Nieuwendyk says ownership issues aren’t affecting the Stars

The Stars will have plenty of adversity to face this season. They’ll look to replace their leading scorer and top-line center. They’ll look to rebound from a season that saw them waste a playoff opportunity on the final day of the season. And they’ll look to do it all while breaking in a brand new coach. All the sudden, the naysayers and doomsday predictors look like they may have a point. It looks like it could be an uphill battle for the boys from Big D.

But one thing that won’t hamper the Stars is their precarious ownership situation. It’s no secret that Tom Gaglardi has every intention of purchasing the Stars as soon as he can get approval from the courts and the debtors that are owned money in the bankruptcy case. All parties involve assume the sale will be settled sometime during the first half of the NHL season—in ownership time, that’s not bad at all. Just ask the Phoenix Coyotes. But until then, there was some concern that GM Joe Nieuwendyk and the Dallas Stars front-office would not be unable to make the moves they wanted to because of the delicate ownership situation. The fear was that the team wouldn’t acquire any additional payroll before the sale was completed and a new owner was in place.

Joe Nieuwendyk is here to ease all fears. GM Nieuwendyk told Fan 960 in Calgary that the drawn-out sale process hasn’t affected the Stars and what they’ve wanted to do this offseason (via ESPN Dallas):

“…Obviously we’re going through this sale process and it is taking probably longer than any of us had anticipated. It is moving. I know that speaking with the league this thing will get resolved this season, prior to Christmas. It’s just been a long process. The good thing is it hasn’t taken away from anything what our team has been able to do. We increased our budget and went after players that could fill roles on our team and help us. We added seven players this summer and I feel really good about our team. We’ve been able to keep our off-ice issues away from the locker room and I think the guys are excited about the upcoming season.”

There’s a difference between a team having their hands tied and being fiscally responsible. No team with an internal budget was going to be able to afford Brad Richards and his contract demands. Not only was it an exorbitant price tag for one player, but it also would have limited the resources for management to piece together a competitive 23-man roster. The Stars weren’t the only team that was out of the Brad Richards sweepstakes before July 1.

Just because the Stars failed to re-sign Richards doesn’t mean that they sat on the sidelines and watched as other teams snatched up free agents. All in all, the Stars acquired six new players to improve the team’s overall depth. None of the newcomers are going to make fans forget about Brad Richards, but they should help the Stars roll four lines for the first time in years. Michael Ryder, Vernon Fiddler, Sheldon Souray, Radek Dvorak, Adam Pardy, and Jake Dowell all were acquired by the Stars to help transform the Stars into the two-way team that new head coach Glen Gulutzen envisions next season.

The bad news is that even though the Stars increased their payroll this season, they still have the 25th ranked payroll in the NHL (they’ll most likely be 26th after Winnipeg re-signs Zach Bogosian). While there are contenders pressed firmly up against the salary cap, the Stars have a full roster and they’re still $14.4 million under the limit. Each team in the competitive Pacific Division has a more expensive payroll—even the budget conscious Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes. Again, it will be an uphill battle this season.

GM Joe Nieuwendyk may say that he’s been free to conduct business as usual—but fans in Dallas have to hope the budget will increase once the new owner is in place.

Fisher returns to Preds practice, but still not cleared

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Given the injuries Nashville’s sustained at center this postseason, Mike Fisher‘s presence at today’s practice was a welcome sight — regardless of his availability for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I feel pretty good,” Fisher told NHL.com after practicing for the first time since May 18. “I skated a few days here. Still not cleared, but it felt good to get out there with the guys.”

Fisher was knocked out of the Western Conference Final in Game 4, after taking a Josh Manson knee to the head. That, combined with the loss of Ryan Johansen to season-ending thigh surgery, whittled Nashville’s center depth down to Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissions, Vern Fiddler and Frederick Gaudreau.

Even though Fisher is pointless through 14 playoff games, his return would still be massive. In addition to serving as team captain, he was averaging just under 17 minutes per night prior to getting hurt, while winning 52 percent of his faceoffs.

He said his undisclosed injury feels “a lot better than it was a few days ago,” adding that his goal is to return for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Fisher took minimal contact at today’s skate, and worked on a line with James Neal and Harry Zolnierczyk.

Swedes have shown well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Filip Forsberg is having quite the spring for the Nashville Predators, setting franchise records with his eight goals and 15 points. He’s tied the team mark with at least a point in seven straight games.

Pontus Aberg scored the game-winning goal to put Nashville up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals, while defenseman Mattias Ekholm, has been smothering top lines all postseason. Viktor Arvidsson has 10 points, and his plus-13 rating ties him with Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell for second-best this postseason — behind Forsberg (plus-17).

All five of these players are Swedish. It has been a sweet postseason for players from a nation whose players once were derided for being soft and not able to handle the rigors of the NHL. In all, general manager David Poile has six Swedes on Nashville’s playoff roster as the Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 19-year history.

“I must admit we haven’t gone out of the way necessarily to get them to this point, but I’m thinking maybe we should,” Poile said. “They’ve certainly been key parts of our team.”

The Predators have lots of company in mining Sweden for talent. Defenseman Erik Karlsson is one of four Swedes playing for Ottawa in the Eastern Conference finals, while former Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist is one of three for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A check of NHL rosters shows 79 skaters and 10 goalies from Sweden played during the regular season, with 40 appearing in at least one playoff game.

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said Sweden has become a hockey power for a small country. Teammates with Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom in 1976 in Toronto, Carlyle saw the abuse directed at both.

“That was a little bit more barbaric or archaic times of hockey,” Carlyle said. “But that’s how much the game has grown, and it has become a world-class game. And these players are world-class players and now you’re looking at their contribution and the numbers that are in the NHL, it’s all a tribute back to those two players.”

Because of the time zone difference, Rakell said, it was pretty tough to watch NHL games when he was growing up. The best chance to watch hockey stars came during national team tournaments in Europe. Rakell, now 24, started watching more of the NHL when he got to junior hockey, though he also had a favorite.

“I was growing up in the same hometown as Mats Sundin, and he was pretty big in that small town I grew up in,” Rakell said of the 13-year NHL center. “So he was one of the guys I was looking up to and watching highlight videos.”

Pittsburgh forward Carl Hagelin said Thursday that it’s a very good time to be a Swedish hockey player, noting Sweden beat Canada 2-1 in a shootout Monday for the world hockey championship . Each NHL team seems have two or three Swedes on the roster.

Yes, they do keep track of their countrymen during the regular season. In the playoffs, all friendships are put aside.

“In the playoffs, you just play to win games,” Hagelin said.

Hagelin estimated a third of Sweden watched the world championship. Thanks to the internet and social media, it’s much easier to watch the NHL these days.

“There’s a lot of people watching us back home,” Aberg said.

Penguins forward Oskar Sundqvist agreed: “I know a lot of my friends stay up basically the whole night and watch games. I think it’s growing every day in Sweden, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger.”

Swedish hockey has become so strong that Carlyle said NHL scouts are visiting the country regularly. Making the jump to playing in North America has its challenges for young players. Pittsburgh drafted Sundqvist in 2012 when he was 19, and he stayed in Sweden for two full seasons before making his NHL debut last season. He spent much of this season at the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and now is 23.

“It’s not like you’ve got a one-hour car drive and get home with mom and dad,” Sundqvist said. “I have a lot to thank Pittsburgh for letting me stay in Sweden one more year and prepare to get ready for everything that is over here.”

A Swedish teammate means being able to relax and talk with each other in the same language. It’s also a little easier to get tips on what to do and not do to ensure a long stay in the NHL.

“Everybody wants to play here and everybody wants to make the best out of it if you ever get the chance,” Rakell said.

Blue Jackets sign USHL’s goalie of the year

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed goalie Matiss Kivlenieks to a three-year entry-level contract.

Kivlenieks was an undrafted free agent that a number of NHL teams were hoping to sign after his sterling season in the USHL.

The 20-year-old was originally planning to attend Minnesota State University next season, but he’s a professional now so that plan has changed.

From the press release:

Kivlenieks, 20, went 36-7-4-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and five shutouts in 49 games to help the Sioux City Musketeers capture the 2016-17 Anderson Cup as the league’s regular season champions. He was named the USHL’s Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year and to the First All-Star Team after leading the league in wins, GAA, SV%, shutouts (tied) and finishing second in minutes played (2,991).  

Next season, Sergei Bobrovsky will be the starter for Columbus, likely backed up by either Anton Forsberg or Joonas Korpisalo.

But Kivlenieks may get the chance to be other goalie in the AHL, behind either Forsberg or Korpisalo.

The Blue Jackets also have 23-year-old goalie Oscar Dansk in the system; however, he struggled last year (.903) in the Swedish league.

Related: Jackets loan Dansk to Swedish club

Your Pittsburgh-Ottawa Game 7 officials are…

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The men in stripes for tonight’s huge Eastern Conference final clash at PPG Paints have been unveiled.

Per Scouting The Refs, referees Wes McCauley (No. 4) and Dan O’Halloran (No. 13) will work the game, along with linesmen Brad Kovachik (No. 71) and Brian Murphy (No. 93).

It’s the first time McCauley and O’Halloran have worked together this postseason.

McCauley last worked this series in Game 5, Pittsburgh’s 7-0 blowout win over the Sens at home. O’Halloran worked the game prior.

McCauley is perhaps best remembered this postseason for his work in Game 3 of the Western Conference final, a 2-1 Nashville win in which three goals were called back — one Ducks marker because the net had been dislodged prior to the puck crossing the line, and two Preds tallies in the third period due to goalie interference.

O’Halloran was also involved in a controversial goal call (to be fair, almost every referee has this postseason). He and Kevin Pollack opted not to overturn Corey Perry‘s goal on Cam Talbot in Game 4 of the Ducks-Oilers series. You can read more on that, and see video, here.