Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
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Sharks have reason to wait on Thornton, Marleau extensions

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Two of San Jose’s most important and longest-tenured players, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Given the Sharks are in the midst of their Stanley Cup window — with Thornton and Marleau playing significant roles — it seems odd neither has put pen to paper on an extension yet.

But the Mercury News has a theory on why:

Here’s where it gets interesting. Next season, the NHL is adding a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights. That franchise will participate in an expansion draft. It will happen in June, a few days before the annual entry draft.  Each existing NHL team can protect either seven or eight forwards from being selected by the Golden Knights. However, pending unrestricted free agents will not be eligible for the expansion draft.

In other words, it behooves Wilson and the Sharks not to sign Marleau and Thornton until after the expansion draft. That way, the two players would not count toward the seven or eight forwards on the Sharks’ protected list (the exact number depends on choices the Sharks make at other positions.)

San Jose’s in a fairly unique position for the expansion draft. It is one of four teams not required to protect anybody — Calgary, St. Louis and Washington are the others — and, with the addition of the aforementioned Thornton-Marleau scenario, GM Doug Wilson would have serious flexibility when it comes to exposing players.

Not that he’s willing to divulge any information.

“My position is that I have no comment on that,” Wilson told the Mercury News. “People can anticipate and speculate about what our approach might be.”

ESPN touched on this potential scenario last month, noting that Wilson has some big decisions to make regardless if he chooses the seven forwards-three-defensemen-one goalie protected list, or the eight-skaters-and-a-goalie setup:

If you go 7-3-1, it means you protect just three defensemen — Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and probably Justin Braun — which then leaves Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller and David Schlemko among those exposed.

What if the Sharks decide to go the 8-1 protection format route in order to protect four defensemen? That means only four forwards could be protected: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and then take your pick from either Mikkel Boedker, Joel Ward, Melker Karlsson or Chris Tierney. (Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are exempt.)

The risk in letting Thornton and Marleau get to free agency, of course, is that someone makes an offer neither can refuse. But it could be a risk worth taking. It’s fair to assume any potential offer would have to be massive in scope, given Thorton’s and Marleau’s ties to the Bay Area — the latter has spent his entire 20-year career with the Sharks, while the former has been there for over a decade.

Right now, there’s not much information about what type of extensions San Jose is offering. ESPN reported Thornton is eyeing another three-year deal — his last was a three-year, $20.25 million contract — and things are almost entirely silent on the Marleau front.

No hearing scheduled for Niederreiter after Sharp hit

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Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter isn’t scheduled to face a disciplinary hearing for his hit on Dallas’ Patrick Sharp on Thursday night, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

Niederreiter was given a five-minute interference and game misconduct in the late stages of the Wild’s 3-1 win.

The hit sent Sharp cartwheeling to the ice, though, upon replay, Niederreiter got his skates tangled with Radek Faksa prior to the collision. That appeared to send the Wild forward into Sharp’s path inadvertently.

As such, it’s not a big surprise the 24-year-old escaped supplementary discipline.

There was some concern about Sharp, who’s missed significant time with concussion issues this season and appeared to be shaken up on the play. Thankfully for him and the Stars, he appeared no worse for wear.

That said, Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff didn’t like the hit. At all.

“I just saw a pretty dirty hit on Sharp, that’s all I saw,” Ruff said following the game. “Cutting a guy’s knees out, that’s pretty tough.”

No hearing scheduled for Malkin after Wheeler hit

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Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin isn’t scheduled to face a disciplinary hearing for his hit on Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler on Thursday night, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred midway through the third period of Pittsburgh’s 4-3 OT win. Malkin was given an interference minor on the play — in addition to a roughing minor for the post-whistle scrum — and later rubbed salt into the wound by setting up Sidney Crosby for the OT winner.

Wheeler, meanwhile, left temporarily to undergo concussion protocol, but did return to the game.

The Penguins are back in action tonight, when they take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

 

Hard-luck Maatta out six weeks after hand surgery

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Another year, another significant injury for Olli Maatta.

On Friday, the Penguins announced that Maatta, who exited last night’s 4-3 OT win over Winnipeg with a hand injury, has undergone successful surgery and will miss the next six weeks as a result.

Maatta, 22, had enjoyed a reasonably healthy campaign up to this point. He’s appeared in 53 games — the only d-men to appear in more are Justin Schultz and Ian Cole — while averaging 18:13 TOI, with a goal and seven points.

The hand ailment is just the latest in what’s been a tough start to Maatta’s professional career. Over the last three year’s he’s had a cancerous tumor removed, major shoulder problems, a case of the mumps and lower-body issue that hampered him at the end of last season.

Maatta’s not the only Penguin on the limp right now, either. Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary are both sidelined, while Carl Hagelin remains out with a concussion. It’s also unclear what sort of shape Justin Schultz is in, after he was crunched by Dustin Byfuglien last night and exited the game.

As for Maatta, the six week timetable means he’s on target for a Mar. 31 return — which translates into as many as 20 games missed.

Goalie nods: Philly sticks with Neuvirth in second of back-to-back

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Desperate for points as they fight for a playoff spot, the Flyers will once again roll with Michal Neuvirth when they take on the Oilers in Edmonton tonight.

Last night, Neuvirth was in for 3-1 loss in Calgary. Though he wasn’t overly busy — just 22 shots faced — he’s still a bit of a surprise starter, given Steve Mason hasn’t played in a week and has a .918 save percentage over his last five appearances.

Neuvirth, though, is clearly the more in-form ‘tender. He’s 3-2-1 in his last six outings, boasting a 1.34 GAA and .940 save percentage.

For the Oilers, no questions over who starts in goal. Cam Talbot gets his NHL-leading 52nd nod of the year.

Elsewhere…

Mike Condon returns to the Ottawa net after Craig Anderson started the last two. The host Devils will counter with Cory Schneider, who’s coming off a 28-save win over the Avalanche on Tuesday.

— After Antti Raanta started on Monday, Henrik Lundqvist returns to the Rangers net for a rivalry game against the Isles. Lundqvist will face Thomas Greiss, who has host three of his last five.

Ondrej Pavelec‘s still out injured, so Connor Hellebuyck makes another start for the Jets. He’ll be up against Marc-Andre Fleury, who last played on Saturday in a loss to the Coyotes.

— Jeremy Smith made his NHL debut for the Avs on Tuesday, so Calvin Pickard draws back in tonight in Buffalo. Robin Lehner, coming off a banner 39-save win over his former Ottawa team earlier this week, gets another start.

— It’s Jacob Markstrom versus Jake Allen as the Canucks take on the Blues in St. Louis.

— Minnesota will give Darcy Kuemper his second start in five games when it hosts Dallas. The Stars will counter with Kari Lehtonen, after Antti Niemi lost to the Jets on Tuesday.

Mike Smith, fresh off a 36-save shutout of the Flames on Monday, gets right back in for the Coyotes, who are in L.A. The Kings are going with Peter Budaj.