Mike Halford

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 22: Juuso Hietanen #38 of Finland celebrates his third period goal with Sami Lepisto #18 in the second period against the United States during the Men's Ice Hockey Bronze Medal Game on Day 15 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 22, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Report: Veteran d-man Lepisto garnering interest from NHL clubs

Finnish d-man Sami Lepisto, who played in nearly 200 NHL games with the Capitals, Coyotes, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks, is reportedly being eyeballed for a potential North American return.

Per Russian news outlet Championat, Lepisto — who’s been playing in the KHL for the last four years — has received offers from NHL teams, according to the GM of his Russian-based club, Ufa.

Lepisto, 31, has enjoyed some fairly productive seasons in the KHL, though none better than this year, when he scored a career-best 11 goals and 30 points in 60 games.

Ufa’s GM, Leonid Vaisfeld, reportedly likened a Lepisto-NHL move to that of Evgeny Medvedev — who, last summer, left Ak-Bars Kazan at age 32 to sign with the Flyers. Medvedev has appeared in 44 games for Philly this season, registering 11 points.

Lepisto’s KHL contract is up this year.

Lepisto hasn’t played in the NHL since ’11-12, when he was with Chicago. In addition to his solid play in the KHL, he’s also maintained a regular place in the Finnish national team lineup, appearing in both the World Championships and the ’14 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

 

Blues sign University of Michigan senior Selman

Michigan's Justin Selman (10) skates off with the cup after it fell off the Great Lakes Invitational championship trophy while the team was celebrating a 2-1 win over Michigan State, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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St. Louis got in on the undrafted college free agent game on Monday, agreeing to a two-year, entry-level contract with the University of Michigan’s Justin Selman.

Selman, 22, enjoyed a four-year career at Ann Arbor, finishing his senior campaign with 13 goals and 31 points in 38 contests. The Wolverines’ year came to an end over the weekend, after their bid to qualify for the Frozen Four ended with a loss to North Dakota.

Since then, fellow U of M senior Cristoval “Boo” Nieves has signed with the Rangers. Many are waiting to see what Michgan’s stable of talented underclassmen will do, like freshman sensation Kyle Connor (a Winnipeg draftee), and prized Columbus d-man Zach Werenski.

Per the Blues, Selman will be assigned to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.

 

Goalie nods: Howard starts over Mrazek as Detroit fights for playoff life

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After Saturday’s ugly 7-2 home loss to Pittsburgh — a game in which Petr Mrazek gave up four goals, and Jimmy Howard allowed three — Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill wouldn’t commit to a starter for tonight’s game in Buffalo.

This morning, though, it was Howard that got the nod.

And so it’ll be Howard tasked with trying to get Detroit back into playoff position. The Wings head into Monday’s action tied on 85 points with Philly — though Philly holds the final wild card spot via tiebreaker — and almost certainly need all two points as the Sabres invade Joe Louis.

Howard hasn’t exactly “won” tonight’s start, but rather has been the better of two struggling netminders. Mrazek, who at one point this season was in the Vezina conversation, has struggled mightily in February and March, which is why Howard — despite going just 2-2-0 with a .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA this month — gets the nod.

For the Sabres, Chad Johnson is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— In a game Detroit will likely be keeping an eye on, Steve Mason makes his sixth straight start as the Flyers host the Jets. Ondrej Pavelec goes for Winnipeg.

Sergei Bobrovsky takes on Braden Holtby as the Blue Jackets face the Caps in Washington.

Ben Bishop, who got a game off Sunday, will be back in net when the Bolts host the Leafs. Looks like Garret Sparks goes for Toronto.

— Good matchup in Nashville tonight as Semyon Varlamov and the visiting Avs take on Pekka Rinne and the Preds.

John Gibson gets another crack at shutting out the Oilers (which he did, on 21 shots, the last time the Anaheim and Edmonton met). He’ll go up against Cam Talbot.

Joni Ortio versus Louis Domingue as the Flames visit Arizona.

— “Teacher versus pupil” tonight in San Jose as the Sharks will start Martin Jones against the Kings. L.A. will start the guy Jones used to sit behind: Jonathan Quick.

Criticisms fly as Buffalo nominates O’Reilly for Masterton

Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly (90) and New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) battle for the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday Dec. 31, 2015 in Buffalo, N.Y.  The Islanders won 2-1. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
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The Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association has nominated Ryan O'Reilly for this year’s Masterton Trophy, the Buffalo News reported on Monday.

And, subsequently, the Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Associate is now under scrutiny.

The Masterton is given annually to the NHL player that “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

As such, pundits are taking issue with Buffalo’s nomination going to O’Reilly, who made news last summer when he was charged with impaired driving following an incident in Ontario — an incident in which he crashed his truck into a Tim Horton’s restaurant, and fled the scene.

Some reading for you…

USA Today: Ryan O’Reilly is the most baffling Masterton Trophy nominee

Puck Daddy: Ryan O’Reilly Masterton Trophy nomination earns widespread mockery

SB Nation: Why was Ryan O’Reilly nominated for a ‘perseverance’ award while awaiting trial for drunk driving?

Sabre Noise (SI Fansided): O’Reilly’s Masterton nomination is troublesome

A key issue at play is that O’Reilly’s legal future remains unresolved. He’s had his court hearing pushed on a couple of occasions already, and is now set to go to trial in July.

While the News didn’t say how many ballots were cast, it did confirm that O’Reilly finished ahead of second-place Marcus Foligno and third-place Robin Lehner.

The paper also confirmed ten different players received at least one vote.

Agent: Yakupov ‘loves’ Edmonton, but needs a ‘fresh start’

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs
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Yesterday, we passed along a report claiming Nail Yakupov had requested a trade out of Edmonton.

Today, his agent confirmed that report.

“Nail loves the city of Edmonton,” Igor Larionov said, talking about the Yakupov situation with Sportsnet’s Fan 590. “He loves the fans, and obviously he would like to stay there.

“But I guess at some point, he needs some fresh start, and fresh air, to move on.”

Yakupov, the first overall pick in 2012, is struggling through a difficult season, arguably his worst since breaking in with the Oilers. He has just six goals and 19 points through 56 games — his 0.34 points-per-game average is the lowest of his four-year career.

Still just 22 years old, it stands to reason that this could the the offseason Yakupov and the Oilers part ways. It’s worth remembering Yakupov’s had a number of regime changes — four different head coaches (Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson and Todd McLellan) and three different GMs (Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish, Peter Chiarelli) — and given how new regimes often try to overhaul perceived errors from the previous one… well, it’s not too hard to see why Yakupov’s had a tough go in Edmonton.

That said, some blame — most, some will argue — has to fall on the player.

Yakupov’s hockey sense and IQ have continually been questioned since turning pro. While Larionov said his client needed minutes with a quick-thinking center — enough minutes to develop some chemistry — there are others who feel Yakupov’s never matured as a player.

From Mark Spector’s big Sportsnet piece on the situation:

The 22-year-old Russian has been most productive when played alongside Connor McDavid, but the line that dogs Yakupov around Edmonton is that he plays the game like he’s being chased by a swarm of bees. It has stuck, mostly because of its accuracy.

“It’s so obvious now,” said a scout, who had cautioned against Yakupov’s hockey sense and foot speed. “Watch him away from the puck — he still doesn’t know where to go. His feet are moving 100 miles an hour, his stick is beating the hell out of the puck, and he doesn’t have a clue where he’s going and what he’s going to do with it.”

So with the situation now out in the open, this figures to be a really interesting summer in Edmonton. Yakupov has one year left on his deal at $2.5 million per, so he’s entirely movable — and one has to think that move could come at the draft, where Edmonton will, once again, have a pretty high selection.

Quite possibly the first overall pick.

Again.