Mikhail Grigorenko

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Rangers sign KHL d-man Bereglazov

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New York added some defensive depth on Friday, agreeing to terms with Russian blueliner Alexei Bereglazov.

Bereglazov, 23, has spent the last few seasons with KHL club Metallurg Magnitogorsk, including a ’16-17 campaign in which he scored 19 points in 60 games. He led all d-men aged 24 or younger in assists, with 18.

Despite being passed over at the draft, Bereglazov had a good junior career, highlighted by capturing bronze for Russia at the 2014 World Juniors. He finished with two points in seven games in the tourney, playing alongside the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Ivan Barbashev and his new Rangers teammate, Pavel Buchnevich.

It’ll be interesting to see where he fits in New York next season. The club has seven blueliners under contract — Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, Nick Holden, Brady Skjei and Steve Kampfer — with Brendan Smith a pending UFA, and Adam Clendening a pending RFA.

 

‘Not much positive’ to take from Avs’ miserable season

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DENVER (AP) Defenseman Erik Johnson neatly summed up the Colorado Avalanche’s dreary season.

“Not fun,” he said. “Don’t want to go through it again.”

Here’s how far the Avalanche tumbled: Their 48 points were the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers had 39. Colorado was pretty much out of the playoff race by Christmas.

Now, the real work begins for Hall of Fame forward-turned-general manager Joe Sakic. Colorado will have a high draft pick – maybe even the top pick – but some big decisions to make. Namely, whether or not to completely overhaul this team by possibly trading captain Gabriel Landeskog or forward Matt Duchene after a third straight season of missing the playoffs.

“I want to be here and figure this thing out,” Landeskog said. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to be here and build this thing, because this is truly rock bottom.”

The season got off to a rough start before it even began when Patrick Roy surprisingly stepped aside in August. Taking his place was first-time NHL coach Jared Bednar.

Colorado’s unraveling started in late November, when the team went 0-4-1 on a homestand. Soon after, the Avalanche endured a 2-18-1 stretch. They finished 61 points behind Central Division winner Chicago.

“It shouldn’t happen, with the players we have here. It’s unacceptable to have as many losses as we did,” defenseman Francois Beauchemin said.

Asked about any positives he can take from such a downtrodden season, Beauchemin paused.

“I can’t think of anything,” he said. “There’s not much positive.”

Well, maybe a few things, like the development of 19-year-old Tyson Jost, who was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2016, signed a three-year entry contract on March 29 and scored his first NHL goal last week. Or the play of Mikko Rantanen, the Finnish forward who earned his 20th goal in the season finale.

“We have a lot of good, young players coming up,” said the 21-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who led the team with 53 points and played in all 82 games. “It’s going to take some work, but I think the future is bright.”

Colorado has a 17.9 percent chance of earning the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft lottery and won’t finish lower than fourth. The team also has until Aug. 15 to negotiate a deal with University of Denver standout defenseman Will Butcher, who recently won the Hobey Baker Award and a national championship. He was a fifth-round selection by Colorado in 2013.

Johnson doesn’t think this team is all that far from being a contender again.

“It’s not like we re-gutted it and took on a new team. It’s just one of those years,” said Johnson, who missed 36 games with a broken leg. “Just have to hit the reset button and come back hungry and remember what this feels like.”

Related: Fixing the Avs won’t be easy

Here are things to know about the Avalanche’s worst full season since moving to the Mile High City in 1995-96:

RUMORS, RUMORS: Duchene’s name will surface in trade speculation this offseason – just like it did at the trade deadline. “Whatever happens, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be an Av,” said the 26-year-old Duchene, who moved into the top 10 this season in franchise scoring. “We’ll see what happens.”

HARD TO FATHOM: Colorado was in contention for a playoff berth down the stretch in 2015-16, so the sudden deterioration is a surprise. “They’ve got some great talent there. To me, it’s a mystery why they’ve not had the success they should’ve had,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NO EASY ANSWER: One quick fix to get the Avalanche back on track? Probably not that simple. “We’ve proven we can play some good hockey at times,” Bednar said. “We have to get there more consistently.”

VARLY’S RETURN: In 2013-14, goaltender Semyon Varlamov was a candidate for the Vezina Trophy after a 41-win season. This season, Varlamov was limited to 24 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery in late January. “I’m looking forward to getting a fresh start in September,” he said. There’s a chance Varlamov could be left unprotected by the team in the upcoming expansion draft with Las Vegas set to join the league.

FREE AGENTS: The Avalanche’s most notable unrestricted free agents are John Mitchell, Rene Bourque and Fedor Tyutin. The restricted free agents include Matt Nieto, Mikhail Grigorenko, Patrick Wiercioch, Nikita Zadorov and Sven Andrighetto.

Sakic has major challenge in trying to turn around Avalanche

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There was a theory heading into the 2016-17 season that there wouldn’t be a truly terrible team in the NHL.

It was a reasonable theory, given there wasn’t a draft-eligible player like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews to be intentionally bad for.

But that theory’s been blown out of the water by the Colorado Avalanche, who could end up being the worst team of the salary-cap era.

The Avs lost their fifth straight last night, falling 4-1 to the Flames while getting outshot 37-18. They’re now 12-25-1, for a points percentage of just .329.

Here are the 10 worst teams of the salary-cap era, based on points percentage:

worst

You’ll also see this year’s Arizona Coyotes on the list. They’re pretty bad themselves.

But the Avs are worse, and this is not a team that’s trying to be bad.

The 2013-14 Sabres, on the other hand, had officially entered their tear-it-down rebuild. They traded Thomas Vanek to the Islanders in October, receiving Matt Moulson, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick in return. They’d already dealt away Jason Pominville in a similar kind of trade.

“I understand our fan base and I would like to think that people will give up some suffering in order to win a Stanley Cup,” said then-GM Darcy Regier.

The Avalanche don’t have the same excuse. In 2013-14, they looked like a team on the rise, winning the Central Division to everyone’s surprise. But then they lost center Paul Stastny to free agency, watching him walk away for nothing to the St. Louis Blues. Not too long after, they traded away another top center, sending a disgruntled Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher.

Zadorov, Grigorenko, and Compher are all still young, but as of right now, that is not looking like a good trade for Colorado.

Frankly, nothing is looking too good for the Avs these days.

“We made stupid mistakes again,” said forward Joe Colborne after last night’s loss in Calgary. “We keep talking about it and we don’t execute.”

The story of their season.

Now, to be fair, the Avs do have some reason for optimism. Mikko Rantanen, the 10th overall pick in 2015, is only 20 and he should be a good player. Tyson Jost, the 10th overall pick in 2016, is only 18, and he too has great potential. Heck, Nathan MacKinnon is still just 21.

But in terms of blue-chip prospects, there isn’t a whole lot after the three forwards: Rantanen, Jost and Compher. And it’s the blue line that most badly needs an upgrade, which is why it’s being reported that GM Joe Sakic may be willing to trade Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog for a young d-man.

It’s a heck of a challenge for Sakic, who doesn’t want to make a panic move and risk making things even worse. The Avs have so far to go before they’re competitive again. They can perhaps take solace in the turnaround we’ve seen in Columbus, but the Blue Jackets’ “engine” is their young, talented back end, and in Colorado, that’s the biggest weakness.

It’s a weakness for a reason. The Avs have not drafted a d-man in the first round since 2011, when they took Duncan Siemens 11th overall. And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s going to pan out. Before Siemens, the last d-man they took in the first round was Kevin Shattenkirk, all the way back in 2007.

And so, when Erik Johnson was lost to injury a month ago, the Avs were in serious, serious trouble. Their six defensemen last night were Fedor Tyutin, Tyson Barrie, Francois Beauchemin, Cody Goloubef, Patrick Wiercioch, and Zadorov.

Bottom line: that is not even close to a serviceable defense in today’s NHL.

How Sakic goes about fixing it remains to be seen.

It is a bad situation in Colorado, and there are no quick fixes in this league.

Related: Avalanche claim Nieto, who’s ‘definitely an NHL player’

Stars win third straight to move into wild-card spot

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DALLAS (AP) Tyler Seguin feels like the Dallas Stars have been getting better for some time. They finally have a streak that shows that.

Seguin had two goals and an assist and the Stars beat the lowly Colorado Avalanche 4-2 on Thursday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

“Definitely, it’s something that we’ve been needing, and obviously not enough yet,” Seguin said. “We’re making strides. It’s about playing all together. Got over the hump of two wins in a row. Got three, and want to keep going.”

After being the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season, the Stars are nearly halfway through this season — and moved up into eighth place with their latest win.

“Winning’s a lot of fun, so we’re going to try and keep this going,” said Jamie Benn, their captain who had three assists.

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Seguin’s 12th goal of the season, a one-timer from the middle of the left circle on a pass from Benn, put the Stars up 2-0 in the first period. He added his 13th into an empty net in the closing seconds.

Seguin and Benn assisted on Jamie Oleksiak‘s wrister from the right circle for a 3-1 lead early in the second period, right after Benn had a shot ricochet off the crossbar.

The Stars are 4-0-1 their last five games, and have won five of seven.

“We’ve played pretty sound hockey for a good period of time,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’re getting more and more guys on the scoreboard, getting our key guys, our big guys are scoring.”

Colorado has won only three of its last 17 games, and has the NHL’s worst record at 12-22-1.

“We just got to keep going, keep digging in and try to win some hockey games,” coach Jared Bednar said.

Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped 13 of 14 shots before coming out of the game with 15 minutes left because of NHL concussion protocol after being barreled over by Jarome Iginla. Lehtonen was back on the bench before end of the game and Ruff said he was OK.

Antti Niemi took over in net, and about 2 1/2 minutes later gave up Mikhail Grigorenko‘s goal off a rebound that got the Avs within a goal.

Calvin Pickard started in goal for Colorado had 30 saves while Semyon Varlamov missed another game because of a groin injury.

Matt Duchene got his 400th career point late in the first period when he scored his 13th goal of the season. The net was open with Lehtonen out of position after another shot slipped under his pads. But Duchene was then shoved from behind by Radek Faksa and fell backward on the ice after his face hit the crossbar.

Duchene, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft by Colorado, became only the second member of that draft class to reach 400 NHL points. The other is New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who was the first overall pick that year and reached 400 points late in the 2014-15 season.

“I didn’t really think about it much. It’s obviously nice to get there and get that out of the way,” Duchene said. “It’s something that maybe I’ll enjoy later on in the year or after the season’s over, but it’s never really anytime to celebrate when you lose a game.”

 

Avs to healthy scratch Grigorenko for first time this season

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Earlier today, we passed along news of Nikita Zadorov responding — positively — to Colorado making him a healthy scratch.

Now, the Avs are doing the same with another key piece acquired in the Ryan O'Reilly trade.

Mikhail Grigorenko, who has six points while appearing in all 18 games this year, will be parked in the press box when Colorado hosts Edmonton this evening, per the Denver Post.

Grigorenko got off to a reasonably solid start this year, scoring four points in his first seven games, which included a season-high 16:48 of ice time in a win over the Bolts. But things have tailed off in November — he’s failed to crack 10 minutes played in three of his last four games, which included just 9:32 in Monday’s win over the Jackets.

It’s a bit surprising that head coach Jared Bednar would tinker with a winning lineup. Colorado has won back-to-back games for just the second time this year, and is about to embark on a five-game homestand that runs through Dec. 3.

It looks as though Joe Colborne — a healthy scratch against Columbus — will draw back into the lineup tonight.