Pending UFAs Duchene, Stone need to make decision on their futures in Ottawa

Ottawa Senators forwards Matt Duchene and Mark Stone remain undecided about testing free agency this summer.

The 28-year-old Duchene will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and understands he'll have to make a decision on his future with Ottawa before the Feb. 25 trade deadline. If he doesn't, they could deal him.

"The biggest thing is, if I don't have an answer for them, I would expect that they'll make a move," Duchene said, according to Bruce Garrioch of The Ottawa Sun. "You can’t really afford to let guys go for nothing anymore in this league, or probably ever; you couldn't do that. I understand that's the situation.

"At the end of the day, I need to be sure of what I'm doing and it's a process right now that I'm evaluating. It's not an easy one because it's the first time I've ever been in this situation. It's really hard to make in mid-season. I'm taking my time, as much time as I have here, and I'll see what happens. But we're not at that point yet.”

Stone, also a pending UFA, knows the Senators could give each player a deadline to decide whether or not they intend to re-sign with the team.

"Yeah, for sure, but at the same time it's going to be done privately," Stone said. "I'm not going to do it through (the media)."

Duchene is in his second season with the Senators after being acquired last year from the Colorado Avalanche. Stone, meanwhile, has played his entire five-year career in Ottawa. Both players have the potential to become UFAs for the first time in their respected careers.

Stone and Duchene currently sit first and second in team scoring with 50 and 47 points, respectively.

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Report: Teams preparing offer sheet for Leafs’ Marner

Teams are licking their chops at the opportunity to try and steal one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' young star players this summer.

"I can tell you, with certainty, that teams are 100 percent preparing an offer sheet for Mitch Marner," TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Thursday's edition of "Insider Trading."

Despite the rumblings, general manager Kyle Dubas has vehemently denied any concern of losing any of his core players to an offer sheet.

Marner's agent, Darren Ferris, has made it clear their intention is to wait until after the season to begin contract negotiations with the Maple Leafs. Should talks bleed into July 1, the 21-year-old would become a RFA, making him eligible to receive an offer sheet from other teams.

Marner is in the midst of a breakout season in his third NHL campaign, leading the Maple Leafs with 62 points in 49 games - just eight short of setting a career high with 33 games left on the schedule.

Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, only eight players have signed an offer sheet. The last time it happened was in 2013 when the Calgary Flames signed Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year, $10-million deal, only to have it matched by O'Reilly's team at the time, the Colorado Avalanche.

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Report: Several contenders have reached out to Blue Jackets about Panarin

The Columbus Blue Jackets have begun fielding calls for star forward Artemi Panarin, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported during Thursday's "Insider Trading" segment.

"The Jackets only found out, of course, a few days ago that (Panarin) would not entertain negotiating an extension, but within those couple of days I'm told several contenders already have reached out to Columbus to find out what's going on, what the price might be, and get that conversation going," LeBrun said.

On Monday, Panarin's agent Dan Milstein released a statement saying the left winger would not discuss his future with the Blue Jackets until after the season.

Panarin will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, and while his value to the team is apparent, the Blue Jackets risk losing the superstar for nothing in the offseason if he remains with the team past the trade deadline.

Reports of Panarin's unwillingness to sign an extension with Columbus first surfaced last June. It was then reported in August that the New York Rangers were his first choice, while the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Dallas Stars were also on Panarin's list of preferred destinations.

The 27-year-old is once again leading the Blue Jackets in scoring this season, registering 20 goals and 57 points in 48 games.

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NHL podcast: Panarin dilemma, Muzzin trade, catching up with Cody Hodgson

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, John is joined by two guests - Matthew Coller of ESPN, and former NHL forward Cody Hodgson.

Topics of discussion include:

  • The possible Artemi Panarin-CBJ split
  • Toronto's acquisition of Jake Muzzin
  • Coller's recent Fun Index article
  • Hodgson's malignant hyperthermia
  • Hodgson on Steven Stamkos, Ryan Miller

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Tortorella rips into ‘god-awful’ Blue Jackets after loss to Sabres

Warning: Story contains coarse language

It was vintage John Tortorella on Thursday.

The Columbus Blue Jackets head coach expressed his frustration when asked about how his team's depth down the middle might help after Boone Jenner's injury.

"I've got one center playing. One," he told the assembled media, including TSN, in an apparent reference to first-line pivot Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Tortorella repeated that several times after subsequent questions. Then he tore into his club even further while referencing Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres when asked about the matchup against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

"It's a good team we're playing and it was a god-awful team that I coached the other night, so hopefully we'll answer the proper way," the bench boss said.

When asked if the players felt the same way, he said, "They better, or they'll get their ass kicked."

Tortorella added that he thought the Blue Jackets played with "absolutely no balls at all" in the defeat on Tuesday, that they were "absolute no-shows in every facet of the game," and the team needs to "reset pretty quickly."

After Thursday's game in Winnipeg, the Blue Jackets return home to play the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.

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Vermette retires after 14 seasons

Antoine Vermette is calling it a career.

The 36-year-old officially retired Thursday, ending a 14-season NHL career that included a Stanley Cup championship with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 and a Cup Final appearance with the Ottawa Senators in 2007.

Vermette scored two game-winning goals in the championship round against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015.

He was skilled in the faceoff circle and became a frequent trade-deadline target as a result. The center produced 515 points in 1,046 games for the Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix and then Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks, and Anaheim Ducks.

He last played in 2017-18 and spent the final two campaigns of his career with the Ducks.

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Benning won’t trade Canucks’ picks despite shot at playoff berth

The Vancouver Canucks are tied for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference 52 games into the regular season, but the club's unexpected success won't alter general manager Jim Benning's plans for the trade deadline.

"If there's a trade to be made, players for players, and we can make the team better, I'll look at something like that," Benning told Sportsnet's Iain MacIntyre on Wednesday.

"But we have a plan in place and I'm not moving picks from this year's draft to make the team better now. It's going to be about the guys in that room pulling together and having a good run. And that will dictate whether we're a playoff team or not."

The Canucks were expected to be in the thick of the race for the No. 1 selection in the 2019 draft, but superstar rookie Elias Pettersson has transformed the organization's outlook.

Since 2013, the Canucks have landed Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and top prospect Quinn Hughes with first-round picks.

Vancouver is hosting the draft in June, and the team owns nine picks spread across seven rounds.

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Vezina Trophy Power Rankings: Lehner making compelling case

With the All-Star Game now in the books, the unofficial halfway point of the season has come and gone, and we are still no closer to designating this year's best goaltender.

For the fourth straight edition, there is a new favorite to capture the Vezina Trophy.

5. David Rittich, Calgary Flames

Gerry Thomas / National Hockey League / Getty

The Flames are cruising, and although the club boasts the best offense in the Western Conference, Rittich has been instrumental in their success.

For the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff hung up the skates following the 2012-13 campaign, Calgary looks to have some stability between the pipes. In fact, Rittich's .918 save percentage is tied for the fifth-highest mark in a season by a Flames netminder over the past 20 years. The four spots ahead of him are all occupied by Kiprusoff.

In 30 games, Rittich has gone 19-4-4. His .937 save percentage at five-on-five ranks second overall among goalies to play at least 800 minutes and his .880 high-danger save percentage is the third highest. He's making a heck of a case.

4. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

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Last month's favorite is beginning to slip, but his recent play is merely a byproduct of those playing in front of him.

Gibson has just two wins in nine games since the calendar flipped to 2019. Over that span, he's allowed two or fewer goals on just three occasions. However, Gibson has faced the most shots at five-on-five and 55 more high-danger shots than the next closest netminder this season.

The Ducks are a single point out of the final wild-card spot in the West despite scoring the second-fewest goals per game and allowing the third-most shots against. The man needs help.

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

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Nikita Kucherov's monstrous campaign has been nothing short of spectacular, but through 50 games, Vasilevskiy has arguably been the Lightning's most valuable player this year.

In just 29 games, he's recorded 20 wins, a .922 save percentage, and a 2.55 goals-against average - the lowest mark of his career as a starter.

The Lightning are in the midst of a potentially record-breaking season, and while the club is scoring more goals than any team in the NHL, Vasilevskiy has been no slouch.

2. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

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The Maple Leafs were hit-or-miss prior to the All-Star break. Luckily, they went into the weekend on a high after a big 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals, where Andersen made 41 stops.

Andersen has been consistent, ranking tied for second in save percentage (.923), 12th in goals-against average (2.56), and third in wins (22). He also ranks first among all goalies with 13.46 goals saved above average at five-on-five.

Of course, coming out of the break with newly acquired Jake Muzzin in the fold should make Andersen one happy camper.

1. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders

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The Islanders have gone from a team that allowed the most goals against per game last campaign (3.57) to the fewest (2.41) this season.

Having a defensive-minded coach in Barry Trotz has played a major role, but Lehner also deserves credit. The 27-year-old has gone 15-7-4 in 27 games with a 2.02 goals-against average, which is tops among goalies to play at least 20 games. Meanwhile, his .940 five-on-five save percentage and .931 mark overall both rank first in the NHL, while his 13.19 goals saved above average sits third.

After a forgettable 2017-18 in Buffalo, Lehner has been remarkable with the Islanders and could be rewarded handsomely for his stellar play at the end of the season.

(Advanced stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)

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Bruins get Rask back vs. Flyers

Tuukka Rask is ready to return.

The Boston Bruins goaltender will play Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, his head coach, Bruce Cassidy, confirmed on game day.

Rask missed Tuesday night's shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets and most of Boston's defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers on Jan. 19 after being concussed by Rangers forward Filip Chytil, who crashed into Rask after scoring.

The veteran netminder has a .919 save percentage on the season, and he's gone 6-0-1 with a .939 mark in his last eight appearances.

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3 contenders that could swing for the fences on a Panarin trade

The Columbus Blue Jackets are nearing the 11th hour when it comes to making a decision on superstar winger Artemi Panarin.

After Panarin - who's set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 - said before training camp that he wouldn't negotiate a new contract during the season, the Blue Jackets were destined to find themselves in a pickle. And now, less than four weeks before the trade deadline, speculation on the matter is rampant thanks to a recent meeting with Panarin's agent that didn't yield much progress.

So, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is faced with an unenviable decision: keep his leading scorer for a potential playoff run - Columbus currently occupies the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference - at the risk of losing him for nothing in free agency, or bite the bullet and trade Panarin by Feb. 25 to ensure he returns future assets.

The latter route would be tough to stomach for a franchise that's never won a playoff series, but if there's a silver lining there, it's that opposing teams should be willing to pay a premium for the 27-year-old's services.

With that in mind, here are three Stanley Cup contenders that could make a major splash by plucking Panarin off the trade block.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The league-leading Lightning, who own a five-point advantage in the Presidents' Trophy race and sport by far the NHL's best goal differential, certainly have the means to go all-in and become even more powerful for a playoff run, during which they'll deal with significant pressure to finally get over the hump.

Despite their loaded roster, the Lightning are almost certain to face a difficult series against the Toronto Maple Leafs or Boston Bruins in the second round. What's more, shedding some long-term salary in exchange for an expiring contract would be a major benefit for GM Julien BriseBois, who will face contract negotiations with Brayden Point this coming offseason before dealing with Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2020.

That means a player like J.T. Miller and his $5.25-million cap hit could be the centerpiece of a deal, and he'd immediately slot into Columbus' lineup. Factor in a first-round pick and an impressive prospect pool built around Mitchell Stephens, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, and Cal Foote, and suddenly it's not too far-fetched for the Bolts to put together a desirable package.


Nashville Predators

Predators boss David Poile is known to avoid handing out no-trade clauses, which keeps all his options open. And as a GM who's never shied away from pulling the trigger on a big deal, Poile's team is one to watch as the Panarin sweepstakes heat up.

The Preds could fit Panarin's modest $6-million cap hit within their books without shedding any salary, and beefing up their ninth-ranked offense before dealing with a gauntlet of powerhouse teams in the Western Conference playoff bracket should be a priority.

Panarin's 55 points this season lead all Nashville players by a mile, and he'd fortify a top-six forward group that relies heavily on the first line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. Panarin could also help a power-play unit that ranks just 29th in the NHL with a 13.1 percent conversion rate.

As for the potential return, top prospect Eeli Tolvanen would be the crown jewel, but it's far from a guarantee that Poile would make him available. Otherwise, the Preds own picks in all seven rounds for the next three NHL drafts and have young wingers Kevin Fiala and Ryan Hartman, who are both talented but expendable.

Boston Bruins

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Everyone knows Boston's success runs through its top unit of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, and there's a considerable drop-off when you move down the depth chart. Enter Panarin, who would add another layer of offensive firepower ahead of the Bruins' impending postseason battle(s) against the Atlantic Division's elite.

Boston addressed its need for offensive depth at last year's deadline with the acquisition of Rick Nash, but the deal didn't pan out. In that trade, Bruins GM Don Sweeney gave up two roster players, a prospect, and two picks, including a first-rounder. That would be a steep price to pay in two consecutive seasons, but the Bruins are expected to be buyers once again, and Sweeney will have to weigh the pros and cons of potentially adding the deadline's biggest name to an aging core that's working against the clock.

Would a package built around prospects Anders Bjork or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson - along with picks and a roster player like Danton Heinen or Jake DeBrusk - entice the Blue Jackets enough to get a deal done?

Only time will tell.

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