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sunday hockey notes

Lightning left with less punch, more promise

Martin St. Louis is now with the New York Rangers.

Getty Images/file

Martin St. Louis is now with the New York Rangers.

If the current trend continues, the Bruins will play Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs.

They should send Martin St. Louis and Steve Yzerman flowers if so.

Continue reading below

The Bruins want no part of Montreal. They had enough trouble with the quick and clever Canadiens even before Thomas Vanek landed in La Belle Province.

Even with their graying stars in wheelchairs and rockers, the Red Wings would not be an ideal matchup for the plodding Bruins. Detroit plays with pace and skill. Consider the Wings Montreal light.

Despite its puck-possession issues, Toronto is better than last year. Jonathan Bernier is an upgrade over James Reimer. James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel are more dangerous than ever.

The Lightning did not improve at the trade deadline.

The demand was selfish, but St. Louis had the right to ask for a trade. St. Louis, armed with his no-movement clause, also had the right to make New York his only destination.

In turn, it wouldn’t have just been Yzerman’s right to say no. It was his duty to tell St. Louis to suck it up, finish the season, perhaps lift the Stanley Cup for a second time, then say his goodbyes at the draft.

Yzerman made the organization better in future years. The Lightning received a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional 2014 second-rounder. The second-rounder becomes a first if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals.

Yzerman made his current roster worse by replacing St. Louis with Ryan Callahan.

“Are we better? I don’t know,” Yzerman said during his post-trade press conference. “We’re different. We’ll see.”

The ex-Ranger captain is a very good player. Callahan is a sandpaper forward. The 28-year-old, 10 years younger than St. Louis, skates through bodies and enters the dirty areas to create havoc. Callahan’s energy is infectious.

St. Louis has all those characteristics too. The former University of Vermont standout is not a flash-and-dash perimeter player. Like Callahan, St. Louis does not back down from the behemoths of the league. St. Louis is often the first player in on the forecheck to nudge aside opponents and chase down the puck. Unlike Callahan, St. Louis stays healthy.

Entering the weekend, St. Louis had 29 goals and 32 assists in 63 games. St. Louis is averaging 21:40 of ice time per game. St. Louis is one of the NHL’s most feared offensive dynamos.

Through 45 games with the Rangers, Callahan had 11 goals and 14 assists while logging 17:56 of ice time per outing. Before his ouster, Callahan was the right wing alongside Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards.

At best, Callahan is a No. 2 right wing. On a good team, Callahan is a perfect third-line right wing: a gritty guy who kills penalties, blocks shots, plays sound defense, and creates scoring chances with his wrecking-ball forecheck. Callahan is a tougher, stronger, more inspirational, slower, and less skilled version of Rich Peverley.

“Marty’s play speaks for itself as one of the top players in the league,” Callahan told the Tampa Tribune. “By no means am I coming in and trying to replace what he did here. I’m coming in and trying to insert my energy, be hard on the forecheck, good penalty killer, score when I have the opportunity. I’m not trying to change what I am as a player or how I approach the game.”

It’s not like St. Louis was a stand-alone entity. Steven Stamkos, St. Louis’s running mate, returned on Thursday from his broken leg. Stamkos and St. Louis would have energized each other.

Among offensive duos, Stamkos and St. Louis belong in the same conversation as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, van Riemsdyk and Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, and Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The Bruins would have deployed Zdeno Chara against Stamkos and St. Louis in a playoff showdown. They might have even had to pair Chara full-time with Johnny Boychuk. They are reluctant to try that tandem because of the concern of creating a top-heavy defense.

Stamkos returned Thursday without his partner. The duo that once had coaches shivering with fear is gone.

The blame, of course, starts with St. Louis. Hockey players, to say nothing of captains, do not ask out when they don’t make a fantasy roster. The Lightning are contending with a weak Eastern Conference. St. Louis put his interests above the team. Captains don’t do that.

Leaving St. Louis off Team Canada was not solely Yzerman’s call. The roster’s assembly was in concert with Yzerman’s hockey operations colleagues: Peter Chiarelli, Kevin Lowe, Doug Armstrong, and Ken Holland, with significant input from Mike Babcock and the coaching staff.

Following Hockey Canada’s original release of the roster Jan. 7, St. Louis recorded 12 goals and 11 assists in 20 games. The Lightning went 9-10-1. It’s a good 20-game run for the player. But not a good one for the team. That record could have improved had St. Louis been present for Stamkos’s return.

Yzerman did his employer a long-term service. Given that only one team was in the hunt, Yzerman received a bounty, even if Callahan doesn’t re-sign.

Yzerman’s decision underscores two things. First, the Lightning didn’t believe they were Cup contenders this year. They would not have made the team worse if they thought otherwise. Second, they identified the situation as too flammable to wait until after the season.

“Both Marty and the team played extremely hard through this process. But obviously it has to have an effect,” Yzerman said of St. Louis’s unhappiness. “These guys are close-knit guys.”

The Lightning might relax upon St. Louis’s departure. But hockey players are humans. There’s no way to project how they’ll perform after a grenade goes off in their locker room.

Once Stamkos found his legs, the Lightning could have counted on the center and St. Louis to rip opponents apart. Nothing is certain now.

IN THE DARK

Canucks exposed in development process

Ignore the LOL reality that the Canucks once had arguably the NHL’s best goalie tandem in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Stifle your giggles that they gave away Schneider, who’ll be an ace for the next eight years, for a 2013 first-round pick. Stop shaking your head that Jacob Markstrom, part of the return from Florida for Luongo, will share the crease with Eddie Lack.

Trading Luongo was the best transaction GM Mike Gillis made in a long time.

This is a gear-grinding franchise. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are 33 years old. Henrik missed the Olympics because of a rib injury. Daniel is shut down because of a lower-body injury. It’s possible both twins could say goodbye before 2018, the final season of their upcoming four-year, $28 million extensions. It’s not a good situation when your best players’ bones are already creaking.

The Canucks identified this hard-to-admit truth. They have a better picture of the identity of their team. Because of their drunkard’s aim at the draft table, the Canucks need to get younger.

The Canucks don’t have anybody from the last three drafts on their varsity roster. That’s about average around the league. Aside from exceptions, players in their teens and early 20s are better off developing in the AHL, junior, or college.

But the Canucks have shot blanks for much longer. Jordan Schroeder, their first-round pick in 2009, entered the weekend with two goals and one assist in 14 games for the Canucks this season. They traded Cody Hodgson, their 2008 first-rounder, to Buffalo for Zack Kassian. None of their 2007 picks is in the league. Michael Grabner, their 2006 first-round selection, was moved to Florida in a package that netted Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. Neither is with the Canucks. Luc Bourdon, their 2005 first-rounder, died in a motorcycle accident. Schneider was their 2004 first-rounder.

You have to backtrack to 2004 to find their last significant pick who’s still on the team: Alex Edler in the third round. The previous season, they picked Ryan Kesler in the first round. Both nearly moved before the trade deadline.

Consider, in comparison, the players Chicago drafted in the same stretch: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford, Bryan Bickell, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, Brandon Saad, and Andrew Shaw.

The Canucks missed for years. They’re paying now.

ETC.

This Hurricane was swept off his feet

Anton Khudobin, formerly Tuukka Rask’s backup, took a pay cut to leave Boston and sign with Carolina last summer.

That maneuver paid off. Khudobin signed a two-year, $4.5 million extension with the Hurricanes Tuesday. If Carolina can move Cam Ward — a transaction, in hindsight, that should have taken place years ago — Khudobin will be an inexpensive No. 1. Khudobin never would have gotten that opportunity had he re-upped with the Bruins.

Khudobin was in a good spot in Boston. He was a perfect No. 2 behind Rask. But like most goalies, Khudobin believed in himself. In Boston, Khudobin might have started 20 games.

Khudobin missed time this season because of a sprained ankle. But through 23 games, the 27-year-old Khudobin was 14-8-0 with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. In comparison, the 30-year-old Ward was 6-9-5 with a 3.23 GAA and an .891 save percentage.

It will not be easy for GM Jim Rutherford to move the two years ($6.3 average annual value) remaining on Ward’s anchor of a contract. But it will be Rutherford’s top offseason priority.

The Hurricanes are on pace to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Unless they make big offseason changes, that streak will run to six.

Up in the air

In a month’s span, Jaroslav Halak was traded as many times as he played. On Feb. 6, Halak was in goal for the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win over the Bruins. On Feb. 28, in his final start for St. Louis, Halak stopped 34 of 35 shots in a 1-0 loss to Vancouver. The Blues traded Halak to Buffalo two days later. Then on March 5, Halak was traded again, this time to Washington. In between, Halak was on 11 flights: from St. Louis to Vancouver; Vancouver to Anaheim; Anaheim to Newark; Newark to Sochi; Sochi to Newark; Newark to St. Louis; St. Louis to Buffalo; Buffalo to Dallas; Dallas to Buffalo; Buffalo to Tampa Bay; Tampa Bay to Boston. “It’s been weird,” Halak said Thursday. “I’ve just been flying around, not knowing where I’m going to end up. But I’m real happy I’m here [with the Capitals]. I hope I can help the guys down the stretch.”

Musical goalies

Eleven netminders changed addresses before the deadline: Halak (twice), Roberto Luongo, Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, Michal Neuvirth, Tim Thomas, Dan Ellis, Viktor Fasth, Ilya Bryzgalov, Devan Dubnyk, and Reto Berra. It is an unusually high number of puckstoppers to go at the deadline. The two goalies who will have biggest short- and long-term impacts are Miller and Fasth. Miller could be the piece that puts St. Louis above the other Western Conference heavyweights. He is a clear upgrade over Halak. Miller will be unrestricted after this season. Re-signing with the small-market Blues is not guaranteed. For the future, Fasth was the shrewdest acquisition. Edmonton gave up only a fifth-round pick in 2014 and a 2015 third-rounder to Anaheim, which was standard market rate given the Ducks’ organizational depth in goal. The 31-year-old Fasth will battle with Ben Scrivens and give the Oilers some clarity and competition next year. That’s far better than a Dubnyk-Jason LaBarbera tandem.

Conacher cut loose

Steve Yzerman made the Lightning worse this year. But that doesn’t change the fact that Yzerman and his hockey operations colleagues in Tampa are good judges of players. The Lightning identified Cory Conacher, then an undrafted senior at Canisius College. They invited the undersized but feisty forward to training camp in 2011. They signed him to an AHL contract, then gave him a two-year NHL deal March 1, 2012. As an NHL rookie last year, Conacher had nine goals and 15 assists in 35 games for the Lightning. By April 3, 2013, the Lightning knew what they had — a tradeable asset. For Conacher, they landed Ben Bishop from Ottawa. Conacher was so untrustworthy for the Senators that they cut him loose for nothing on Tuesday. A day later, Buffalo claimed Conacher off waivers. Bishop, meanwhile, is pushing for Vezina Trophy consideration. “He’s what I like to call a good complementary player,” Buffalo GM Tim Murray said of Conacher. “If we had better players to surround him, he’d be a better complementary player as most complementary players are.”

Gaborik experiment ends in Columbus

The Blue Jackets were hoping for a 1-2 punch at right wing between Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik. Partly because of injuries, it never happened. Horton was unavailable at the start of the season because of offseason shoulder surgery. Gaborik missed 23 games, as well as the Olympics, because of a broken collarbone. But for whatever reason, even when healthy, Gaborik’s breakaway speed and scoring touch didn’t fit in Columbus’s blueprint. The Jackets paid a whopping price to the Rangers for Gaborik: Derick Brassard, John Moore, and Derek Dorsett. Brassard is a good, offensive-minded No. 3 center. Moore is a third-pairing left-shot defenseman who can play the right side in a pinch. Dorsett is a pain to play against. The return Columbus netted for Gaborik from Los Angeles (Matt Frattin and two picks) is nothing compared with the Rangers’ haul.

Loose pucks

The Sabres were open for business prior to the deadline. They held on to pending UFAs Henrik Tallinder and Zenon Konopka. They listened to offers for defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers as well as forwards Chris Stewart and Drew Stafford. One reason all six remain in Buffalo was that the Sabres had already maxed out on retaining salary. Each team is allowed to retain salary on only three players. The Sabres had done so with Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville . . . Loui Eriksson missed five games after being blindsided by John Scott. Eriksson sat out 15 games after Brooks Orpik gave him a second concussion. In St. Louis, Eriksson had his teeth driven in by an uncalled high stick. He missed one game after a cut on his right heel, which he opened while getting into a cold tub in Sochi, became infected. This poor fellow ought to play to the Three Stooges sound effects of slaps, eye gouges, and hair pulls.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fluto.shinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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