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Goalie musical chairs, MacKinnon on playing with Crosby, and 3 other NHL items

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Takes, Thoughts, and Trends is theScore's biweekly hockey grab bag.

The NHL's version of musical chairs began Wednesday, with starting goalies Jacob Markstrom and Darcy Kuemper switching teams and conferences.

Markstrom, 34, was shipped to New Jersey after four seasons with Calgary, while Kuemper, 34, was moved to Los Angeles following two seasons with Washington. In both cases, a veteran gets a fresh start and a playoff-caliber team addresses a glaring need in goal.

The music continues to play, though, as a handful of other notable netminders and hungry teams try to find the right fit ahead of and as free agency opens. Ottawa, Colorado, and Toronto are among clubs in the hunt. Let's match them with two intriguing guys each.

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Ottawa: Postmedia's Bruce Garrioch reports Senators general manager Steve Staios is making a "hard push" for Boston's Linus Ullmark. The Bruins boast a long-term starter in Jeremy Swayman, so they're motivated to move the 2023 Vezina Trophy winner. However, an Ullmark-to-Ottawa swap won't be easy.

Ullmark's a 2025 unrestricted free agent who'll earn $5 million this coming season and has a 15-team no-trade list. There's a good chance it includes most Canadian markets. The Sens also need to either trade or buy out current starter Joonas Korpisalo to create room for Ullmark, financially and on the depth chart. Fellow Swede Anton Forsberg is secure as the backup.

The Sens seem desperate and do have blue-liner Jakob Chychrun and two first-rounders (seventh and 25th, originally Boston's pick) to dangle in a trade.

Plan B would be prying Juuse Saros out of Nashville for a heftier price.

Colorado: There's no disputing Alexandar Georgiev is the Avalanche starter. But he finished with an NHL-high 3,636 minutes this past regular season and burnout was evident down the stretch. (Georgiev rebounded in the playoffs.) Justus Annunen looks like a future backup and may be a serviceable one already, yet he's still too much of an unknown for a Stanley Cup contender.

Cam Talbot, a pending UFA, is a good fit as a trustworthy, veteran No. 2. AFP Analytics projects Talbot can fetch a one-year, $1.8-million deal on the open market. Evolving Hockey pegs him at $2.6 million on a one-year pact. Split the difference and Talbot's looking at around $2 million - not a ton for a 36-year-old with a .913 save percentage through 486 games.

Plan B: James Reimer, who won't cost much but is a year older.

Toronto: The Leafs swung and missed on Markstrom and, theoretically, could pursue another big name - like Ullmark or Saros - via trade. However, they'd be better off signing a relatively cheap free agent to share the workload with Joseph Woll while also filling holes elsewhere.

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I mentioned Jets backup Laurent Brossoit as a possibility two weeks ago, and I'm doubling down - the fit is perfect. The technically sound 31-year-old has flourished since having hip surgery in late 2022 (.927 save percentage in 23 games) and should command a digestible $3 million or so a year. His veteran savvy and drive to start more games should pair nicely with Woll, who's the default starter in Toronto but who's struggled to stay healthy.

Plan B: Overripe Panthers backup Anthony Stolarz, who, like Brossoit, is ready for big time after refining his craft for a decade in the NHL and AHL.

MacKinnon talks playoff exit, Crosby

A month on, Nathan MacKinnon still isn't over Colorado's early playoff exit, capped by a double-overtime Game 6 loss to Dallas in Round 2.

"Even after being nominated for a couple of trophies, the end of the season definitely put a sour taste in my mouth," MacKinnon said in mid-June.

"I still want to be playing right now, and (the Avalanche) want to keep testing ourselves against the best in the league," the superstar center added. "(Dallas) was a great team, a deep team, and they kind of had our number in that series. A lot of close games but we just couldn't find a way to get it done."

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MacKinnon made those remarks during a call with reporters to promote Cwench Hydration, a new sports drink developed by MacKinnon's longtime trainer, Andy O'Brien. Cwench is part of Cizzle Brands, a health and wellness company founded by former BioSteel co-founder and CEO John Celenza.

MacKinnon's up for the Hart and Ted Lindsay trophies after posting 140 points in 82 games. The 28-year-old finished second in Hart voting in 2017-18 and 2019-20, and third in 2020-21. This year's field is particularly stacked, though MacKinnon's case for MVP is arguably stronger than other finalists Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov.

No. 29 on the Avs was a wrecking ball every night, carrying an injury-riddled club to the Central Division's third seed. "I'm just trying to control what I can," said MacKinnon, who'll be in Las Vegas for the annual awards show. "Some people will vote for me, some people won't. It is what it is."

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Here's MacKinnon on three other timely topics:

Teaming up with Sidney Crosby: Six players will be named to each 4 Nations Face-Off roster on June 28. Crosby and MacKinnon will undoubtedly be part of Team Canada's first wave of selections for the February 2025 event. The Nova Scotians - close friends despite an eight-year gap - have worn the red and white together only once, at the 2015 world championship.

"I'd love to play with him on a line," MacKinnon said of Crosby, the likely 4 Nations captain. "I'll gladly play wing. I think that'd be pretty cool. We'd have pretty good chemistry out there. We definitely talk about that. We talk about the (potential) lineup. It's exciting. We're hockey fans like everyone else."

Losing Valeri Nichushkin - again: The star forward left the Avs in the middle of a tense playoff series for the second year in a row. Nichushkin was placed in Stage 3 of the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program ahead of Game 4 against the Stars, and is suspended without pay for six months.

"We just hope he finds peace, gets help," said MacKinnon, an alternate captain. "He's a great guy. He's a great teammate. We all love him. It's obviously bigger than the game, what he's going through. But we definitely miss him. He's a horse. He's one of the best two-way players in the league. He had nine goals (in eight playoff games) when we lost him. Huge hole, but we'll back next season and hopefully we have him for the rest of his career."

Partnering with Cwench: Even by pro-athlete standards, MacKinnon's a health nut. He's been dialed into nutrition and sleep since he was a kid and "really started taking it super seriously" around the four-year mark of his career. "It's been a big advantage for me," he said. "Even at the top level, there's room to get that edge on guys. Any edge I can get, I'm looking to do."

O'Brien, Cwench's chief performance officer, has worked for multiple NHL teams in the past and also calls Crosby a longtime client. He's been an integral part of MacKinnon's rise from first pick in the 2013 draft to top-five player in the world. "He's a real genius in his field. It's made me very comfortable in committing myself to (Cwench)," MacKinnon said.

Hydration is "the low-hanging fruit I think everyone needs to take seriously," MacKinnon added of both pro athletes and regular people. "It can get overlooked. Honestly, if you're not hydrated, you're not going to perform well."

Parting shots

Laine conundrum: The Blue Jackets are reportedly trying to fulfill a trade request from sniper Patrik Laine, which is a tricky situation for new GM Don Waddell to navigate so early in his tenure. Laine, 26, last scored at a 40-goal pace in 2017-18, and isn't a good defender, yet he's earning $8.7 million a year for the next two seasons and owns a 10-team no-trade list. Laine's recent injury and mental health issues further complicate the calculus for potential suitors. Rival GMs must be asking themselves who Laine is at this point in his career. That said, interest would surely skyrocket if Columbus is open to retaining salary. Many teams would love to acquire Laine at 50% retained ($4.35 million). Utah, which has oodles of cap space and excessive draft capital, jumps off the page as a landing spot, retention or not. New market, big splash? Carolina also makes some sense if it doesn't re-sign pending UFA Jake Guentzel (though the Hurricanes would be a strange trading partner for Waddell, who just spent a decade in Carolina).

Crafty prospect: Projected top-10 pick Berkly Catton took matters into his own hands one day last year, building a one-of-a-kind shooting target for his Saskatchewan backyard. All he needed was some wood and road hockey equipment. Catton opted to construct his own goalie over buying a Shooter Tutor because, one, he was bored, and two, he wanted to fire pucks at different holes. The Spokane Chiefs forward even placed a "Cooper Michaluk" name tag on the wooden goalie's helmet - a nod to one of his teammates. "It looks pretty real, actually," Catton said in early June following fitness testing at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo. He later joked that he "might have to patent" his unique shooting target, because all those backyard shots paid off: Catton went from 23 goals in 63 games in 2022-23 to 54 goals in 68 this year.

Long-haul rebuild: There's going to be a ton of chatter over the next couple of weeks about the Sharks' bright future - and rightfully so considering San Jose's set to draft a franchise-changing talent in Macklin Celebrini a year after adding pillar Will Smith. Don't get it twisted, though: GM Mike Grier has his work cut out for him. Old core pieces Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic still have three and two years left on their respective deals. The defensive and goalie depth charts are underwhelming. This past season's lineup was heavy on rentals and fringe NHLers, with William Eklund counting as the only standout youngster. Put another way, unless Grier gets super aggressive on the trade and free-agency markets over the next few years, the Sharks aren't competing for a playoff spot for a while - 2027-28 at the earliest. Adding Barclay Goodrow and Ty Dellandrea earlier this week is a decent start.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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