Prust fights Rinaldo, Simmonds in wild Winter Classic preview

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If last night was any indication, there’ll be plenty of fireworks at the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic.

And Brandon Prust will be the one lighting the wick.

Prust wasted no time getting his Philly hate on Saturday night, dropping the mitts with Flyers center Zac Rinaldo a whopping four seconds into the Rangers’ 2-0 win:

After serving a five minute fighting major, Prust spent the next four minutes figuring out a further plan of attack. That plan (apparently) was to go after Wayne Simnmonds, who engaged in a jousting match with Sean Avery off the opening draw:

Those were Prust’s sixth and seventh fights of the season, moving him to third on the list of most active pugilists. (Zenon Konopka sits atop with nine, Jared Boll’s in second with eight.) All told, Prust racked up 17 penalty minutes in the first period — not bad for 1:27 of ice time.

“He does it for us all the time,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said following the game. “He’s not the biggest guy. Pound for pound, he has to be one of the toughest guys in the league.”

With Saturday’s game the first of two meetings prior to the Winter Classic (the Rangers will host the Flyers again on Dec. 23), both teams came in snarling. HBO aired a preview of 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic on Friday in which both teams expressed disdain for each other — disdain that quickly spilled onto the ice.

“We should probably start this with a tilt, eh?” Prust asked Rinaldo (as told to ESPN’s Katie Strang.) “We wanted to get the rivalry started and we both agreed it was a good idea.

“We just had a little chat. We made eye contact when we got out and it wasn’t too hard.”

If you’re planning to get up in arms about orchestrated violence and coaches sending players out with instructions to fight, consider what John Tortorella told the New York Daily News.

“It’s not up to me, it’s up to him. When I see their starting lineup, I put my starting lineup out,” Torts said. “Home team gets the last change, and it’s up to Pruster. He usually makes the right decisions there.

“He certainly did today.”

In conclusion, the Winter Classic is gonna be awesome.

Yakupov becomes UFA after Blues don’t extend qualifying offer

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Nail Yakupov, the first overall draft pick only five years ago, has become an unrestricted free agent.

The 23-year-old winger was not extended a qualifying offer by the St. Louis Blues, thus providing him UFA status. He played 40 games for the Blues in 2016-17, battling a knee injury and scoring just three goals.

Yakupov wants to remain in the NHL, saying in May he has zero plans to return to Russia. It’s possible he could re-sign with the Blues at a lower salary than his qualifying offer would’ve been.

If not, there are 30 other teams he can speak with now.

Yakupov is currently in the conversation with Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan in terms of biggest first overall busts in NHL history.

The Blues did extend qualifying offers to five players: defensemen Colton Parayko and Petteri Lindbohm, forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist, and goalie Jordan Binnington.

‘Hawks sign Forsberg, who should be Crawford’s new backup

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Anton Forsberg, the former Columbus goalie Chicago acquired in the Brandon Saad-for-Artemi Panarin blockbuster, has signed a two-year extension with the ‘Hawks.

Forsberg, 24, came to North America in the ’13-14 campaign and has spent most of his time with Columbus’ AHL affiliate. He helped the club capture the Calder Cup in 2016, and that performance was part of the reason Chicago GM Stan Bowman went out and acquired him.

In the aftermath, Bowman said Forsberg would get the “first crack” at the No. 2 gig behind Corey Crawford. The ‘Hawks have been without a backup since sending Scott Darling to Carolina.

While Forsberg is the favorite for the gig, he’s not a lock. He only has 10 games of NHL experience — a pretty small sample size — and lost out on a similar opportunity with Columbus. Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo were battling to be Sergei Bobrovsky‘s understudy, with Korpisalo eventually winning out.

In other Chicago news, the club gave depth forward Tomas Jurco a one-year extension today. Jurco was acquired from Detroit at last year’s trade deadline and appeared in 13 games for the ‘Hawks, scoring one goal. He didn’t dress for the club’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of Nashville.

No word yet on financials for either guy.

Wild extend d-man Olofsson — two years, $1.45 million

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Gustav Olofsson, the Minnesota defenseman taken in the second round of the ’13 draft, has signed a two-year, $1.45 million extension, per the Star-Tribune.

Olofsson was a restricted free agent, having just wrapped his entry-level contract. This new deal will pay him $725,000 per season and, importantly, it’s of the one-way variety.

The Star-Tribune reports Olofsson is expected to play in the Wild’s top-six defense next season, especially since GM Chuck Fletcher appears primed to trade one of Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella or Matt Dumba. Fletcher needs cap space to finalize new deals for RFA forwards Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

Speaking of contracts, the Wild opted against making a qualifying offer for d-man Christian Folin. This means he’ll be able to test free agency, though it’s reported Minnesota might try to re-negotiate with him as a UFA.

Selanne, Kariya, Andreychuk, Recchi headline 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class

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The Hockey Hall of Fame will welcome five players and two builders into its doors as part of the 2017 class.

Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Danielle Goyette were officially inducted as players on Monday afternoon, while former Canadian collegiate coach Clare Drake and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs were inducted under the builders category.

Overall it is an extremely impressive class of players. Selanne, Andreychuk and Recchi are all among the top-20 goal scorers in league history, while Goyette was a 10-time gold medalist for the Canadian women’s hockey team, including twice at the Olympics. Drake was the long-time coach of the University of Alberta Men’s ice hockey team, coaching the team to six University Cup championships in 28 years. He coached the Edmonton Oilers for one season in 1975-76 when they were still in the WHA. Overall his coaching career spanned 40 years at various levels of Canadian hockey.

Selanne’s induction seemed to be an obvious one, but for Andreychuk and Recchi it ends what were pretty lengthy waits to finally have their names called.

Prior to Monday’s announcement, Recchi, Selanne and Andreychuk were the only retired players in the top-30 of the NHL’s all-time points list to not already be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The only active players in that group are currently Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton, and both seem like locks to eventually get in once their careers end (Jagr certainly is a lock).

Pierre Turgeon, 31st all time with 1,327 points, is now tops among retired scorers to not yet be inducted into the Hall of Fame.