Jamming the Crease: Thomas Vanek snubs Isles; Adams dark horse; more
Looks like the chance to continue playing on the NHL's hottest line wasn't enough to convince Thomas Vanek to commit to the Islanders long term. Arthur Staple of Newsday is reporting that Vanek turned down "a substantial contract offer" from New York, leading GM Garth Snow to put the winger on the market ahead of the March 5 trade deadline.
There's just no way to put a positive spin on this. It's a disaster for the Isles and a gut punch for Snow, who was heavily criticized for the October deal in which he sent Matt Moulson, a conditional 2014 first rounder and a 2015 second rounder to the Sabres for Vanek, a pending UFA. Even if Snow had been able to re-sign Vanek, the trade still would have tilted in favor of the Sabres. But now? Snow has to hit, and hit big, on this next swap in order to save face ... and maybe his job.
Snow will likely want to recoup at least a solid prospect and a couple of picks, including a first rounder. The problem is, everyone knows that Snow is up against it and they'll be looking for a bargain. Unless someone equally desperate (ahem, Dean Lombardi of the Kings) calls in a panic, it's unlikely that anything will happen before Vanek heads to Sochi to represent Austria in the Olympics. After that, things will probably go down to the wire, with Snow forced to swallow an unappetizing offer rather than let Vanek get away for nothing in July.
Hangin' with Mr. Cooper
At this point, Lightning coach Jon Cooper has to be the favorite to take home the Jack Adams Award. He has Tampa Bay -- a playoff no show last season -- locked in a pitched battle for Atlantic Division supremacy, and he's done it without superstar Steven Stamkos, who has been out with an injury for much of the season. Heckuva job. That said, I think my vote would go to the Red Wings' Mike Babcock. I'll admit, he's a long shot, especially with Detroit on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the pre-Lidstrom era, but what Babcock has done to keep that team in contention this season perfectly illustrates his impact from behind the bench. The Wings have battled through a plague of long-term injuries to Jimmy Howard, Jonas Gustavsson, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, among others, but Babcock's ability to meld youngsters like Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar almost seamlessly into the lineup has keep Detroit a viable postseason possibility. Babcock doesn't always have the answers (the Red Wings' troubles at home are particularly vexing), but he's shown more creativity and moxie than any other coach this season. He deserves to be in the mix.
Datsyuk doubtful for Sochi
Pavel Datsyuk was back on the ice this morning, but there's still no word on whether he'll be ready to go in time for Sochi. At this point, there's reason for Russian fans to be very concerned. Russian reporter Dmitry Chesnokov had this from Babcock before the Red Wings' loss to the Capitals on Sunday: "I got no idea. I just watched him in practice, his one leg isn’t holding up. Obviously, Pavel wants to play for his country, and he wants to be a part of things, but you got to be healthy." Since last playing in the Winter Classic, Datsyuk has missed 13 games with a lower-body injury. Detroit has three games remaining before the break, which doesn't leave Datsyuk much time to work his way back into game shape after a month on the sidelines. Considering how important he is to his national team -- he was named captain last month -- there's a good chance that Russia would allow him to work his way back in as the tournament progresses. But if he's anything less than 100 percent, it would deal a serious blow to the country's chances to claim gold on home ice.
In other injury matters, keep an eye on the health of Colorado/Team USA forward Paul Stastny. He's battling an ankle injury and it doesn't take much to turn a tweak into something more serious.
A contrite but still fiesty John Tortorella will be back behind the Canucks' bench tonight in Detroit, having served a 15-day suspension for storming the Flames' dressing room in the wake of a Jan. 18 line brawl between Vancouver and Calgary. "It hasn't been a great two weeks," Tortorella told the assembled media on Monday morning. "It's been very embarrassing for my family, myself and more importantly everybody else around me that I'm supposed to represent.
"I let a lot of people down," he added. "I have to make amends here by getting back at this. I'm going to be who I am. I just can't go off the rails as I did."
The coach also used "off the rails" to describe his team, which went 2-4 while he was cooling his heels and is now trying to snap a three-game skid and keep a hold on the final playoff berth in the West. Some backline help arrived from Montreal as the Canucks acquired Rafael Diaz for forward Dale Wiese, who had been languishing on Vancouver's fourth line. Rookie Kellan Lain will likely step into Wiese's role, with Diaz adding some puck-moving skill to the third defense pair. Kudos to Canucks GM Mike Gillis for getting an NHL-ready asset for Wiese, a player who's been on waivers in the past and was clearly out of favor with Tortorella.
It barely registered among fans last week when winger Ryan Garbutt signed a three-year extension with the Stars, but more than a few teams were disappointed that the speedy winger wouldn't be heading to market this summer. "He would have looked great in [our team colors]," said one pro scout. "He's taken a real big step this year. He's not just a junkyard dog. He's shown some touch. He has better hands than people think. It was a good deal for Dallas." Garbutt still has to work on staying on the right side of the officials while maintaining his edge, but his speed and tenacity make him a perfect fit for this team.