Kevin Shattenkirk, David Backes

Could veteran leadership put the Blues back in the playoffs?

The St. Louis Blues added some much needed veteran leadership to their organization when they signed Jason Arnott and Jaime Langenbrunner to 1-year deals on Wednesday. The veteran pair join a team that finished 11th in the Western Conference in 2010-11; their final standings would have been worse if it weren’t for a strong finish to their season. But even though the Blues were the Central Division’s 4th place team a season ago, there’s reason to hope the Blues will be a much improved team next season.

The most important trait that Arnott and Langenbrunner bring to the table is unquestionably their veteran leadership—both players have been around the block a few times. They’ve both been through the rigors of the Stanley Cup playoffs and both know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.

It’s a perfect fit from the team’s point of view. The Blues are a team filled with young players with plenty of potential, but there’s very little veteran leadership to show the kids the correct way to play and handle themselves off the ice. That’s where the new acquisitions will come into play for GM Doug Armstrong.

Since this is the NHL, the newest members of the Blues will be expected to bring more than the sage wisdom of respected elders. Langenbrunner and Arnott may be on the downside of their respective careers, but both players are still capable of playing in secondary roles in the NHL. Jeremy Rutherford thinks the lines will look something like this on opening night:

With David Perron:

McDonald-Backes-Perron
Oshie-Berglund-Stewart
Steen-Arnott-D’Agostini
Sobotka-Nichol-Langenbrunner/Crombeen

Without David Perron:

McDonald-Backes-D’Agostini
Oshie-Berglund-Stewart
Steen-Arnott-Langenbrunner
Sobotka-Nichol-Crombeen

Rutherford isn’t the only one throwing out roster projections either. Any way you cut it, the Blues have plenty of forward depth for the first time in years. Players like Evgeny Grachev, B.J. Crombeen, and Scott Nichol will have to fight for their spot on the roster instead of having it handed to them in training camp. Remember, this is a team that only two seasons ago looked like one of the good, up-and-coming young teams in the NHL. The majority of the foundation is still in place—now they just have some veterans to point them in the right direction.

Andy Strickland gets to the heart of the matter in a roundtable over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“It’s hard to argue both players won’t be welcome additions on and off the ice. The Blues didn’t bring them on board to babysit and watch over the Oshies, Berglunds, and Perrons. They obviously bring a ton of experience and I think their game will benefit from playing in a youthful, enthusiastic environment. Doug Armstrong wouldn’t have signed either player unless he honestly believed they could upgrade the roster. Are they the players they once were? No, but they can still contribute and complement a core of offensive players lacking winning experience. They aren’t signed to eight-year deals and therefore won’t be fully ingrained in the Blues organization, but for one year they can certainly give some much needed direction. Signing these types of players is long overdue.”

Just as important as their play on the ice (or leadership in the locker room) is the symbolic nature of the veteran signings. Over the last few years, Blues ownership was either unwilling or unable to pull the trigger on veterans with higher price tags. They’d claim that they were in the midst of a rebuild—but sooner or later veterans needed to be brought in to augment the youthful exuberance. For a team that was consistently in the bottom third of payroll, fiscally responsible excuses were wearing thin for a hungry fanbase. As Jeff Quirin explained on Blue Note Zone, the credit for acquiring the proven veterans should be shared between the general manager and ownership:

“In Armstrong’s tenure the handling of personnel decisions has turned 180 degrees from his predecessor. With the rebuild complete, the next step was to convert all the Pleau era stockpiled potential in to results. Moving assets in and out is required once needs are identified. With the Halak and Stewart trades a willingness to gamble on transactions have been proven. Not just by the man brokering the deal, but the one who ultimately gives his blessing to make it happen.”

For the first time in a while, the Blues have put their money where their mouth is. They have young pieces in place through great work at the draft table. With Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Shattenkirk, they’ve been able to add even more young talent to their strong prospect pool within the last calendar year. They’ve spent years putting together a finely-tuned machine of young players with the potential to compete with any stable of youngsters around the league.

Now with Arnott and Langenbrunner, they have someone behind the wheel.

Deadline target Streit says ‘it’s too early’ for extension talks in Philly

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 09:  Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers completes a pass against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 9, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
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Yesterday, we touched on the dynamic at play between Buffalo and veteran captain Brian Gionta.

Today, a similar situation to discuss — but it’s in Philly, and involves alternate captain Mark Streit.

Streit, 39, is in the last of a four-year, $21 million deal with a $5.25M cap hit. Like Gionta, he’s a pending UFA and — also like Gionta — has a limited no-trade clause (Streit can list 10 teams he’d accept a trade to.)

Like the Sabres, the Flyers are in a tricky spot.

Right on the wild card bubble, they’re cognizant that a veteran presence like Streit — who has 17 points in 35 games, averaging 19:43 per night — would be valuable come playoff time.

But if Philly falls out of playoff contention, Streit would undoubtedly be an asset worth flipping at the deadline. It’s something the team is surely aware of.

The Swiss rearguard has more than 30 games of playoff experience and, as we’ve seen at previous deadlines, the return for rental defensemen can be high.

More on this situation, from the Burlington County Times:

So if the Flyers were to keep him past the deadline and offer him a new contract, would he be willing to stay?

“At this point, I just want to play and I want to make it into the playoffs with the Flyers,’’ the Swiss native said. “That’s on my mind. I love it here, love playing for the Flyers.”

The subject of a new contract is tricky because the Flyers are currently right on the bubble for a playoff spot.

There’s really no point in opening contract negotiations if he’s only going to be here another five weeks, is there?

“Not yet, it’s too early,’’ Streit said. “I’d like to stay here. I’ve been part of this organization for four years now. I love the guys, I believe in the group.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall told the Times he hasn’t made any decisions on his UFAs, adding he’s in no rush to sign them.

There’s actually quite a lot of business for Hextall on that front — in addition to Streit, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are all up on July 1 — so it’s not surprising he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

As for Streit, he said he’d like to stick in Philly beyond this year… and, per the Times, even joked with reporters that he’d love to sign another four-year deal.

We assume he was joking, anyway.

Sens nab Wingels in trade with Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Tommy Wingels #57 of the San Jose Sharks looks to pass the puck while covered by Artem Anisimov #15 of the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center on November 25, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators have acquired forward Tommy Wingels from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two AHL forwards, Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini, and a 2017 seventh-round draft pick.

The Sens announced the trade via Twitter. As part of the deal, the Sharks will retain 30 percent of Wingels’ $2.6 million salary this season. The 28-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent. His total cap hit is $2.475 million.

Wingels has just five goals and three assists in 37 games this season, and his average ice time under head coach Pete DeBoer had fallen from 13:38 last season to just 10:03.

Perhaps he’ll find a bigger role now under Guy Boucher. Wingels is expected to join the Sens tomorrow in Ottawa.

In a press release, Sharks GM Doug Wilson called Wingels “a valuable member of our franchise for many years, a phenomenal teammate and a true role model on and off the ice for our organization and the NHL.”

Wilson added, “As a team evolves and younger players push for roster spots, unfortunately tough decisions have to be made. We wish Tommy and his wife, Molly, nothing but success in the future.

“We also want to welcome Buddy and Zach to our organization. They add size and depth to our reserve list and we look forward to having them in San Jose.”

It’s crunch time for the Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop stays on the ice after giving up a goal to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning are desperate for wins.

How desperate?

Well, it’s estimated they’ll have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

So, pretty darn desperate.

It is shocking, frankly, that the Lightning have found themselves in this position. After 48 games, they sit dead last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 21-22-5. Even without Steven Stamkos, most observers thought they’d hang in there.

But if it’s not one thing (allowing too many goals), it’s been another (not scoring enough) for Jon Cooper’s bunch. Heading into tonight’s game in Chicago, the Bolts have just two wins in their last 10 games.

Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Coyotes, one of the NHL’s worst teams, was a low point.

“Disappointing is probably not even the right word,” veteran forward Brian Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “We’ve got to do a better job in (the room), I guess, especially the veteran guys. It’s got to be way better from the start, maybe in preparation? Obviously, our focus wasn’t where it needed to be. That’s a hard one to swallow.”

The Lightning outshot the Coyotes by a big margin, 48-23, but for the 13th time this season they lost a game in regulation despite finishing ahead on the shot clock. Only Carolina (17) and Boston (15) have lost more games that way. 

In a related story, Ben Bishop‘s save percentage has fallen from .926 last season, when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, to .905. He was pulled Saturday after allowing five goals on just 17 shots.

To be fair, Bishop had played well in his three previous starts since returning from an injury. But Saturday was a bad time to have a bad game. Those were two points the Lightning really needed, and they didn’t even get one.

Tampa Bay has two games before the All-Star break — tonight in Chicago and Thursday at the Panthers in Sunrise.

That game Thursday will be huge for both teams, each of which went into the season with high hopes, before injuries and other frustrations arose.

The reality now is that both Florida clubs are likely to miss the playoffs. Yes, there’s still time to climb out of their respective holes, but the odds say they’ll probably fail.

Sabres welcome back oft-injured Kulikov, who has missed 26 games

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Dmitry Kulikov‘s first year in Buffalo has largely been defined by his lingering back injury, but he’ll set about changing that narrative when he returns to the lineup tonight in Nashville.

Today, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Kulikov would play for the first time since Dec. 27, having missed nearly a month with his lingering ailment.

Kulikov also missed 13 games earlier in the year with the same back problem.

Acquired at last year’s draft in a deal that sent Mark Pysyk to Florida — along with picks being exchanged — Kulikov was expected to play a big role in Buffalo this season, and projected to play on the club’s top defensive pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

“You watch Florida when they go on the PK; he was the first guy on the ice, when they needed a goal on the playoffs he was on the ice, when they needed to protect a lead late in the game he was on the ice,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said at the time of the trade, per NHL.com. “So we certainly liked what we saw.”

All told, the 26-year-old Russian’s appeared in just 20 games this year, registering a single point. He has averaged over 22 minutes per, though — meaning head coach Dan Bylsma has used Kulikov quite a bit, when available.

Kulikov didn’t take this morning’s skate, so no clear indication on who he’ll pair with this evening.