Alex Pietrangelo, Lars Eller

Alex Pietrangelo evolving into a top pairing defenseman

Tonight’s game between the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes may not mean much for the Blues. Most fans in St. Louis kissed the playoffs goodbye a week or two ago as they currently sit in 13th place with 73 points. In the short-term, these games may not mean much—but in the long-term, these are the games where the franchise will build its new foundation. The well-publicized trade between the Avalanche and Blues signified a change in direction for the organization when they sent former #1 overall pick Erik Johnson to the Rockies. In a few years though, the biggest part of the trade may not be the players who were involved, but a player who was given the opportunity to blossom into a cornerstone defensemen in his own right: Alex Pietrangelo.

One of the main reasons the Blues were able to part with a player of Johnson’s potential and stature is because of the way they felt about Pietrangelo. Since drafting him with the fourth overall pick in 2008, he’s been groomed slowly in the OHL to make sure he was able to fully reach his potential once he became an everyday player in the NHL. He tore up the OHL with both Niagara and Barrie, he dominated the World Junior Championships last year, and finally was given the chance to permanently stick with St. Louis this season. Needless to say, he’s made the most of his opportunity.

This season he’s already collected 10 goals and 29 assists for 39 points in 69 games. To add to those boxcar numbers, he’s chipped in four goals on the power play and he’s notched an impressive +15 rating. He was playing well enough that as the deadline neared, the Blues felt comfortable enough to send both Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson packing—in essence handing the keys over to Pietrangelo.

Since the two trades in February, he’s been on the top defensive pairing with Carlo Colaiacovo. Only Eric Brewer (22:14) and Erik Johnson (22:07) were averaging more time than him before the moves. He was averaging 21:46 over the season, but his average ice-time has been bumped up to 24:15 since the trade. Over the course of the season, he’s been playing almost three minutes per game on the power play and two minutes on the penalty kill. Now, he’s seeing even more time on both the power play and the penalty kill; he’s posted 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 15 games since the February 19th trade with a +1 rating against the oppositions’ best lines. He’d certainly be on the shortlist for the Calder Trophy if it weren’t for the obscure rules governing the rookie of the year.

He’s giving the Blues exactly what GM Doug Armstrong hoped he would:

“He’s played well enough now to be one of our primary, top-four (defensemen). He’s going to be a leader for us the rest of this year, and then it’s going to be a very important summer for him. It’s going to be very important for him to stay focused, but he seems to have the mindset and professionalism to not take a step back — and also take a step forward.”

 

The fact that Pietrangelo is thriving now that he’s been given a chance to shine shouldn’t surprise many hockey fans. In St. Louis, he’s been compared to Erik Johnson all season (and since the day he was drafted). But before he heard his name called by the Blues, he’s been compared to guys like Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, and Zach Bogosian that were also selected in the 1st round in 2008. Not bad company to keep.

In addition to the Pietrangelo, the Blues have had one of the best prospect systems over the last five years. But for all the strength they have in their pipeline, their greatest asset has been the volume and quality of prospects they have on the backend. Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin, Pietrangelo, and now the newly acquired Kevin Shattenkirk have the potential to be a great defensive core for years to come. They were able to parlay that organizational strength into a package that was able to fill a need today—and will fill the need for years to comewith Chris Stewart.

Blues’ president John Davidson’s comments were telling:

“When you get into that position, you go, ‘Is there somebody out there we can get and really enhance a different need on our club, knowing that we can get something without killing us back there? You look at needs, and we need a power forward and scoring. We’ll see where it goes. There are no guarantees.”

It’s interesting that he’d say they could trade a former #1 overall pick and it wouldn’t kill them back there. He was quick to point out that the trade was not an indictment on anyone, which leads us to believe they’re excited about the young players they have coming up on the blueline.

After the trade deadline, headlines will always explain how new players are playing a huge role for their new teams. But just as often, someone will need to step up and fill a void when a big name player is shipped out of town. It was the trust in Pietrangelo that allowed the Blues to make this kind of splash. Assuming he’s able to continue to develop into the player the organization projects him to be, Pietrangelo will reward St. Louis with the cornerstone defenseman they’ve wanted for the next decade.

North Dakota loses another d-man as Kings sign LaDue

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 09:  Paul LaDue #6 of North Dakota skates against the Boston University Terriers during the second period of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship semifinals at TD Garden on April 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Keaton Thompson, Troy Stecher and now, Paul LaDue.

On Friday, the Kings announced that LaDue — the junior d-man that helped North Dakota win the Frozen Four — agreed to a one-year, entry-level deal, forgoing his senior season in the process.

LaDue, 23, was part of a talented UND blueline that also featured fellow juniors Troy Stecher — who since signed with Vancouver — and Thompson, who inked with the Ducks.

So yeah, bit of an exodus.

Thankfully for North Dakota, freshman scoring sensation Brock Boeser has already committed to returning for his sophomore campaign, while junior defenseman Gage Ausmus — a San Jose draftee — vowed to go back to school as well.

As for Frozen Four MOP Drake Caggiula — a senior that was already leaving school — he’s already begun his tour of interested NHL suitors.

Per TSN, Caggiula has shortlisted six clubs: Philadelphia, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Chicago and Buffalo.

Wilson fined for kneeing Sheary

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No suspension for Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Only a fine.

That’s what the NHL’s Department of Player Safety decided after Wilson kneed Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary last night in Washington.

The fine of $2,403.67 is the maximum allowable under the CBA, and, at the very least, it puts Wilson on official notice.

Wilson was not penalized on the play, and Sheary was able to leave the ice under his own power and remain in the game.

“We’re just going to play hockey, and the refs are going to call it the way they see it,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters afterwards. “Our guys are going to play.”

This morning, Capitals coach Barry Trotz reportedly said of the play, “It was OK, but it wasn’t I would say necessary.”

Report: In expansion draft, teams must protect players with no-movement clauses

Washington Capitals v Columbus Blue Jackets
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If a player has a no-movement clause, his club will be forced to protect him in next summer’s expected expansion draft.

If, on the other hand, a player merely has a no-trade clause, his club will have no obligation to put him on its protected list.

Those details were reported this morning by TSN’s Gary Lawless, shortly after he’d reported that the NHL and NHLPA had come together on a framework for a potential expansion draft.

Per General Fanager, here’s the difference between the two clauses:

A No-Movement Clause prohibits a team from moving a player by trade, loan or waivers, or assigning that player to the minors without the player’s consent. This keeps the player with the pro team unless permitted by the player to move the player by one of these means. A No-Movement Clause does not restrict a team from buying out or terminating a player’s contract.

A No-Trade Clause is less restrictive, as it only places restrictions on movement by trade. A player with a No-Trade Clause cannot be traded by a team unless the player provides consent. A Partial or Modified No-Trade Clause is often less restrictive than a Full No-Trade Clause, and depends on the conditions outlined in the player’s contracts. Often these are No-Trade Clauses with conditions that give the player the right to provide a list of teams to which the team can or cannot trade the player.

So, for example, in Pittsburgh, the Penguins would be obligated to put Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil KesselMarc-Andre Fleury, and Kris Letang on their protected list. All five have NMCs, per General FanagerPatric Hornqvist, however, would not require protection, even though he has a modified no-trade clause.

Now, granted, the Penguins weren’t going to risk leaving their superstars exposed anyway.

Where this rule could have consequences is if a team is forced to protect a player with a no-move, at the expense of exposing a player it would prefer to keep. 

In Columbus, for example, David Clarkson, Scott Hartnell and Fedor Tyutin have no-moves, as do Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno. So, assuming General Fanager’s information is correct and there aren’t any complicating factors, that’s five players they’d be obligated to protect, whether they’d want to or not.

We’ll let Jackets fans fret over what that may cost them. There will be plenty of fretting league-wide, no doubt. 

But just remember, if the NHL only expands to Las Vegas — and that’s the most likely scenario at this point — each team can only lose one player in the expansion draft.

Ducks fire Boudreau

Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, back, looks on against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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In the end, it was one playoff failure too many.

On Friday, the Ducks reacted to their upset loss to Nashville by doing the expected — relieving head coach Bruce Boudreau of his duties.

“I would like to thank Bruce for his hard work and dedication to the franchise,” Ducks GM Bob Murray said in a statement, tweeted out by the club. “This was a very difficult decision to make.

“Bruce is a good coach and character person, and we wish him the best of luck in the future.”

Boudreau, 61, enjoyed tremendous regular-season success in Anaheim — 208-104-40 record over five years — but ultimately paid the price for the club’s playoff failures.

Despite a wealth of talent and repeated home-ice advantage, the Ducks never qualified for a Stanley Cup final and were twice bounced in the opening round. Most damning was the club’s record in Game 7s — Wednesday’s loss to Nashville was the fourth straight Game 7 defeat Anaheim had suffered.

What’s more, it was the fourth time they lost a series in which they led 3-2.

What’s more, it was the fourth Game 7 they lost on home ice.

For Boudreau, this firing will only add to the narrative that’s dogged him throughout his career, dating back to his time in Washington.

Great regular-season coach, not so much in the playoffs.

It’s ultimately unfair and probably too simplistic, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that a coach with an impressive win total — 409, putting him No. 32 all-time — has never competed for the Stanley Cup, and only qualified for one conference final.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if Boudreau can find work as quickly as the last time he was fired. After getting turfed in Washington, it took him all of two days to be hired by the Ducks, and it’s quite possible Ottawa could now be in the mix for his services.

The Sens are looking for an experienced bench boss, per new GM Pierre Dorion, and have already interviewed ex-Wild head coach Mike Yeo.

Related: Boudreau says this was the Ducks’ toughest loss yet