Niklas Kronwall

Red Wings, Niklas Kronwall hope to get started on a new contract soon

While things might get a little complicated once the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2011-12 season, the general rule is that it’s better for NHL teams to re-sign players before they hit free agency. That’s especially the case with players who are at least 27 years old because they can become unrestricted free agents and take advantage of weak markets to score bloated deals.

As Joe discussed in late July, the Detroit Red Wings’ next big salary cap commitment might be to hard-hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall. The 30-year-old blueliner’s contract is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $3.75 million with a $3 million cap hit. The Swedish defenseman is coming off the second best offensive season of his career with 37 points in 2010-11 (he had 51 in 08-09).

While fellow Swedish blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom took home the 2011 Norris Trophy, Kronwall’s role with the Red Wings is slowly expanding. Kronwall was second to Lidstrom in ice time during the regular season with 22:52 minutes per game, but he surpassed Lidstrom in playoff ice time with a team-leading 23:04 minutes per game.

With the creeping inevitability of Lidstrom’s retirement in mind, the Red Wings’ defense could be in a serious state of flux after the 2011-12 season. Brad Stuart and Mike Commodore’s contracts will also expire in July 2012, which means that Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White are the only defensemen who currently rank in the team’s top seven who already have contracts in place.

Of course, that situation becomes a lot more pleasant when you consider the possibility of adding a solid free agent or two (Ryan Suter, anyone?) or calling up one of the team’s prospects. The team will have a ton of cap space to work with with just under $35 million in cap commitments to 13 players as of this moment, so the situation isn’t dire – it’s just uncertain.

However they plan on filling some of those holes, it seems obvious that keeping Kronwall in the fold is still a smart plan for the team. That’s why the two sides are planning on hashing out the details soon, according to Ansar Khan.

“As an organization with the history and tradition of Detroit, I think anyone who is fortunate enough to have a chance to play here for many, many years would love to take that,” Kronwall said. “Hopefully, I can do the same.”

The Red Wings are likely to begin contract talks with Kronwall this month or shortly after the start of the season.

“Everyone knows I like it here a lot,” Kronwall said. “I want to stay. Hopefully, they want me to stay as well. So whenever they feel it’s the right time to start negotiating we’ll be ready for it.”

It would be pretty surprising if the Red Wings cannot come to terms with Kronwall, although there’s no guarantee that it will happen quickly. The one advantage to the situation dragging out a bit is that Kronwall would gain the natural boost of contract year inspiration, which might mean a big season. Of course, the double-edged sword to that situation is that a big season would give him a better chance at an even bigger payday.

Although Ericsson’s contract ranks as a rare exception, Red Wings GM Ken Holland is known for signing homegrown talent to enviably affordable deals. We’ll see if he can work his magic with Kronwall as well.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

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.”