Blues captain Backes on Halak: ‘Best I’ve ever seen him’

The St. Louis Blues came into this year challenging Jaroslav Halak to take the No. 1 goaltending gig and run with it.

He’s accepted the challenge so far — and then some.

Halak’s a perfect 3-0-0 with a .948 save percentage and 1.33 GAA, earning high praise from his captain, David Backes.

“Best I’ve ever seen him,” Backes told NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “He’s dialed in, he’s competing and his work ethic every day — even at practice — is up a few notches.”

Over the past two seasons, St. Louis has been content with the one-two goalie punch of Halak and Brian Elliott. For the most part, it’s served the team well — Halak and Elliott combined to win the Jennings in 2011-12 for fewest goals allowed and backstopped the Blues to consecutive playoff appearances.

But for this season, the timeshare was nixed.

As per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Blues pushed Halak to be their No. 1:

The Blues believe Jaroslav Halak has to be their man. Gone in St. Louis is the politically correct spin that the Blues have two capable netminders and both will battle for starts.

The Blues have made a collective, organizational decision that this season is Halak’s to win or lose. They’re handing him the keys, perhaps for the last time, being that Halak is a UFA after the season.

Halak rededicated himself in the offseason, staying in St. Louis to focus on his workouts instead of going home overseas, and showing up to camp dropping his body fat from 14 percent to 8 percent.

And just in case there were any lingering questions about who’s net it is in St. Louis, the Blues are giving Halak his fourth consecutive start on Saturday against the Rangers.

According to head coach Ken Hitchcock, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Halak starts six straight to begin the year, though that’ll depend on if he can continue his hot play.

Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

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We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

“I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

Under Pressure: Ryan Murray

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

The Blue Jackets were naturally hoping for great things when they took Ryan Murray with the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but he’ll turn 24-years-old in September and so far he hasn’t consistently lived up to those early expectations.

To be sure, he’s had some bad luck along the way. He suffered a torn labrum while playing in the juniors during the 2012-13 campaign and in the years that’s followed he’s been limited at times by knee and ankle problems. Most recently he missed the last 15 games of the regular season and the Jackets’ playoff run due to a broken hand.

Injuries haven’t been Murray’s only issue though. While they’ve resulted in setbacks along the way, when he was healthy last season he still wasn’t living up to expectations. Seth Jones, David Savard, Jack Johnson, and rookie phenom Zach Werenski served as Columbus’ defensive core while Murray was relegated to more of a supporting role.

That top-four core isn’t particularly old either as Johnson is the most senior member at the age of 30. Johnson is on the final season of his contract, but unless the Blue Jackets can’t re-sign him, Murray has no simple path back into prominence. He’ll have to get there through merit alone and he’ll want to demonstrate his ability to do so this season given that he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

“It’s a big summer for Ryan; for him and for us,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson noted to the Columbus Dispatch in April. “He knows it. We’ve had good talks with him. He’s had good talks with our strength and conditioning people, our doctors.

“He’s a good hockey player, and we’ve seen some good things from him. He’s had bad injury luck without question, but he’s going to overcome that. He’s at the age now where he’s not a young pup.”

Players at his age are still typically regarded as having upside, but also beginning to transition away from the point where they’re regarded as prospects. There won’t be many more years where Murray will be looked at as a potential top defenseman if he doesn’t force himself into that role soon.

Alfredsson left front office job with Sens to be ‘stay-at-home dad for a while’

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Many people were surprised to see Daniel Alfredsson leave his role as senior advisor of hockey operations with the Ottawa Senators.

The reason for his departure was unclear at the time (he walked away in July), but he finally spoke to the Ottawa Sun during a golf tournament on Monday.

“I have a couple of projects on the go, but nothing major,” said Alfredsson, who added that he wants to be a “stay-at-home dad for a while.”

“Once school starts, it’s full on with activities with the kids. We’re moving into a new house here in the fall, so we have a lot of planning to do with that. So, it’s going to be a quiet year for me, overall.”

The 44-year-old, who has four boys, is moving into a new house in Ottawa, and says the family will live there for the foreseeable future.

Despite stepping away from the NHL for now, he also admitted that he wouldn’t mind jumping back into a team’s front office if the right opportunity presented itself.

“If that opportunity would come back again, I would look at it very hard. It’s what I know best. It’s what I love, as well. I can see that in the future at some point. But when, I don’t know.”

Alfredsson spent all but one of his 17 seasons playing for the Sens. He put up 444 goals and 1157 points in 1246 contests with Ottawa and Detroit.

Poll: Will the Blue Jackets get past the first round of the playoffs?

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

The Columbus Blue Jackets have made the playoffs three times in their franchise’s history, but they’ve never been able to make it out of the first round.

In 2009, when they were still in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. They scored one goal or less in three of four games.

During the 2014 postseason, they were tied 2-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Penguins, but they dropped Games 5 and 6, and they were eliminated.

Last spring, again, they went up against the Penguins. After a solid regular season, the Jackets dropped the first three games of the series before being knocked out in five.

Despite picking up 108 points during the regular season, Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen made some major changes in the off-season. They bought out Scott Hartnell, and they traded Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a draft pick for Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a draft pick.

There’s no doubt that Panarin adds another dynamic to the Jackets’ attack.

“Artemi Panarin was the best rookie in the NHL two years ago, a second team All-Star this past season and is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NHL,” Kekalainen told the team’s website. “There is a cost to adding a player like Artemi, as well as a very good NHL prospect in Tyler Motte, but we believe this is a very good move for our team.”

Panarin struggled to produce during the playoffs, but the entire ‘Hawks team seemed to be lacking in the scoring department. He finished the postseason with one assist and a minus-4 rating in four games.

The previous year, he managed to score seven points in seven playoff games, but the Blackhawks were still knocked out in the first round.

The 25-year-old will be surrounded by some other quality forwards on his new team. Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg are all expected to be back.

On defense, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, David Savard and Jack Johnson provide the Jackets with a solid top-4.

The biggest difference-maker is between the pipes, as Sergei Bobrovsky will look to win his second consecutive Vezina Trophy. Bobrovsky was outstanding throughout 2016-17, and if he can do it all over again, his team will be better for it.

With the Penguins and Capitals still strong options to win the division, any first-round matchup will be tough. Have the Blue Jackets done enough to make a run next spring?

It’s your turn to have your say. Vote in our poll and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.