Daymond Langkow passes Coyotes’ physical; Can he give them much-needed help at center?

For most of this off-season, the Phoenix Coyotes have avoided taking big risks. The one gamble they made was handing defenseman Keith Yandle a big contract, but that seems like the smart move considering the fact that he’s in his prime years and the team’s defense would crumble without him. They avoided a bigger dice roll by letting Ilya Bryzgalov walk rather than giving him an enormous contract, although some might say that relying on Mike Smith is the biggest risk of them all.

Coyotes GM Don Maloney seemed like he was going to play it safe all summer long, but then he traded cheap winger Lee Stempniak for an expensive, risky old center in Daymond Langkow. Joe rightly pointed out that the Coyotes will attempt to fill a void at center with Langkow, but the returning Coyotes center (he was traded from Phoenix in 2004) remains a big “if” coming off a serious neck injury.

Today provided some positive news on that front, as the team confirmed that Langkow passed his physical and is “fully cleared to play and participate in all club activities.”

So now that his arrival is all but confirmed, the $4.5 million question is whether or not he’ll be able to help them out. Maloney thinks that Langkow is the perfect fit as a two-way center, even if the aging pivot won’t win fans over with flashy play.

Many thought he would never play again, and even Langkow had his doubts after his 376-day rehab had more than its share of setbacks. But Langkow returned for the final four regular season games last year. And the video of his landmark return against St. Louis on April 1 told Maloney what he need to know.

“I ended up watching all of his shifts those last four games,” Maloney said. “And when he got cross-checked in the middle of the second period (by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman) and got back up, it was pretty good indication he would be fine.”

Langkow is the kind of player Maloney and coach Dave Tippett covet; hard-working leaders who let their play on the ice do the talking.

(snip)

“Daymond symbolizes what we’re all about in Phoenix,” he said. “There’s not a lot of flash and dash, not a lot of high-end speed. But he’s a very good player on both sides of the puck, he takes care of his own end and has enough creative ability to thrive with skilled players.

“When we add him down the middle to guys like (Martin) Hanzal and (Boyd) Gordon and, at some point,  Turris, it makes us look much more formidable as a team. He’s never going to win a public-speaking contest, but he’s very well respected and that goes a long way with us.”

At first, the monetary difference made the trade a little shaky; the Coyotes took on $2.6 million more in cap space after dealing Stempniak ($1.9 million) for Langkow ($4.5 million). Yet when you consider the fact that the Coyotes aren’t that much above the salary cap floor at just under $51 million, it gets a slight bit easier to stomach.

The Coyotes wanted to open up playing time for their young wingers while solidifying their shaky situation at center now that Eric Belanger and Vernon Fiddler are no longer in the fold. I’m not completely certain that Langkow has the health (or even enough gas left in the tank) to make that trade seem brilliant, but at least they did something to try to improve in a serious area of need.

Some big decisions looming for Colorado in goal

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So, here’s what we know about the Avs’ current netminding situation:

• Veteran goalie coach Francois Allaire was dismissed yesterday, after four years on the job. The 57-year-old is perhaps best remembered in Colorado for his work with Semyon Varlamov in ’13-14, when Varlamov backstopped the Avs to the Central Division title, finishing second in Vezina and fourth in Hart Trophy voting.

• Two names have already been tied to the vacant head coaching gig: Dwayne Roloson (per the Star Tribune) and Finnish goalie guru Jussi Parkilla (per Sportsnet). Roloson, the longtime NHL netminder, spent a few years working as a goalie consultant for the Ducks. Parkilla, 40, has worked in a number of different European leagues, including the KHL and Finland’s SM-liiga.

• Per In Goal Magazine, Roloson’s connection to the Avs gig could be predicated on it being a part-time job. This would be different from Allaire, who worked in a full-time capacity, and may go back to the club’s previous model, when Kirk McLean worked as a “consultant.”

• Last month, BSN Denver reported the Avs had already decided to protect Varlamov over Calvin Pickard for the upcoming expansion draft. But that was before Pickard backstopped Canada to silver at the recently completed World Hockey Championship. Beating out Chad Johnson for the No. 1 gig, Pickard posted a .938 save percentage and 1.49 GAA in the tourney, making 40 saves in the championship game against Sweden.

Pickard, a former second-round pick, carries a $1M cap hit and has shown well in the past, posting a .922 save percentage or better in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He’s also only 24 years old, and seems like a legitimate candidate for Vegas.

Add it all up, and GM Joe Sakic has much to ponder this summer.

It feels like Sakic’s decision making hinges on Varlamov. The GM has repeatedly said a big reason for Colorado’s awful year was losing the Russian ‘tender to injury, and that improvement will come with Varlamov returning to health, and shouldering the starter’s workload.

That could be risky. Varlamov just turned 29 and has a history of chronic hip and groin problems. He’s also got two years left on a five-year, $29.5 million deal — one that carries a hefty $5.9M average annual cap hit.

Related: ‘There’s going to be a lot of turnover’ in Colorado

It’s ‘reasonable’ to expect Schultz and Hornqvist will play Game 7

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The Pittsburgh Penguins could have a couple of reinforcements for tomorrow’s seventh and deciding game against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena.

Pens coach Mike Sullivan said this morning that it would be “reasonable” to expect the returns of defenseman Justin Schultz and forward Patric Hornqvist.

Schultz was injured early in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final and hasn’t played since. But he traveled with the team to Game 6, suggesting he was getting close to a return.

Hornqvist hasn’t played since Game 1, and he didn’t travel to Game 6. Instead, he stayed back in Pittsburgh to rehab, along with fellow injured teammates Chad Ruhwedel and Tom Kuhnhackl.

The Penguins lost last night by a score of 2-1, but they weren’t particularly upset with how they played.

“I thought we played a real good game,” said Sullivan. “I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn’t score tonight. The puck didn’t go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we’ll get the result.”

KHL contracts two teams for upcoming campaign

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Last week, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said the league’s optimal size was 24 teams.

On Wednesday, he got closer to achieving that goal.

The KHL is officially down from 29 to 27 teams, following today’s announcement that Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Medvescak Zagreb have been contracted.

“We have realized that revising the number of member clubs and optimizing their staffing structure will enable us to solve the problem of spending cuts and also stimulate the labor market,” Chernysheko said last week, per the league website. “At the moment, the highly skilled players are spread too thinly among the clubs.

“It follows that the quality of play will improve, and with it the entertainment value and commercial potential of the League.”

Novokuznetsk, located in Siberia, has been in the KHL since 2008-09. The club has never made the postseason and, last year, had just eight wins in 60 games.

Medvescak was the KHL’s lone Croatian-based club, having come over from the Austrian League in 2013. After making the playoffs in its inaugural campaign, Medvescak struggled in the following three and ran into financial crisis this season. From the IIHF:

Medvescak faced some well-documented financial problems and, after a fire sale of players in the closing weeks of the campaign, suited up just 14 players in its last games.

With the team heavily reliant on sponsorship to provide a sustainable budget, the decision to return to a league closer to home.

It’s unclear what the future has in store for Novokuznetsk, though reports suggest the club could move to the VHL, Russia’s second-tier professional league.

Report: Sabres interested in Pens director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton

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New Sabres GM Jason Botterill has been on the job for less than a month, but with the draft around the corner, he’s got to start filling some holes in his front office.

Botterill, who came over from Pittsburgh, is allowed to bring former Pens colleagues of his over to Buffalo, but only if they’re given promotions by the Sabres (no lateral moves).

According to a report by Chuck Gormley, one person who could move from Pittsburgh to Buffalo is Randy Sexton, who currently serves as the Penguins’ directer of amateur scouting.

Sexton would bring plenty of experience to the Sabres’ front office, as he’s been a general manager with both the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers.

Having someone with that kind of experience could be beneficial for a rookie GM like Botterill, so the move would make a lot of sense from that point of view.

Related:

Botterill has “no problem” with Lehner as No. 1

Botterill to use Pens’ NHL-AHL relationship as model for Sabres