Mike Halford

skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on December 22, 2015 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.
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Horcoff returns to Ducks practice, regrets substance ban

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Forward Shawn Horcoff has returned to practice with the Anaheim Ducks while serving his 20-game suspension for violating the terms of the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances program.

Horcoff practiced on Tuesday, the first day he was eligible to come back. His suspension lasts until March 11.

Horcoff says he regrets taking an unspecified substance to deal with a hand injury in November. He says he didn’t know the treatment was banned by the league, but took responsibility for his error.

Horcoff has six goals and four assists in 45 games during his first season with the Ducks. He will lose nearly $360,000 in salary during the suspension.

The Ducks have been on a spectacular run in Horcoff’s absence, going 13-1-1 with an eight-game winning streak.

Finns announce preliminary roster for World Cup led by Rask, Koivu

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Finland joined Russia in announcing its 16-man initial roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on Wednesday, a roster heavily influenced by the team that captured bronze at the ’14 Olympics in Sochi.

Boston goalie Tuukka Rask and Wild captain Mikko Koivu headline the list, along with a pair of participants at this year’s All-Star Game in Nashville — Preds goalie Pekka Rinne, and Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov.

The roster, in full:

G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

D Esa Lindell, Texas Stars (AHL) – Dallas Stars hold NHL rights
D Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
D Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks

F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
F Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
F Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
F Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
F Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers
F Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues
F Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks

Among the notable “snubs” for Finland? Minnesota’s Erik Haula, who sits 10th among all Finnish forwards this year with 23 points, was left off. So too was Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen, Vancouver’s Markus Granlund (Mikael’s brother), Winnipeg’s Joel Armia, Boston’s Joonas Kemppainen and Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki.

On defense, it’s worth pointing out that one Dallas prospect, Lindell, made it over one of the club’s recently departed — Jyrki Jokipakka, who was traded to Calgary on Monday in the Kris Russell deal.

It’s also worth noting two of the country’s brightest young prospects failed to make it: Kasperi Kapanen, who recently made his NHL debut with Toronto, and Mikko Rantanen, the promising Colorado forward taken 10th overall in ’15.

Rantanen currently sits fifth in the AHL in scoring, with 48 points through 39 games.

Finally, in goal, it’ll be interesting to see who claims the No. 3 spot behind Rask and Rinne. Right now, the leading candidates would have to be Dallas’ Antti Niemi (or, Kari Lehtonen), Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo or the Rangers’ Antti Raanta.

Ovechkin, Malkin highlight Russia’s initial World Cup roster

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Russia became the first team to unveil its preliminary 16-man roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on Wednesday and, to nobody’s surprise, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are two of the players on it.

The rest of the makeup is a bit interesting.

The Russians only named three defensemen: Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov, Montreal’s Andrei Markov and Washington’s Dmitry Orlov. That those three made it isn’t a huge surprise — they’re the leading Russian d-men scorers in the NHL this season — but it is curious to note the likes of Philly’s Evgeny Medvedev, Detroit’s Alexey Marchenko, Montreal’s Alexei Emelin and Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin all failed to make the initial cut.

Up front, things were a little more straightforward.

Joining Malkin and Ovechkin are Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit), Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis), Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington), Artem Anisimov (Chicago), Artemi Panarin (Chicago), Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay) and Nikolay Kulemin (New York Islanders).

Among the more notable snubs at forward? Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado’s Mikhail Grigorenko, Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov and Winnipeg’s Alexander Burmistrov.

In goal, there were no big surprises. Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy all made the cut, and were the only real candidates in the mix.

It should be noted that, by the time the World Cup rolls around in September, the Russian roster could have a decidedly different look. Per Sportsnet, the Russian Hockey Federation made the decision not to name any KHL players to the initial roster.

“Right now we’re going to put 16 players from NHL,” Russian head scout Alexei Zhamnov explained. “(For the remaining) seven spots, we’ll discuss. Maybe some players from KHL, too. Right now it’s most important for us to make the list of 16 players.”

After surviving deadline, Vatanen wants to be a Duck ‘for a long time’

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
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There was a fair bit of uncertainty around Anaheim blueliner Sami Vatanen at Monday’s trade deadline. A pending RFA with high upside, Vatanen was considered an outside candidate to be moved — something Ducks GM Bob Murray alluded to when he said he received “lots of calls” about “certain people on the back end.”

But when the 3 p.m. EST deadline passed, Vatanen remained with the Ducks.

And for that, he’s grateful.

“I want to be a Duck,” Vatanen said, per the O.C. Register. “That’s my first thing what I want to do. It’s been my favorite team. That’s on my mind. To be here for a long time would be a dream come true.”

The Ducks probably have similar dreams.

Vatanen, 24, is in the final year of his second pro contract — a two-year, $2.525 million pact with a $1.26M average annual cap hit. It’s one of the best value contracts in the league, as Vatanen currently leads all Ducks d-men in scoring with 34 points, putting him top-30 among NHL blueliners.

As such, it wasn’t surprising to learn — via the Register — of reports suggesting Vantanen’s seeking a six-year deal at $6 million per season on his next deal. Though the Ducks emphatically denied that, Murray did say last week that he unsuccessfully tried to get Vatanen and the club’s other RFAs — Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell and Frederik Andersen — signed in December.

Which will make for a big offseason in Orange County.

“I’ve got lots of thinking to do about our defensive corps in the next four months,” Murray said following the deadline. “I wasn’t doing anything today. I want to have a long, hard look at what we’ve got going forward.”

That group, of course, features likes of Cam Fowler, Kevin Bieksa and Simon Despres locked in through 2018, and promising prospect Shea Theodore on the horizon.

It’s also widely assumed of the four RFAs needing new deals, Vatanen’s fellow blueliner, Lindholm, will be Murray’s top priority this summer.

Goalie nods: Varlamov versus Dubnyk in ‘playoff-type’ game for Avs, Wild

Zach Parise, Semyon Varlamov
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A quick glace at the standings tells you how important tonight’s Avalanche-Wild game in Minnesota will be.

The Wild come into Tuesday’s play just two points back of Colorado for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild have had the better of the season series, collecting five of a possible six points, but the teams still have two more games against one another this year — and, unsurprisingly, both will roll with their No. 1 netminders at Xcel this evening.

Seymon Varlamov comes into the game looking to erase memories of his previous one — a 5-3 loss to Detroit in Saturday’s outdoor game in Denver. Varlamov allowed four goals on 27 shots to suffer his second straight defeat.

Devan Dubnyk, meanwhile, will look to carry over his effort from his last game.

Dubnyk allowed just one goal on 18 shots in a win over Florida, to cap off what was an otherwise mediocre February. The former Vezina finalist went 4-6-0 with a 2.90 GAA and .900 save percentage last month though, like the rest of his Wild teammates, seemed to respond to the coaching change from Mike Yeo to John Torchetti.

Elsewhere…

— After Jonas Hiller started last night, Joni Ortio is back in for the Flames tonight in Boston. Tuukka Rask is likely in goal for the B’s.

Eddie Lack will return to the ‘Canes net after Cam Ward started the last six games. Cory Schneider will start for the host Devils.

— Two of the three goalies made available at last year’s draft (along with Lack, ironically enough) will face off as Cam Talbot and the Oilers take on Robin Lehner and the Sabres in Buffalo.

Jake Allen, coming off his first win since returning from injury, is in goal for the Blues. Craig Anderson starts for the Sens.

Braden Holtby gets the nod as the Caps host the Pens on NBCSN. Pittsburgh didn’t have a morning skate, but it’s very likely Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net.

— No confirmations from Dallas and Nashville for their game at Bridgestone. Pekka Rinne appears likely, however.

— It’s Roberto Luongo versus Ondrej Pavelec as the Panthers take on the Jets in Winnipeg.

— Battle of the backups in Vancouver this evening: Thomas Greiss starts for the Isles, while Jacob Markstrom goes for the Canucks.