Cam Tucker

AP

It’s Dallas Stars day at PHT

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The Dallas Stars entered last season with high expectations, but didn’t deliver.

They failed to qualify for the playoffs, finishing 11th in the Western Conference, forcing general manager Jim Nill to make several significant changes to not only the roster but the coaching staff.

The Stars fired coach Lindy Ruff and wasted little time hiring his replacement behind the bench — Ken Hitchcock. Dallas boasts a talented core with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin up front and John Klingberg on defense. Now, the question is how will the structure Hitchcock introduces impact this Stars team as it looks to get back into contention in the Western Conference, at a time when the franchise is in go-for-it mode?

Another priority was goaltending. Nill acquired the rights to Ben Bishop from L.A., and then signed him to a six-year contract extension worth $29.5 million in total, while buying out Antti Niemi.

The Stars also added Marc Methot, making a deal with Vegas to acquire the defensive minded blue liner.

After two years in Dallas, Patrick Sharp went to the open market and signed with his old team in Chicago. The Stars went out and signed center Martin Hanzal and landed prized free agent Alexander Radulov, who leveraged an impressive season with the Habs in his return from the KHL into a five-year, $31.25 million contract.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines surrounding the Stars heading into training camp.

USA, Canada preparing for NHL-less Olympics very differently

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Former Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins turned down offers to work in the NHL this season so he could be behind the bench for Canada at the Winter Olympics.

Tony Granato gets to keep his day job at the University of Wisconsin and still coach the United States.

Six months from the start of the Olympics in South Korea, picking coaches is just one of the many contrasts between Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. Their rosters will be more similar to each other’s than Russia’s star-studded group, but the two North American countries are embarking on drastically different approaches ahead of the February tournament that will be the first without NHL players since 1994.

Canada is taking no risks with its thorough preparation as it tries to win a third consecutive gold medal, while the United States sees a benefit in a less-is-more approach in trying to return to the podium.

“There’s no guarantee, so that’s why you get yourself prepared as well as you can,” Canada assistant general manager Martin Brodeur said.

Read more: Minor leaguers on NHL contracts can’t go to Olympics

The best way to prepare is a matter of opinion.

The U.S. and Canada will each rely heavily on professionals playing in European leagues and mix in minor leaguers on American Hockey League contracts . While Russia will likely have a team with former NHL stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Andrei Markov , who went home to join the Kontinental Hockey League, Canada has former NHL players like Derek Roy, Max Talbot, Mason Raymond, Kevin Klein and Ben Scrivens to look to in Europe. The U.S. has Nathan Gerbe, Keith Aucoin and former AHL goalies David Leggio and Jean-Philippe Lamoureux.

Because there are fewer experienced American players in Europe, the U.S. is far more likely to call on recent world junior and current college players, skewing younger at skill positions. Boston University’s Jordan Greenway and Denver’s Troy Terry, who led the U.S. to gold at the world juniors last year, could be among the selections.

Canada GM Sean Burke began preparing a year ago for a no-NHL Olympics, scouting to find potential fits to fill the positions previously held by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty and Carey Price. U.S. GM Jim Johannson began touching base with players on a serious level in June, after roster rules were set . He doesn’t plan to put a lot of mileage into in-person scouting over the next couple of months.

“In many cases we know what those players are,” said Johannson, who has been in charge of recent U.S. world junior and world championship teams. “I don’t think our goal is prior to December go running all across the world to see what do these guys got. Let their season get going.”

Canada has already gotten started as a group on the ice, playing this week in the Sochi Hockey Open and taking another group of prospective Olympians to St. Petersburg, Russia, next week for the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov. Those are the first two of five tournaments in which Canada will participate before the final 25-man team goes to Pyeongchang, along with the Karjala Cup in Finland in November, the Channel One Cup in Russia in mid-December and the Spengler Cup in Switzerland at the end of December.

Vice president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said Hockey Canada is “not starting at ground zero” and plans to fine-tune its Olympic roster over the next several months. That’s not all that will come together in those five tournaments.

“We will have a better understanding of the players we have, what system we can put in and adjustments we need before it starts,” said Brodeur, who serves as assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues.

Burke believes he’ll have a good idea of what Canada’s Olympic team will look like by the Moscow-based Channel Cup, which also includes teams from Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and South Korea.

“That’ll be the majority of our team that we’ll head into February with,” Burke said. “That’ll depend on guys, the way they play early in the season. Some guys may emerge. Other guys may drop off. But I do feel that when we get to December, we’ll have put enough work and enough effort into this to have narrowed what we think will be most of our Olympic team down.”

The U.S. has all its focus on November’s Deutschland Cup, which will be full of Europe-based pros and include teams from Russia, Slovakia and host Germany, as its only pre-Olympic tournament. Despite playing almost 50 pre-Olympic games for the U.S. in 1988 before the Calgary Olympics, Granato believes it’s a positive that the coaches and players will be able to continue with their regular teams with limited interruption.

Johannson considered a more comprehensive pre-Olympic schedule but ruled against extra evaluation time to balance out possible fatigue.

“The NCAA programs, to me, just do an unbelievable job of developing players,” Johannson said. “I don’t need to fly the guy across the world for an event when he’s going to get great competition that weekend at school and we know him as a player.”

Developing familiarity is a challenge for the U.S. and Canada, and Burke said team-building will get going right away. It’ll be easier for Canada than the U.S., so Granato expects he and his assistants will have to “get creative” to establish relationships with players – whoever they may be.

“We don’t want to leave any stones unturned,” Burke said. “We’re going to use all our resources. And we’re going to make sure that when we head to South Korea, we haven’t left anything to chance and we’re going to be as prepared as we can possibly be.”

Related: Ovechkin is still ‘hopeful’ he’ll participate in 2018 Olympics

‘I’m not too stressed’ about contract situation, says RFA Wennberg

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The Columbus Blue Jackets reportedly started talking contract extension with Alexander Wennberg in late March. Almost five months later, Wennberg is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

A restricted free agent, the 22-year-old center completed his entry-level deal with an annual average value of $1.4 million at the end of the 2016-17 season. He enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Blue Jackets, setting single-season career highs in games played (80), goals (13), assists (46) and points (59).

With training camp approaching next month, Columbus still has two prominent RFAs to get under contract. In addition to Wennberg, the Blue Jackets also have to re-sign 23-year-old winger Josh Anderson.

Wennberg apparently doesn’t seem too worried about the situation right now, based on an interview with NHL.com.

“Eventually it’s going to work out,” he said. “Even though I have to wait a little longer than expected, that’s a part of it. But you can’t really let that get to your head. Right now, I’m focusing on training and focusing on [this] season and it’s going to work out. Time will tell. I’m not too stressed out about it either.”

Wennberg’s performance this past season, as Columbus looked to fill the void in the middle without Ryan Johansen, earned high praise from coach John Tortorella, who called his young center “probably one of our best play-makers.”

Given his production, Wennberg is due for a raise. The more intriguing detail will be the length — long term, or bridge deal — of the contract.

“There’s always different ways to discuss,” he said. “Long-term, short-term. But right now, we’re just trying to feel each other out a little bit and see what the other [side] wants. Obviously long-term is a good option, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Lundqvist back skating after knee injury at World Championships

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Good news for the New York Rangers on Thursday.

After suffering a knee injury playing for Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Championships following the Rangers’ exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist has revealed to NHL.com that he has returned to the ice ahead of training camp next month.

It was initially reported that the injury would come with a rehab period of four to six weeks.

“I’ve been skating a few times now and I feel good,” Lundqvist told NHL.com.

“Obviously, I have some work ahead of me, but it’s a similar feeling. … When you step on the ice, that’s the time for me when I really ramp it up and increase the workload, and I enjoy that.”

Lundqvist turned 35 years old in March and is coming off an up-and-down 2016-17 campaign with the Rangers. He played in 57 games and posted a save percentage of .910, which is down from his career average of .920.

He has four more years remaining on his seven-year, $59.5 million contract that has an annual cap hit of $8.5 million.

Oilers sign first-round pick Yamamoto to entry-level deal

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The Edmonton Oilers secured 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto to a three-year entry-level contract.

The team announced the deal Thursday.

Yamamoto may be considered undersized at 5-foot-8 and 153 pounds — a fact general manager Peter Chiarelli has acknowledged.

But the 18-year-0ld right winger has done nothing but light up the Western Hockey League as a member of the Spokane Chiefs these past three seasons.

Two years ago, he scored 23 goals and 57 points with the Chiefs. In his draft year, he increased those totals to 42 goals and 99 points. Those are impressive numbers in junior, and there have been a number of smaller-in-stature players (like Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary) that have not only shown they belong in the NHL, but they’ve dominated with their skill.

From Sportsnet:

He is small, but he’s strong and has tremendous heart and skill. We saw him a lot, and he didn’t disappoint,” said Chiarelli, who took Yamamoto to dinner with a few Oilers front office folks on Wednesday.

Chiarelli asked him, “Why should we draft you?” and loved the kid’s answer.

“That’s a standard question you ask, and I’ve never really heard this answer,” the GM laughed. “He said, ‘Because (if you don’t) I’m going to come back and haunt you.’ He’s a pretty confident kid, and he backs it up with his play.”

Yamamoto recently skated for Team USA at the World Junior Summer Showcase.