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NHL Insider

Six stories to watch in season's stretch run

Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 10:33 AM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

With the trade deadline having come and gone, it's finally time to shift gears to the playoff races and the storylines that relate to them. There is plenty there to keep everyone on edge and focused between now and April 7, when all 30 teams are in action on the final day of the regular season.

Here are six storylines that should grab the hockey world's attention over the next 5 1/2 weeks:

Sidney Crosby's status


Penguins GM Ray Shero says he likes his team, so much so that he decided not to change anything at the trade deadline. There's no question he likes his team a whole lot more when No. 87 is in the lineup.

No one can say for certain if that's going to happen again this season, but there's some speculation in Pittsburgh that Shero's silence at the deadline suggests Crosby is close to getting back in the lineup. Crosby's level of work on the ice also should make that suggestion, as he's begun to ramp it up in recent days.

Leap Day special to eight current, former NHL players

Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 9:35 AM / NHL Insider

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

"In the early ages I got made fun of for being so young. Now being 28, I'm sure I'll get some 7-year-old cards." -- Cam Ward

For most of us, Wednesday is "Leap Day," a day that's added to the calendar once every four years to keep things in harmony. For eight NHL players past and present, however, it's a chance to celebrate their "real" birthday.

For Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, who turns 28 by normal standards, it's the seventh time he gets to celebrate his birthday on the right day -- Feb. 29.

"In the early ages I got made fun of for being so young," Ward told NHL.com. "Now being 28, I'm sure I'll get some 7-year-old cards."

Blackhawks already see positives in Oduya

Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 4:55 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- After catching a red-eye flight from Winnipeg on Tuesday morning, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya was on the ice for practice with his new team in the Windy City.

The 30-year-old native of Stockholm, who the Hawks acquired from the Winnipeg Jets on Monday for a pair of 2013 fourth-round draft picks, said it was good just to get back on the ice.

"Anytime you have a team this good and they want to bring you in to see if there's a fit for you and you can help out, you appreciate it. I feel fortunate coming in here."  -- Johnny Oduya

"It was a nice skate, nice to just move around a little bit," said Oduya, who was paired with Brent Seabrook. "I didn't do too much (Monday), so it was all right. (I was) up early this morning to get here, but feel pretty good."

He looked pretty good, too, considering.

Oduya's skating ability -- which was lauded by Chicago general manager Stan Bowman on Monday -- was noticeable right away in offensive and defensive drills.

The Hawks had a void for a player with Oduya's skill set after they traded speedy, puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell last summer to help create salary-cap space. Bowman also chose not to re-sign last season's trade deadline acquisition, Chris Campoli -- another skilled puck-mover.

'Forever a Flame,' MacInnis savors special moment

Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 3:10 PM / NHL Insider

Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

Al MacInnis became the first honoree in Calgary's "Forever a Flame" program. (Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI)
CALGARY -- He's known for having one of the hardest shots the game of hockey has ever seen.

It turns out Al MacInnis has a soft spot for the Calgary Flames, too.

The 48-year-old became the first honoree in Calgary's "Forever a Flame" program, saluting the organization's greatest, before Monday's game against the St. Louis Blues.

MacInnis, the MVP of the Flames' only Stanley Cup-winning team in 1989, was honored before family members, past teammates and 19,289 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome surrounding him.

"The Calgary Flames gave me a chance to play in the National Hockey League," MacInnis said after the ceremony that featured several gifts and a $25,000 donation by the Flames to the charity of his choice.

Lee, Commodore excited to make Lightning debuts

Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 3:08 PM / NHL Insider

Lonnie Herman - NHL.com Correspondent

TAMPA, Fla. -- "Defensemen aren't easy to find," Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said Monday, so he was pleased when he was able to obtain three of them at the trade deadline.

Keith Aulie, obtained from the Toronto Maple Leafs, is still awaiting a visa, but the other two newcomers, Brian Lee from the Ottawa Senators and veteran Mike Commodore from the Detroit Red Wings, will be playing Tuesday night and were just as happy to be joining the Lightning as Yzerman was to get them.

Players that could alter playoff races down stretch

Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 2:16 PM / NHL Insider

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

The NHL Trade Deadline has thankfully -- for everyone involved -- passed, and we can now focus on the drive toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There are a plethora of teams on the cusp of the playoffs and others trying to climb into a top-four spot during the final 20 games or so. There are some individuals who have the ability to have a major impact on what happens during the final push, and these six will have a big say in the fates of their teams:

Semyon Varlamov, G, Colorado Avalanche -- The 23-year-old hasn't exactly lived up to his billing after he was acquired during the summer from the Caps for first- and second-round picks. But he's won three straight entering March, stopping 87 of 89 shots to push the Avs into serious playoff contention. If Varlamov can heat up during the final six weeks, the No. 8 seed is realistic for Colorado. Some food for thought: Varlamov has allowed just seven even-strength goals in his past seven games.

Jeff Carter, F, Los Angeles Kings -- There's no team on the cusp of the playoffs more in need of scoring, and Carter could be the difference between the Kings reaching the playoffs and clearing out their lockers in early April. The perennial 30-goal scorer was acquired before the deadline from Columbus and has yet to score in two games with his new club. If the former Flyer doesn't find any magic reunited with Mike Richards, the Kings are in trouble.

Shanahan explains no-suspension ruling on Turris

Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 5:04 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

The hearing process Sunday morning gave Ottawa forward Kyle Turris the ability to tell his side of the story regarding his boarding infraction on Boston defenseman Joe Corvo during Saturday's game. The NHL's Department of Player Safety was satisfied with his comments, which is why Turris is playing Sunday night against the New York Islanders.
 
To Brendan Shanahan, the League's Senior V.P. of Player Safety and Hockey Operations, that's exactly how the system is supposed to work.

Bishop excited for new opportunity in Ottawa

Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 2:14 PM / NHL Insider

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

As expected, the St. Louis Blues have traded goaltender Ben Bishop, sending the native St. Louisan to the Ottawa Senators in exchange a 2013 second-round pick.

The Senators, in need of a netminder after the strange hand injury recently suffered by starter Craig Anderson, are expected to sign the 6-foot-7 Bishop to a one-year, one-way contract, according to reports, largely because of the stipulations that would kick in for Bishop had he not played in at least 30 minutes of 17 NHL games this season.

The Blues were faced with the same situation, as Bishop would have become a Group VI unrestricted free agent at season's end and felt they couldn't allow Bishop, 25, to walk for nothing after getting noticed around the NHL for his stellar play with the team's AHL affiliate in Peoria.

"I've kind of had in my head the last month that it was going to happen," Bishop said Sunday morning. "I'm excited now that it's over and I can go back to focusing just on playing hockey. I've heard a bunch of good things about (Ottawa) and they've got a great young team coming up. So I'm excited to be part of the organization."

Installation begins on Lemieux statue

Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 1:19 PM / NHL Insider

Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Installation work has begun on the Mario Lemieux statue that will be unveiled outside Consol Energy Center before the Maple Leafs-Penguins game on Wednesday, March 7.
 
Scaffolding is now in place at the statue site, which is located in the plaza of the Trib Total Media gate along Centre Avenue and across the street from the Civic Arena. That arena, which is being demolished, was the site of many of Lemieux's memorable games during his Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1984-2006.
 
The statue unveiling, scheduled for noon ET, will be open to the public free of charge. Highlights of the unveiling will be shown that night during telecasts of the Maple Leafs-Penguins game on the NBC Sports Network in the United States and TSN in Canada.
 
No images of the statue have been released by the team. The statue is called "Le Magnifique," reflecting Lemieux's French Canadian heritage, and was funded privately by the Penguins' ownership group, labor organizations in the Pittsburgh area and members of Pittsburgh's business community.

Palmieri ready for fresh start in Minnesota

Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 1:10 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL -- It could be a season-defining day here at Xcel Energy Center.

With Minnesota five points back of Dallas, Los Angeles and Colorado for the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, and just 24 hours before the NHL trading deadline, a win or loss tonight against San Jose may decide the fate of the Wild from a competitive standpoint.

A win tonight keeps the Wild's fading playoff hopes alive and General Manager Chuck Fletcher may choose to keep some veterans with expiring contracts around in hopes of one final playoff push. A loss could mean selling those pieces and building for the future.

Fletcher made a move Thursday that could be seen as both, moving defenseman Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey for former Wild players Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux as well as a second round draft pick in this year's draft and a condition third rounder in 2013 should the Devils reach the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.

The other piece the Wild got in return, and perhaps the most intriguing, is winger Nick Palmieri. At 6-3 and 220 lbs, and just 22 years old, Palmieri fell out of favor with the Devils but has a new opportunity to shine in Minnesota. 
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