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.

Stecher makes memorable debut for Canucks, the team he grew up supporting

Vancouver Canucks' Alexander Edler, of Sweden; Joseph Labate; Alexis D'Aoust; James Sheppard; and Troy Stecher, from left, celebrate Labate's goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Troy Stecher admitted he was “still shaking” when he met with reporters following last night’s preseason game in Vancouver. The 22-year-old rookie defenseman had just scored one goal and added two impressive assists in the Canucks’ 5-3 win over the Oilers.

Not bad for an undrafted, local kid who grew up a fan of the team.

“Something I’ll never forget, obviously,” Stecher said. “First game at Rogers (Arena). I grew up watching the Canucks, coming here. It was a different feeling being on the other side of it.”

It was only one game, but for the second year in a row, a defenseman who just finished his college career appears to be pushing for a spot on the Canucks. Last year, it was Ben Hutton, out of Maine, and he made it.

So, could Stecher, out of North Dakota, actually crack the Canucks’ roster as a right-shot, offensive defenseman?

Well, he’s already beaten out Jordan Subban, who’s been returned to the AHL. His main, remaining competition figures to be North America returnee Philip Larsen, who’s been in the KHL the past couple of seasons.

The answer has to be yes.

But again, it’s only been one game. He’s earned another one, according to head coach Willie Desjardins, so he’ll have to build on his first one.

“I’m a young guy, so confidence is huge,” said Stecher. “I think I played pretty well. If I have a poor game, then you kind of dwell on it all day tomorrow and it’s in your mind. At the same time, I’ve just got to put it in my back pocket. Tomorrow’s a new day and I’ve got to come to the rink prepared to work hard and just continue to do my thing.”

Related: Prized North Dakota d-man Stecher goes pro, signs with Canucks

Report: Lindholm seeking eight-year deal from Ducks, at least $6M per

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Hampus Lindholm #47 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to his power play goal with Kevin Bieksa #2 to take a 4-1 lead over the Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center on February 4, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Details are starting to come out about the contractual impasse between Anaheim and prized young defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Fresh off an appearance with Team Sweden at the World Cup, Lindholm — a still-unsigned RFA — is reportedly seeking “more than $6 million per season over eight years,” according to the O.C. Register.

The 22-year-old is currently in Sweden training with SHL club Rogle BK, the team he played for prior to getting drafted sixth overall in 2012.

Lindholm is coming off his three-year, entry-level deal, one that carried a cap hit of $894,166.

The Ducks are in a bit of a financial squeeze and also need to sort out another RFA — versatile forward Rickard Rakell — so it’s understandable why negotiations with Lindholm have been drawn out.

That said, they’re not going to want to drag feet much longer.

Lindholm is a budding star on defense, coming off a year in which he scored a career-best 10 goals and 28 points in 80 games, averaging 22 minutes per night. He was also a huge part of Anaheim’s run to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final the previous spring, scoring 10 points in 16 games while increasing his ice time to 23:15.

According to the Register, the “feeling” is that Anaheim’s closer to a deal with Rakell than Lindholm. And on that note, it’s worth mentioning the Ducks make their season debut in two weeks — on Oct. 13, with a road date in Dallas.

Unlike in Sochi, Crosby’s been piling up points at the World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Brad Marchand #63 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammates Sidney Crosby #87, Drew Doughty #8, Patrice Bergeron #37 and Alex Pietrangelo #27 after scoring a second period goal at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Sidney Crosby has been surrounded by the best hockey players on the planet at the World Cup of Hockey, and still seems as if he is in a class by himself.

“He’s probably the best player of our generation,” Canada goaltender Carey Price said.

The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar has a World Cup-high nine points – two more than anyone else – and is within a win of adding another accomplishment to his Hockey Hall of Fame-ready resume. Canada will play Team Europe in Game 2 Thursday night, leading the best-of-seven series 1-0.

The eight-nation European team has been led lately by Tomas Tatar, who scored his team’s only goal in a 3-1 loss Tuesday night. The Slovakian forward scored twice, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 overtime victory over Sweden in the semifinals on Sunday.

Tatar, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings, acknowledged he is inspired by Crosby’s greatness. And he knows slowing Crosby down is a key to forcing a Game 3 on Saturday night.

“I’m not saying one guy should be standing by him, but we should be always aware of where he is on the ice,” Tatar said.

Crosby has been much more effective than he was in his last best-on-best tournament appearance. He had only one goal and two assists at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he won his second Olympic gold medal.

In the World Cup opener against the Czech Republic alone, he produced as many points with a goal and two assists in a sensational stretch of the game that lasted less than 20 minutes.

Crosby insisted he could not care less that he has already tripled the number of points he had in Russia.

“I just want to win,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what you want to do. In Sochi, it was more about why weren’t we scoring, low-scoring games, and the teams we were playing we’re supposed to be winning by a certain amount of goals.

“At the end of the day, we were winning games,” he said. “It’s always nice to score, but we knew that we had to play a certain way and sometimes that meant not scoring five or six to win.”

Mike Babcock, Crosby’s coach at the previous two Olympics, put Crosby on a line with Boston Bruins teammates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the World Cup. The trio has combined for 22 points in five games.

“He got feeling it early,” Babcock said. “And, he’s feeling it and he thinks it’s going in.”

Crosby has continued the roll he started last season when he won his second Stanley Cup and was named the postseason MVP with 19 points in 24 games. He was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy, coming close to being named NHL MVP for the third time in his career. And, he finished a career-high seventh in voting for the Selke Trophy that recognizes the league’s best defensive forward.

“He’s been obviously playing really well since last December,” said Zdeno Chara, a Team Europe defenseman who also plays for the Bruins. “He really raised his game.”

Canadian and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Crosby is probably playing better than he ever has.

“The three tournaments I’ve had the opportunity, I would say he’s playing unbelievable,” Doughty said. “Things are working for him now. He’s hot. Not that he didn’t play well at the other tournaments, he just didn’t get this hot.”

Ex-Avs, Coyotes defenseman Elliott signs in KHL

Stefan Elliott
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Stefan Elliott, the 49th pick in 2009 that appeared in nearly 100 NHL contests, is trying his luck overseas.

On Thursday, KHL club AK Bars Kazan announced it had signed Elliott for the upcoming campaign.

Once considered a promising blueline prospect, Elliott, 25, split last season between Arizona and Nashville, appearing in 21 games at the big league level. He also spent a fair chunk of time in the American League, scoring 19 points in 35 games.

Originally drafted by Colorado, Elliott played 63 contests for the Avs over the course of four years. He was never able to break through and become a regular on defense, this despite having a pretty good rookie campaign in ’11-12 under then-head coach Joe Sacco (13 points in 39 games).

The Avalanche eventually cut ties with Elliott at the start of last year, trading him to the Coyotes in exchange for Brandon Gormley. Arizona then flipped Elliott to Nashville for Victory Bartley in January.