Buffalo Sabres trade bait Chris Stewart has the team in a bind with his indifferent play, Zdeno Chara returns to the Bruins as they face the red-hot Blackhawks, games to watch, more NHL news notes and highlights.
Off The Draw
Keep an eye on the lineup submitted by the Sabres tonight when they host the Flames (7:00 p.m. EST; SNF, MSG-B, BELL TV). The list of names will reveal whether surging Buffalo is more interested in winning a game or enhancing an asset.
Chris Stewart was a healthy scratch in the Sabres’ last game, a 1–0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings on Tuesday night. Leaving him out of the lineup was a perfectly logical decision for coach Ted Nolan, considering that he has become increasingly frustrated with a player who has not just been inconsistent, but who has lately also seemed to be indifferent. Stewart simply wasn’t doing enough to help the team get results.
It follows then that Stewart will probably be relegated to the press box for Thursday night’s contest. There’s no reason to play him over someone who was part of a big win, even if the team was badly outplayed, saved only by another sensational performance from goalie Jhonas Enroth.
But Stewart’s value to this team has never really been about the here and now. It’s been clear ever since he was acquired from the Blues last spring in the blockbuster Ryan Miller trade that he would be a short-timer with in Buffalo. At 27 and with an expiring contract, Stewart doesn't fit into the Sabres’ long-range plans.
General manager Tim Murray has made it clear that the winger can be had for the right price. He just hasn’t found someone who is willing to pay it yet. And that’s the problem. It’s hard to get top dollar for a player when his own coach doesn’t trust him. That’s especially true when the lineup that the player can’t crack has spent most of the season in the cellar.
There’s real debate about Stewart’s value. He’s got that big body and great wheels, but as one scout memorably told SI.com last season, “He has the intensity of a toddler.”
Sitting Stewart might help Nolan make a point about effort and expectations, but it does nothing to enhance Stewart’s marketability.
There’s no telling when a deal could go down—the Bruins and the Senators are said to be sniffing around—but if Murray is to have any chance of making a trade happen before the Christmas roster freeze goes into effect on Dec. 19, Stewart needs to be back on the ice soon.
Should be interesting.
UPDATE: The Sabres announced late this morning that Cody Hodgson would be a healthy scratch on Thursday night, and that Stewart would draw back in. So there you go.
What to watch tonight
Blackhawks at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, SN360, TVA2, CSN-CH, NESN)
For Boston, the long nightmare could finally be ending. For the Bruins’ opponents, it’s about to start all over again.
Zdeno Chara is expected to make his return to the lineup tonight after missing 19 games with a knee injury, and it’s safe to say that Boston sorely missed its captain. The Bruins lacked more than a Norris Tophy-caliber presence on the back end during his absence—they seemed to lose touch with their identity. They weren’t particularly big or bad, and teams took advantage of their uncertainty. That will change with Chara’s return, but it still might not be enough to save them tonight.
Boston (just 2-4-1 in its last seven) will be up against it facing a Chicago team that looks to be the best in hockey right now. Even the loss of starting goalie Corey Crawford hasn't slowed down a team that has won seven straight and 10 of the last 11, most in convincing fashion. The Blackhawks have been getting offense from almost everyone, with 17 players contributing at least a point during the hot streak, but it is the second line that has been the tip of the spear. Both Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg have eight points in the last 11 games. Chicago’s second line will likely match up against Chara on Thursday night. Should be a beauty.
Islanders at Blues (8 p.m. EST; MSG+, FS-MW)
This game will be a whole lot more interesting if it marks the return of netminder Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis. As of Thursday morning, though, his status for the game is uncertain after he suffered an upper-body injury in practice on Tuesday. Halak, who spent three-plus seasons tending the twine for the Blues, has been the centerpiece of New York’s surprising revival this season, going 14-5-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average, and running off a franchise-record 11-game winning streak before he coughed up six goals on 40 shots when St. Louis visited Long Island last Saturday. The chance for a little revenge, and a good performance in front of his old fans, might be all the motivation that Halak needs to step into the breach tonight. The Blues’ Jake Allen, who gave up three goals on 12 shots to the Islanders before being relieved by Martin Brodeur, will be looking for some revenge of his own. He might get help from a healthier lineup. Both Alex Steen and Jay Bouwmeester may return for St. Louis after long stretches on IR.
Rest of the schedule: Devils at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; MSG,CSN-PH); Blue Jackets at Capitals (7 p.m. EST; FS-O, CSN-DC); Kings at Senators (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-W, RDS, TSN5); Hurricanes at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-CR, SUN); Jets at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; TSN3, ALT); Predators at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; FS-TN, FS-A); Wild at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; FS-N, FS-WI, CSN-CA)
What you missed last night
• The Ducks announced that they will retire the jersey number of Teemu Selanne, making him the first player in franchise history to be so honored. The ceremony will take place during For8ever Teemu week.
The numbers game
• The Ducks like to win squeakers. Each of the their last 12 victories has been by one goal, including two in OT and three in shootouts. They are now 15-0-5 in one-goal games this season; those 15 wins are an NHL best.
• The Bruins and the Blackhawks face each other on Thursday night for only the third time since their showdown in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals. Boston is 3-0-1 in their last four regular-season meetings with Chicago, including two 3–0 shutouts of the Hawks at home. The Bruins are 7-1-2 in the last 10 regular-season meetings between the two teams, dating back to Dec. 29, 2006.
• A guy who answers to "Noodles" spent time with a brilliant scientist to discuss physics and goaltending. Here's what they came up with.
• In yesterday's Roundtable column, two of three SI.com scribes picked Philadelphia’s Craig Berube as the next NHL coach to be fired. This piece makes it sound like his departure could be imminent.
• The Blues have been the victims of three headshots in the past five games. Jeremy Rutherford wonders if the league is doing enough to address the issue.