Blues, Schwartz ‘significantly apart’ in contract talks, says agent

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Jaden Schwartz’s agent Wade Arnott told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford that the sides are “significantly apart” regarding contract negotiations as of Wednesday.

Such news is disquieting enough out of context, but when you consider recent negotiations between GM Doug Armstrong and other Blues players, this report seems that much more unsettling.

(Rutherford notes that more details are expected to emerge, so this post may be updated with further information. Perhaps we’ll get a more concrete idea regarding how far the two parties are apart?)

Playing hard ball

Earlier this summer, Vladimir Sobotka raised eyebrows by signing a deal in the KHL over what his agent claims was a $300K difference. Armstrong didn’t seem concerned about re-signing Schwartz in mid-July, yet training camps rapidly approach with no deal.

It’s not as if this summer is just an isolated incident; the team went through protracted negotiations with star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo before inking him to a deal on Sep. 13, 2013.

On the other hand, there are a few reasons why it’s not fair to totally dismiss Armstrong’s tactics.

Methods to the madness

For one thing, Schwartz is a lot like Ryan Johansen in that he saw such a leap in 2013-14 that it makes for a negotiating conundrum.

He managed a 25-goal, 56-point campaign (ranking right behind David Backes’ 57 points for fourth in team scoring) after generating 16 points in 52 games between the 2012-13 and 2011-12 seasons. The 22-year-old’s reps can argue that he’ll only produce at a higher level next season and beyond while the Blues would likely contend that he needs to prove that he can replicate (or improve upon) that effort before getting a heftier deal.

Losing Sobotka is obviously far from ideal, but Armstrong could also argue that his methods work more often than not. Paul Stastny carries the highest cap hit at $7 million per season, but most of the Blues’ core players are playing at or or below market value (Pietrangelo’s $6.5 million looks like a bargain when you consider how much P.K. Subban cost, for example).

Actually, cap concerns bring up one other big sticking point. Cap Geek estimates the Blues’ cap space at around $2.78 million, and while Armstrong can move a contract or two around (23 roster spots are currently represented in that estimate), the bottom line is that St. Louis only has so much breathing room when it comes to locking Schwartz back up.

Considering the variables at hand, it’s easy to see why there’s a gulf between the two sides. Still, the question remains: how long will this drag on?

Trade: Kings get Rieder, Wedgewood from Coyotes for Kuemper

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With the trade deadline inching closer the Los Angeles Kings made their second trade in as many weeks on Wednesday evening.

Let us take a look at the deal!

The trade: The Kings acquire Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood from the Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. Arizona is also retaining 15 percent of Rieder’s salary. He will be a restricted free agent after this season.

Why the Kings are making this trade: Let’s check in with Kings general manager Rob Blake for his take on the deal.

“We continue to look for opportunities to improve our team speed and Tobias will bring that dynamic to our club.”

Okay, that’s actually pretty important. A few days ago I wrote about how the Kings needed to hit the reset button on how they play because the league seems to have passed them by. They are not overly skilled. They do not have a ton of speed. They could use more in both areas.

Rieder, though having a really down year, could help improve that. He certainly improves the speed dynamic for the team and he seems to have the potential for a bounce back in Los Angeles because he is capable of more production than he has shown so far this season.

Kuemper has been great in a backup role this season so it’s a little surprising to see the Kings make that swap, but Rieder is at least an interesting addition.

Why the Coyotes are making this trade: That’s actually … a little bit of a mystery?

One potential angle on it is that Antti Raanta is an unrestricted free agent after this season while Kuemper is signed for two more years at a pretty cheap salary cap hit. The Coyotes make it sound like they still plan on keeping Raanta, but if nothing else this provides them with a little bit of insurance in case they can’t.

Here is Coyotes general manager John Chayka.

“Darcy is a big, talented goaltender who is having an excellent year. You need great goaltending in this league in order to be successful and with Antti and Darcy, we are confident that we have an excellent tandem for the future.”

Who won the trade? I like what it does for the Kings because they need someone like Rieder to step into their lineup. Someone fast, someone that still has the chance to score a bit more than they have shown this season. With Jonathan Quick locked in place for the foreseeable future Kuemper was never going to be anything more than a backup there so they did not really have to give up a significant piece.

Did the Coyotes give up on Rieder too soon? We will see.

[Related: Kings get Dion Phaneuf from Ottawa Senators]

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

U.S. women back looking for Olympic gold vs. archrival Canada

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — To three-time Olympian Hilary Knight, the thought of finally hoisting the gold medal means giving women’s hockey a big boost in the United States.

How big?

Huge.

”The U.S. wants to be No. 1 in everything, and I think we’ve all been raised as awesome competitors so at the end of the day we want a victory,” Knight said. ”We want to win, and that would be winning a gold medal.”

That’s the only shade of medal that has eluded the Americans since 1998, the last time they won it all in Nagano when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut. They took home a disappointing bronze from Turin in 2006 and silver from the past two finals – no loss more crushing than in 2014 in Sochi when Canada rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime.

Now the Americans have their latest chance at Olympic gold (Wednesday, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) against their archrival in a showdown Thursday that will include Marie-Philip Poulin, whose two goals snatched gold from U.S. hands in Sochi. She is back again as Canada’s captain.

”For me, it’s been a fairy tale for the last Olympics,” Poulin said. ”But it’s in the past now. It’s a new Olympics, and we have to bring our best game and go from there.”

This game once again features the only two nations ever to win Olympic gold.

Nothing less than a fifth straight gold medal is expected in the country that created the sport, and the Canadians have won the past four Olympic gold-medal games. Only the United States in basketball has dominated a women’s team sport more thoroughly with its streak of six straight golds.

The Canadians haven’t lost even a single Olympic game since the 1998 Nagano final won by the United States. Their streak stands at 24 consecutive games, including a 2-1 win over the United States to cap pool play a week ago. They’ve also won five straight over the Americans, including four exhibition victories in December prepping for the Olympics.

”Maybe I’m biased, but one of the best rivalries in sports and especially in our game,” said Canadian forward Emily Clark, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. ”So we obviously have a lot on the line, mostly pride. All of us are going to bring our best game.”

Yet the Americans have owned the world championships, winning the last four and eight of the last 10. That has only made the U.S. drought at the Olympics all the more noticeable and makes this game even more special.

”It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little,” said U.S. forward Dani Cameranesi. ”So it means a lot, and to be here with this group of girls and to be with them all year has really been an honor.”

The 10 Americans who lost the final in Sochi have left that game in the past. No need to waste energy dwelling on such a heartbreaker when the chance at history is at hand. Cameranesi is among 13 Americans on the roster at their first Olympics, so Sochi is just a game they may have watched on TV.

”We’re in South Korea, and it’s 2018 and you want a different result,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said . ”They’ve put a lot of energy and focus into transforming things that they needed to get better at, and that’s now. You drop the puck, see what happens.”

When the Americans and Canadians play, it’s essentially a heavyweight bout even if nobody drops the gloves.

”Every single time we play them, it’s a big game,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. ”You know the crowds there, people. There’s always pressure every single time when you represent your country and you play best on best competition. I think it’s something that we’re used to.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Olympic sensation Tolvanen may make Predators even deeper

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Watch out NHL teams, Eeli’s coming. Eeli Tolvanen, that is.

At least, that appears to be the plan for the Nashville Predators, as assistant GM Paul Fenton told Craig Custance of The Athletic (sub required) that they expect to bring in Tolvanen once his KHL “out clause” kicks in following his season with Jokerit.

“We’ll have a contract in place to be able to execute and have him come over here,” Fenton said. “That’s the plan. Funnier things have happened. I don’t want to say 100 percent. I never do that in our business. Yes, our plan is to have him.”

Now, depending upon whom you ask, the “funnier things” might involve a trade … although the odds seem pretty low on that, as Custance notes:

OK, so let’s assume that Tolvanen isn’t the one who’s traded. There’s the possibility, mind you, that Tolvanen’s emergence and Mike Fisher’s hopeful return might force a bit of a logjam, or at least a theoretical one. Maybe GM David Poile would use that anticipated influx of even more depth to make an upgrade?

(Dobber Hockey discusses how Jokerit’s work in the KHL playoffs also complicates when Tolvanen might be able to arrive in North America. Short version: Predators fans will probably root against Jokerit for at least a few weeks.)

It’s dizzying stuff to jump into all of the possibilities, especially if you’re like TSN’s Travis Yost, who ponders potential reverberations in a possible Seattle expansion draft:

/Needs a second to sit down and allow brain to heal.

OK, so all of that is important, but let’s take a moment to bask in the gloriousness of what might be another talented player added to a fun Predators roster already brimming with depth and skill. (Custance describes the Predators as “salivating” over clips from Tolvanen at the 2018 Winter Olympics.)

The beautiful thing about the Finnish 18-year-old, who was almost instantly heralded as a steal as the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, is that he’s checking just about all the boxes.

While his Finnish team fell to Canada and were eliminated in the quarterfinal today, he was absolutely sensational. Quick reference: when you’re getting mentioned in the same breath as vintage Eric Lindros, you’re probably doing something very, very right.

Of course, five games is a small sample size, and the talent on hand during the 2018 Winter Olympics was a mixed bag.

The Predators must be heartened, then, to see Tolvanen produce in the KHL. He currently has 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 47 games. That ranks Tolvanen second on his team in scoring, just one point behind former Canucks and Rangers forward Nicklas Jensen, who’s collected his 35 points in 52 games.

He made quite the splash right off the bat, becoming the youngest player to net a hat trick in the KHL:

Ultimately, the Predators enjoy an embarrassment of riches, with the luxury of bickering over whether they should keep the promising prospect or move him in a Rick Nash trade. The stakes are high when you’re aiming for a Stanley Cup, yet it’s also remarkable just how loaded the Predators are from their roster to their farm system.

While Poile and the Predators giggle about the possibilities, the rest of the NHL lets out more of a nervous laugh. Or at least they probably should.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Amid Karlsson trade rumors, Ryan to return for Sens

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During Tuesday’s Insider Trading segment on TSN, Bob McKenzie noted that to trade for Erik Karlsson, a suitor might need to assume the mammoth contract of Bobby Ryan. Ryan, 30, hasn’t played since Feb. 1 and has been limited to 39 games this season because of hand/wrist injury issues that have been plaguing him for years.

Remarkably, a day after that report surfaced, it sounds like Ryan might make his return to the Senators lineup. The current plan is for Ryan to suit up for Ottawa on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to reporters including TSN’s Brent Wallace.

There are a number of remarkable things about this development.

Obviously, the timing stands out, as this comes on the heels of that report, not to mention less than a week before Feb. 26’s trade deadline. It’s even amusing that Ryan is slated to face the Lightning, a team that may very well decide that it’s worth it to go all-in and acquire Karlsson, even if it means taking on Ryan. Surely getting a look at him, up close and personal, wouldn’t hurt matters?

(Allow me to think out loud: if Ryan Callahan‘s $5.8 million was involved as well, would that grease the wheels a bit?)

There are a few ways things can go for Ryan.

LTIR bound?

For one thing, it’s difficult to ignore the possibility that the once-potent sniper might go the way of the LTIR mainstay, much like Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, and others before him. The Athletic’s Chris Stevenson went into exhaustive detail regarding the rather confusing scenarios for Ryan possibly being LTIR material here (sub required).

Even if Ryan’s fated to go on LTIR – which might be a necessity for a contender that already has big commitments, considering the fact that his $7.25M cap hit won’t expire until after 2021-22 – the Lightning or some other team might want to see what he can do now. Assuming they can make the cap hits work in 2017-18.

More in the tank?

It’s easy to forget that Ryan isn’t that far removed from some impressive goal-scoring days.

His last 20+ goal season came as recently as 2015-16, when he collected 22 in 81 games. He basically averaged 20 goals through his first three seasons in Ottawa, as Ryan totaled 63 from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

Ryan showed flashes of that brilliance during the Senators’ remarkable run within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He managed six goals and 15 points in 19 playoff games, including a brilliant OT-winner against the Penguins:

For once, the bounces were going Ryan’s way, as he enjoyed the best playoff work of his career and connected on 28.57 percent of his shots on goal. So, yes, those results were inflated … yet they came during the 2017 postseason. If healthy, is that unreasonable to imagine Ryan posting nice numbers in Tampa Bay and becoming more than just a throw-in? Could he help even if his injury luck continues to come and go?

If Ryan was forced to be part of a Karlsson trade, the dream scenario for the Lightning or another contender might be something like Clarke MacArthur‘s 2017 playoff run with Ottawa. Maybe Ryan contributes to a postseason push, then lands on LTIR?

One other thought

It’s important to note that trading Ryan wouldn’t necessarily be the best-case scenario for Ottawa. (It might be for owner Eugene Melnyk, mind you, as it’s basically an open secret that he’s very … cost-conscious at the moment.)

To accept Ryan’s contract – even at a discounted rate – a bidding team would likely give up less actual, beneficial pieces in a Karlsson trade. Perhaps ridding themselves off Ryan’s contract would cost the Senators a draft pick, prospect, or some other key piece? It’s certainly something to consider.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.