Vancouver Canucks v Boston Bruins - Game Six

Diving back in: Canucks re-sign pest Maxim Lapierre to two-year, $2M deal


Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis didn’t flinch when he admitted that winning the GM of the Year award provided no solace after his team’s Game 7 defeat in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

That being said, Gillis seemed to make all the right moves in the off-season and through trades. He brought in faceoff wizard Manny Malhotra to put Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin in better positions and won the bidding war for shutdown defenseman Dan Hamhuis last summer. It seemed like the two trades to acquire depth forwards Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre would be minor tweaks, but those deals made a positive impact on the team.

Higgins provided another dose of speed while Lapierre proved to be a useful forechecker and intolerable pain for opposing teams. While re-signing pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Bieksa is obviously the biggest move of the day for Gillis, retaining that versatile blueliner wasn’t his only move of the day. Gillis decided that Lapierre will remain a (hopefully useful) villain in Vancouver to the tune of a two-year, $2 million deal.

Lapierre isn’t a scoring dynamo – he scored 12 points in abbreviated stops with the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and Canucks during the regular season – but he’s a player who can provide hustle and plenty of agitation. The former second round pick built up such a reputation for diving that officials seemed to usher in a serious crackdown during the Stanley Cup finals, yet his antics seemed to benefit Vancouver more than they hurt the team.

(At least in Gillis’ view, one would assume.)

The Canucks still have some off-season questions to answer, with Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Higgins ranking as their biggest unrestricted free agents while Jannik Hansen will likely be a restricted free agent. Re-signing Bieksa and Lapierre on the same day shows that Gillis is mostly happy with the team that brought Vancouver just one win shy of its first-ever Cup, but with about $13 million in cap space in play and 5-8 roster spots to fill, the team might still quite different by the end of this summer.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?