NHL on NBC: Blues hope to position for Central Division crown by beating Red Wings

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NBC continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign today when the St. Louis Blues host the Detroit Red Wings at Scottrade Center at 12:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBC, you can watch the game online.

When the’s NHL’s schedule makers decided upon a season finale between historic (but no longer divisional or even conference) rivals, one can imagine that they were crossing their fingers that something big would be on the line for the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues.

St. Louis’ stakes

Just a week or two ago, most people probably would’ve gambled everything that this would be a glorious scrimmage for the Blues and a do-or-die skirmish for the Red Wings. Instead, both teams are already guaranteed spots in their respective conferences … but that doesn’t mean this game lacks importance.

Simply put, the Blues face this consideration: finish Sunday with more points than Detroit’s old nemesis the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis wins the Central Division (and takes on the Minnesota Wild in the first round). Fall short or tie the Avs – Colorado holds tiebreaker advantages – and the Blues must thwart the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks to avoid a first-round exit for the third season in a row.

With all due respect to the Wild, that situation provides plenty of incentive for the Blues to earn a win on Sunday. (The Avalanche face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.)

Banged-up Blues

Despite the significance of this game, the Blues won’t face the Red Wings with their full compliment of players, though head coach Ken Hitchcock explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it’s not necessarily by design.

“Anybody that can play is playing … anybody that can’t isn’t going to play,” Hitchcock said. “We’re playing that game to win and that’s going to be our attitude. Our roster is our roster, nobody is feeling sorry for us.

“But after the game is over, we’re going to move on quickly. It’s an important game. We’ve got to get a (win), but if we don’t, we’ve still got to get up Monday morning and find a roster to be able to play.”

Considering how Detroit got to this point, they can relate to that mentality.

Motivation to finish strong

Beyond that more pertinent motivation, the Blues and Red Wings would like to cut off recent struggles. Things are most glaring for St. Louis; they’re hoping to avoid finishing the season with a six-game losing streak in a 2013-14 campaign in which they don’t have any other losing streak that exceeds two contests. Detroit, meanwhile, has lost three of four games but finds itself firmly planted in a first-round series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

To some, seeing all 16 playoff teams clinched already may seem anticlimactic. Yet, with such important seeding on the line, hockey fans should find plenty to enjoy beginning with this game on Sunday.

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.