Mike Halford

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Valeri Nichushkin #43 of the Dallas Stars during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Drama in Dallas as Nichushkin reportedly close to KHL deal (Updated)

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Latest update: The pendulum swings back in favor of Valeri Nichushkin signing with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Nothing is official yet, however.

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The Valeri Nichushkin saga in Dallas could be over soon — and not with the ending the Stars or GM Jim Nill hoped for.

Nichushkin, a still-unsigned RFA, had his KHL rights acquired by league powerhouse CSKA Moscow on Monday, per Sport-Express.

Not long after that news broke, various reports (including the original from R-Sport) claimed that Nichuskin was working on a two-year pact with CSKA.

The contract term is interesting, in light of this:

The rift between Ruff and Nichushkin is well-documented.

Nichushkin, the 10th overall pick in 2013, showed well as a rookie, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games, but his sophomore campaign was a nightmare — he missed nearly the entire season with a hip injury and subsequent surgery, and only appeared in eight contests.

Last year, he struggled.

And Ruff wasn’t exactly all warm and cuddly about it.

In fact, the veteran bench boss sent a message right at the start of the season, making Nichushkin a healthy scratch while adding the 21-year-old needed to “get his head in the right place.”

In late March, an interview with with Russian news outlet Sport-Express made waves, as Nichuskin said he didn’t feel Ruff trusted him, or played him enough.

Not long after, Nichuskin’s agent tried to clear the air.

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

Maybe not that happy.

Update:

Gandler denied a deal with CSKA has been reached, per Sportsnet, but didn’t rule out his client going to the KHL.

Related:

Despite erratic year, Stars say Nichushkin still ‘very important player to us’

Under Pressure: Valeri Nichushkin

Lundqvist (flu) feeling better, hopes to play against Finland

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11:  (EDITORS NOTE: This image was created by in-camera multiple exposure.) Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on January 11, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After missing Sunday’s 2-1 win over Russia as a late scratch due to the flu, Henrik Lundqvist could be back in goal when hSweden takes on Finland tomorrow.

“I feel better today,” Lundqvist said at Monday’s practice, per ESPN. “Yesterday was just not good enough to be able to play. The decision was made together with [coach] Rikard [Gronborg]. The position is what it is, and it’s a lot of responsibility.

“You just can’t go out there and see if you’re OK, so we made that decision, which was a good one.”

Lundqvist then praised backup netminder Jacob Markstrom, who played very well against the Russians by stopping 27 of 28 shots faced.

While there are probably some rumblings about Gronborg sticking with Markstrom for Tuesday’s game, it’s hard to envision Sweden parking Lundqvist if he’s healthy. (And yes, that’s taking King Henrik’s shaky exhibition effort into account as well.)

Gronborg said Lundqvist had a “strong practice” on Monday.

 

Rain keeps falling on Dallas as Czechs rule out Faksa (upper body)

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 29:  Radek Faksa #12 of the Dallas Stars celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues in the third period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 29, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Stars GM Jim Nill can’t be loving life right now.

Last week, he — in conjunction with Team Canada — announced that star forward Tyler Seguin had been ruled out of the World Cup with an ankle injury, later revealed to be a hairline fracture.

Earlier today, reports claimed that still-unsigned RFA Valeri Nichushkin was close to signing in Russia.

And now?

Radek Faksa, the 13th overall pick in 2012, suffered an upper-body injury in the Czech Republic’s blowout loss to Canada on Saturday, and has been ruled out of tonight’s game against Team Europe.

Faksa, 22, had been a key contributor for the Czechs prior to getting hurt. He played nearly 17 minutes in the opening exhibition against Russia, nearly 18 in the rematch two days later, and scored a goal in a surprising 3-2 win over Team North America in the exhibition finale.

Faksa figures to be a key contributor for Dallas this year, too.

He made his NHL debut in last season and fared well, with 12 points in 45 games, but really came into his own in the playoffs, scoring five points — including two game-winning goals — while bumping his TOI up to 16:08 per night.

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he has good size — vitally important for playing center in the loaded Western Conference. If he’s out for any length of time, it’s a fairly significant loss.

Russia will ‘fight like it’s our last battle’ against high-flying North Americans

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Rikard Gronborg  talks with Team Russia while playing Team Sweden during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 18, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. Team Sweden won the game 2-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Team Russia has almost everything to play for when it takes on Team North America tonight in its second — and most important — World Cup of Hockey tilt (8 p.m. ET, Air Canada Centre).

The Russians lost their opener 2-1 to Sweden, which put an incredible amount of weight on Monday’s contest. The World Cup group stage is of the round-robin variety, meaning that — given each group only features four teams — losing twice is a virtual death knell.

“It’s the most important day,” Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said of tonight’s game, per the Russian Hockey Federation. “We will fight like it’s our last battle.”

If Sunday night was any indication, the Russians will need to fight.

North America absolutely overwhelmed Finland in the second of yesterday’s games, cruising to a 4-1 victory on goals from Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon.

Comprised of players aged 23 or younger, “TNA” raced out to a commanding 4-0 lead before Valterri Filppula spoiled Matt Murray‘s shutout bid with less than five minutes remaining.

North America dominated nearly every facet of the game and ended up out-shooting the Finns by a whopping 43-25 margin.

“They won every battle,” Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki said in his postgame presser. “They skate hard. They’re so impressive. All the credit’s to them.

“They’re such a great team, and that’s it.”

Shot disparity will be something to watch tonight, especially from a Russian perspective. Head coach Oleg Znarok felt his club needed to put far more pucks on goal against Sweden — The Russians finished with 28 — and one has to think he was probably referring to the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov (no shots on goal), Artemi Panarin (one) and Pavel Datsyuk (one).

Vladimir Tarasenko said the Russians were guilty of over-passing.

“We wanted to play beautiful hockey, but that wasn’t the right decision,” he said. “We need to do what the coach says, and take more shots.”

Given the stakes for tonight’s game, it’s expected the spotlight will once again be on Alexander Ovechkin.

The club’s captain — and, too often, the face of disappointments on the biggest stages — Ovechkin had a rough time on Sunday, taking two bad penalties while finishing with just 16:25 TOI.

He did, however, score Russia’s only goal on the night and nearly had the equalizer with less than 10 seconds remaining — only to have it waved off.

Following the game, he critiqued Russia’s style of play against the Swedes.

“We just didn’t have speed through the neutral zone,” Ovechkin said, per NHL.com. “If we had speed, we didn’t have support, so we’re trying to be one on one and we see it’s not going to work.”

Ovi and Team Russia will need to change their approach tonight.

If they don’t, their World Cup could be over.

‘Minnesota just wasn’t a good fit,’ says Vanek

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19:  Thomas Vanek #26 of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the first period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Two years ago, Thomas Vanek said signing for his hometown Wild was “beyond my wildest dreams.”

Now?

Slightly different tune.

“For me the biggest thing was Minnesota just wasn’t a good fit,” Vanek told the Buffalo News over the weekend. “It is what it is. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. It didn’t work out.”

Though this assessment was pretty obvious — the Wild certainly agreed, buying Vanek out of the last year of his contract in June — it’s still interesting to see Vanek sum up his time in Minnesota so succinctly.

A former star with the Golden Gophers that helped the school capture the 2003 NCAA championship, Vanek scored 21 goals in his first year with the Wild, only to disappear in the playoffs (no goals in 10 games).

Then there was the distraction of his ties to an illegal gambling ring.

This year, things went further south. He scored a career low 18 goals and 41 points. He was made a healthy scratch on a few occasions — by both Mike Yeo and John Torchetti — and didn’t play at all in the postseason, while dealing with an upper-body injury.

To be fair, Vanek had danced around the notion of Minnesota being a bad fit before. There was that time he sort of complained about the Wild’s centers, saying “If I wanted points and goals, I would have signed with the Islanders and had a center like Johnny [Tavares] and a winger like Kyle [Okposo].”

Vanek then doubled down by saying “we don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”

Now on a one-year deal with Detroit, the 32-year-old figures he’s in a much better situation. Vanek told the News he should benefit from the fact the Red Wings play “with smaller skilled guys,” adding a return to the Eastern Conference “is going to help me.”