Jaroslav Halak haunts former team as Blues beat Habs

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Hockey fans will hear the same cliché over and over when players are facing their former teams. “It’s just another game” is the statement uttered most often—when what they really mean is, “It’s just another game that I want to win more than any other this season.” Jaroslav Halak has had a rocky season thus far, but his 4-1 win for the Blues over his former team from Montreal had to be the sweetest of his 21wins this year.

Halak did what he needed to win the game, but his defense did a good job in front of him and the Canadiens looked flat for most of the game. The former Habs netminder made 27 out of 28 saves; but Montreal looked like they were feeling the emotional letdown after their emotional victory over the rival Bruins on Tuesday night. No one would blame them if their minds were elsewhere—and unfortunately for Carey Price, it looked like the team in front of him wasn’t all there.

Going into the game, the major storyline was the Price vs. Halak match-up. But the game was only a one out of 82. If we’re looking to compare the two goaltenders, that debate has been settled over the course of the season. Halak got off to a great start to the season but has battled injuries and inconsistency this year. Not surprisingly, he’s been measuring his productivity against his former partner in crime.

“I think it’s easy to say right now when you look at the season, I haven’t been playing my best all the time. Carey has been playing good. It’s easy to say (Montreal) made the right decision, but you know, I’ve still got three years on my contract. I just need to focus on this season, finish this season strong and then who knows what’s going to happen next year.”

On the flip side, Price has been an all-star and is well on his way to being a Vezina Trophy finalist for the league’s best netminder. This season, there is no debate as to which player has been the better backstop for his team. Price has been proving Pierre Gauthier made the right decision in the offseason when he chose to move playoff-hero Halak. At the time, Pierre Gauthier was comfortable with the trade:

“The decision is based on our projections and we are very comfortable with Carey Price. He’s a young man that has almost 150 games in the league even though he’s only 22-years-old. He’s got a few rounds in the playoffs, [and] he won a Calder Cup in the American League at a very young age. He brings a lot to the table. He’s young man that we think will be a good goalie in this League.”

Now that we’re 65 games into the season, it’s safe to say that he’s just as confident with his decision today as he was back in July. But for a day – even if it’s just one day – Halak has bragging rights. After the game, Halak was announced as the #1 star of the game. Of course, Carey Price was the #2 star.

The only thing that could have made it better is if Lars Eller was the 3rd star of the game.

Agent: Schultz likes Pittsburgh, but wants to be ‘rewarded’

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Justin Schultz took a significant pay cut to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

He doesn’t begrudge the deal he signed, as the Penguins have been a big part of turning his career around.

One assumes winning a couple of Stanley Cups has been pretty fun, too.

That being said, the 26-year-old defenseman wants a raise.

“We took a one-year, discounted deal to come back from last year and build upon what he did,” Schultz’s agent, Wade Arnott, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The player took a lot of the risk. The player performed. Now the player should be rewarded.”

Schultz, a restricted free agent, had a career-high 51 points in 78 games last season. Those 51 points were the seventh most among NHL defensemen — just five fewer than this summer’s biggest UFA, Kevin Shattenkirk, managed.

Schultz then added 13 more points in the playoffs, as the Penguins managed to win it all without Kris Letang.

For the record, Schultz wants to stay in Pittsburgh. The question is whether the Pens can afford to keep him, or if they’d be better off selling high in a trade.

“We’ll probably have some more direction here this week with where we’re going with [a possible extension],” Arnott said. “But we’ve had some good discussions.”

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

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For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

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Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

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Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.