MIke Yeo

Minnesota welcomes back an old friend: The neutral zone trap

When you bring up the neutral zone trap to fans anywhere across the NHL, they immediately start having flashbacks to the days in the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s that saw the New Jersey Devils, among others, gain great success from employing the defense-first style of play.

One team that saw the trap more often than not was the Minnesota Wild. The Wild under coach Jacques Lemaire saw their greatest success with Lemaire in charge and slowing things down in the Western Conference. As things go with the hardcore neutral zone trap, the fans got bored of things and were eager for a change to add some excitement to their hockey-loving lives.

When Todd Richards replaced Lemaire, the trap was altered for the most part but the wins evaporated as well. Now with Mike Yeo in charge in St. Paul, the Wild are hoping to mix in the defensive strength and excitement of scoring goals and he’s going to do it by tweaking the trap. Michael Russo of The Star Tribune breaks the flashback-inducing news from Wild camp.

In the irony of all ironies, it’s Lemaire’s latest version of the aggressive neutral-zone forecheck that Yeo will deploy as the Wild coach and the one he unveiled during his exhibition debut behind the Wild’s bench Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.

“Now when I say trap, you’re not going to see a team where five guys are just backing up,” Yeo said. “Like, look at our team last year in Houston. I mean, how many people would say we were a boring team to watch? We trapped in the neutral zone, but we were aggressive in how we did it.”

And before you start freaking out, let’s be clear: The Wild is not returning to the trap. The Wild never stopped trapping.

The facts are simple. While fans bug out about the trap, the trap is employed by every team in the league in some way, shape, or form. The Bruins and Canucks both played variations of it to great, Stanley Cup finals-reaching success. For Wild fans, they’re still scarred from Lemaire’s days of success and boredom and they think that when a coach readily admits he’ll be breaking it out again it’ll be a return to what happened before.

Fortunately for Wild fans and NHL fans all over, teams can’t bog things down the same way as they used to. Obstruction is now a cardinal sin and power plays are too dangerous to hand out like candy. Trying to bog things down like you used to is seen as playing things too safe and in the current NHL, safe is death.

Sure Wild fans are going to be a bit bothered to hear about an old friend like the trap coming back, but with offensive weapons like Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in place as well as a healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the always steady Mikko Koivu, that defense can turn into offense really fast.

Of course, if things go south expect to see fingers get pointed often at the trap.

Flames’ Jokipakka (hip) might not play for Finns at World Cup

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Jyrki Jokipakka #3 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jyrki Jokipakka was one of the three Finnish d-men added to the World Cup roster last week but, according to Calgary president Brian Burke, Jokipakka isn’t a lock to play this fall.

“He had hip surgery after the season, and it’s not 100 percent that he’s going to be able to compete in this tournament,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Fan 960. “But the fact he was named recognizes his accomplishments to date, and we’re very proud of [him].”

Jokipakka, acquired in the Kris Russell-to-Dallas deadline trade, appeared in 58 games last year — 18 for the Flames, 40 for the Stars. He finished with two goals and 12 points.

Still only 24 years old, Jokipakka could be a nice piece for the Flames moving forward. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and was rated highly enough to crack the Finnish roster (granted, the country isn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline).

So it’s understandable why the club might be wary of letting him play in the World Cup. In addition to coming off major surgery, Jokipakka is headed into the last of a two-year, $1.8 million deal with a $900,000 average annual cap hit.

Once that expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

‘Yep,’ Letang will play tonight

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang will play tonight. He confirmed it this morning, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.

Letang did not participate in yesterday’s Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. He didn’t practice either. The Penguins said it was simply a “maintenance day” for their best defensemen, but when it was learned he would hold a press conference this morning, all of a sudden people started to wonder about his status for Game 1 against the Sharks.

He was asked if he was playing.

“Yep.”

So, no problems?

“Nope.”

And that was that.

No explanation was provided about yesterday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said a few minutes later that he was confident that Letang would be able to log his usual amount of minutes.

“Very confident,” said Sullivan.

Penguins center Nick Bonino also confirmed that he’ll be able to go tonight. He didn’t skate Saturday or Sunday, but was on the ice this morning.

Former NHLer Bulis calls it a career

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Center Jan Bulis #38 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Washington Capitals on December 23, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals won 4-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Jan Bulis, who appeared in 552 games with the Capitals, Canadiens and Canucks, announced his retirement from professional hockey today, per Czech news outlet Ceske Noviny.

Bulis, 38, last played in North America with Vancouver during the 2006-07 campaign, and has since carved out a pretty lengthy career in the KHL, playing for both Mytishchi Atlant and Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Picked 43rd overall by Washington at the 1996 draft, Bulis’ best years came with the Habs. He posted a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2005-06 — that year, he also represented the Czechs at the Winter Olympics in Turin (capturing bronze) and at the World Hockey Championships (capturing silver).

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.