PITTSBURGH -- Less than seven weeks after sustaining a stroke, Kris Letang was cleared to practice with the Pittsburgh Penguins and will join the team for practice Monday. Letang, who has not played since a Jan. 29 stroke and resulting discovery of a small hole in his heart, has been taken off blood thinner medication. The defenceman has missed the past 14 games. "He still has some other things to go through (before returning to game action)," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, "but we knew that this was the six-week mark (since the stroke diagnosis) and there was a chance. Hes been working out, hes been skating and doing quite a bit on his own." A Norris Trophy finalist as the leagues top defenceman last season, Letang signed an eight-year, $58 million contract extension last summer. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 games this season. Letang did not skate at all for more than four weeks after the stroke and was not skating vigorously until this past week. 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Perez joins infielder Andy LaRoche and catcher Mike Nickeas with minor-league agreements for 2014 that include invitations to attend spring training.Its that time of year, again; the time when snow shovels come out of the garage and hooded sweatshirts come out of the bottom drawer (thats a Bunnyhug to you readers in Saskatchewan. Yes, people in Saskatchewan call a hooded sweatshirt a Bunnyhug. It doesnt get more adorable than that!). Its also the time we look back and take stock of all the music released in 2014 and I think we can all agree that it was a spectacular year for music. My former colleague Dave Hodge and I have put together our annually tolerated list of the albums we liked the most. I found assembling this years list especially difficult and had to leave off albums I really enjoyed like Sloans Commonwealth, Drive-By Truckers English Oceans and The Rural Alberta Advantages Mended With Gold. For those American readers not familiar with Dave, he is a legendary host and sports broadcaster in Canada whose first love happens to be music. The only person who listens to more recorded music than Dave is probably Dave Fricke from Rolling Stone and we all stopped listening to that guys opinion years ago (Five Stars for the new U2 record? Why even rate albums when youre just going to hand out participation ribbons?) So here we go again ... 20. JENNY LEWIS -- THE VOYAGER -- Everything she puts out is good but makes me wish her old band Rilo Kiley was back together. It would be like Stevie Nicks having left Fleetwood Mac right after Tusk and never recording with them again. Actually, she probably should have done that. Nevermind. You go Jenny. 19.TEMPLES -- SUN STRUCTURES -- Have you guys been watching Dave Grohls Sonic Highways on HBO? God its great. Yes I stop watching about 10 minutes before the episode ends so I dont have to watch Foo Fighters perform one of their new songs with lyrics inexplicably written across the screen (are we supposed to sing along?). Nonetheless the show itself is a wonderful document of the history of recorded music in eight different American cities, including Austin, where Dave chronicled the sad plight of 13th Floor Elevators lead singer Roky Erickson. How important was he to psychedelic rock? He invented it ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons said. So Temples owes a serious debt to Roky. Their record is derivative but good. Come to think of it, that should be the title of their second album: Derivative But Good 18. CARIBOU -- OUR LOVE -- We have a lot of guests stay with us here in California and when everyone wakes up in the morning I usually put on something by Caribou: aka Canadian electronic music artist Dan Snaith, a man who happens to have a Ph.D in Mathematics (nerd!). Every time I play his music for someone who hasnt heard it they immediately go buy it or add it to their Spotify playlist. I Cant Do Without You, the first track, is a slow burner that eventually sounds like youre listening to an underwater dance party. 17. BECK -- MORNING PHASE -- I took my wife to Santa Barbara in the spring and we were sitting around the pool at our hotel and suddenly it was like a hipster convention broke out. These were hipster families. Little hipster kids with hipster hair frolicking in the pool, Moms wearing Aviator Nation hoodies and pregnant hipster girlfriends disregarding the signs that warned them about using the hot tub. What are all these people doing here? I wondered aloud as another man approached the group wearing an all-leather ensemble, a scarf, a fedora and sunglasses in sweltering hot Southern California. I dont know but that guy must be European my wife replied. It was Beck, who is from Los Angeles. This was his band and their families. They were playing a show in Santa Barbara that night, so we bought a pair of tickets and checked it out. He was a much more animated performer than I would ever have given him credit for. Its like he channels his Midnight Vultures personality up there all night. 16/15. ALVVAYS -- ALVVAYS/STARS -- ALL IS LOST -- My Fox Sports Live colleague and former USC football captain Petros Papadakis listens to way more music than I do which is amazing considering he literally works seven days a week throughout the football season. He loves Alvvayss self-titled debut as much as I do and he has a major crush on Amy Millan of Stars. Petros also thought Canada was so small that I just ran into people like Amy at the airport. I promptly chastised him for being so ignorant about my country and regarding it as some sort of small town. About a month or so later, I was walking through the airport in Toronto and lo and behold there was Amy on her way to New York City to accompany Kevin Drew on Letterman. You win this round Petros. 14.COURTNEY BARNETT -- THE DOUBLE EP: A SEA OF SPLIT PEAS -- If you love Mac DeMarco as much as I do but after listening to his album for the seventh time of the day you find yourself saying: You know what would really be cool? If a female, Australian version of this guy existed Well ... 13. STURGILL SIMPSON -- METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC -- There is not one single song I have listened to more in the past year than Sturgill Simpsons cover of When In Romes 1988 hit The Promise. Country fan or not, I promise you will love it. 12. CYMBALS EAT GUITARS -- LOSE -- Very 1990s, but good. Like if Mulaney had succeeded. 11/10. REIGNING SOUND/SPLIT SINGLE - Listen to North Cackalacky Girl by Reigning Sound after a particularly frustrating day at work and instantly forget about that guy who took credit for your ad idea where they start serving Nespresso at the Mollys Reach diner from The Beachcombers. 9. PARQUET COURTS -- SUNBATHING ANIMAL -- Whenever I am assigned Boston Celtics highlights on Fox Sports Live I am always excited because it allows me to use one of my signature catchphrases: now on to the parquet courts of the TD Banknorth Garden you sunbathing animals! No one gets it. 8. NEW PORNOGRAPHERS -- BRILL BRUISERS -- As usual the Dan Bejar tracks are standouts for me, especially War on the East Coast. 7. STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS -- WIGOUT AT JAGBAGS -- I really think its the beest thing hes done since his self-titled solo debut.dddddddddddd I also loved his interview with Marc Maron on the WTF Podcast. 6. SPOON -- THEY WANT MY SOUL -- You know that band that you liked before everyone else, and then it became big and you resented everyone for getting into it after you did and so you stopped liking it? Please North America, Im begging you to make that happen with this band. Spoon deserves to be filling stadiums and having people like me say: Their new stuff isnt nearly as good as Girls Can Tell, though it probably is. To me, this is another great effort from the most consistent group to emerge in indie-rock over the course of this young century (the online ratings website Metacritic even said so) 5. ERLAND OYE -- LEGAO -- This guy makes Real Estate sound like Pantera. He is mellow. His band Kings of Convenience is like Simon and Garfunkel on quaaludes. His band The Whitest Boy Alive is like Daft Punk on quaaludes. This is his solo debut and I read an interview where he called it his reggae album and that makes perfect sense, because when youre this mellow then reggae may be your best option. 4. THE WAR ON DRUGS -- LOST IN A DREAM -- These guys really like the Philadelphia 76ers. The least you can do is listen to their album. Theyve got to spend the entire year watching that team. 3. TY SEGALL -- MANIPULATOR -- Man I am giving Marc Maron way too many plugs on this list but if you want to become an instant Ty Segall fan dont start with the almost staggering amount of music he has released all at the tender age of 27 years old. Begin instead with Segalls WTF interview from just a few months ago where he talks about his upbringing in Orange County and his musical influences including Black Sabbaths Vol. 4 (He even has a Vol. 4 tattoo) I liked Segall a lot before this album, but to me he took a major step forward here. If youre looking for the album to play the loudest on this list here it is. If youre somewhat bored with Jack White, give this guy a try. 2. REAL ESTATE -- ATLAS -- In the spring I found myself home in Toronto one weekend, the same weekend that Real Estate happened to be playing in town. The bands lead guitarist Matt Mondanile asked me if I would introduce the band on stage. I was honored and completely nervous about the whole thing. How exactly does one introduce a band like Real Estate, whose smooth flowing grooves and lyrics about where youre from and where youre headed to didnt exactly lend themselves to WWE style ring announcer pageantry. F--k it, I thought, I will go with WWE style ring announcer pageantry anyway. I wanted to get the crowd pumped up, especially in Toronto where concert crowds are sometimes so infuriatingly quiet I want to start a fight just to make sure everyone is awake. The ring announcer bit worked, the crowd turned out to be great, and the band was as kind and grateful as you could imagine. That sounded rehearsed! said the bands keyboard player Matt Kallman about my introduction. Maybe I have a future as a hype man if this whole sports broadcasting thing doesnt work out. 1. MAC DeMARCO -- SALAD DAYS -- How could this gap-toothed, chain-smoking slacker have done it? How could he top a list of such incredible albums in one of the best years of music in recent memory? The songs man, its the songs. The guy can be hilarious when hes helping people back up their cars and surprisingly poignant when hes penning lyrics. This is a record that will give the listener a different experience depending on where he or she plays it: Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in your rented Ford Mustang Convertible? Crank it up and rip the knob off because those guitars are sweet bliss. Sitting down with a tumbler of Japanese Whiskey after a devastating loss at Pub Trivia Night? Let Macs smooth melodies erase all memories of defeat. Ready to drift off on that business flight to Ithaca? Youll be humming the tune of Blue Boy by the time you land. Salad Days indeed. DAVE HODGES TOP 30 2014: Another great year! I have 30 more tied at #31. The order is almost random, because how do you decide that this is better than that, and thus, better than all the rest? Alphabetical order is a cop-out, however. And an asterisk denoting Canadian is not necessary. They are some of the best, just like all the rest. Listen again if you know these, and find them if you dont. Yours in music, (these are) my best, DH 1--The War On Drugs--LOST IN THE DREAM 2--Arkells--HIGH NOON 3--New Pornographers--BRILL BRUISERS 4--Lydia Loveless--SOMEWHERE ELSE 5--Alvvays--ALVVAYS 6--Doug Paisley--STRONG FEELINGS 7--Elliott Brood--WORK AND LOVE 8--Barr Brothers--SLEEPING OPERATOR 9--Tweedy--SUKIERAE 10--Ryan Adams--RYAN ADAMS 11--Allo Darlin--WE COME FROM THE SAME PLACE 12--Rural Alberta Advantage--MENDED WITH GOLD 13--King Tuff--BLACK MOON SPELL 14--Avi Buffalo--AT BEST CUCKOLD 15--Spoon--THEY WANT MY SOUL 16--Hold Steady--TEETH DREAMS 17--Ex Hex--RIPS 18--Woods--WITH LIGHT AND WITH LOVE 19--Foo Fighters--SONIC HIGHWAYS 20--Fresh and Onlys--HOUSE OF SPIRITS 21--Sam Roberts Band--LO-FANTASY 22--Old 97s--MOST MESSED UP 23--Lucinda Williams--DOWN WHERE THE SPIRIT MEETS THE BONE 24--Drive-By Truckers--ENGLISH OCEANS 25--New Basement Tapes--LOST ON THE RIVER 26--Hiss Golden Messenger--LATENESS OF DANCERS 27--Justin Rutledge--DAREDEVIL 28--Sonic Avenues--MISTAKES 29--Gord Downie/Sadies--AND THE CONQUERING SUN 30--Withered Hand--NEW GODS And there were these 30 memorable live performances by: Ryan Adams, Arkells, Avett Brothers, Beirut, Blue Rodeo, Basia Bulat, City and Colour, Gary Clark Jr., Devin Cuddy Band, Drive-By Truckers, Elliott Brood, Jeremy Fisher, Hold Steady, Jason Isbell, July Talk, Jenny Lewis, Lucius, The National, Willie Nile, Doug Paisley, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Rah Rah, Sam Roberts Band, Rocket From The Crypt, Justin Rutledge, Spoon, The Stanfields, The Strumbellas, Tweedy, Butch Walker. 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