a few picks and a prospect or two who has potential to be an NHL contributor in a couple seasons’ time.
One of the biggest problems the Avalanche have had over the past several years comes in building a supporting cast for their trio of young stars, and a big part of that has been the inability to hit on any of their draft picks. Since the 2009 draft, where the Avalanche landed Duchene, Barrie and Ryan O’Reilly, only three draftees have become NHL regulars. That’s MacKinnon, Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, who is the team’s top prospect and likely the only other untouchable on the current roster.
Loading up on draft picks and prospects is a tried-and-true method, too, and the more picks the Avalanche can compile, the more shots they have to hit come draft day. Look at this season’s Maple Leafs, for instance. Toronto had good fortune in landing the first-overall pick and an incredible talent in Auston Matthews, but even without Matthews, the grouping of William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly and Connor Brown is proof positive that targeting the draft and prospects is the way to turn things around in today’s NHL. With MacKinnon as the Avalanche’s central star — their Matthews, if you will — and a cast of other youngsters acquired over the next few seasons, there’s no reason Colorado couldn’t start to right the ship in two or three years’ time in the same way Toronto appears to be climbing.
Avalanche fans may scoff at the idea of blowing everything up, but there’s nothing left to lose aside from more games. And, realistically, things won’t get all that much worse. When you’re nearing 60-loss territory, a 50-loss season just so happens to be a step in the right direction, and a younger team could allow the Avalanche to find some diamonds in the rough while netting high draft picks to stock the cupboard. If one or two hit, it can change the organization in a hurry.
The truth is there’s no quick fix for what ails the Avalanche at this point, and things aren’t going to get back on track in a hurry. There will need to be fewer notable signings, no attempts to win now and more focus on a draft-and-develop mentality. If that means a few more lean years, so be it, because it’s likely one of the only ways for the organization to take a real step forward.
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Jake Allen’s recent struggles could have Blues GM Doug Armstrong scouring the trade market for help in goal as the post-season approaches. Meanwhile, trade talk surrounds the Flyers and Coyotes.
St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen's recent performance has left much to be desired. After a strong effort through the opening two months of the season, the 26-year-old's play declined through December and into January.
After reeling off eight straight wins from Nov. 15 to Dec. 6, Allen has only four victories his last 13 starts. He had a save percentage below .900 in eight of those games and was pulled early in his last two starts.
Appearing on Montreal's TSN 690 last Thursday, NHL insider Bob McKenzie said the Blues are worried about Allen's decline this season. He thinks they could keep an eye on the trade market for a goalie, though they must be careful over what they afford in dollars and return.
In late-December, McKenzie's colleague Darren Dreger suggested the Blues should consider acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury carries a no-movement clause and the Penguins must move him in order to protect Matt Murray in the expansion draft. If Allen fails to snap out of his current funk and Fleury's willing to waive his clause, perhaps Blues GM Doug Armstrong might come calling.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop could be another option. The 30-year-old began his NHL career with the Blues. He's eligible for UFA status in July and isn't expected to be re-signed by the Lightning.
The Bolts need a top-four defenseman and the Blues have a pending UFA blueliner in Kevin Shattenkirk. While that seems like a perfect fit for both clubs, Armstrong appears in no hurry to move Shattenkirk. He'll likely remain patient with Allen for the time being, but could consider other options if the netminder fails to improve.
SLIDING FLYERS NOT KEEN ON MOVING YOUNG BLUELINER
A 10-game winning streak by the Philadelphia Flyers from late-November through mid-December had them comfortably in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Since the streak ended on Dec. 17, however, the Flyers dropped 11 of their past 14 games. Entering this week, they're on the verge of tumbling out of the last wild-card spot in the East.
CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reports Flyers GM Ron Hextall said he'll only swing a deal if it'll significantly help the club. Given the Flyers poor performance of late, Panaccio feels a trade might be Hextall's only option to improve things.
Finding a suitable deal won't be easy. Panaccio acknowledges Hextall carries “only a few marketable commodities” that might fetch a good return. Rival GMs could have more interest in the Flyers' crop of promising young defensemen.
Hextall won't part with established young blueliners Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Panaccio suggests prospects Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Phillipe Myers have potential to become franchise defensemen. Hextall might not be keen to part with any of them, but it might be necessary if one or two could fetch a return that helps right the Flyers' sinking ship.
The Colorado Avalanche are in the market for good young defensemen and reportedly entertaining offers for left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Matt Duchene. The Flyers limited salary-cap space, however, would complicate things.
DESPITE DOWN YEAR, DOAN COULD DRAW INTEREST
The ongoing struggles of the Arizona Coyotes makes the club a frequent topic for media trade chatter. Most of the speculation concerns center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Michael Stone. Both are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and could be moved by the March 1 trade deadline.
In recent years, right wing Shane Doan usually surfaced in the rumor mill, though the conjecture was always quickly quelled by Doan or Coyotes management. This year, however, might be different.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Coyotes might consider moving Doan before the deadline. He believes if management approaches the 40-year-old with an opportunity to play for a winner, he might consider waiving his no-movement clause. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch doubts Doan's movement clause will prevent some rival clubs from making inquiries. He claims the San Jose Sharks attempted to land the veteran forward over the last two years.
With only 12 points in 42 games, the aging Doan is on pace for 24 points, his lowest output in a non-lockout season since his 22-point campaign in 1998-99. Still, the 6-foot-1, 223-pound winger has good size, years of experience and leadership ability. He also netted 28 goals and 47 points last season, so perhaps he might regain his scoring touch on a deeper club.
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.).
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