Mike Halford

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

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals predictions

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For those making predictions, it was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The second wasn’t much easier.

This was the year many picked Washington to finally beat the Penguins, and finally get to the conference final. And several of those same people thought Ottawa’s run would come to an end against the Rangers.

Nope.

Here at PHT, the results were (again) a mixed bag. I continued to make up for years of very bad choices by going 3-1, and am now at a 75 percent in the playoffs. This is as shocking to me as it is to you. Jason Brough and Joey Alfieri also went 3-1 in Round 2, James O’Brien went 2-2 while Cam Tucker and Adam Gretz went 1-3.

Overall? I’m at 9-3, Tucker and Alfieri are 7-5, Brough is 6-6, Gretz and O’Brien are 5-7.

As for our digital adversary, the Random Thing Picker, Round 2 was a fall from grace after going 6-2 in the opener. The RTP went a mere 2-2 proving that, in the battle of man versus machine, the humans are still in this thing (aside from Gretz and O’Brien).

Onto the conference finals!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Brough: Penguins in 6
Halford: Penguins in 7
O’Brien: Penguins in 6
Gretz: Penguins in 6
Tucker: Penguins in 6
Alfieri: Penguins in 7
Random Thing Picker: Penguins

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Preds in 7
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Preds in 7
Tucker: Preds in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Isles sign goalie prospect Soderstrom, fresh off Swedish League title

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New York signed one of its most coveted young talents on Thursday, agreeing to a three-year, entry-level deal with Swedish goalie Linus Soderstrom.

Soderstrom, 20, was the club’s fourth-round pick in 2014 and is coming off a terrific SHL campaign, in which he helped HV71 capture the championship on the strength of a league-best 1.34 GAA (and a .943 save percentage).

Soderstrom has starred on the international stage as well. In 2016, he was named to the World Junior all-star team and captured top goalie honors.

There was no immediate word where Soderstrom would play next season. The Isles have two goalies currently under contract — Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss — with another prospect, Eamon McAdam, locked in with AHL Bridgeport.

Jean-Francois Berube is an unrestricted free agent, while Stephon Williams is a RFA. The Isles also have another tantalizing young prospect in Russian Ilya Sorokin, the 21-year-old that starred for KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow this season.

 

 

Yakupov wants to play in NHL, not KHL, next season

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This summer will mark the five-year anniversary of Nail Yakupov going No. 1 overall at the 2012 draft.

And it comes with great uncertainty about his NHL future.

Coming off a season in which he was a part-time player for the Blues, Yakupov is now a pending restricted free agent. It’s unclear what GM Doug Armstrong will do in terms of a contract offer, but Yakupov knows what he wants.

From Fox Sports Midwest:

Yakupov was in and out of the Blues lineup during the regular season, scoring three goals and nine points in 40 games. Some of that was due to coaching decisions, but it was also due to a troublesome left knee injury that eventually required surgery in late March.

“I battled for a month and tested my leg three times and it didn’t feel very good,” he said, per the Post-Dispatch. “Kind of a sad thing.”

Yakupov, 23, said he enjoyed his time in St. Louis. His trade from Edmonton just prior to the start of the regular season appeared to be a good change of scenery, and he said he’d like to stay.

But given Armstrong would need to qualify Yakupov at his current $2.5 million salary just to retain his rights, it might not be in the cards.

Kuznetsov and Draisaitl, both RFAs, are headed to Worlds

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Two of this year’s leading playoff scorers are headed overseas.

And they’re going with contract talks hanging in the balance.

On Thursday, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov — both restricted free agents — confirmed they’re going to the World Hockey Championship to represent Germany and Russia, respectively.

Draisaitl just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. He had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. That left him sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and he was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

More: Some big decisions remain for Edmonton

Kuznetsov was among the top-15 playoff scorers, with five goals and 10 points. Seven of those came in Washington’s series defeat to Pittsburgh. He’s coming off his second contract — a two-year deal with a $3 million cap hit — and figures to be in line for a big payday.

As for the teams they’re joining?

Germany, one of the tournament co-hosts, has fared reasonably well through four games. It posted an emotional 2-1 win over the U.S. in the tournament opener, then rebounded from consecutive losses — 7-2 to Sweden, 6-3 to Russia — to beat the Slovaks on Wednesday.

Russia, meanwhile, has been perfect through four games, outscoring opponents by a whopping 21-5 margin.

Kuznetsov isn’t the only noteworthy addition to the Russian roster. Caps teammate Dmitry Orlov is also headed to the Worlds and, like Kuznetsov and Draisaitl, is also a pending RFA.

Edmonton and Washington will be keeping pretty close tabs on this tournament, hopeful they don’t run into a similar situation like Arizona and Tobias Rieder did last year. Rieder, who was a restricted free agent, opted to play for Germany and got hurt early in the tournament.

Rieder did recover in time to play for Team Europe at the World Cup, and signed with the Coyotes just days before the start of the regular season.

Nash plans to return to Rangers next season

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Rick Nash is under contract through 2018, and says he wants to stay in New York.

But questions surrounding his future don’t seem to be going away.

With many predicting significant changes coming to the Rangers following their playoff exit to Ottawa, Nash confirmed his desire to stay in the Big Apple during Thursday’s end-of-year media availability.

“I plan on being here, I plan on being a Ranger,” Nash said, per WFAN 660. “As a player, you can’t control that. You’ve got to leave that up to management.

“I love being a Ranger.”

More: Changes needed for Rangers, but which ones to choose?

The 32-year-old is heading into the last of a monster eight-year, $62.4 million deal with a $7.8 million average annual cap hit. He has a modified no-trade clause — Nash can submit a 12-team trade list — and the Post has already floated him as a potential trade deadline rental for next season.

But one wonders if Nash will see the writing on the wall. It certainly sounds like he has, to some degree.

He, like many other Rangers, lamented how the current group blew a good opportunity, losing to a seemingly beatable Ottawa team. And this was the latest in a series of missed chances. New York has been to the playoffs every year in the Nash era and had some good success — one Cup Final appearance, three Eastern Conference finals — but never won it all.

Last year it was a first-round exit and this year, a second. The reality of the window closing is setting in.

“For me, it’s disappointing when you have a team that’s this good and an opportunity like we did,” Nash said on Tuesday, per the Post. “You only get so many cracks at this.”

Nash also surely knows that GM Jeff Gorton will probably continue to make his roster younger, and faster. This started last summer with the Derick Brassard-for-Mika Zibanejad trade, the acquisition of Jimmy Vesey and the growth of roles for Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich.

If Gorton wants to continue down that path, some longtime Rangers could be in play.