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Daily Archives: January 15, 2013

Agent: Visnovsky to report to Islanders

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Agent: Visnovsky to report to Islanders

Lubomir Visnovsky was traded from the Ducks to the Islanders last summer.
(Photo: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Sportsnet Staff |
January 15, 2013, 10:20 pm

Lubomir Visn…

Grange on Maple Leafs: Decisions coming fast

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Michael Grange

Michael Grange

Michael Grange |
January 15, 2013, 7:53 pm

Twitter @michaelgrange

That it promises to be a strange NHL season is almost a given. Not bad, necessarily, but strange.

Normally three days into training camp things are just getting started and veterans are figuring out how to avoid playing in unneeded exhibition games.

This time around, with the season starting Jan. 19, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle sounds like a man in a hurry to make hard decisions, only with his axe sharpened he’s not sure exactly which way — or who — to cut.

The rapid fire nature of the season approaching might explain his slightly impolitic views on the potential of Jake Gardiner — the closest thing the Leafs have to a blue chip NHL defence prospect — to be in the lineup Saturday night when the Leafs open the season against the Montreal Canadiens.

Gardiner hasn’t skated since suffering a concussion while playing for the AHL Marlies on Dec. 8.

In the age of Sidney Crosby, head injuries are supposed to be the handled with kid gloves: when in doubt, sit out.

But there was Gardiner working before practice on Wednesday morning at the MasterCard Centre and Carlyle sounding like a man looking out for his short-term interests in what promises to be a 99-day, 48-game sprint, rather than someone taking a long view.

“It’s about time, where’s he been?” said Carlyle of Gardiners’ cameo. “We told him: if you have a chance to play Saturday you have to get on the ice today. That’s the reality of it. That’s his decision because basically what’s happened is he’s come a long way and he’s very, very close.

“(But) I told him if he’s not 100 per cent or you don’t feel 100 per cent, don’t go out there. But the bottom line is you have to have healthy players. We’re not going to push him into a situation he’s not comfortable with, but … if he didn’t practice today he’s not going to be eligible to play on Saturday and you move on.”

Moving on to what is the issue facing Carlyle. The Leafs brought 31 players to camp and are looking to fill 23 roster spots, with the result being that there’s not a player on the ice that doesn’t have a reasonable chance to make the club.

With such a tight group, each player move is tightly connected to the next one, like a game of dominoes being played in a broom closet. Gardiner’s immediate future is tied to whatever decision Carlyle makes on Morgan Rielly, the 18-year-old who was the No.5 overall pick in the June draft and who possesses similar high-end puck moving and skating skills as Gardiner.

Those decisions may impact whether AHL stalwarts like Korbinian Holzer get a break after good work down on the farm.

And then there’s injuries to the likes of Colton Orr (dislocated finger) and James van Riemsdyk (bruised ankle) who each were hit by pucks Wednesday and were taken to hospital for x-rays.

How long will they be out and what will the trickle-down effect be?

Make no mistake, Carlyle is sweating some hard decisions compounded by the fact he has almost no time to make them. Injuries make his choices trickier.

“I would say that this is the most difficult decision making process that I’ve ever been presented with, with only having a short time frame and the number of people we have here,” he said.

“Be it contracts, be it free agent signings, be it players that require waivers to go down — there are a whole bunch of components that go into the decision-making process, but ultimately we’re going to pick the players that are going to give us the best chance to win.”

In that environment it was more than curious to see the likes of minor league veterans Keith Aucoin centring Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the first power-play unit during practice.

At age 34 and with 707 AHL games under his belt compared with just 102 NHL appearances, he might seem an unlikely candidate to break camp with the big club, but it’s evident that Carlyle wants to create a sense of competition among his roster, even if the evaluation period is painfully short.

Aucoin has been around long enough not to read too much into anything.

“I try not to interpret that any more. When I was younger I’d be like ‘oh great’ but now I just try to take it one step at a time. When you play with those guys you just do what you’re capable of doing and get them the puck and show what you can do.”

Aucoin’s trademark is a stick that looks like the 5-foot-8 centre grabbed it from 6-foot-5 David Steckel. It is as tall as he is but is a tool he uses to great effect to protect the puck in the offensive zone and give him added reach defensively.

“It makes me 6-foot-1 instead of 5-8,” says Aucoin, who was signed as a free agent this past summer after a successful late-season run with the Washington Capitals centring their fourth line after being called up from their AHL club. “The only drawback is that I don’t have much of a one-timer with it but I don’t shoot much, so I’m okay with that.”

Carlyle says that if Aucoin is going to stick with the Leafs it won’t be as a fourth-liner, given his habit of averaging well over a point-per-game in the AHL.

“If he’s going to make a contribution to our hockey club — I’m not saying he’s going to be the first line centre — but I’m a firm believer that when you have a player like that coming up from the American Hockey League and he plays top offensive minutes there you don’t put him on your fourth line here,” Carlyle said. “I don’t believe in that. I believe he’s got to play with your top guys in order for him to have a chance at success.”

But how many offensively skilled AHL players can the Leafs afford to take, considering they are already trying to find roles for the likes of Tim Connolly or Matthew Lombardi — a pair of NHL veterans who will earn $9.25 million combined this season after producing just 54 points collectively last year?

And what does an opportunity for Aucoin mean for Nazem Kadri, the perpetual tease who needs to be able to demonstrate he can play a top-six role in the NHL three years after being made the No.7 pick overall by the since departed Brian Burke?

One domino will likely lead to another one falling, and Carlyle is the man getting ready to tip the first much sooner than he would like thanks to a regular season that is coming on like a freight train and will be gone before anyone knows what hit them.

Michael Grange is a columnist for sportsnet.ca and a senior writer at Sportsnet magazine.



Senators captain Alfredsson unsure of future

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Senators captain Alfredsson unsure of future

Daniel Alfredsson remains the face of the franchise; but for how much longer?
Daniel Alfredsson remains the face of the franchise; but for how much longer?

January 15, 2013, 6:13 pm


OTTAWA, Ont. — There is no denying Daniel Alfredsson is the face of the Ottawa Senators, but at age 40 the team’s captain might not be playing that role for much longer.

Alfredsson is entering his 17th season with the Senators and has already hinted that retirement has crossed his mind. He’s in the final year of his contract and can’t confirm or deny whether this is his last season.

“That’s a good question,” Alfredsson said. “Sometimes I feel like I should make a decision earlier, but as long as I enjoy playing, enjoy coming to the rink I don’t see why I can’t continue if the desire’s there.”

Some wonder whether he can physically handle the rigours of a shortened 48-game season at 40, but he says he has no concerns.

“I don’t think (being 40) is that big a deal,” Alfredsson said. “I totally understand it because it’s not until the last few years where people really considered playing this late. I understand the skepticism and is it worth it and what not, but I think as you see people are taking more and more care of themselves off the ice that this is not going to be the rarity it’s going to be the norm.”

Alfredsson chose to remain at home during the lockout and skate with some of his teammates rather than pursue playing opportunities overseas. A big part of his decision had to do with wanting to spend more time with his wife and four young sons and he admits that his desire to have more normalcy in his life could be what ultimately decides his future.

The time at home during the lockout made him realize how much he misses his family during the hockey season.

“I would love for them to be old enough that they can remember me playing in the National Hockey League, but at the same time does that really matter?,” he asked. “Am I better off being more at home with them than spending this much time playing in the NHL? I battle with that question myself.”

Alfredsson is expected to start the season playing with newly acquired Guillaume Latendresse, a 25-year-old looking to re-ignite his career after two injury riddled seasons, and 22-year-old Kyle Turris.

Turris considers himself extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to play with Alfredsson.

“He’s unbelievable,” Turris said. “He makes me a lot better. I learn from him everyday in practice and watching the little things that he does in games or game-like situations and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can.”

Last season Alfredsson had 27 goals and 32 assists through 75 games while averaging 18 minutes 56 seconds of ice time per game, fourth highest on the team. The 27 goals was his best since the 2007-2008 season when he scored 40.

“I don’t have any expectations as far as goals or points for me individually,” Alfredsson said. “I’m just, as always, trying to go in and do my best in every game and usually it adds up at the end.”

The Senators see no reason why Alfredsson wouldn’t be able to contribute as much as he has in the past.

“He looks like he’s able to play whatever amount the coach needs him to play,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray after watching Alfredsson through two days of training camp. “Age is a state of mind, that’s really what it is. He’s going to play well for us.

“I don’t think he’s lost a step, we may see it over a period of time and maybe he’s not as sharp every single night as he might be, but he’s such a good player and well conditioned player that I just think he can play as many minutes as (coach Paul MacLean) needs him to play.”

As for his teammates they rarely take his age into consideration, unless it’s for a good laugh at his expense.

“That’s the great thing about hockey,” said 29-year-old Jason Spezza. “He probably feels about ten years younger than he is and to us we respect him for the experience he has, but you don’t really think of him as 40.

“That’s not to say we don’t get a few digs in here and there though.”

.Notes: MacLean says any roster moves will likely be made following Thursday’s practice. a The Senators have already sold in excess of 16,000 tickets for its home opener Monday night against the Florida Panthers and will open Scotiabank Place to fans Saturday afternoon to watch the season opener against the Winnipeg Jets.



NHL 2013 Preview: Central Division

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Yesterday, it was the Atlantic Division. Today, it the only other division to boast 4 of 5 teams over 100 points. The Western Conference’s toughest division projects to be plenty tough in 2013.

Not as tough, mind you. The division says goodbye to some major players in Rick Nash, Ryan Suter, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Tomas Holmstrom.

Still, even with the departures, if any one of these teams takes a major freefall, it would be a complete shock. (And that includes the Blue Jackets, although that’s primarily because they can’t get that much worse, can they?) Folks have been predicting regressions for the Red Wings and Predators for a few years now, and they always find a way to stay in the mix. The Chicago Blackhawks are some strong goaltending away from a turnaround, and they had over 100 points last year. The St. Louis Blues haven’t changed a bit. And even the Columbus Blue Jackets will likely be better than people think, although they will once again be the punching bag of the division.

So who will emerge on top? After the jump, our team-by-team look at the Central Divison.

St. Louis Blues
Last Year’s Record: 49-22-11 (109 pts)
Coach: Ken Hitchcock
Pre-Lockout Preview: “There’s no reason to believe that the Blues and Hitchcock will regress, especially with the rest of the Central Division facing some adversity (goodbye, Misters Lidstrom and Suter). They’ll still need another veteran defenseman and a veteran winger to get over the hump and challenge for the Cup, but the window is wide open for this group.”
What’s Changed: Highly-rated prospect Vladimir Tarasenko has followed the locked-out NHLers back from Russia and will likely get a look with Alex Steen and Andy McDonald.
Pivotal Player: David Backes. The big centre stepped up in a big way for the Blues last season by taking away the centre of the ice and shutting down the star pivots of the Western Conference night after night. He needs to continue winning these battles if the Blues hope to continue winning.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, who are used to splitting time in the St. Louis crease. In this condensed schedule, the fact that the Blues can rotate through their goalies and keep both fresh is a big boon.
Prediction: First.

Chicago Blackhawks
Last Year’s Record: 45-26-11 (101 pts)
Coach: Joel Quenneville
Pre-Lockout Preview: “This is a playoff team, no doubt; but the seeding and their chances for a Cup will be determined by the rest of the division and by how aggressively Bowman decides to address problems at center and between the pipes.”
What’s Changed: Patrick Kane did some serious damage in Switzerland, and Marian Hossa is no longer experiencing concussion symptoms after the Raffi Torres hit that ended his season.
Pivotal Player: Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks’ netminder was such an issue for the team last season that Chicago has been rumoured to be one of the teams in the Roberto Luongo sweepstakes. They probably aren’t, but the team’s issue the past few seasons has been in goal, and if this team hopes to get back into that first-tier of contender, they need something near elite goaltending this season.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Hossa. As mentioned, the Chicago forward ended last season with a trip to the hospital, and he wasn’t cleared by the Blackhawks’ doctors until November. But, lucky for him, the lockout means he didn’t miss a game, and he was afforded a little extra time to get right.
Prediction: Second.

Detroit Red Wings
Last Year’s Record: 48-28-6 (102 pts)
Coach: Mike Babcock
Pre-Lockout Preview: “Despite the loss of Lidstrom and the fact that the Central Division offers tough competition, the Red Wings should be a playoff team —but the margin between the 4/5 game and on the bubble in a competitive Western Conference will again be slim. The leadership is just too strong to envision this team falling off the playoff map yet. But Holland still needs to use that available cap space to improve the back end.”
What’s Changed: Nicklas Lidstrom stayed retired, Tomas Holmstrom retired, Pavel Datsyuk played in the KHL All-Star Game, and Henrik Zetterberg was named the captain.
Pivotal Player: Niklas Kronwall. With Lidstrom moving on and a massive hole remaining on the Red Wings’ blueline, Kronwall will be called on to be a first-pairing guy. The success of the 2013 Red Wings is based largely on how Kronwall manages to answer this call.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Well, there’s a lot of old people on this team, so… the whole team? But we’ll give Jimmy Howard the nod. The Red Wings’ goaltender has averaged 61 starts the past 3 seasons. Now it’s literally impossible for him to get more than 48!
Prediction: Third.

Nashville Predators
Last Year’s Record: 48-26-8 (104 pts)
Coach: Barry Trotz
Pre-Lockout Preview: “The Predators success last year was a little baffling at times. They were out-possessed regularly, which is typically a mark of a bad team. They were the only team in the NHL to finish in the top 10 while averaging fewer shots than they allowed. Frankly, they were due for a fall all year, and it just never came. One major reason: they still had the best defensive pairing in the NHL. Now they don’t, and in a league with insane parity, that could be enough to drop them to ninth.”
What’s Changed: Pekka Rinne hurt his groin in the KHL and then got better. The Predators claimed Richard “The Answer” Clune off waivers.
Pivotal Player: Can it be anyone but Shea Weber? Divorced from Ryan Suter, thus dissolving the best defence pairing in the NHL, Weber will have to finally have his Norris-winning season if the Predators want to return to the playoffs.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Rinne will see the bulk of the starts, but even if he starts all 48 games, that’s still 4 fewer than his least busy season.
Prediction: Fourth.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Year’s Record: 29-46-7 (65 pts)
Coach: Todd Richards
Pre-Lockout Preview: “Rebuild might be putting it kindly. But there are some pieces in place on defense; and like we said, it could be a tenacious group up front. Are they the worst team in the conference on paper? Probably. Will they be a pushover? They’ll compete every night.”
What’s Changed: Derick Brassard pissed off his Austrian lockout team by saying he’d stay and then going home. First-rounder Ryan Murray tore his shoulder and successfully underwent surgery.
Pivotal Player: Brandon Dubinsky. Arguably the biggest name coming back from the Rangers in the Rick Nash trade, this is Dubinsky’s opportunity to show he can be a major part of a core after the Rangers decided he wasn’t. If Dubinsky winds up blending in as a depth player, the Blue Jackets’ struggles will be even worse than expected. But if he can seize the opportunity to step up and lead the team at both ends of the ice, Columbus might be able to stay out of the basement.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: James Wisniewski, who only played 48 games last season due to injuries and suspensions. The Blue Jacket has had the opportunity to get completely healthy thanks to the extended offseason. If he can stay on the ice, he’s bound to make the powerplay better.
Prediction: Fifth.