Nashville Predators v Anaheim Ducks - Game One

Healthy Steve Sullivan is excited to join the Pens

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Steve Sullivan must have felt like he hit the lottery. The 37-year-old winger was coming off another injury riddled season that sidelined him for 38 games. Last season it was a sports hernia that ruined most of the regular season—then a knee injury that cut his postseason short. This is the same Steve Sullivan that missed the entire 2007-08 season with a career threatening back injury. At some point, the unrestricted free agent had to wonder how many teams would come calling this offseason once he knew his days in Nashville were numbered. Plenty of people around the league still thought he still had something left in the tank, but it’s hard to figure out the demand for an aging winger who primarily relies on his speed to be effective.

He had at least one suitor. It just so happened to be the one he wanted. The former Predator admitted that that he hoped he’d hear from Pittsburgh when he hit the open market on July 1. Needless to say, Sullivan is excited for the opportunity to go deep into the playoffs with the Penguins:

“You just look at this team from top to bottom and the way they’re built, it’s got longevity to be a winner for a long time. For myself, this time around was all about winning. It was about a chance to win the Stanley Cup. So my number one choice was here. Thankfully we got the phone call.”

Sullivan was able to pot 10 goals and 12 assists even though he only played 44 games last season. The speedy winger has shown the ability to create his own offense throughout his career both at even strength and also on the power play. If he was able to produce with some lousy Blackhawks teams and some Predators teams that were thin on playmaking centers, just imagine what he’d be able to do with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Stall.

He signed a one-year deal with $1.5 million for the opportunity to chase the elusive Stanley Cup with the perennial contender. Even though he’s coming off an injury shortened season, there’s a good chance that he could have made more money from other teams who were spending freely in free agency. But this isn’t the first time a player has accepted a little less than they may have been able to earn in another city to play with the Penguins.

“Sullivan joins a long list of players who have picked the Penguins for who they are more than for what they can pay. In the past few years Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham (twice), Pascal Dupuis, Mike Comrie. Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and others have made that choice and have voiced an outlook about the Penguins similar to that of Sullivan.”

The new addition was quick to point out that all of his health problems are behind him. The back hasn’t been an issue since he his one-year sabbatical, the sports hernia is fully healed, and he’s fully recovered from the knee injury he sustained in the playoffs. For the moment, he’s a healthy man diligently preparing for next season with his new team. The last time he was able to play a full season, he racked up 17 goals and 51 points for the Predators in 2009-10. If his health can hold up for a full season playing next to Crosby or Malkin, there’s no reason he won’t match those totals as the Pens battle for the top spot in the East.

Between Sullivan and James Neal, Pittsburgh may have finally found a few wingers to go with their embarrassment of riches at center.

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?