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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Lazar draws back in for Sens as trade rumors swirl

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After sitting as a healthy scratch for the last four games, Curtis Lazar will get back into the lineup tonight when the Sens take on the Devils in New Jersey.

It’ll be an inclusion worth monitoring.

Earlier this week, we welcomed Lazar to the trade rumor mill after reports that his agent, J.P. Barry, was set to meet with Sens brass about the 22-year-old’s current situation. TSN’s Darren Dreger floated the possibility Barry would ask for a trade, while the Sun’s Bruce Garrioch said teams calling about Lazar have been told the asking price is a first- or second-round pick.

An update on the pending meeting, per the Citizen:

Come Saturday, Dorion will talk face-to-face with Lazar’s agent, J.P. Barry, about what’s next in a season that has gone from bad to worse for the 22-year-old.

And yes, at least the idea of Lazar being traded will be discussed.

Lazar, the 17th overall pick in 2013, has struggled through a rough campaign. The start of the year was derailed after he was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Lazar was eventually sent down to the AHL, with Dorion saying in late October that it was best, at the time, for Lazar to play in the minors and continue to regain his confidence.

Since returning to Ottawa in November, Lazar has failed to produce, with only one assist in 29 games, while averaging just 8:23 of ice time per game and virtually no presence on any of the club’s special team units. He was also hurt in a game versus Pittsburgh in December.

Minutes have been even tougher to come by lately, with the arrival of Tommy Wingels from San Jose.

All this comes after Lazar had a reasonably successful sophomore campaign in ’15-16. He posted career highs in a number of categories — including games played (76) and points (20) — and was averaging just under 14 minutes per night.

It’s probably worth noting that Lazar’s played for three different coaches (Paul MacLean, Dave Cameron, Guy Boucher) over the course of his three-year career. That can be difficult on a young player, which could be why the “change of scenery” idea has been floated.

Avs expect Varlamov will ‘be fully healthy next year’

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Almost lost in their disastrous campaign is the fact that, in late January, the Avs shut down No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov so he could have season-ending groin surgery.

To hear GM Joe Sakic explain it, the move was designed so Varlamov could get a head start on next season.

“I expect him to be fully healthy next year,” Sakic said, per the Denver Post. “He’s had the problems with his groin the last couple of years, and this year, but he’s a worker, he cares, he’s a guy who puts a lot of pressure on that area the way he plays.

“We’re very confident by doing this procedure, he’s going to be back where he once was. I think it’s going to be a lot better mentally for him, that he’s not one push away from pulling his groin. I know that this year was a tough year for him mentally. In your head, it’s almost, ‘When’s the next time it’s going to pull?’ By doing this, we’re confident he’ll be back to 100 percent and have this behind him and he can just focus on playing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he only played 24 times, and posted an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this last month, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard, but it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and got a small taste of NHL action. He’s still only 21, though.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

Goalie nods: McElhinney faces former mates in Columbus

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The Leafs will give backup Curtis McElhinney the start in Columbus this evening, just 36 days after they claimed him off waivers from the Jackets.

It promises to be an emotional affair.

“I try to focus on just playing games, no matter who they’re [against],” McElhinney said, per the Sun. “The fact I get to play in a familiar building is a great opportunity.

“The biggest thing [about being with the Leafs] is it’s nice to extend your career a little longer at this level. I’m grateful for another opportunity to do that.”

McElhinney spent parts of four seasons in Columbus, appearing in 85 contests. He had some good times with the club, which included starting a career-high 28 times in ’14-15, but fell out of favor this season. The Jackets opted to go with youngsters Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg in the backup role to Sergei Bobrovsky, which left McElhinney the odd man out.

He’s proven a nice pickup for Toronto, however.

The 33-year-old has been solid, posting a .935 save percentage and 2.11 GAA over four appearances. Tonight, he’ll be seeking his third win as a Leaf.

For the Jackets, Bobrovsky will start.

Elsewhere…

Jake Allen, named the NHL’s second star of the week on Monday, gets a night off as the Blues start Carter Hutton in Detroit. Petr Mrazek goes for the Red Wings.

— The red-hot Michal Neuvirth goes again for Philly, looking to build on the .946 save percentage he’s posted over his last five starts. The host Flames will start Brian Elliott, who came on in relief of Chad Johnson in Monday’s blowout loss to the Coyotes.

Martin Jones, who snapped a three-game losing streak with Sunday’s win over New Jersey, gets right back in for the Sharks. No word yet on a Panthers starter.

 

 

 

Kings’ youth movement continues as prospect Kempe gets recalled

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L.A. is going green.

In the experience department, anyway.

Having jettisoned veteran d-man Tom Gilbert (traded to Washington) and forwards Teddy Purcell and Devin Setoguchi (waivers), the Kings have now recalled Adrian Kempe, their first-round pick from 2014.

Rookie defenseman Paul LaDue, who we wrote about extensively last week, is also back up with the club.

The big story here, though, is Kempe, the Swedish winger taken 29th overall in his draft year. He’s spent each of the last two seasons in AHL Ontario and while his numbers hardly jump off the page — just 11 goals and 19 points in 43 games this season — he’s only 20 years old, and caught the eye of head coach Darryl Sutter.

“With the hockey IQ he has and the speed that he has, the only adjustment is experience,” Sutter said earlier this season, per the L.A. Times. “He’s adjusted to the ice and you can see that. He’s a fun player to watch.”

The Kings are back in action Thursday, when they host Arizona. It’s possible Kempe could make his big league debut, something the 24-year-old LaDue did in a pre-bye week loss to Tampa Bay.

Kempe and LaDue aren’t the only youngsters working their way into the mix.

Another rookie d-man, Kevin Gravel, has appeared in 38 games this year, while Nick Shore (the club’s third-round pick in 2011) and Derek Forbort (first round, ’10) have become lineup regulars.

These changes are in lockstep with what Sutter alluded to upon signing an extension last summer. He said changes were inevitable, and that the organization had to work in a number of its farmhands.

“We have the good fortune now of the players playing in the American League playoffs that we’ve had up and down during the season,” Sutter explained. “They’re good players. That’s how you grow.

“You need those guys to make the same sort of impact that those boys [L.A.’s core players] made on our team. We need two or three of the next group to do it now. That is key for us.”

For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

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For a small city in Northern Minnesota with approximately 2,000 residents, Warroad’s had a big impact on the hockey world.

It’s home to a number of former Olympians, including the Christian clan — Bill, Dave, Roger and Gordon all represented the U.S. at various winter games — and a handful of NHLers as well.

Which includes T.J. Oshie.

The Washington winger, enjoying another successful offensive campaign in the nation’s capital, was a former star at Warroad High School, helping the team capture two Minnesota State Class A titles in 2003 and 2005.

From there, more accolades followed. A standout career at the University of North Dakota. Getting selected in the first round of the draft. Over 100 goals scored over seven seasons with the Blues.

And, of course, one unforgettable Olympic effort, in a dramatic shootout win over the Russians in Sochi.

Through it all, though, the 30-year-old has remained close to Warroad, which helped shape his hockey journey.

From the Star-Tribune:

Oshie only lived in Warroad for three years, and he says he hasn’t been back in some time. But he isn’t sure where he would be today without that experience.

“I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey,” he said. “Maybe working somewhere.”

Warroad helped pave a path to his dream job, playing in the NHL. He has become a fan favorite, [and] achieved overnight celebrity at the Sochi Olympics after his one-man shootout display against Russia.

This Sunday, the NBC Sports Group will profile Warroad and its rich hockey history during the Hockey Day in America celebration. It’s part of a massive quadrupleheader of action that begins with Oshie and the Caps taking on the Rangers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), followed by Detroit-Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

From there, Hockey Day in America shifts to NBCSN. First, it’s Chicago-Buffalo (6 p.m. ET) followed by Boston-San Jose (8:30 p.m. ET).