Tampa Bay Lightning name Al Murray their new director of amateur scouting

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for tb-yzerman.jpgEven with smaller moves that seem a bit difficult to contextualize (maybe you’re an expert on the NHL/hockey’s best scouts, but I’m not), it’s still interesting to follow every bread crumb left on Steve Yzerman’s trail to make the Tampa Bay Lightning a credible franchise.

The latest front office move involved the Lightning adding a new director of amateur scouting, as Yzerman & Co. snatched away Al Murray. Murray spent the last three years as the head scout of Canada’s national teams. Here is more from the team’s Web site.

“Al’s vast scouting experience will prove to be a great asset for the Lightning as we move forward,” said Yzerman upon making the announcement. “We are pleased to have him join the organization and I very much look forward to working with him as he leads our amateur scouting staff.”

During his time with Hockey Canada, Murray was responsible for all player evaluations and selections for National Junior Team evaluation and selection camps as well as the National Men’s Under-18 Team. He also worked with regional under-17 programs. Murray won the Gold Medal at both the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships, and won gold at the 2008 World Under-18 Championship. He won championships with the National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team at the 2008 and 2009 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournaments, also winning the 2010 tournament earlier this month, defeating the United States, 1-0, in the Gold Medal Game.

Prior to joining Hockey Canada, Murray spent 12 years with the Los Angeles Kings, serving as director of amateur scouting. In that position he was responsible for the team’s amateur scouting operation, including scheduling, assignments, evaluation of talent and development of the final list of players leading up to the NHL Entry Draft. Before Murray was named to that position he spent six years as the Kings’ western scouting coordinator.

It’s been a summer of stark change for the Lightning, as they’ve changed their GM, coach, director of amateur scouting and various roster spots as well. Though calling them a Stanley Cup contender or odds-on favorite to win the Southeast might be a little bit hasty, a playoff run is more than reasonable considering the nice amount of talent on their roster.

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    Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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    For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

    But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

    In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

    Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

    “We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

    The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

    Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

    The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

    Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

    “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

    Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

    Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

    Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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    Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

    “Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

    Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

    That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

    Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

    “We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

    Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

    You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

    Just don’t bet the house on it.

    Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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    Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

    The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

    Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

    From the press release:

    Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

    Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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    Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

    According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

    Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

    “Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

    But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

    Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.