Motown message: Howard sits again, Gustavsson to start second straight

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On Monday, the Detroit Free Press wondered if Mike Babcock was trying to send a message to starting netminder Jimmy Howard with his not-so-subtle “the bottom line is the puck can’t continue to go in our net” remark.

On Tuesday, that speculation might’ve been proven correct.

The Red Wings announced that backup Jonas Gustavsson would make his second straight start on Wednesday vs. Boston — a decision that will result in “The Monster” playing four of Detroit’s last six games.

It’ll be interesting to see how this move is perceived.

On one hand, Babcock is riding the hot hand for a team needing wins — Gustavsson is 5-0-1 this season with a .926 save percentage and 2.35 GAA, while Howard is 5-7-6 with a .908 save percentage and 2.72 GAA. So it’s easy to make the case for going with the in-form netminder, as Gustavsson is coming off a 21-save win over Buffalo on Sunday.

On the other hand…

Howard is coming off a banner 2013 campaign, one in which he tied for the league lead in shutouts (five) before backstopping Detroit to within a game of knocking off eventual Cup champs Chicago. He’s the club’s clear-cut No. 1 and is in the first year of a six-year, $31.75 million extension, making him the 12th highest-paid goalie in the league.

According to Babcock, Howard is having a hard time living up to those expectations.

“We expect Howie to be a star,” Babcock said. “We expect that each and every night. All you gotta do is look at our team record. It hasn’t gone as good for him, but I think we’re in that all together. When you’re real organized in your own zone, it’s way easier for your goaltender to play real well.

“But I also think when you start pressing as an athlete and worrying about things you shouldn’t worry about, things don’t go your way.”

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.