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Blue Line Buzz: Bypassing the dysfunction

by | Rotowire.com
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The Montreal Canadiens have provided us with several of the league's top storylines recently, from "interim" coach Randy Cunneyworth's inability to speak French, P. K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec dropping the gloves in practice, and this past week's jettisoning of Michael Cammalleri to Calgary.

It was the manner in which Cammalleri was ejected from Montreal that's unique; he was held out of the third period after already playing nine minutes in Thursday's loss to Boston. According to reports, he was sent back to the team hotel to await further word on his destination -- the trade undoubtedly stemming from Cammalleri's remarks on Wednesday about the lack of a winning attitude in Montreal. Not to belabor the language issue, but Cammalleri claimed his remarks were misinterpreted. The Habs received Rene Bourque back from the Flames, as the two players swapped positions on teams currently out of the playoffs.

Stories out of Montreal are teeming with spin, as the Habs are claiming Cammalleri's comments about Montreal's team attitude did not factor into their decision to trade him. Apparently, the team had already been looking to deal the underperforming forward. The comparison between Cammalleri and Bourque will certainly be an interesting one to follow the remainder of the season, as Cammalleri had some of his most productive seasons with the Flames alongside Jarome Iginla.

(All statistics through Jan. 13)

Swiss Misters

While much has been made of Subban's disappointing season (17 points), the Habs have received solid production from veteran Tomas Kaberle following his trade from Carolina (nine points in 13 games). Subban's talent guarantees him a roster spot in most leagues, but his production has been highly frustrating. Following his benching before Christmas, Subban returned with a goal and an assist, only to post just one point and a minus-3 the following six games.

Kaberle and Subban are two names that primarily jump out from the Montreal roster, but a pair of Swiss rear guards is establishing themselves for Les Habitants. Starting with the less obvious, rookie Raphel Diaz is no stranger to professional hockey. The 26-year-old played eight seasons for EV Zug in the Swiss National League, posting his best numbers last year before signing with Montreal, registering 12 goals and 27 assists in 45 games. Diaz grabbed 31 points the season prior after not posting better than 14 points in his previous six campaigns. Montreal knows something about Swiss defenders, as Mark Streit proved himself a highly capable puck mover upon his arrival in North America.

Diaz has a pedestrian 13 points through 41 games in his first NHL season, similar numbers to Streit in his first campaign, where he notched a mere 11 points in 48 games before breaking out the next season. Diaz is a name worth remembering later in this year and for next year as a potential breakout candidate come fall.

Diaz's countryman, Yannick Weber, has also been having a decent season, with 13 points through 35 games. He is less of a stranger to the North American game as he played his junior hockey in the OHL with Kitchener, slamming home seasons of 41 and 55 points prior to being drafted in 2007. Weber went on to dominate in the AHL, registering totals of 44 and 32 points before snagging 12 points in 15 games last season, forcing an NHL call-up. Weber is still 23-years of age and has his best offensive days ahead of him.

Weber, however, has to improve some aspects of his game, as evidenced by a recent five-game stretch where he was a healthy scratch, but, in his return, he scored Montreal's only goal in Thursday's loss to Boston. Weber has just four less points on the season than Subban in five fewer games.

On The Prowl

You know Shea Weber. You know Ryan Suter.

The two soon-to-be free agents comprise arguably the league's best defensive pair in terms of the complete offensive and defensive package. Nashville does have other defenders, but none are the stalwarts Suter and Weber are. Weber leads the Predators in scoring (31 points) while Suter is fifth on the squad with 25 points.

The Predators and their fan base received a glimpse into the future the last week from defenseman Ryan Ellis. Ellis posted consecutive two-point games in wins over Carolina and Colorado, grabbing a goal and an assist in each. The rookie has seven games under his belt with three of his first four NHL points coming on the power play.

Those of you in keeper leagues should be well aware of Ellis's offensive potential. This is a young man that was on back-to-back Memorial Cup championship squads with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, teams that featured current young stars Taylor Hall of Edmonton and New Jersey's Adam Henrique. Ellis posted seasons of 89, 61 (in 48 games) and 101 points for the Spitfires.

Ellis is atop the list of potential young stars on the blue line, and recently turned legal United States drinking age. The primary drawback to Ellis's development offensively is the presence of Weber and Suter, but Ellis will have plenty of chances to develop his defensive game on the team-first, counterattacking Predators. If Ellis can continue to score, as well as mature defensively, he may make losing either Weber or Suter a bit easier for the Nashville front office. Temper your expectations with Ellis, despite his potential, as the situation still isn't the most ideal for the rising star. For what it's worth, Ellis saw 4:17 of power play time in Thursday's win over Colorado, over a quarter of his total 15:49.

Ellis is garnering his share of power play time while Weber and Suter are also eating their usual man-advantage minutes, but Ellis's performance is earning him his portion, averaging 3:14 per contest.

Weekly Whip-Around

St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo extended a point streak to five games this past week with an assist each in two contests.

Phoenix's David Rundblad had an assist in Thursday's loss to Detroit. His reward was a return to the AHL's Portland Pirates. Rundblad was the primary player heading to the desert in December's Kyle Turris trade with Ottawa. Rundblad is a promising offensive player but has played just two NHL games since the trade, putting up an assist in each contest. Remember Rundblad's name, as Phoenix's stable of offensively adept defenders is thin, with just Keith Yandle and the enigmatic Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The Kings' Jack Johnson has been reacquainting himself with the scoresheet, putting up six points in four games the last 10 days, Tebowing following one of his tallies. Antics aside, Johnson has the ability to be productive and the Kings have been playing very well under new coach Darryl Sutter's tutelage. Johnson's teammate, Drew Doughty, had assists in two straight games this week and his 12 penalty minutes in Thursday's brawl-marred loss to Dallas were a welcomed bonus.

Nothing much from Ottawa's Erik Karlsson this past week, just a series of three games with two points each. Karlsson is enjoying one of the best post-lockout seasons for defenders, paying owners that gambled on his plus-minus handsomely. He is a plus-8 heading into Saturday, after being a minus-30 last year. The points are outstanding, but even more impressive is the 153 shots on goal, furthering his value in leagues that reward shots, also ensuring the points will continue coming.

Dallas' Sheldon Souray has just three points since November 11 while teammate Alex Goligoski has two goals and three helpers in seven games the last two weeks.

On The Farm

Scanning the AHL statistics for scoring leaders among defenders, Tampa Bay may not have to make a trade to boost their scoring from the back end. 21-year-old Mark Barberio is lighting up "The A" with 35 points in 36 games for Norfolk. One has to wonder how much longer he'll be staying in the minors given both his production and the team's need for a more consistent power-play specialist, as Marc-Andre Bergeron is shockingly dealing with a nagging injury.

Chicago prospect Brian Connelly has 32 points for Rockford while Paul Postma is third on the list with 27 points in 30 games for St. John's. Postma was recalled by Winnipeg Saturday, but did not play in the loss to New Jersey.

Captials' draftee Patrick McNeill has 26 points for Hershey while Colorado farm hand Tyson Barrie is fifth in the AHL with 24 points in 37 games.

* Last week's column stated that Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were drafted by Leafs' general manager Brian Burke while steering the Ducks. Current Anaheim GM Bob Murray was the one that drafted Perry and Getzlaf, in his prior stint with the club. The oversight was noticed by reader John Bleackley, who pointed out that Burke has enjoyed riding Murray's coattails.

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Player News
Steve Mason
Mason, Flyers Hitting Their Stride
Steve Mason, G, PHI
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Dale Weise
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Dale Weise, RW, MON
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News: Dale Weise assisted on Montreal's lone goal in Thursday night's 1-0 win over the Rangers. In addition to his assist, Weise nearly scored a first-period goal, but video replays could not overturn the on-ice ruling that the puck did not cross the goal line.
Analysis: Dale Weise is about as unlikely a top-six forward as you'll see in the NHL, but he works hard and puts himself around the net. And that pleases head coach Michel Therrien, who will leave Weise on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty as long as the Habs are winning. Weise has a career-high 17 points while averaging a career-high 12:13 of ice time per game this season.

Scott Laughton
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Analysis: Scott Laughton has been cleared to resume skating, but likely needs to pass more tests before he's able to absorb contact. He'll sit for a fifth straight game Thursday against the Jets.

Ryan Suter
Wild's Suter Confirmed To Play Thursday
Ryan Suter, D, MIN
12:50 AM
News: Coach Mike Yeo confirmed Ryan Suter (lower body) would play Thursday against the Flames, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: The injury prevented Ryan Suter from taking part in Wednesday's practice, but he was back on the ice for Thursday's morning skate to verify his availability for the game. Suter has seen his offensive contributions tail off a bit this season, particularly as a goal scorer, but he still paces the NHL with an average of 29:37 TOI per game.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres' Enroth Wants All Four Road Starts
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
12:45 AM
News: Jhonas Enroth wants to start all four of the team's upcoming road games, reports Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News.
Analysis: With Michal Neuvirth (lower body) sidelined, Jhonas Enroth is the undisputed No. 1 goalie with Matt Hackett serving as the backup. Enroth wants to start all the games, including back-to-back Thursday and Friday against Edmonton and Vancouver. Head coach Ted Nolan isn't ready to just hand Enroth the starts, however, saying: "... we want a lot of things. We want some wins, too." Reading between the lines, it basically means that he's happy to give Enroth the starts, but only if he starts winning games. Enroth has not won a game since Dec. 27 and the Sabres are winless in January. It's a good bet Hackett will see some action at some point on the road trip.

Erik Cole
Stars' Cole (Upper Body) Expected To Sit Thursday
Erik Cole, RW, DAL
12:41 AM
News: Erik Cole (upper body) is expected to sit out Thursday's game against the Senators, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Erik Cole indicated that he felt good after participating in Wednesday's practice, but the Stars will exercise a little precaution and keep him out for a second straight game. In addition to the upper-body injury, he has battled a cold recently, which probably has him running at less-than-optimal health at the moment.

Andre Benoit
Sabres Scratch Benoit Against Oilers
Andre Benoit, D, BUF
12:40 AM
News: Andre Benoit will be a healthy scratch Thursday against the Oilers, reports Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Despite the team's struggles, the Sabres will keep the same lineup they had against Calgary. Andre Benoit, who has six points in 33 games, will be a healthy scratch alongside Nikita Zadorov. The 31-year-old has served as a depth defenseman for much of the season. He provides some offensive value when he plays, but the team's forwards are struggling, so chances are few and far between. Zadorov will likely dress Friday against Vancouver while Benoit's status is TBD.

Stu Bickel
Wild Reassign Bickel
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12:34 AM
News: Stu Bickel was reassigned to AHL Iowa on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: He'll be replaced by Matt Dumba, who was recalled from Iowa in a corresponding move. Stu Bickel's stint with the parent club lasted just three days, with the blueliner serving as a healthy scratch in the Wild's lone game during that time.

Matt Dumba
Wild Recall Dumba From Minors
Matt Dumba, D, MIN
12:32 AM
News: Matt Dumba was recalled from AHL Iowa on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Matt Dumba joined the Wild for Thursday's morning practice in Calgary, where the blueliner grew up. Coach Mike Yeo wouldn't say whether or not Dumba would enter the lineup in front of his hometown crowd, but it seems likely that he'd replace Christian Folin if that materializes.

Dwight King
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Dwight King, LW, LA
12:29 AM
News: Dwight King finished Wednesday's 4-3 win against the Blackhawks with a plus-2 rating and an assist.
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