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Category:NHL
Posted on: February 22, 2012 8:36 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 9:05 pm
 

Milan Michalek goal of the year candidate

By: Adam Gretz

There are so many beautiful things about this Milan Michalek goal during the first period of Ottawa's game against Washington. If you're a Senators fan, that is. 

The pass from defenseman Erik Karlsson that covers nearly three quarters of the ice. The move by Michalek to dangle through defenseman Dennis Wideman, a move that Michalek attempted earlier in the period against Dmitry Orlov and nearly pulled off. The casual way he beats Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun to score his 26th goal of the season.

It also perfectly sums up the way both teams have been playing over the past week. The Senators look like a buzzsaw that is just ripping through people. The Capitals? Well, the less said about them right now, the better.



For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:49 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:31 pm
 

Rangers emerge as favorites in eastern conference

RangersBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- The Rangers were the definition of mediocrity during John Tortorella's first two full-seasons behind the bench in New York.

New York finished right around the league average in points despite having one of the highest payrolls in the NHL. They missed the playoffs on the last day of the 2009-10 season thanks to a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and then snuck in as the No. 8 seed last year before losing in the opening round to the Washington Capitals in five games.

This season, however, the Rangers have emerged as the top team in the Eastern Conference, and even after their 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night still hold a commanding nine-point lead (as of Wednesday afternoon) over the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. That is no small margin, and at this point in the season it's not one that many teams let slip away (or in the case of Boston, are able to overcome). Barring a late collapse the Rangers, even if they won't admit it, are a pretty safe bet to enter the playoffs as the top team in the East.

Even though it's a pretty solid position, it's not one that the Rangers are particularly comfortable with at this point knowing what remains in front of them.

"There's a lot of hockey left," said center Brad Richards on Tuesday night. "It's not just Boston, there's a lot of teams. The team we just played is right there, too. Philly, New Jersey, there's a lot of good teams behind us and there's a lot of work to do. I mean, we're not disappointed with where we are, but we can't look at it and think we're safe or anything like that."

Tortorella will deny that he thinks about its current standing in the East, but he has to know what a turnaround the Rangers have experienced this season, even if he denies it.

"I don't even think about first place," added Tortorella when asked if his team has a target on its back due to its current spot in the standings. "I think about every game we're trying to win, I don't even look at the standings. We're just trying to get better as a team and trying to prepare each and every day trying to win hockey games."

It's pretty clear that the expectation in New York is significantly higher than simply being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. And quite frankly, it should be.

This is, after all, one of the NHL's marquee franchises. It's also one that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1994, and has won just two playoff series -- total -- since 1997. If there's going to be a Rangers team that makes a deep postseason push, this one looks like it might be the one as they've proven to be, through four-and-a-half months to be the top team in what is a very winnable conference with more mediocre teams than great ones.

With still 24 games to play in the regular season the Rangers are set to shatter their win totals from the previous two seasons and have a chance to crack the 50-win mark for the first time since that Stanley Cup winning season back in '94.

The biggest factors in the Rangers' sudden improvement aren't necessarily the addition of another big-name, big-money free agent (this past summer it was Richards, the Conn Smythe winner on John Tortorella's 2003-04 Stanley Cup winning team in Tampa Bay), but the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, as well as the rapid development of young defensemen like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, and the always steady presence of veteran blueliner Dan Giradi.

The performance of Lundqvist is the biggest reason for their success this season. He's a legitimate MVP contender at this point, and is currently tied (with Brian Elliott) for the league lead in save percentage at .940, a mark that no goaltender has ever achieved over a full season (Tim Thomas' .938 mark for the Bruins last season was the best). He's been a game-saver quite a bit this season and has put together an impressive argument to be the first goalie to win the Hart Trophy since Jose Theodore took it home during the 2001-02 season.

But for as good as Lundqvist has been, it can be easy to overlook how valuable the pairing of McDonagh and Giradi have been.

During the absence of Marc Staal during the first half of the season, and even after his return, the 22-year-old McDonagh, acquired in the now laughably lopsided trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal, and 27-year-old Girardi has been given the task of playing some of the heaviest minutes in the NHL this season, being used to match up against the other teams best players on a nightly basis (and starting the majority of their shifts in front of their own goal) and still shutting them down. Using the Qualify of Competition metrics at BehindTheNet, McDonagh and Girardi rank third and fourth respectively in the NHL this season in terms of facing the toughest competition at even strength this season and have been among the toughest defensemen in the league to score against.

They're a stout team defensively, and while they have a formidable group of forwards anchored by Richards, Marian Gaborik and captain Ryan Callahan, they may just be missing that one final piece up front to add that final touch of goal-scoring to push them over the top.

The Rangers have been rumored to be connected to the Rick Nash sweepstakes and if they're able to add him before the 3 p.m. Monday trade deadline, watch out.

Tortorella has finally given the Rangers faithful something to brag about.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:19 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 4:04 pm
 

Nash Dash: How would Nash fit with Kings?

What Nash would look like in L.A. 

By Brian Stubits

In the days leading up to the trade deadline (Monday, Feb. 27) we're going to keep tabs on the biggest name on the block, Columbus Blue Jackets star and captain Rick Nash.

The list of teams rumored to be in on Nash isn't incredibly long and it's the usual suspects that you'd expect to be in on a big-name, high-priced star like Nash. His wish list -- put into song so wonderfully -- was supposedly five teams long with possible Wild cards in the mix too.

We're going to take a look at each of the rumored wish-list teams and how Nash would fit, looking today at the Los Angeles Kings.

There aren't a whole lot of certainties in this Rick Nash trade saga. Who's really on the list of teams he'd OK a trade too? Is that list exhaustive? Would anybody actually pay the Blue Jackets' asking price? They go on.

But if there is one thing that we can pretty much say without hesitation it's that no team involved in this conversation -- except for maybe the Blue Jackets themselves -- need Nash more than the Kings. It's been argued that nobody needs to get Nash more than Kings GM Dean Lombardi. His job literally could depend on it.

NHL Trade Deadline
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The Kings are an embarrassment to offense. Sorry Kings fans to put it so bluntly, but with 2.07 goals per game that's something you already know. The Kings are in the process of letting an exceptional season from goaltender Jonathan Quick go to waste. If they could have given him just a little more offense this season -- I'll be kind and say about half-a-goal more per game, which would put them in the middle of the league -- he'd be firmly in the Vezina conversation.

But they aren't scoring that man. And it's starting to increase the heat in L.A. Before the season this was seen as a team ready to make that jump, possibly compete. By so far falling short of those expectations, Lombardi's leash is getting tight.

In spite of it all, the Kings are still in the playoff picture, holding the eighth spot in the West. The postseason has to be the goal at this point to hopefully try and keep the momentum going. That's why Nash has L.A. hockey fans salivating.

The great thing about possibly going to L.A. is that it would give Nash the centermen he was waiting so long for in Columbus. He finally got one in Jeff Carter this season but injuries didn't allow them to play together for very long before the trade talk started up. But in L.A. he'd have a couple of quality centers in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards to play alongside.

From L.A.'s perspective the fit is great. It's not just that Nash is a scorer, but he plays on the left wing. The assumption would be he would join Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the No. 1 line which all of a sudden doesn't seem so bad.

But of course it's all easier said than done. Because as we've noted, the Blue Jackets want a lot for Nash, as they should. The package from L.A. to get a deal done has long been rumored to be Jack Johnson, Jonathan Bernier, probably another prospect and a high pick.

As the Nash world turns, the indications are getting stronger that L.A. is a less and less likely landing spot for Nash at this time. There are other options that might pop up like Ales Hemsky or possibly even some of the Sabres. So as nice as he might fit and go a long way toward solving L.A.'s scoring issues, the asking price might prove too much for even a desperate GM like Lombardi.

More from Eye on Hockey

How would Nash fit with Blueshirts?
San Jose stepping into Nash talks?
Update on Nash, other rumors
Nash down to five teams?
Nash not untouchable for Columbus

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 3:47 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 3:51 pm
 

Ruutu off the market, re-signs with Hurricanes

Ruutu's career high was 26 goals in 2008-09 with Carolina. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Just the same as they did with Tim Gleason a few weeks ago, the Carolina Hurricanes took another player off the trade market by instead signing them to an extension. This time it's forward Tuomo Ruutu.

It wasn't long ago that Ruutu was being described as one of the top names on the trade market this season. It wasn't saying a whole lot for the market as a whole with so few sellers, but Ruutu was going to garner interest as an available top-six forward.

Just five days from the deadline and with him still in Carolina, you can scratch that. There had been increasing talk that the 'Canes were going to re-sign Ruutu instead of trading him and that's exactly what they have done.

The deal is for four seasons and will pay Ruutu $4.75 million per season. That's from GM Jim Rutherford courtesy of Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. The 'Canes are one of the few teams that releases contract information. It will also reportedly include a no-movement clause for the first three seasons.

"He's an important player to our team," Rutherford said. "He's the type of player that, long term, would be hard to replace."

That does underscore a valuable point this trade season. So often teams trade away a star for prospects and a pick and so often it's almost impossible to get the same production in return. Sometimes you need to take the sure bet and keep the player who you know.

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The deal seems a bit high to me, personally. Ruutu is a good forward and supposedly very good as a team presence, but with that kind of money he's going to pick up the scoring a little bit. This season he has 17 goals and 13 assists in 57 games. To make the contract worth it for a team that is often on the short end of the payroll scale, you'd like to see him consistently score in the high 20s or even the 30s.

He was already carrying a cap hit of $3.8 million this season, so a rise was coming anyway. Now he's a Hurricanes through the 2016-17 season, the same length as captain Eric Staal.

More from Eye on Hockey

Ruutu to miss three weeks
Gleason re-signs for four seasons

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:14 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 4:16 pm
 

Coyotes acquire Vermette from Blue Jackets

Vermette had been with the Jackets since being traded from Ottawa in 2009. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Blue Jackets fire sale has begun with the trading of center Antoine Vermette to the Phoenix Coyotes. Bob McKenzie of TSN broke the news of the deal.

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports that the return to Columbus is a second-round draft pick, a fifth-round (possibly fourth) and a goalie too in Curtis McElhinney.

Columbus GM Scott Howson told the Dispatch on Tuesday that the team was getting closer to a deal. No kidding.

The Coyotes get themselves a good center who had hit a rough spot in Columbus this season. He has just eight goals and 19 assists this season but it was only two years ago that he scored 27 goals while recording 38 assists for the Jackets. There isn't any reason to think a change of scenery and the jolt of joining a playoff race could spark him back to those bigger offensive numbers.

“We are extremely pleased to acquire Antoine,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney said. “He is a smart, skilled, two-way center who will be a great addition to our lineup.”

What makes the deal a bit more interesting for Phoenix is that Vermette, 29, isn't a rental player at all. In fact, he's kind of pricey, and for a team that is being run by the NHL, you don't necessarily expect that. Vermette still has three years left on his contract after this for $3.75 million per season.

NHL Trade Deadline
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It also makes it very clear that the Coyotes believe this recent hot streak of theirs can last. They have won eight of nine and vaulted into a tie with the Sharks in the Pacific Division. Now they want to make sure it can last and acquire Vermette to help.

Really, it's another shrewd move for one of the better GMs in the game, Maloney. Considering the high prices that players have been going for or rumored to be going for, this is a reasonable price for Vermette. The fifth-round in the draft can often just be a crap-shoot and the second round surprisingly can be too, as Adam Gretz detailed.

The Jackets get those two draft picks but also get McElhinney, an AHL goalie for the Coyotes who has spent some time in the NHL. Spanning five seasons, McElhinney has played 69 career games with a career save percentage of .899 and a 3.10 goals against average. Not a whole lot to inspire Columbus fans that he can be their next starting goaltender.

Of course with the season Vermette is having, Howson likely wasn't going to be able to get a big bounty, so in that regard it's not bad. He gets three assets and maybe more importantly gets Vermette's contract off the books as the team looks like it is heading toward scrapping the organization and starting over.

"This gives us more flexibility," Howson told the Dispatch. "It's never fun trading anybody. I don't think any GM enjoys that. But this is about us moving the team forward."

Maloney talked about the trade a little later on Wednesday and sounds like one pretty happy GM.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:06 pm
 

Ribeiro takes victory lap in return to Montreal

By Brian Stubits

I'll admit here to having been an on-again, off-again fan of wrestling since I was a child. I usually find it to be entertaining and fun to follow. I was always particularly attracted to the heels, the bad guys. The Rock before he was popular, back when he was Rocky Maivia and joining the Nation of Domination? The best.

Now why do I bring this up? Well because if I didn't know better (and I don't) I'd think Mike Ribeiro took some lessons on how to be a perfect heel.

Making his first regular-season return since he was dealt away from his hometown Montreal Canadiens, Ribeiro relished the evening. He scored one of the Stars' three goals on the night, helping Dallas not only stay in the Western Conference race but add to the misery of the Habs fans.

He was later named the No. 1 star of the night and took one heck of a victory lap for the fans still left in the stands.

Montreal Gazette Habs writer Dave Stubbs dubbed the spectacle a Mickey Mouse act.

To say there are some hard feelings would be fair. His exit wasn't the best and he didn't appreciate the way he was treated by the media on his way out of town. He made that pretty obvious with his comments before Tuesday's game.

“Most of the time the job of the media is to research negative and sell it,” he said. “A lot of times, you get better as you grow and learn the game. A lot of times here, you have to win now. Young kids aren’t [always] ready to win now, [management] gets impatient and trades them.”

He was as straight forward with the media about the Canadiens and the decision to trade him for Janne Niinimaa (and a couple of picks swapped too).

“I’m sure they know they made a mistake,” Ribeiro said with a shrug of the Canadiens’ decision to move him. “But who would have said that I’d play this way? My first game back in six years. People have probably forgotten.”

It didn't sound like during Tuesday's game. And it was pretty obvious that Ribeiro hadn't forgotten either.

Personally, I love this stuff. Nothing is more boring to me than players never showing emotion or any semblance of being controversial in any way. So good for Ribeiro I say for taking the moment and having some fun while sarcastically playing to the Montreal crowd.

Everybody loves a bad guy. Ribz just played it perfectly.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:23 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:19 pm
 

Bryzgalov enjoyed the taunting cheers in Winnipeg

By Brian Stubits

I'm not a Philadelphia Flyers fan, so it's easy for me to say this: Ilya Bryzgalov is my favorite player in the NHL. He won me over on HBO's 24/7 and he hasn't lost me since. You had me at Universe, Bryz. You had me at Universe.

The folks in Philly, though, wish they were able to share my sentiments. They'd love nothing more than to have a goaltender they could proudly call their own. But Bryzgalov's .898 and 2.82 save percentage aren't going to win over fans in Philadelphia, especially after he received a nine-year, $51 million contract.

But he has found some fans that will cheer for him. Since making comments about not wanting to move to Winnipeg while still with the Coyotes and about the 'Peg not having any parks, he became a target for Jets fans. On Tuesday night they finally had a chance to see him play at MTS Centre and unloaded taunting chants of "Ilya! Ilya!" on him throughout the game.

Always the humorist, Bryzgalov took it more than in stride.

As usual, we will share what he said in the video for anybody who might have video/audio problems. Courtesy of CSN Philly, here are Bryz's comments.

“You know, I like it,” he said. “It’s great atmosphere. I wished every building was going to be supportive like that. They going to support me like here. It was nice to hear cheering, ‘Ilya, Ilya.’

“I never heard that before anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it’s [very impressive].”

Just like Philly, huh?

“No,” Bryzgalov replied. “Here there is cheering. In Philly, they boo me.”

What can I say, I'm a sucker for self-deprecating humor and this guy, he has it down pat.

More from Eye on Hockey

Bryzgalov not interested in going to Winnipeg
Bryzgalov steals HBO show

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:03 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 2:07 pm
 

Clifford avoids suspension for hit on Brule

By Brian Stubits

Kyle Clifford's five-minute major for a hit on Coyotes defenseman Gilbert Brule likely cost the Kings the game in Phoenix on Tuesday night, but luckily for him that's all it will cost him.

After technically being suspended because of the match penalty until the league could review, there was no hearing scheduled by the league and thus no suspension for Clifford.

Late in the game with the Kings holding a 4-3 lead -- shocking, I know -- Brule pushed the puck up the ice along the boards through the neutral zone and watched as the play developed ahead of him. Moments later Clifford came from behind and delivered a hit that was either to the high chest or the head. Either way it ended up getting Brule's head and Clifford was shown the gate while also being given a five-minute major.

As you can hear, the Kings broadcasters -- who I must recognize as being some of the most impartial and rational home-team announcers in the NHL -- debate whether it was a hit to the head or not of Brule. What they can't argue is that the hit was delivered very high on Brule and as a result if nothing else the follow through caught Brule's head.

I didn't think Shanahan would go easy Clifford in this case. The hit was unnecessary; it came to an unsuspecting player more or less from behind well after the puck had advanced up the ice. Throw in the placement of the hit and Brule leaving the game and you get the sense it's going to be a couple games minimum for Clifford.

But I admit, I'm as lost as a lot of people with what's OK and what's not.

Plays like this seem to have greatly reduced as the season has gone along, Shanny hasn't seemed anywhere near as busy to me in the past few weeks. So perhaps the players are learning, but there will still be hits coming through like this.

On the season Clifford has four goals and six assists for the Kings, playing the dirty minutes on the bottom lines for L.A.

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For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com