Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
Getty

In praise of Eric Staal

2 Comments

When Minnesota addressed its need for a top-flight center this summer by signing Eric Staal, there was some consternation.

Staal, 32, was 10 years removed from his career-best 45-goal, 100-point campaign in 2006 — the same year he helped Carolina its first and only Stanley Cup.

What’s more, he was coming off a rough stint with the Rangers, in which he had just three goals in 20 regular-season games and went pointless in a brief first-round playoff ouster to Pittsburgh.

As a result, the Wild raised plenty of eyebrows when they said they needed Staal to be “the Eric Staal that he was in the past.”

Some wondered if it was possible. Some said it wasn’t.

So kudos are in order for what he’s done this year.

Staal has delivered top-six production thus far — impressive, given he’s on a relatively team-friendly deal ($3.5M average annual cap hit) — and is averaging 19:23 TOI per night, his highest since the ’13-14 campaign. He’s on pace for 18 goals and 58 points and has provided the Wild with a good one-two punch in the faceoff circles along with Mikko Koivu (the pair have combined to win 592 of 1,102 draws, a winning percentage of 54.)

“He’s been a great leader, a great captain,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau told the Star-Tribune after Sunday’s win over St. Louis, in which Staal scored career point No. 800. “Now he’s doing a great job for us.”

Staal’s a big reason why Minnesota’s streaking at the moment. The club has won four straight and, heading into tonight’s action, sits six points back of Chicago for top spot in the Central Division — but with three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

Of course, if we’re going to praise Staal’s contributions, it’s only right to praise the guy that brought him in.

Signing Staal was a calculated risk by Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. Many saw the move as the old getting older. What’s more, Fletcher could’ve gone harder after “flashier” free agents Frans Nielsen or David Backes, but that would’ve been considerably more expensive, and those two are even older than Staal.

Another option would’ve been to trade for a center — perhaps somebody like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — but that would’ve cost the Wild a good, young defenseman like Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba.

Instead the Wild chose the less splashy, more conservative path. Through the first two months of the season, it’s paid off nicely.

Quick still in ‘rehab mode,’ return doesn’t sound close

Getty

Those expecting to see Jonathan Quick back in goal for the Kings anytime soon got a harsh reality check on Sunday.

“He’s still very much in the rehab mode,” head coach Darryl Sutter said, per L.A. Kings Insider. “They’re still talking about a month before he could even begin to say what that next step was.

“It’s not in this [calendar] year before there’s any sort of update.”

Quick suffered a significant groin injury in the first period of Los Angeles’ season-opening loss to the Sharks, and hasn’t played since.

That was on Oct. 12.

Originally, Quick was expected to miss “about three months” with the ailment. Today marks month No. 2 on the shelf, so it’s understandable why Sutter was asked for an update — and without reading the tea leaves too much, it sounds like Quick could miss even more time than first thought.

The Kings have survived without Quick — posting an 14-11-2 record — but have hardly thrived, which isn’t at all surprising. He’s been one of the league’s busiest workhorses over the last three seasons, including a ’15-16 campaign in which he led all NHL netminders in games (68) and minutes (4034) played.

In addition to the Quick injury, backup Jeff Zatkoff has also been hurt for considerable time this season. That’s meant Peter Budaj has become the majority starter and, to his credit, has fared about as well as could be expected. The 34-year-old veteran is 13-7-2 with a 2.18 GAA and .910 save percentage,

Based on Sunday’s news, Budaj and Zatkoff could be in line for even more starts over the next while.

Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

Getty
5 Comments

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

“I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

“I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

“And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

Goalie nods: With Lundqvist struggling, Raanta goes back-to-back

Getty
1 Comment

No shortage of storylines at play when the Rangers take on the ‘Hawks at the United Center this evening.

First, the big one — Antti Raanta, fresh off stopping 17 of 18 shots in a win over Winnipeg last night, will get back-to-back starts in place of the struggling Henrik Lundqvist.

“Of course you want to play, but Antti’s playing well,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I know I need to raise my level a little bit.”

Lundqvist is 3-4-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .902 save percentage in his past eight starts and, as Brough wrote about this morning, admitted some “bad decisions” have been costing him.

Raanta, meanwhile, is 6-1-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .932 save percentage in his last eight starts.

From a personal perspective, there’s a big narrative at play for Raanta as well. This will mark the first time he’s faced Chicago since being traded to New York in 2015. The Finnish ‘tender made his NHL debut for the ‘Hawks and spent two seasons with the team, but was supplanted by Scott Darling as the club’s No. 2 behind Corey Crawford en route to the ’15 Stanley Cup win.

(Raanta’s time in Chicago ended oddly, you may recall. A Finnish-language publication ran a piece in which Raanta appeared to be critical of the ‘Hawks, followed by Raanta denying he said what was reported. The writer that conducted the interview said the quotes were legit, but needed context — and then, just to put a bow on it, Raanta’s name was left off the Stanley Cup. Chicago insisted that decision had nothing to do with his remarks, though.)

For the ‘Hawks, Darling gets the start.

Elsewhere…

Braden Holtby gets a night off, as the Caps will start Philipp Grubauer (for the first time since Nov. 25) in Buffalo. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

— No surprises from Columbus, who will start the in-form Sergei Bobrovsky yet again. The host Red Wings have Jimmy Howard back in the fold but will continue to ride Petr Mrazek, who made 31 saves in a win over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Cory Schneider played last night against Montreal, so Keith Kinkaid goes for the Devils. He’ll face off against Jake Allen and the Blues, who also played last night.

— After Jonas Gustavsson was beaten six times in last night’s loss in Philly, Cam Talbot is in for the Oilers. He’ll face off against Devan Dubnyk, who continues to play lights-out for the Wild.

Martin Jones will start for the Sharks in an all-California battle in Anaheim. The Ducks will give Jonathan Bernier a shot at redemption, as he’ll start for the first time since allowing eight goals in a loss to Calgary on Sunday.

Trade: Holland, who wanted out of Toronto, acquired by Coyotes

Getty
2 Comments

In late November, the agent for Maple Leafs forward Peter Holland confirmed the club was trying to move his client, amid reports Holland was displeased with his playing time under head coach Mike Babcock.

On Friday, Holland got what he wanted.

Per Sportsnet, Holland has been traded to Arizona for a conditional draft pick. Coyotes GM John Chayka has since confirmed the trade, to AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan.

Holland has been a bit player in Toronto this year, appearing in just eight games while averaging 10:43 TOI per night. He hasn’t suited up since getting just over nine minutes in a win over the Caps on Nov. 26.

The 25-year-old has been with the team since the middle of the 2013-14 season and has been fairly consistent in his production during that time, recording 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 65 games last year. That came after a 25-point (11 goal, 14 assist) performance in 62 games the year prior.

Holland’s production was enough to get him a one-year, $1.3 million extension from the Leafs over the summer.

In Arizona, he’ll have a shot at replacing some of the minutes at center that became available with Brad Richardson’s injury.

Update: Per multiple reports, the conditional pick is a 6th-rounder at the 2018 draft. The condition is Arizona will only send Toronto the pick if it re-signs Holland, or trades him.