Mike Halford

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 20:  Trevor Lewis #22 of the Los Angeles Kings skates the puck past Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Dallas Stars in the second period at American Airlines Center on October 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Dallas shakes up defense (again), healthy scratches Hamhuis (again)

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The winds of change continue to blow through the Stars’ blueline.

Veteran Dan Hamhuis, signed this summer to a two-year, $7.5 million deal, will be a healthy scratch for the second time this season when Dallas takes on St. Louis Monday evening, per the Morning-News.

Stephen Johns, who was sent to the minors last week and quickly recalled, will also be parked in the press box.

“There’s a couple things in play,” head coach Lindy Ruff explained (per the Morning-News’ Mike Heika). “We really feel we’re going to use eight defensemen. The other thing with Johns is if I play him tonight and play him tomorrow, that’s four games in five nights.

“So you pick which games you want to get him in. For [Patrik] Nemeth, he’s a big strong defenseman that we want to get back in the lineup.”

Nemeth hasn’t played since Nov. 21, when he received just under 16 minutes in a OT win over Minnesota.

As for Hamhuis, his demotion comes after receiving a season-low 16:06 in Friday’s 2-1 win over his former team, the Canucks. In that game, he was beaten by Vancouver forward Jason Megna for the only goal surrendered on the night.

Hamhuis, 33, has had a difficult time transitioning to his new team, but has still been a regular lineup presence. He and John Klingberg are tied for the team lead in games played by a defenseman, with 21.

As mentioned above, Ruff has already sat Hamhuis once this season — following a 4-1 loss to the Jets on Oct. 27 — and admitted it was a tough decision to make.

“I went and talked to him, and those aren’t easy conversations. Understandably, you’ve got an upset player,” Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “But it’s a strong message, and it’s a message that needs to be carried — it’s not good enough. I know it’s tough when you come from another team, but right now we’ve got to find less excuses and more reasons to win a game.”

Ruff has spent most of this season juggling defensemen in and out of the lineup. Nine different guys have suited up, including promising rookie Julius Honka, who made his NHL debut last week. Nemeth, Johns, Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell have all platooned in and out, and that will likely continue as the Stars try to find the right mix with veteran Johnny Oduya (lower body) on IR, and out indefinitely.

In other Dallas lineup news, Jason Spezza could end up on the club’s fourth line tonight. But Ruff also suggested he could go back to the lines he used on the Stars’ last road trip… so, maybe not.

Huge blow for Canucks as Edler (broken finger) out 4-6 weeks

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks
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Alex Edler, Vancouver’s minute-munching defenseman, will miss the next 4-6 weeks of action after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured left index finger, the club announced on Monday.

Edler suffered the injury early in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win in Colorado. Prior to getting hurt, he was receiving a significant amount of ice time — Edler had the 13th-highest TOI average in the NHL coming into the weekend, ahead of the likes of Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban, Ryan McDonagh and Brent Burns.

(Edler only skated 3:59 against the Avs before exiting, so his average has since dropped.)

This injury will likely remind Vancouver fans of last season, when Edler — who averaged a whopping 24:27 per game — suffered a season-ending fibula fracture in February. All told, Edler missed 30 games and his absence was clearly felt, as Vancouver limped to one of the worst records in the NHL.

What’s more, the Canucks are already without a valuable defenseman.

Chris Tanev, arguably the team’s best shutdown blueliner, hasn’t played since Nov. 2 due to a foot injury. He’s set to resume skating soon and his return could come in a week or so, but he’s left a significant hole in the lineup.

Vancouver is also currently down the services of depth defenseman Philip Larsen, who’s missed the last few games with an illness. Larsen hasn’t played since getting over 18 minutes of ice time in a loss to the Islanders on Nov. 7.

With Edler out, the club is expected to recall Alex Biega from AHL Utica. Biega was sent down to the farm on Saturday on a conditioning stint.

Looking ahead, Vancouver could be icing a defense comprised of Biega, Ben Hutton, Erik Gudbranson, Luca Sbisa, Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin on Tuesday against Minnesota, depending on Larsen’s availability.

Back on NBC: The NHL’s All-Star Game returns to network TV

Pacific Division forward John Scott (28) is lifted up by teammates Mark Giordano (5), of the Calgary Flames, Joe Pavelski (8), and Brent Burns (88), of the San Jose Sharks after they defeated the Atlantic Division team 1-0 at an NHL hockey All-Star championship game, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Pacific Division won 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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On the heels of last year’s successful All-Star Game in Nashville, the NHL is getting wider exposure for this year’s installment in Los Angeles.

On Monday, the NBC Sports Group announced the 2017 NHL ASG would be aired on NBC, marking the first network-television broadcast of the NHL All-Star Game since 2004.

Previously, the game was set to be aired on NBC Sports Network.

“As the NHL celebrates its Centennial, we’re excited to bring the pace and energy of the NHL All-Star Game to a network-television audience for the first time in more than a decade,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “This move, combined with the addition of games featuring rising young stars like Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, as well as our upcoming ‘Star Sunday’ matchups, continues to illustrate our commitment to showcase the best talent in the NHL and grow the game of hockey in America.”

This marks the first time NBC will televise the ASG since 1994, when the old Eastern vs. Western Conference matchup took place at Madison Square Garden in New York. Four years prior to that, NBC aired the 1990 ASG, which represented the first-ever U.S. national TV broadcast featuring both Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

Like last year, the ’17 ASG will feature a 3-on-3 tournament with the top players from the Pacific, Central, Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions.

This will also mark the third time the NHL has played the game in Los Angeles.

After worst outing of the year, Flames give Jankowski NHL debut

EDMONTON, AB - SEPTEMBER 26:  Tyler Pitlick #15 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Mark Jankowski #77 of the Calgary Flames on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Of the 30 players first-rounders from the 2012 draft, only two have yet to make their NHL debuts.

Tonight, that number will decrease to one.

Mark Jankowski, the 21st overall pick, will play his first big-league contest when he and the Flames take on the Isles in Brooklyn on Monday night.

(This leaves St. Louis’ Jordan Schmaltz, the 25th selection, as the lone first-rounder yet to play in the NHL.)

Jankowski, 22, got the call up to Calgary after a terrific start to the year in AHL Stockton, with 12 points in 13 games.

And now he gets to enter the lineup after his team’s lousiest effort of the year!

“It’s the worst we’ve played from the start all season. I give (the Flyers) credit, too. They did outwork us,” head coach Glen Guluzan told reporters after Calgary’s 5-3 loss in Philly on Sunday. “It’s everything. It’s execution. It’s battles. I was very disappointed with our guys after the first.

“I let them know that but it didn’t get any better in the second.”

Gulutzan wouldn’t say who is coming out of the lineup to make room for Jankowski.

So, how big a boost can the rookie forward provide?

There have always been high, but tempered hopes for Jankowski — former Flames assistant GM John Weisbrod once compared him to Joe Nieuwendyk, but the Flames also said he was ‘very much a project’ when he was drafted.

After getting selected in ’12, Jankowski spent four full years at Providence, helping the Friars capture the Frozen Four in 2015. Like many NCAAers that play out the string, he could have become a free agent this summer, a la Jimmy Vesey.

But despite the opportunity, he saw no reason to sign elsewhere.

“Honestly, there was no looking around,” he told the Calgary Sun in March.

Gerard Gallant didn’t think Florida was tough enough. Did it cost him his job?

Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant asks the referee to review the game winning goal in overtime by Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin during an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. The goal was allowed, and the Penguins won in overtime 3-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Last week, we passed along this interesting-but-seemingly-innocuous tidbit out of Florida, in which Panthers coach Gerard Gallant — sorry, Panthers ex-coach Gerard Gallant — admitted concern about his club’s lack of toughness.

More: Panthers fire Gallant

The gist? Given the departures of Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, the injury to Alex Petrovic and Shawn Thornton‘s diminishing game (he’s been a routine healthy scratch), Gallant didn’t think the Panthers had enough snarl.

And last Tuesday, they didn’t have anyone to respond when the Flyers took physical liberties with them.

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The Panthers had no suitable enforcer to respond Tuesday when Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds got feisty or when Radko Gudas flattened Vincent Trocheck with a headshot. Gallant said he regretted not having Thornton available.

“You always think that when things happen to your team. It’s frustrating to see that happen, especially in your own building,” Gallant said. “The Simmonds situation and then the Gudas hit on Trocheck, you’d like a response on that.

“But when you don’t have personnel to put out there for that it shows.”

Perhaps we should’ve made more of that last line.

Especially the “personnel” part.

The Panthers, as has been well-documented, made a drastic organizational overhaul this summer. Changes were everywhere — in the front office, behind the bench (remember, assistant coach John Madden was turfed) and most notably on the ice.

The Panthers brought in Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, James Reimer, Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault. They traded Gudbranson and a budding young power forward in Lawson Crouse. They tinkered significantly with a squad that won a franchise-record 47 games last year, and made the playoffs for just the second time in 15 seasons.

Gallant played a big role in that success, but so too did physical presences like Gudbranson, Kulikov and Willie Mitchell (who played half a season before concussion issues sidelined him). Those three are gone, along with less significant pieces like Quinton Howden, a grinding, energetic forward who finished sixth on the team in hits last year, with 116, despite playing in only 58 games.

Gudbranson, though, sounds like he’s the embodiment of Florida’s missing toughness.

From Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

Gallant would never admit it (at least not before Sunday), but he hated seeing Erik Gudbranson traded. In a cap world, someone had to go. Losing him and Willie Mitchell changed the complexion of the blue line.

Gallant valued Gudbranson’s game, how hard he could make it on opposing forwards. But Florida’s front office values a different kind of defender, and with one season remaining until his free agency, they weren’t going to ante up for Gudbranson’s skillset.

So Gallant’s questioning of the club’s direction probably began in May, when Gubranson was flipped to Vancouver.

It hasn’t stopped since.

In July, Gallant — just months removed from being named a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year — said he was “definitely a little bit surprised” at all changes made.

“You’d like to have your team back as a coach but at the same time there’s salary-cap issues that come into play,’’  Gallant said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It’s different than it used to be before.”

In the end, this might’ve been his biggest undoing. It wasn’t that Florida was off to an average start, or that players tuned him out.

It was that Florida had a vision that Gallant didn’t agree with, and wasn’t going to let him openly challenge it anymore.

For further confirmation, just consider what owner Vinnie Viola said — and how he said it — in announcing Gallant’s dismissal.

“In seeking to earn a second consecutive playoff berth and bring a Stanley Cup to South Florida,” Viola said, “we believe that new leadership is required immediately.”