The initial belief surrounding the future of veteran defenceman Erik Gudbranson was the Canucks were set on trading him prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Recent reports state that the Canucks would like to sign Gudbranson to an extension, and failing to do so would ultimately resort in a move. Gudbranson, 26, is in the final-year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Canucks haven’t had specific contract talks with Gudbranson’s camp just yet, according to McKenzie, but those are expected to begin in the next week or two. If a multi-year contract extension cannot get ironed out, Canucks GM Jim Benning will trade him by the deadline. Gudbranson has attracted the interest of a number of teams already and doesn’t have a significantly huge salary cap hit to tag along with him at $3.5 million. Moving the rearguard will likely result in two draft picks coming back Vancouver’s way. In 32 games with the Canucks so far this season, Gudbranson has picked up one goal, two assists an 31 penalty minutes.
The Islanders, though, have some really hard decisions to make. And figuring out what the John Tavares really wants to do is only one of them. Islanders GM Garth Snow and his staff aren’t at a breaking point just yet, but soon they’re likely going to have to face reality. Soon, they’re going to have to shift their focus towards icing a better team next season. Soon, they’re going to have to address the elephant in the room. Getting this out of the way, how do you think John Tavares feels about his team’s realistic chances? Is this a “not again” scenario? For the faction of Islanders fans who want Snow’s job to be leveraged on Tavares coming back, I don’t believe that to be the case. All signs/assumptions, up until this period, have pointed to him re-signing with the Islanders. And I’ll still take the safe bet on him staying, for now. Many arguments can be made over why he should test the waters this July, and there are holes on this team that need addressing. Up front, there’s a lot of promise. I like the young players the Islanders have coming up at the forward position. Mathew Barzal’s talents are obvious. Kieffer Bellows is going to be a stud. Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang are coming into their own. Michael Dal Colle is slowly starting to find his groove. Team defence and goaltending, though, have issues. An upgrade is needed in both areas, and Snow is likely going to have to get creative in addressing those needs this off-season. Will they let Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey walk as unrestricted free agents? Devon Toews and Sebastian Aho could make a case to replace one of them, but adding either of those two blueliners alongside Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech doesn’t exactly strike fear in the opposition. The Isles need a top-pair defenceman, and they certainly have the tools to make something happen, but can Snow find the right match? The sense is Tavares will give the Islanders an idea of what he’s thinking in the coming weeks. You’d have to believe the team will expect the same from Josh Bailey. Can the promise of the team’s rising forward depth, bolstering the blueline and finding a clear No.1 goalie (waiting on Ilya Sorokin or finding another option) be enough for Tavares and Bailey to buy in?
The Canadiens will be calls on a number of their players in the next four weeks, but there is no guarantee the team moves captain Max Pacioretty by the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Canadiens may not trade Pacioretty at all and could decide to wait until the off-season to further explore the possibility of moving him. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has multiple players he’s been getting calls on, including forwards Tomas Plekanec, Andrew Shaw, who is currently out 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher, and defencemen David Schlemko and Jamie Benn, among others, but no deals are believed to be imminent, and some would be much more difficult to complete than others. Plekanec, 35, is in the final year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent this July. The Habs may try to re-sign him, but a pay cut will be in order. If the two sides cannot agree to an extension, Bergevin may move him by the deadline, but will likely need to eat part of his remaining salary this season, as his $6 million salary cap hit is too much most teams are willing to take on. Pacioretty, 29, has one-year left on his contract after this season and has expressed his desire to stay in Montreal. He’s indicated he has absolutely desire to move and hopes he doesn’t have to. Several teams have inquired about Pacioretty’s services, though the high price tag Bergevin has put out there – believed to be a young NHL forward, a top prospect and a first-round draft pick – may prevent a move this season altogether.
Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced that the club has acquired forward Mark McNeill from the Dallas Stars for defenseman Andrew O’Brien. McNeill, 24 (2/22/93), has six points (5g-1a) and 36 penalty minutes in 18 games with the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars in 2017-18. Since the 2011-12 campaign, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound forward has 312 AHL games to his credit, amassing 174 points (80g-94a) and 179 penalty minutes with Rockford and Texas, while also suiting up for a pair of NHL contests – with Chicago in 2015-16, and with Dallas in 2016-17. A native of Langley, B.C., McNeill was originally selected 18th overall (first round) by Chicago in the 2011 Draft. He played 321 Western Hockey League games with the Prince Albert Raiders from 2008-13, notching 243 points (97g-146a) and captaining the club in 2012-13.
Jagr’s return to the Czech Republic, has created a wave of euphoria among fans. Jagr revealed that he’s been dealing with a ligament injury in his right knee. Because he hasn’t played since Dec. 31, the Calgary Flames released the NHL’s second all-time leading point-scorer and he arrived in his Czech Republic homeland this week. The 45-year-old Jagr is determined to finish a frustrating season on ice skates, not on a couch. He said: “I’m here in Kladno and my only and main goal is to recover, get back to form as soon as possible, to get healthy and help our team to reach the playoffs and try to advance to the (top Czech) league. My first goal is to get healthy to start training properly and be able to enjoy hockey, which I can’t do without training,” Jagr said. “If I’m healthy and train, I know that I’ll be hungry to manage something”. Jagr is second to Wayne Gretzky on the NHL all-time points list with 1,921. He said he never cared about statistics, but admitted he hoped to join Gretzky on 2,000 points but it looked unrealistic now. About the secret behind his long career, he stated: “Love, as I can see it, is the strongest energy on earth. I love hockey all the time, I’ve always loved it, and had no problem to sacrifice anything to it. That’s the most important thing, a factor that helps you play as long as possible.” His path to the Hockey Hall of Fame will be cleared three years from the moment he decides to stop playing for good in the Czech Republic. He has won two Stanley Cups, five scoring titles and an MVP award. He has been a superstar in two leagues. He had an outstanding run and, like all great things, it came to an end. No bad guys here and certainly no reason to feel sorry for Jagr as he rides off into the sunset.