Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
Getty

Pens dress enforcer Sestito for grudge match versus Jets

8 Comments

There were plenty of fireworks the last time Pittsburgh and Winnipeg played.

Tonight, when they meet for the first time since, there could be plenty more.

Pittsburgh will insert tough guy Tom Sestito into the lineup, after recalling him from the minors. The move is (presumably) in response to everything that occurred on Feb. 16, including Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Jets captain Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien’s hit on Pens d-man Justin Schultz, which left the latter with a concussion.

Oh yeah, Olli Maatta also had to exit the game following a big open ice hit from Adam Lowry (watch it here).

Chris Thorburn, Winnipeg’s resident pugilist, told the Winnipeg Sun Sestito’s inclusion “catches your attention a little bit,” adding “I’d probably be the one to address that.”

The Jets, of course, are desperately fighting to remain in playoff contention, so they’re insisting the focus is solely on securing two points. But at the same time, they were visibly frustrated after Malkin escaped punishment for the Wheeler hit, only for Jacob Trouba to get suspended days later for his hit on Mark Stone.

Then, after the Trouba-Stone incident, Winnipeg d-man Ben Chiarot voiced his displeasure with a high hit from Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, which also went unpunished.

“Might not be this year, might not be next year,” Chiarot warned. “But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

It’s probably worth noting the game on the 16th was in Pittsburgh.

Tonight’s rematch is in Winnipeg.

Rangers sign prospect Day, who’s ‘come a long way’

Getty
1 Comment

At last year’s draft, the Rangers made waves in the third round by selecting OHL defenseman Sean Day — once considered to be a star blueliner in the making — with the 81st overall pick.

Today, they inked Day to a three-year, entry-level deal.

Day, 19, came to prominence four years ago when he was granted exceptional status to play in the OHL, just like John TavaresAaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid had been granted before him.

But Day’s OHL career hadn’t come close to matching the hype. In fact, it was dogged by questions about his commitment to staying in shape.

From Sportsnet’s report from the Draft Combine:

Body fat:
Sean Day went off at 1-5 odds to have the worst result here and he did at 14.9 per cent.

More:

Okay, he’s down 20 pounds at least from last summer. At 230 he still looks like a beer leaguer but it’s a start. It didn’t look like he bought into the idea that the combine was a chance to make a big impression.

He went from ordinary to very ordinary to below average at the stations, and seemed sort of nonchalant.

This year, though, Day has impressed with 14 goals and 31 points in 57 games split between Mississauga and Windsor. The Spitfires acquired Day for their playoff push — they’ll host the Memorial Cup this year — and according to GM Warren Rychel, Day has been a solid addition.

“I’m happy for him,” Rychel said of today’s news, per the Windsor Star. “Sean has come a long way since he arrived in Windsor and that has been acknowledged by the Rangers.

“He will be a big part of our playoff push and Memorial Cup.”

Things certainly seem to be trending in the right direction for both player and organization. At the draft, Day said the Rangers were getting “a new Sean Day,” and delivered on that promise with a good showing at last summer’s prospect camp.

Lehtonen says it’s hard not to think about buyout, trade

Getty

Amid rumblings that Dallas is ready to move on from its maligned two-goalie system, Kari Lehtonen is trying to block out the noise.

Which is easier said than done.

From the Dallas Morning-News:

Lehtonen could be moved, be bought out or remain and try to establish a new relationship with a younger goalie. He said he’s aware of all of the options but is working hard to keep them at arm’s length.

“It’s hard sometimes not to think about it, but you have a job to do,” he said. “It’s part of this sport, and you do best when you concentrate on controlling what you can control. To me, I feel most healthy when I don’t think about it.”

Both Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are 33. They’re also both under contract through 2018, but Lehtonen carries the slightly larger cap hit ($5.9 million to Niemi’s $4.5M). From a financial standpoint, it might make sense for Dallas to get rid of the bigger hit, but there’s also a case to be made for keeping Lehtonen over Niemi.

Especially lately.

Lehtonen is playing his best hockey of the year. He has a .921 save percentage over his last five starts, which included 40-plus saves in consecutive wins over the Panthers and Capitals. That’s given the Stars the faintest flicker of playoff hope, as they head into tonight’s action seven points back of St. Louis for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

(Of note, Lehtonen will start tonight against Ottawa.)

But this all might be a case of too little, too late. Lehtonen’s overall body of work has been spotty — he hasn’t posted a save percentage above .906 in three years — and given Niemi’s equally underwhelming performance over the last couple of seasons, the case could be made to overhaul the entire thing, and move on from both.

Logistically, though, that could be tough.

Buyouts are costly, trades will be tough to orchestrate and it’s not like Dallas has a slew of goalie options in the pipeline. Prospect Philippe Desrosiers is only 21 and still a few seasons away from competing for an NHL gig.

Nill could try and upgrade the position in free agency, though it remains to be seen who’ll come available (and which other teams, like Calgary, will be in the goalie mix).

In the end, it could be that Dallas opts to part with just one of Lehtonen or Niemi. And if that’s the case, Lehtonen says he wants to stick.

“The whole city, the whole organization, it’s all very important to me,” he said.

Canada brings back Ducharme as World Juniors coach

Getty

After capturing silver at this year’s World Juniors, Dominique Ducharme is back for a shot at gold.

On Wednesday, Hockey Canada announced that Ducharme would return as head coach for the 2018 World Juniors, along with assistants Tim Hunter and Kris Knoblauch. The trio was instrumental in helping Canada medal this year after a disappointing sixth-place finish in 2016.

“This is a very unique opportunity to return an entire coaching staff that came within a shot of winning gold last year,” Hockey Canada’s Scott Salmond said, in a release. “The Program of Excellence Policy Committee unanimously agreed that it was in the best interest of the program to keep this coaching staff together and that their experience will provide us the best opportunity of winning gold in 2018.”

Two months ago, Ducharme’s charges came agonizingly close to winning it all, losing in a shootout to the Troy Terry-led U.S. squad in Montreal.

The 2018 tournament will be held in Buffalo. USA Hockey has yet to announce if head coach Bob Motzko will return to defend his title.

Of note, Canada and the U.S. will play an outdoor game at this year’s tournament.

 

Sabres could ‘hear the disappointment in the building’ last night

8 Comments

Dan Bylsma hoped his team had enough pain and anguish.

The answer? Nope.

The Sabres continued skidding on Tuesday night, dropping a 6-3 decision at home to Philadelphia. It was their third straight loss and second straight at home, and whatever playoff hopes the team might’ve had — remember, they were 26-23-10 on Feb. 18 — have been dashed, thanks to an ugly 1-5-2 mark over its last eight games.

“You can clearly hear the disappointment in the building,” goaltender Robin Lehner said, per the Buffalo News. “It’s been a long season. It’s disappointing where we are.”

With last night’s loss, Buffalo’s points percentage dropped to .493 on the year. That’s down (albeit ever so slightly) from last year’s .494 which, regardless size of decrease, is troubling. This was supposed to be a Sabres team on the rise, one ready to challenge for the playoffs. That was the impetus behind splashy free agent signing Kyle Okposo, to build on a trajectory that saw Buffalo improve by a whopping 27 points from ’14-15 to ’15-16.

This year?

The Sabres are on pace for 81… just like last year.

The biggest concern from this recent stretch is the club’s resiliency. Specifically, the lack of it.

Bylsma and the Sabres could have, at least previously, hung their hats on their ability to keep the bad times from going too long. They have just two three-game regulation losing streaks this year, finding ways to eke out OT ans shootout points. They also played some solid hockey in late January and early February, to ignite talks of snapping their six-year postseason drought.

From Jan. 20 to Feb. 18, Buffalo went 9-5-1 behind some quality play from Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. Those those two have put forth good campaigns — Eichel’s been a point-a-game player since returning from his ankle injury, with 45 in 46 games, while Kane leads the team with 24 goals.

But those efforts haven’t masked some larger, looming issues. The defense is a mess. Lehner’s been criticized for his inability to deliver a big save. And there are questions about Dan Bylsma’s job security, to the point where GM Tim Murray was asked recently about it.

Murray defended his coach, putting the blame on the players’ shoulders. As you’d expect him to. But heading into an offseason that projects to be filled with options — Ken Hitchcock, Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano, Michel Therrien among them — one has to wonder if a coaching change will be considered.