Mike Halford

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In wake of contentious article, agent says Nichushkin ‘loves it in Dallas’

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Earlier today, the Dallas Morning News caught wind of an interview Valeri Nichushkin did with Russian news outlet Sport-Express, in which a frustrated Nichushkin said he didn’t feel head coach Lindy Ruff trusted him, or played him enough.

Not long after, Nichuskin’s agent cleared the air.

“Val loves it in Dallas,” Mark Gandler told the Morning News. “He’s very happy there.”

To hear Gandler explain it, the 21-year-old “can go from 0 to 100 emotionally,” adding that the Sport-Express interview happened “right after a game, and he was frustrated.”

Gandler also said “I don’t think [Nichushkin] even knew what was said in the interview.”

That might quiet the storm for now, but it’s hard to look at this situation and not see some kind of issue at hand.

After a good rookie campaign in which he scored 14 goals and 34 points, Nichushkin had a forgettable sophomore campaign, one that was derailed almost entirely by a hip injury and subsequent surgery.

This year, he’s found it difficult getting back into the mix.

The 10th overall pick in 2013 was a healthy scratch on a few occasions, and Ruff didn’t mince words about the decision, saying Nichushkin needed to “get his head in the right place.” In that light, it’s worth noting that — in the Sport-Express interview — Nichuskin said he rarely talks to Ruff, and mostly communicates with GM Jim Nill.

To Ruff’s credit, he downplayed this latest incident, and even offered the young forward an out.

“I didn’t read the article. I think that maybe some of that is from earlier in the year,” the veteran bench boss said. “I think right now that Val is in a good place.”

Though Nichushkin’s minutes are down this year — he’s averaging under 14 per game — he does have decent offensive totals (nine goals, 27 points in 73 games) and is still a tantalizing talent.

Put it all together, though, and you’ve got the makings for an interesting offseason negotiation. Nichushkin’s entry-level deal expires in July.

Another Wolverine goes pro, as Downing signs with Florida

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 02: Michael Downing of Canton, Michigan prepares for the USA Blue vs USA White game during the 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 2, 2014 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s shaping up to be an offseason of change at the University of Michigan.

The latest Wolverine to leave school early is junior defenseman Michael Downing — on Tuesday, Downing agreed to an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, who took him in the fourth round (97th overall) at the 2013 draft.

Downing is just the latest U of M skater to turn pro. Earlier today, sophomore sensation Zach Werenski signed his ELC with Columbus, while seniors Cristoval “Boo” Nieves and Justin Selman — who had finished their four years at school — signed with the Rangers and Blues, respectively.

Downing, 20, ranked second among all Wolverines defensemen in goals, assists, points and plus-minus this year. Per the Miami Herald, he will report to AHL Portland to begin his professional career. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he established himself as a physical presence on the back end during his time in Ann Arbor.

With Downing and company already signed, the focus will undoubtedly turn to the other U of M skaters that could go pro. Specifically, freshman phenom Kyle Connor (who was taken in the first round of last year’s draft by Winnipeg), J.T. Compher (Colorado) and Tyler Motte (Chicago) — the Wolverines’ three leading scorers in ’15-16.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson acknowledged all of them could be gone.

“As soon as they start waving the flag, some of these kids can’t say no,” Berenson said, per the Detroit Free Press. “They’re so enamored and swayed. It used to be the players would ask me, ‘What do you think?’ They don’t ask anymore.”

Goalie nods: Elliott looks to keep Blues’ shutout streak alive

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott is unable to control the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in St. Louis. After Elliott lost control, Jet's Bryan Little was able to knock the puck in for a goal. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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To say Brian Elliott has been good since returning from injury would be an understatement — he’s been unbeatable.

Literally.

After coming back from a 10-game absence on Mar. 19, Elliott has posted three straight shutouts, stopping all 71 shots faced for one of the best runs of his lengthy career.

Tonight, the veteran netminder will look for a fourth clean sheet when the Blues host the Avs in St. Louis. All told, it could be the Blues’ fifth shutout in a row, as Jake Allen recorded one of his own, blanking the NHL-leading Capitals on Saturday night.

“It’s huge, and especially on a couple of shutouts, we’ve limited to the teens in the shots,” Allen said, per NHL.com. “That’s an aspect from mine and Brian’s standpoint where that’s a credit to all the 20 guys in front of us; that’s not just us.

“It goes to show we’re on the upswing right now and we’re playing well heading into the [Stanley Cup Playoffs]. We’re right where we want to be.”

While tonight’s game is big for Colorado — it could draw to within one point of Minnesota for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, if all the results go right — it’s also big for the Blues. They could move into first place in the Central Division and crack the 100-point plateau.

For the Avs, Semyon Varlamov is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Keith Kinkaid will start for the first time in four games as New Jersey hosts Boston. The B’s are expected to start Tuukka Rask.

Jean-Francois Berube has started two of the last three games, but Thomas Greiss will go tonight as the Isles host the ‘Canes. Cam Ward goes for Carolina.

Matt Murray gives Marc-Andre Fleury the night off in Pittsburgh. No word yet on who Buffalo will start, but Chad Johnson went last night.

— Detroit is going to Petr Mrazek on the second of a back-to-back, after Jimmy Howard beat the Sabres on Monday. Montreal will give Mike Condon the start.

— It’s Jonathan Bernier versus Roberto Luongo as the Leafs take on the Panthers in Florida.

Corey Crawford is still out injured (more on that here), so Scott Darling starts again for Chicago. Devan Dubnyk‘s in for the Wild.

— No confirmations out of Dallas, but Kari Lehtonen looks likely for the Stars. No word on a Nashville starter.

Jacob Markstrom will start as the Canucks host the Sharks. San Jose’s yet to announce a starter.

Report: Crawford dealing with head injury

Corey Crawford hasn’t played since a 5-0 loss to L.A. earlier this month.

He’s missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, and will miss No. 7 tonight when the ‘Hawks take on the Wild.

There have been no updates on his health, and he hasn’t resumed skating.

Which makes this report, from Chicago Sun-Times sources, fairly ominous:

As for Corey Crawford, no news is bad news. The Hawks goalie and Vezina Trophy candidate who hasn’t played since March 14, still hasn’t skated, and appears unlikely to travel to Winnipeg.

A source said that Crawford is dealing with a head injury, and possibly something similar to the vertigo symptoms that Bryan Bickell was dealing with last spring.

He’s still officially “day to day” with an unspecified upper-body injury.

The Sun Times’ Mark Lazerus appeared on TSN 1040 over the weekend, and addressed the Crawford situation, noting that head coach Joel Quenneville couldn’t guarantee his No. 1 netminder would be back for the playoffs.

“The regular season ends two weeks from today,” Lazerus explained. “So the playoffs start in two-and-a-half weeks. It would be something really serious for him to be out four weeks with what was initially diagnosed as a day-to-day injury.

“Quenneville said he thinks [Crawford] will be ready. He didn’t say he expects, he said he thinks he’ll be ready, but can’t say it with certainty. It just smacks of head injury when you have this kind of nebulous timetable.”

In the midst of a Vezina-worthy campaign, Crawford was also selected as one of Team Canada’s three goalies for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

So, needless to say, any prolonged absence would be a major blow for the ‘Hawks.

Preds: We asked Vesey three times if he was going to sign, and he said yes

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Jimmy Vesey #19 of the Harvard Crimson skates against the Boston College Eagles during the second period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament consolation game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Here’s the latest from the Jimmy Vesey-is-going-UFA saga — on Tuesday, Preds assistant GM Paul Fenton went on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central and broke down, in significant detail, the conversation he had with Vesey prior to the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

The excerpt:

Fenton: I spoke with [Vesey] after the consolation game at the Boston Garden, outside the locker room [at the Beanpot Tournament, in early February].

I asked the player three times if he was signing with us. I said that I realized he was in a tough position, that I was asking him this, but we needed to know from a lineup standpoint, and for our trade deadline plans, as to what he was going to do. We would not fill his spot, because we believe he had top-6 potential to play for us.

And I was told that [he would sign with us].

Sportsnet: So what did he say to you, when you asked him three times?

Fenton: Yes. I’m going to sign with the Nashville Predators.

Fenton also mentioned that Nashville, as an organization, has always made a point of not asking players to leave school early, instead letting prospects decide how they want to dictate their collegiate careers.

This would appear to be in lockstep with what GM David Poile said about Vesey last summer, noting this particular institution held special significance.

“It’s Harvard, right?” Poile said. “We know that.”

Related: The Preds stood pat on deadline day because they didn’t want to ‘give away Vesey’s position on our team’