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Former Leafs, Predators enforcer Wade Belak found dead at age 35 in Toronto

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With the tragic deaths of tough guys Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien coming just months apart, the hockey world already fought through plenty of grief during this summer. The NHL’s nightmare off-season continues today, though, as QMI reports that former enforcer Wade Belak was found dead in a Toronto Hotel room at age 35 Wednesday afternoon. The cause of Belak’s death hasn’t been revealed yet, but we’ll keep an eye out for details tonight and beyond.

Belak was beloved for his sense of humor and kind off-ice demeanor during his lengthy NHL career. Although he enjoyed stints with the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators, he will probably be best known as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent parts of seven seasons in Toronto, where he charmed many fans along the way. Belak was scheduled to appear on the popular CBC game show “Battle of the Blades” this year, another indication of his popularity.

Belak scored eight goals and 25 assists for 33 points while collecting 1,263 penalty minutes in 549 regular season games spread over 14 seasons. Belak also played in 22 playoff games – all with Toronto – scoring one goal and collecting 36 penalty minutes. Belak was involved in 136 fights in his NHL career, according to “fight card” information at Hockey Fights.com.

It’s been a brutal four months for the league, as Boogaard (28) died on May 13 while Rypien (27) passed away on August 15. The NHL and its players association already announced plans to examine and improve upon their support programs, but Belak’s death will probably do more to force that issue – regardless of the cause of death.

This is a tough blow to take, especially since Belak leaves behind a wife and two young daughters. You can read more about Belak’s life and career here. Our hearts go out to his family on another dark day for the sport.

Update: Belak’s final NHL team the Nashville Predators released this statement regarding his death.

“The entire Nashville Predators organization and family is shocked and saddened by the sudden and untimely passing of Wade Belak. Wade was a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Jennifer and children Andie and Alex. We offer our full support to them at this very difficult time.”

Update (7:44 p.m.): NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr issued this statement:

“All Players and NHLPA staff are sincerely saddened and shocked by the passing of former member Wade Belak. His affable personality made him popular with teammates, fans and media, and he was a hardworking, respected member of the Association. He will undoubtedly be greatly missed throughout the entire hockey community. Our deepest condolences go out to Wade’s family and friends during this very difficult time.”

Update (7:45 p.m.): NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement mourning Belak’s passing:

“The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of Wade Belak, who competed to the utmost every minute of his NHL career. Our hearts go out to Wade’s loved ones, his friends, his former teammates and to all who feel the horrible void left by this tragedy.”

Update (9:15 p.m.): Unfortunately, the Toronto Sun is reporting that according to their sources, Belak’s cause of death: suicide

More as it becomes available.

Coyotes have work to do, with RFAs Murphy, Stone still unsigned

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes added a defenseman with a right shot to their roster, signing Luke Schenn on Saturday. And there could be more moves to the back end on the way for Arizona.

They still have work left with respect to two restricted free agents. Defensemen Connor Murphy, 23, and Michael Stone, 26, are still looking for new contracts.

Stone, another right-shot blue liner, had a career-best 36 points in 75 games last season for the Coyotes and has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.

His previous contract was a three-year deal with an average annual value of $1.15 million. But he’s also coming off surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his left knee, according to azcentral.com. In April, it was expected he could be out at least six months.

“I know he’s running well and moving pretty well,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka, as per azcentral.com. “ … He’s a big part of our blue line, so we’re hoping to get him back as soon as we can.”

However, when it comes to a new deal for Murphy, it appears there is some distance between the two sides.

From Arizona Sports 98.7:

While Chayka said the tenor of talks with Murphy has been good, Murphy’s agent, Brian Bartlett, said on July 18 that he was uncertain when a deal might be struck, and he reiterated on Saturday that nothing has changed in those negotiations.

“I hope we are close,” he wrote via text message last week. “Still have a gap to bridge, but confident we will get it done eventually. Could wrap up with one phone call but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to get on the same page.”

Murphy is a Coyotes first-round pick from 2011. His entry-level contract, with its AAV of more than $1,075 million, is expired.

He appeared in 78 games for the Coyotes last season, increasing his point total from seven in 73 games in 2014-15, to 17 points in the 2015-16 campaign.

Blues’ Allen says he still needs to prove he’s a ‘legit’ No. 1 goalie

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) is scored on by the Edmonton Oilers during second period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The goaltending roles in St. Louis have been clearly defined this summer. Jake Allen is the No. 1 netminder and Carter Hutton, a free agent acquisition, is the No. 2.

For the past two seasons, especially, Allen and Brian Elliott were both counted on to shoulder the goaltending duties, but the platoon scenario was ended when Elliott was traded to Calgary last month.

Allen recently commented on what was a positive working relationship between himself and Elliott, but seemed relieved that the leash may not be as short as it may have been in the past if he has an off night.

“It was tough to make mistakes when Brian was around because one game — you had a bad game — he was right back in the net and vice versa with him and me,” said the 25-year-old Allen, as per a video on the Blues’ website.

“I think you get a little bit more leeway, I guess, now. But not a whole lot. Carter’s a great goalie and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him.

“I feel that I had to etch myself into the league consistently. Now that I’ve done that, I still have another place to go and prove I’m a legit No. 1 guy.”

Allen just wrapped up only his second full NHL season.

The highest number of starts he’s made in a single season at the NHL level is 44 — in the 2015-16 season.

Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong said in June that Allen lost the crease, with Elliott taking it over with his strong play down the stretch and in the playoffs. He also made it clear Allen would have to battle to get it back in September. That changes to some degree now that Elliott is no longer in St. Louis.

Hutton, 30, was the back-up in Nashville, but made a career-high 34 starts in the 2013-14 season, posting a .910 save percentage.

Eberle: ‘We haven’t made the playoffs … and something needed to change’

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 06:  Jordan Eberie #14 and Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates after Eberie scores a goal 10 seconds into the game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion at San Jose on March 6, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators continues to make waves. That will probably be the case right up until the start of the season and beyond.

On that same late-June day, however, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by sending Taylor Hall, who four times in his young career has hit the 20-goal plateau, to New Jersey for right-shot defenseman Adam Larsson, who isn’t likely to be mistaken for a dynamic offensive blue liner.

It, too, is a deal that’s considered a major victory for one team — in this case, the Devils.

In trading Hall, the Oilers gave up a dynamic forward, although they certainly had a plethora of skilled forwards, and their need to make upgrades to their blue line, made it necessary to part with a player up front.

Hall and Jordan Eberle — now his former Oilers teammate — broke into the league with Edmonton in the same year, back in 2010-11. But despite an increase in talent up front, with four first-overall picks in a six-year span, Edmonton really hasn’t been close to competing for a playoff spot in years.

Eberle, with 425 games with the Oilers through some difficult times, at first said in an interview with the Andrew Walker Show that he couldn’t comment on the deal, but eventually admitted something had to give when it came to Edmonton’s quest to land a d-man, which led GM Peter Chiarelli to make the deal.

“Obviously I think he recognized there was an area on our team we needed to improve and maybe we had a surplus of forwards and it was something he needed to do,” Eberle told The Andrew Walker Show.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we haven’t made the playoffs … and something needed to change, whether it was Taylor or whoever.

“I think Taylor will do very well in New Jersey and I think we significantly increased our blue line. I think that’s definitely going to help us in a tough Western Conference.”

Related:

Oilers GM justifies Hall trade, even if Larsson isn’t a ‘sexy defenseman’ 

Why are the Oilers still bad? Look at their drafting

The ECHL would have an ‘open mind’ if Las Vegas NHL team wanted Wranglers name

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  (l-r) Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and Bill Foley celebrate the admittance of a new NHL franchise during the Board Of Governors Press Conference prior to the 2016 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The search for a general manager has been over for a while, the successful candidate in place. However, the Las Vegas NHL franchise is still looking to name its team. That search is still ongoing.

With its first season in the league set for 2017-18, the Las Vegas franchise has run into some trade mark issues with potential names, much to the dismay of owner Bill Foley.

One possibility could be the ‘Wranglers’ — the name of the former Las Vegas ECHL franchise, which officially folded in January of 2015.

However, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the ECHL still owns the rights to the name ‘Wranglers.’ The report also stated that the team does have a temporary logo — the NHL shield with ‘Las Vegas’ written underneath. Again. Only temporary.

“I have not been approached by either Mr. Foley or by the NHL,” ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“We own all the names of all the teams that have played or are playing (in the ECHL). Frankly, I would be surprised to hear from them now. But if they called to say they were interested in reviving the Wranglers name in Las Vegas, we would have an open mind about it. We always liked the name and the logo and the way they built up the brand in the community.”

Meanwhile, the people of Las Vegas have had their say on team names.

According to a bracket posted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the name ‘Outlaws’ emerged as the favorite among the people after the polls, which the newspaper admits are completely unscientific.

The Las Vegas Visitors didn’t make it out of the first round…

Related:

McPhee wants Las Vegas team to compete right away; history says it won’t be easy

Report: Las Vegas NHL team asked permission to speak with Capitals assistant GM