Sports Outside the Beltway

Let the trading begin- Columbus sends Goalie Pascal Leclaire to Ottawa

The NHL trading deadline is four hours away. From CBC Sports-

The Ottawa Senators traded forward Antoine Vermette to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.

In exchange, Ottawa receives goaltender Pascal LeClaire and a second-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft.

Vermette, 26, has nine goals and 19 assists in 62 games this season for the Senators.

He is signed through next season, when he will make $3 million, before he becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2010.

Leclaire, 26, has played in 12 games for the Jackets this season, posting a 4-6-1 record with a 3.83 goals against average

Ottawa is essentially out of the playoff hunt for 2008-09. I’m doubtful Leclaire will help fill the goaltending void in Ottawa. He’s just another second stringer, and the Senators have two already in Alex Auld and Martin Gerber. Admittedly Gerber has been sent to the minors and may be destined for Europe. So he could be reasonably considered out of the picture. Still the move puzzles me.


Goalie Steve Mason at it again- Columbus blanks Ottawa 1-0

Last night’s game marks the seventh shutout for the NHL rookie.

It seemed like a while since Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason had recorded a shutout. In reality it was only seven starts, but when you burst onto the scene with six in your first 24 NHL games, including back-to-back-to-back blankings during one stretch, expectations quickly become elevated.

Have no fear — Mason was back at his stingiest best Friday night, and he needed to be. The Blue Jackets got him a Jakub Voracek goal early in the second period and nothing more, but Mason made that hold up with 18 saves in a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators at Nationwide Arena.

“Steve Mason had an outstanding game,” said Voracek, who redirected a shot by Michael Peca past Alex Auld for his eighth of the season. “He made a couple of big saves in the third period. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1-0 or 5-4; it’s still two points for us.”

Mason now leads the League with seven shutouts, and the Blue Jackets moved into a four-way tie for fifth in the Western Conference with 53 points. Three other teams sit just two points out of a playoff spot in an ever-tightening race.

I’m surprised by the rise of Columbus this year. It was easy to write them off after Derick Brassard went out for the season.

Columbus will have to play excellent hockey to make the playoffs, for I feel the Western is the tougher of the two NHL conferences.


Rookie Goalie Steve Mason stymies Washington, Columbus wins 3-0

It’s because of Mason that the Blue Jackets find themselves in contention for their first ever playoff appearance. From

Steve Mason already led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage. The rookie goaltending sensation for the Columbus Blue Jackets now has sole possession of the lead in shutouts as well, despite having spent the first month of the season in the minor leagues.

Mason stopped all 45 shots by the Washington Capitals, and the injury-plagued Jackets got a goal and assist each from Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin in a 3-0 win Friday night at Verizon Center, finishing with an impressive 4-2 record on a six-game road trip.

“It’s huge for us,” Mason said. “Obviously, with a lot of guys out of the lineup it was a big opportunity for other guys to step up. They did that. We had a down first period, but the guys bounced back in the second and the third.”

Mason’s sixth shutout broke a tie with Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver, who achieved all of his prior to Nov. 8 and has been out since late November after hurting his groin.

Mason, whose goals against fell to 1.74 while his save percentage improved to .939, didn’t make his NHL debut until Nov. 5, but he took advantage of an injury to Pascal Leclaire and has since taken the starting job.

Mason is having a great year and should be given serious consideration for rookie of the year.


Columbus Center Derick Brassard out for the season

He was tied for the rookie scoring lead before his injury happened. From ESPN-

The rookie disclocated his right shoulder during a fight last Thursday night.

“He’s going to have surgery in early January and he’s done for the year,” Jackets general manager Scott Howson told Monday.

“He’s four to six months out in terms of return to play — closer to six months. So he’s not going to return this year.”

Brassard was tied for the NHL rookie scoring lead with 25 points (10-15) in 31 games and was among the candidates for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

It’s a huge blow to a Jackets team that wasn’t that deep at center to begin with.

Brassard was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft and was the NHL’s rookie of the month for October. He has earned points in 20 games this season.

Columbus hockey fans had high hopes for the Blue Jackets to make their first ever post season appearance. This looks rather doubtful now.

Pierre LeBrun at ESPN writes-

Talk about a punch in the gut. The Jackets were three points out of a playoff spot Monday and can ill afford to lose their No. 2 scorer. So now what? Other GMs around the league can expect their cell phones to ring in the near future.


The Washington Capitals have been shopping veteran center Michael Nylander all season, but we’re told the Jackets aren’t interested. Too much contract left on that baby. Nylander, 36, has two-and-a-half seasons left on his current deal, which pays him $5.5 million this season, $5.5 million next season and $3 million in 2010-11.

They wouldn’t want Florida’s Brett McLean would they? He just scored his first goal of the season last Sunday!

There’s always former Blue Jacket Center Gilbert Brule. Oh never mind about that.

Either way, Brassard’s injury is a huge blow for a team that needed its core players to stay healthy all year to remain in the playoff race. Ken Hitchcock rates among the best coaches in the NHL, but barring a trade, this might be too much to overcome.

The Western is the tougher of the NHL’s two conferences. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Columbus in the post season for at least one more year.


NHL suspends Michael Peca for bumping ref

The incident happened in a game Friday night. From AP-

Columbus Blue Jackets center Michael Peca has been suspended indefinitely by the NHL for making contact with an on-ice official.

The team and league announced the suspension on Saturday. Peca was automatically suspended per Rule 41, Physical Abuse of Officials, Category 2.

He was assessed a game misconduct penalty at 5:21 of the second period of the Blue Jackets’ season opener on Friday night at Dallas, which they went on to win 5-4 on Rick Nash’s goal in overtime.


Peca, an alternate captain, has appealed but will remain suspended pending a hearing to be scheduled next week.

If Peca bumped the ref, he deserves some kind of suspension. That behavior should never be condoned.


Twenty three days to the NHL trading deadline

Across Canada and the US, General Managers are already evaluating their team in preparation for Feb. 26th. For the Columbus GM Scott Howson, the big decision is what to do in regards to goaltender Pascal Leclaire. From the Columbus Dispatch-

The next three weeks are crucial for the Blue Jackets, who must decide whether they are a playoff-caliber club and a buyer or a seller at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

On Feb. 27, the off-ice focus should shift to re-signing goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who is set to become a restricted free agent July 1.

First, a little background.

In the old NHL, there was a gentleman’s agreement that general managers wouldn’t poach other clubs’ restricted free agents by signing them to offer sheets. In the new NHL, gentlemen have gone the way of enforcers, which is to say there aren’t as many left.

Last summer, Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe extended offer sheets to Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and Anaheim’s Dustin Penner. The Sabres matched the Vanek offer (seven years, $50 million), but the Ducks let Penner leave for five years, $21.25 million. And a new day dawned.

Offer sheets used to be rare. There were only seven of note between 1990 and 2006. Now, it’s considered another way, albeit an expensive one, of adding star power.

Many have assumed that offer sheets could be extended for the likes of pending restricted free agents Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, Corey Perry, Matt Stajan and Alexander Semin, among others.

Does anybody doubt that Leclaire would be near the top of that list?

I might. Leclaire is having an exceptional 07-08 but what was his record like before this year?

59 games played 17 wins 32 losses 0 Overtime losses 3.13 Goals against average .905 save percentage

Those statistics are below average for a starting NHL goaltender. I could also add that Leclaire wasn’t even the starting goalie for the Blue Jackets in 06-07. Instead Fredrik Norrena did most of the net work for Columbus, playing in 55 games.

Could Leclaire have blossomed into a top goalie? Perhaps, but part of one season proves nothing. With his being a restricted free agent and Columbus in contention for a playoff spot, I wouldn’t trade the goalie. That’s unless some team wants to trade the farm to get Leclaire. That will happen sometimes. Nashvile last year traded three players to get the oft injured Peter Forsberg just before the trading deadline. What is Forsberg doing these days?

Update- Another player rumored to be on the trading block is Toronto’s Mats Sundin. He is 36 years old and still a good scorer, Sundin does however have a no trade clause in his contract is a unrestricted free agent at season’s end. A team trading for Sundin could see the Swede take a hike a little over four months after acquiring him.

If Toronto does trade Sundin, lay odds it is to a Western Conference team and definitely not Maple Leaf Division rival, the Ottawa Senators.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Western Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Detroit Red Wings 51-37-10-4-78
San Jose Sharks 50-28-15-7-63
Dallas Stars 54-29-20-5-63
Anaheim Ducks 53-27 20-6-60
Minnesota Wild 50-28-19-3-59
Calgary Flames 50-25-17-8-58
Vancouver Canucks 51-26-20-5-57
Colorado Avalanche 50-26-20-4-56

Phoenix Coyotes 50-27-21-2-56
Columbus Blue Jackets 52-25-21-6-56
Nashville Predators 51-25-21-5-55
St Louis Blues 49-23-19-7-53
Edmonton Oilers 53-23-25-5-51
Chicago Blackhawks 50-23-23-4-50
Los Angeles Kings 52-20-29-3-43

Note- The numbers above from left to right are- Games played, wins, losses, Overtime losses, total points

Teams in Bold are Northwest Division teams

I think its more than reason to say Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, and Anaheim are going to make the playoffs, while the LA Kings have no chance. Edmonton’s chances are slim also.

The closest division is the Northwest. Three points separate first to fourth place. I like Vancouver because of Goalie Roberto Luongo. The division is both talented and very tight and I could see anyone but Edmonton could come out on top and deservingly so. The Avalanche, Wild, Canucks nor Flames rate as mediocre or badly underacheiving teams unlike members of the Southeast Division.


Vancouver Canuck Goalie Roberto Luongo to miss All-Star game

The former Florida Panther goaltender wants to spend time with his pregnant wife. From the Canadian Press-

VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo announced Wednesday he will skip the Jan. 27 NHL all-star game in Atlanta.

The Vancouver Canucks star goaltender, voted in by fans as the starting goalie for the Western Conference, wants to spend time during the break with his pregnant wife, Gina, at their off-season home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The baby is due in April.

With the permission of the Canucks, Luongo will also miss Vancouver’s first game after the all-star break, Jan. 29 at home against Dallas. The Canucks then travel to Florida where Luongo will join up with the club for games Jan. 31 at Tampa Bay and Feb. 1 at Florida.

Luongo’s 263,221 votes were the most among Western Conference goalies, ahead of the 180,381 garnered by Pascal Leclaire of Columbus.

Does that mean Leclaire will be the starting goalie for the west? The Columbus goalie has been having a much improved season over last year.

I’m looking forward to seeing Luongo face Florida later this month. Florida better have their offensive woes improved by then or Luongo will shut them out.


Vancouver Canucks’ Roberto Luongo completes third straight shutout

It was the second time the goaltender accomplished this feat in his career. From AP-

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Roberto Luongo made 26 saves for his third straight shutout, setting personal and franchise records while leading the Vancouver Canucks to a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Luongo, who began the streak against Chicago and Anaheim, hasn’t allowed a goal in 193 minutes, 56 seconds. He got some help from Brendan Morrison, who swept a dangerous loose puck away from the goal line with 17 seconds left.

Defensemen Matttias Ohlund and Lukas Krajicek scored for the Canucks, who after losing the first game in November — and losing top defenders Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo to serious injuries the same night — finished the month on a 9-1-2 run.


Luongo, who had consecutive shutouts three times with Florida, passed his personal best, set with the Panthers in 2004, at 8:39 of the third period. He then eclipsed a 32-year-old franchise record at 10:22, moving past Ken Lockett, a backup who played 55 games over two seasons and set the mark in April 1975.

I will say it again, the Florida Panthers shot themselves in the foot when they dealt Luongo in the summer of 2006. All the team has to show for it is Bryan Allen. The Panthers got Luongo and Olli Jokinen in one of the all-time great NHL trade steals. Seven years later, Florida returned the favor to Vancouver.

Current Panther goaltender Tomas Vokoun is a very good goaltender, but Luongo is better. To make matters worse, Florida gave up three draft picks to fix the goalie mess they created by trading Luongo. I sometimes wonder if Florida will ever see the playoffs again.


NHL owners approve scheduling changes

All NHL teams will meet again once every season. From AP-

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL’s board of governors approved the sale of the Nashville Predators and changed the league’s scheduling format Thursday night to allow every team to face each other at least once every season.

Paul Kelly, the new executive director of the NHL Players Association, also addressed the league’s owners during a late-afternoon session to open the board’s two-day meeting at an elite resort on the Northern California coast.

After a three-year experiment in developing rivalries in hockey’s far-flung outposts, the NHL voted to go back to the scheduling format used before the 2004-05 lockout, most notably decreasing the current eight games against every team’s divisional opponents to six.

Starting next season, teams will play just 24 total games against their four divisional foes, 40 against the rest of the conference and 18 against the other conference — one game against all 15 foes, and three home-and-home series against wild-card opponents.

First let me state, my interest in hockey was only rekindled in the last year. Otherwise I had watched little of the sport since the end of the NY Islanders Dynasty in the early to mid eighties.

The arrangement where teams didn’t all meet seemed dumb to me. Fans in the west miss out on seeing players like Sidney Crosby and fans in the east miss getting to see……. well see what problem I have. LOL, make that former Florida Panther and ace goaltender Roberto Luongo. Now I can learn about the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks etc. To be honest I’m sick of Atlanta. You would be too if you had to see the Thrashers and Panthers cross sticks eight times a year.


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