Luke Schenn; Carl Gunnarsson

Maple Leafs sign Carl Gunnarsson to two-year, $2.6M contract extension

Despite maintaining the troubling “zero playoff berths since the lockout” label, the Toronto Maple Leafs showed significant glimpses of promise late in the 2010-11 season. A big part of that surge came from rookie goalie James Reimer, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with the Leafs.

GM Brian Burke often gravitates toward big stars, but he also understands the importance of cultivating young talent. The Leafs took the next step in wrapping up their young pending free agents by handing defenseman Carl Gunnarsson a two-year contract extension worth $2.6 million.

Gunnarsson has been a pleasant surprise for the Maple Leafs, who drafted him in the seventh round (194th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He managed to play a solid chunk of the last two seasons, appearing in 43 games in 2009-10 (15 points, 21:26 time on ice per game) and 68 (20 points, 18:15 time on ice per game) in 10-11.

Michael Traikos explains that Gunnarsson really seemed to blossom once he received more offensive opportunities after Tomas Kaberle was traded to the Boston Bruins.

“We’re very happy with his development,” said general manager Brian Burke, “and what he needs to do is come up with an 82-game season. He had a real good second-half each of the last two years. But he’s got to start better than he has.”

Indeed, Gunnarsson had one goal and three assists in the first three months of the 2010-11 season. But then seemed to benefit from extra ice time when Tomas Kaberle was traded, scoring three goal and 13 assists in the final four months of the schedule.

Re-signing Gunnarsson takes one more problem off the table for Burke, who faces some tough decisions this off-season. Beyond getting into a likely bidding war for the services of Brad Richards, Burke also must make some choices regarding pending free agents.

While there are plenty of other names they must decide to keep or part ways with, the biggest negotiations will take place between the Leafs and three free agents: Clarke MacArthur, Luke Schenn and Tyler Bozak. Here’s what Burke said about the major negotiations with those players.

Now that Gunnarsson is signed, expect the team to now focus on locking up restricted free agent Luke Schenn. The 21-year-old was arguably Toronto’s most valuable defenceman last season, scoring a career-best five goals and 22 points in 82 games.

The Leafs are also expected to try and re-sign Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak and Tim Brent this summer.

“It’s not time-sensitive, for either player,” Burke said of negotiations. “We’ve told Clarke if he wants to file for arbitration he can go ahead and file for arbitration. That’s part of the process. That’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. But we anticipate that he’s going to be under contract and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fall.”

Much like many other teams – from contenders to hopefuls – the Maple Leafs look like they have an interesting off-season in front of them. At least they won’t have to worry about keeping Reimer or Gunnarsson at a reasonable price, though.

Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options,’ says his agent

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 21:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings checks his stick before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk‘s future with the Detroit Red Wings and in the National Hockey League has been up in the air for a while now, as he’s linked to rumors of a return to Russia and the KHL.

His agent, Dan Milstein, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press that Datsyuk’s future should become clear in mid-June after meeting with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

As per General Fanager, Datsyuk has one more year left on his current deal, which comes with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options,” Milstein said. “He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said there are no loopholes. Because Datsyuk signed his last contract after he turned 35, his $7.5 million salary cap hit remains in tact even if Datsyuk departs. The Wings’ only option is to trade his contract to a team such as Arizona or Carolina that could use the hefty cap hit in order to be above the salary cap minimum.

At the age of 37, his career in the league started in 2001-02, and has spanned 953 regular season games in which he’s accrued 918 points.

He’s had a highly decorated career, with two Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, three Selke and four Lady Byng trophies.

Allen or Elliott? Another goalie decision looms for Hitchcock

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal against Nick Spaling #16 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues need to win Game 6 on Wednesday, or their season is over. Who they decide to turn to in net is likely to be a talking point — heated debate, maybe? — leading up to that contest.

Do they go back to Jake Allen for a third consecutive start, despite the fact he allowed four goals on 25 shots in Monday’s Game 5 loss to the San Jose Sharks? Or, will head coach Ken Hitchcock turn once again to Brian Elliott, who started every single game from the series opener of the first round versus Chicago to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

Hitchcock at least felt that going with Allen over Elliott in Game 4 provided the necessary spark for his team, as the Blues evened the series.

But on Monday, the Sharks, on the strength of two Joe Pavelski goals, eventually overpowered the Blues for the win, moving San Jose one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was fine. I don’t know, those are decisions we make in a day or so. But I thought he was fine today. He stopped some point-blank shots, especially early, three times early,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“I don’t know. That’s stuff we’ll talk about tomorrow.”

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

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The San Jose Sharks won a back-and-forth Game 5 to take back the lead in a back-and-forth Western Conference Final, moving one victory away from appearing in the Stanley Cup Final.

After scoring the tying goal late in the second period, Joe Pavelski notched his 12th of the playoffs to give San Jose the lead for good just 16 seconds into the third period.

The Sharks earned a 6-3 victory on the road, in a bounce-back effort from Saturday.

Twice, the Blues grabbed the lead. Troy Brouwer gave them the advantage in the first period, showing off his baseball skills by batting the puck into the net on a rebound. Robby Fabbri gave them another lead in the second period, making Roman Polak pay for snapping on Dmitrij Jaskin along the boards.

But the Blues couldn’t hold on. The Sharks scored twice on three power play opportunities and can now clinch the Western Conference on home ice in Wednesday’s Game 6.

As for the Blues, will Ken Hitchcock change up his starting goaltender again? It’s certainly an aspect of this series that will once again be up for debate leading up to Wednesday’s game.

After Brian Elliott had backstopped the Blues through the first two rounds and started the first three games of this series, Hitchcock decided to start Jake Allen in Game 4.

Allen recorded the win Saturday, and was called upon again in Game 5 as expected, but gave up four goals on 25 shots Monday.

Video: Sharks’ Polak snaps, Blues make him pay on the power play

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San Jose Sharks defenseman Roman Polak took serious issue with St. Louis Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin during the second period, as the two eventually threw off the gloves off in a fight in the corner.

In the process, Polak let his emotions get the better of him — he snapped — by also taking a roughing minor to give the Blues a power play.

The Blues made him — and the Sharks — pay on a blast from Robby Fabbri, who was a game-time decision for Monday’s contest.

The Sharks tied the game at 3-3 before the end of the second period on Joe Pavelski‘s 11th of the playoffs. Pavelski struck again in the third period, giving San Jose the 4-3 lead.