Author: Mike Halford

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

Fewer faceoffs not a sign of injury, says Johnson


TAMPA — Tyler Johnson took 1,103 faceoffs this season. Only one other Lightning skater took more.

Yet in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final, he’s taken a grand total of…


And none in the last two games.

This, of course, has led to speculation that Johnson’s dealing with some type of injury preventing him from taking draws — a notion he shot down on Thursday in speaking with the media.

“[Ondrej Palat] beat me in practice, and he’s just better than me,” Johnson explained. “I’ve never been that good at faceoffs, so it’s alright.”

Given Tampa Bay’s series-long subterfuge regarding player health (see: Bishop, Ben), it’s not surprising to hear Johnson come up with an alternate reason as to why he’s not in the faceoff circle. While there’s some merit to his claim of not being great at it — he was at 48.7 percent during the year, the lowest winning percentage among the Bolts’ leaders — it’s a tough sell claiming Palat is far superior; the Czech forward took a grand total of 35 draws this year and only won 10 of them, a 28.6 percent success rate.

(In Game 4, Palat lost 10 of 14 draws for a 29 percent success rate. So it’s not like he’s gotten significantly better at this as the playoffs progressed.)

Chances are we’ll find out what’s ailing Johnson and the rest of his mates once the series is done. But for now, the only thing he’ll say about injuries is that all players probably have them.

“I think everyone’s banged up,” he explained. “When you play this long — I think it’s 104 games already — when you’re doing that you’re going to be bumped up a little bit but it doesn’t matter right now.

“It’s the Stanley Cup.”

Reports of Sobotka staying in KHL ‘premature,’ says Blues GM

Vladimir Sobotka

It might sound like Vladimir Sobotka’s staying in Russia but, according to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, nothing’s official yet:

The report Armstrong’s referring to appeared in late May, and came courtesy Avangard Omsk’s team website. It shot down the notion that Sobotka would be returning to St. Louis next season; upon signing a three-year pact with Omsk following an arbitration hearing with Blues last summer, the Sobotka camp negotiated an “out” clause which paved the way for a potential North America return at the culmination of any KHL campaign.

There’s no denying the Blues are interested in said return. Sobotka’s departure from St. Louis came on the heels of his best NHL season, in which he scored nine goals and 33 points in 61 games.

Armstrong has been in contact with the Sobotka camp this offseason and spoke with agent Petr Svoboda during the World Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic (Sobotka represented the Czechs in the tourney, scoring four points in 10 games.)

“I had a good talk with his agent,” Armstrong said at the time. “The agent told me that the money he made last year, they guaranteed him for next year. He’s got two weeks to decide what he’s going to do. I said ‘We’d love to have him back.’

“I understand if the economics are so great in the KHL and he has to stay. I respect that. Then we’ll talk again a year from now.”

Dallas hires NBC Sports play-by-play man Strader


On Friday, the Dallas Stars announced they’ve found their replacement for longtime announcer Ralph Strangis — NBC Sports’ Dave Strader, who has been calling NHL games for the network since the 2011-12 campaign.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Dave joining the Stars broadcast team,” Stars president Jim Lites said in a release. “Dave is a very talented and well-respected announcer whose hockey knowledge and commentary is among the smartest and best in the National Hockey League.

“His broadcasting resume and experience speak for themselves, and we are excited to have him call Stars games for years to come.”

Strader, 60, will remain part of the NBC family, according to a spokesman, and continue to be used on broadcasts when schedules allow.

Holland, Cleary will meet next week to decide future in Detroit

Daniel Cleary

After a frustrating year in which he played just 17 games, Dan Cleary will meet with Red Wings GM Ken Holland next week to decide what’s next for him in the Motor City.

It could end up being a pretty intriguing conversation, per the Free Press:

A situation that bears the handprint of former coach Mike Babcock has put the Wings in the position of being honor-bound to keep Cleary, 36, aboard, even as he is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, producing two points.

This debacle began two years ago. The Wings had offered Cleary a three-year, $6.25-million contract before he became unrestricted July 1. He declined. The Wings then signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, leaving little space under the salary cap. Then Cleary didn’t sign with anyone. September rolled around. The Flyers offered Cleary a three-year deal for $8.25 million, but Cleary then decided he wanted to stay in Detroit.

He ended up flying to Traverse City, where the Wings already had begun training camp. He met in a hangar with Holland and Babcock. Holland pointed to a near maxed-out budget. Babcock pushed hard for Cleary to be signed. What resulted was a one-year, $1.75-million deal with the understanding the Wings would take into consideration what Cleary left on the Flyers table.

After playing out that $1.75 million deal, Cleary re-signed in Detroit last summer to a one-year, $1.5 million pact.

So, essentially, the Wings are now heading into the final year of an unspoken three-year agreement that’s (sorta) aimed at repaying what Clearly left in Philly. The options for Holland, according to the Free Press, include signing Cleary to another one-year deal, then waiving him if he can’t make the team out of camp. There’s also speculation Holland could possibly offer Cleary a front-office position, though it’d be at a decidedly smaller salary than he’d get as a player.

Isles’ Sundstrom signs in Swedish League

New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders

New York forward Johan Sundstrom has signed with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, the club announced on Friday.

Sundstrom, 22, was taken 50th overall by the Isles at the 2011 draft and made his NHL debut a short while later, appearing in 11 games during the 2013-14 campaign.

His time in North America, though, had largely been spent with the club’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport and given he was a pending RFA, it’s not surprising he returned to a Frolunda team he played for both prior to and after being drafted.

Sundstrom appeared in 72 games last year for Bridgeport, scoring seven goals and 19 points. He’s now the second young Islander to leave the organization for the SHL this offseason — in May, 22-year-old John Persson inked with Farjestad.