Jori Lehtera

Lehtera to center Schwartz, Tarasenko; will be ‘contributing factor’ for Blues


Doug Armstrong is high on Jori Lehtera.

The Finnish center, who’d previously turned down St. Louis’ overtures before inking a two-year, $5.5M deal on Tuesday, is finally a member of the Blues — and, according to Armstrong, will be an impact player for the club.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The Blues have already penciled [Lehtera] in to center Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, who played with Lehtera in the KHL during the NHL lockout in 2012-13. 

“He’s a big body, 6-2, 210 — very, very soft hands, a very good passer,” Armstrong said. “He’s a guy that can find players. I watched him at the World Championships give some guys some back-door tap ins on the power play. He’s just an offensive players where his strengths are his passing skills.

“Having the opportunity to watch him play at the Olympics firsthand, watching all his games at the World Championships, talking to people I know from the Finnish Federation, there’s very little question he’s ready to step in and be a contributing factor in the NHL.”

For all the talk of center upgrades in Anaheim (Ryan Kesler) and Dallas (Jason Spezza), it’s tough to argue anybody had better improvement than the Blues, who made another splash on the opening day of free agency by landing Paul Stastny.

Put it this way: In last year’s opening playoff round against Chicago,St. Louis was at one point going Alex Steen-Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Maxim Lapierre down the middle, with Derek Roy shifting between wing and center (when he wasn’t a healthy scratch). With these latest moves, the club can now boast Stastny, Lehtera and Sobotka as its top three centers, with Steen and Berglund doing the flipping between the middle and wing.

It’s a big upgrade to be sure, one that had Armstrong already dreaming of line combinations for next season.

“[I’m thinking of] a scenario where Paul plays with Steen and (David) Backes,” he explained. “That gives us quite a bit of strength on the wing, on the size with Backes. And then you have  Berglund with Sobotka and maybe (T.J.) Oshie as another line.”

Sounds pretty good, huh?

Report: Kings, Richards nearing settlement

Mike Richards
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The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards may be nearing a settlement in their dispute over Richards’ terminated contract, TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting.

You can read the report for all the details, but we’re sure curious about this part:

If a settlement is reached, there’s no word yet on what salary cap penalties the Kings would still face. There’s bound to be something, but not likely as onerous as the full value of Richards’ contract, which carries with it a cap hit of $5.75 million. If there’s a settlement, Richards would undoubtedly become a free agent though there’s no telling at this point what monies he would be entitled to from the Kings in a settlement.

The issue here is precedent, and what this case could set. The NHL and NHLPA can’t allow teams to escape onerous contracts through a back door, and many are adamant that that’s what the Kings were attempting to do in Richards’ case.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?