Jason Brough

Getty

Blues won’t have their own farm team next season

14 Comments

The St. Louis Blues will be the only NHL team without an AHL affiliate next season.

The Blues lost their farm team, the Chicago Wolves, to the Vegas Golden Knights, so here’s how it will work next season, according to the Post-Dispatch:

After having total control of the Wolves last season — hiring the coaching staff, implementing its system and allotting ice time — they will have no say next year.

The Blues will instead “associate” with Vegas, supplying the Wolves with some prospects, but there won’t be enough roster spots for all of their prospects, so others will be loaned around the league.

 Obviously, that’s not ideal. The Blues will work to change it in time for the 2018-19 season.

“We were hoping to have it done this year so it’s not something we’re starting from ground zero on today,” GM Doug Armstrong told the newspaper. “We talked to a couple groups about coming in for this year; it didn’t happen, but we really have to put that at the forefront of our thought process.”

Kansas City was once considered a strong possibility to become the Blues’ farm team, but AHL president/CEO David Andrews shot that down in January.

Hurricanes, Stars get early jump on NHL goalie carousel

Getty
2 Comments

When the Carolina Hurricanes traded a third-round pick to Chicago for the rights to Scott Darling, the NHL’s goaltender carousel started spinning.

After Carolina signed Darling to a $16.6 million, four-year deal, the Dallas Stars sent a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for the rights to Ben Bishop and signed the 6-foot-7 former Lightning starter for $29.5 million over six years. Carolina and Dallas were willing to give up picks to get the jump on what Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis called an interesting offseason to shop for a goalie.

“There’s two different paths you can look at: One is certainly who’s going to be available on July 1 and what it may take to get them in terms of years and in terms of salary, and then the other option is you’re looking at who might be available in terms of teams not wanting to lose a goaltender in expansion and willing to make a trade and what it costs you to get that player,” Francis said. “When we looked at everything and studied things, we thought this was the best viable option for us.”

It looks brilliant now ahead of a goalie shuffle that expected to happen over the next several weeks leading up to the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft June 21, the actual draft a few days later and the start of free agency July 1. The Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers and perhaps even the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche are in the market, with Pittsburgh veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, Washington backup Philipp Grubauer and a handful of others in the mix to fill vacancies.

Fleury led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final but could still be traded with Matt Murray entrenched as the goalie of the future, and his value has never been higher. Fleury wields power with his no-movement clause that could let him choose his destination.

Read more: Fleury could be good option for Flames … or even Flyers

Grubauer said he has no choice where he goes, but as a restricted free agent he does have some control and could be headed to Vegas. The Golden Knights will get 48 hours to negotiate with any unrestricted or restricted free agents left unprotected for the expansion draft, and the 25-year-old German had a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 24 games this season and is widely considered ready to be a starter.

“He’s an outstanding goalie,” Capitals starter Braden Holtby said. “What I think I’ve seen from him the last year especially, his talent is NHL talent, but a lot of guys have that. His mental game, his mental prep – every game he was in he was never out of it mentally. He was always sharp and that shows.”

Grubauer and Darling could follow the path of understudies-turned-starters blazed by Edmonton’s Cam Talbot, who has thrived since backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers, and San Jose’s Martin Jones, who took the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after being Jonathan Quick‘s No. 2 in Los Angeles. Much like Grubauer, the 28-year-old Darling has improved the mental side of his game as Corey Crawford‘s backup with the Blackhawks and believes he has the stuff to start.

“I’m confident because I’m excited about it and I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be,” said Darling, who’s 6-foot-6 and had a .924 save percentage last season. “I have a good network of goalie friends that I’m going to be picking their brains and asking for help and just trying to do everything that I can do to be successful in that role.”

Current Rangers backup Antti Raanta, who has a year left on his deal at a bargain-basement $1 million salary-cap hit, has shown evidence he can be successful too and has been speculated as a Vegas option. So have Grubauer and Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth because of close ties to GM George McPhee and goalie coach Dave Prior.

“There’s a lot of other guys on the market too that could possibly go out there, so it’s not just me,” Grubauer said. “George drafted me, so they know what they probably get and with other guys they probably not know as much. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Vegas’ decisions in goal could have as much of a domino effect as Carolina getting Darling and Dallas locking up Bishop. The Flames made the playoffs with the tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, now pending free agents, and could go young with prospect Jon Gilles, look at Fleury or move in another direction to improve on their 19th-ranked save percentage.

Winnipeg has youngsters Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson and Colorado has Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard but could shake things up in net to speed up the process of returning to playoff contention. The Flyers will likely move on from the Neuvirth-Steve Mason combo, but former goaltender and now GM Ron Hextall seems fine patching things up until one of Philadelphia’s top prospects (Carter Hart, Alex Lyon or Felix Sandstrom) is ready for the NHL.

“We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it,” Hextall said.

 

Related: Nill thinks Niemi or Lehtonen could be ‘intriguing’ for some teams

Upstaged: Predators anthem singer upset by A-list replacements

Getty
28 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The longtime anthem singer at Nashville Predators hockey games has sour grapes over being replaced in the Stanley Cup playoffs by super star singers and bands such as Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.

Dennis K. Morgan, who has been singing at Predators games for 17 years, told The Tennessean he has been hurt and disappointed by being upstaged by A-list country acts. Morgan said Underwood, who is married to team captain Mike Fisher, asked to sing in the first home game of the playoffs and he agreed to it. But the team kept bringing in special musical guests to sing.

“I’m not going to hide my disappointment and I told the Predators that I have been asked the same question over and over and it’s just really getting old,” Morgan said. “Everywhere I go — obviously at my day job (as a healthcare IT recruiting manager) and at (Bridgestone) arena as well as everywhere else I go to church, grocery stores, on the street, in meetings and in restaurants — people want to know how I feel.”

The team said in a statement that Morgan’s arrangement allowed for “nationally and internationally renowned musical artists to perform when available.”

Related: Predators postseason run has turned Music City into Smashville

Vegas signs multi-year deal with AHL’s Chicago Wolves

Getty
2 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights have a farm team.

Now all they need are players to stock it.

The NHL’s newest franchise announced today that it’s signed a multi-year partnership with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.

“American Hockey League affiliates play a significant role in the success of all NHL clubs and are we are proud to have the Chicago Wolves as our first in team history,” Knights GM George McPhee said. “Chicago is without question one of the strongest, most passionate hockey communities in North America. This is a relationship that we truly believe will be mutually beneficial.”

“We’re starting from the ground up with a new franchise,” added Wolves GM Wendell Young. “It will be exciting to build both franchises together with the same philosophy.”

The Wolves have been the St. Louis Blues’ farm team the past three seasons.

No word yet what the Blues intend to do for an AHL affiliate next season. Kansas City was once considered a strong possibilitybut AHL president/CEO David Andrews shot that down in January. 

Update:

Blues GM Doug Armstrong has released the following statement:

“The St. Louis Blues will not renew their primary affiliation with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves past the 2016-17 season. We will associate with the Vegas Golden Knights and supply players to the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate next season.”

Related: For Vegas, landing Vadim Shipachyov was ‘a very good start’

Kesler laughs off Johansen’s remarks

16 Comments

Ryan Kesler is pretty used to being disliked, so it’s no surprise that Ryan Johansen‘s remarks following Game 2 of the Western Conference Final evoked nothing more than a chuckle from the veteran Ducks center.

“I laughed,” Kesler said, per The Tennessean. “Got a lot of text messages from my friends and family saying they’d still cheer me on. He can say whatever he wants, though. I’m not going to change my game.”

Kesler added, “It seemed like he was a bit rattled.”

In case you somehow missed it, Johansen said of Kesler: “I don’t know what’s going through his head out there. Like, his family and his friends watching him play, I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that. It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game. I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey and it sucks when you’ve got to pull a stick out of your groin every shift.”

This morning, ahead of Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena, Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle said he didn’t think Johansen’s comments would affect Kesler’s game in the least.

“I don’t think it makes any difference to him personally,” said Carlyle. “I think he looks at it as an opportunity to play up against whoever the player is that we decide to match him up against.”

But expect to hear plenty of boos for Kesler from the Predators faithful. They haven’t liked him in Nashville since 2011.

The Ducks and Predators are tied one game apiece.