Mike Halford

ST PAUL, MN - APRIL 20: (L-R) Jason Demers #4, goalie Antti Niemi #31 and Kris Russell #2 of the Dallas Stars celebrate a win against the Minnesota Wild of Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 20, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Stars defeated the Wild 3-2. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Dallas loves its young defensemen, which could mean goodbye for some vets

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Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn.

Combined, those four have over 1,800 games of NHL experience. They’re all 27 or older, fairly well traveled (only Benn has spent his entire career in Dallas) and, this summer, all will be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Which begs the question — which ones will be back in Dallas?

Which leads to another — will any of them be back?

The Dallas Morning-News took an in-depth look at the Stars’ blueline yesterday. The locks for spots next year are John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns, with the News’ Mike Heika suggesting youngsters Patrik Nemeth and Esa Lindell as potential regulars.

And there could be even more kids on the way.

As we’ve written about on PHT in the past, the Stars are enamored with their collection of young blueline talent. Last summer, owner Tom Gaglardi said “we’ve got the deepest bench of defense prospects in the league, quite honestly,” and at this year’s deadline, GM Jim Nill said teams were looking to raid his cupboard.

“When I talk about trades, when we got to make trades, that’s who everyone wants and I’m not giving them up,” he said. “That’s too big a part of our future.”

Dallas has been stockpiling blueliners for years. Klingberg, Nemeth, Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak are all draftees that have played in the NHL, while the likes of Ludwig Bystrom (43rd overall, ’12), Niklas Hansson (68th overall, ’13) and Julius Honka (14th overall, ’14) are being groomed in AHL Texas.

Johns and another prospect, ex-Detroit property Mattias Backman, were acquired via trade.

Which brings us back to the UFA Four of Goligoski, Russell, Demers and Benn.

In what’s hardly a blockbuster defenseman class, these guys will probably get good money on the open market. Goligoski could break $5 million annually, as could Russell (that was the reported figure from TSN, though before Russell’s less-than-stellar playoff effort.) Demers figures to get a nice bump from the $2.2 million he made this year.

And this is where things get interesting for Nill.

Dallas has some big-money decisions on the horizon, most notably the Jamie Benn extension, which Nill said he’d like to get done this summer. Nill also needs to decide what he wants to do with veteran UFA forwards Travis Moen, Vern Fiddler and Patrick Eaves. RFA winger Valeri Nichushkin needs a new contract, as does Oleksiak and burly power forward Brett Ritchie.

And don’t forget, the Stars are also locked into $10.4 million — annually, through 2018 — for the oft-maligned goalie duo of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen.

Taking all this into account, going young on defense could very well be the plan. Dallas has most of these blueliners on the cheap (entry-level or second contracts) and, given how high the organization is on them, perhaps now is the time to see what they’ve really got.

Wings pick Salajko to replace longtime goalie coach Bedard

Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) in the first period of Game 3 in a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Another significant move on Jeff Blashill’s coaching staff in Detroit — on Tuesday, the club announced Jeff Salajko has been promoted from AHL Grand Rapids to become the Red Wings’ new goalie coach.

Salajko, 41, takes over from veteran Jim Bedard, who’d been with the Detroit organization for the last 19 seasons.

Though there was little doubt Petr Mrazek was Detroit’s goalie of the future, this Salajko hire essentially cements it. The two worked together extensively with the Griffins over the last few years, and were in tandem for the club’s Calder Cup win in 2013.

Bedard and Howard were close. Not long after signing his six-year, $31.75 million extension, Howard thanked Bedard for having “a lot of faith in me,” and “[giving] me the ball four years ago and let me run with it.”

Salajko’s work goes beyond Mrazek, however. He’s also worked with farmhands Tom McCollum and Jared Coreau. Last year, the two goaltenders finished top-10 in the AHL in both goals-against average and save percentage.

As mentioned above, this is only the latest shift on Blashill’s staff.

Earlier, former B’s assistant Doug Houda replaced the outgoing Tony Granato, who’s now the head coach at the University of Wisconsin. Blashill’s other assistant from last year, Pat Ferschweiler, has been re-assigned and will work out of the press box next season.

 

Former first-rounder Bleackley facing possibility of re-entering draft

2014 NHL Draft - Round 1
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Two years ago, Conner Bleackley was taken 23rd overall by Colorado at the 2014 draft.

And it’s pretty much been downhill ever since.

After getting picked, his WHL Red Deer coach, Brent Sutter, said Bleackley wasn’t ready for NHL hockey. Bleackley then arrived at his first Avs camp out of shape, and was sent packing early. Colorado never signed him to an entry-level deal, shipping him to Arizona as part of the Mikkel Boedker trade at this year’s deadline.

Bleackley learned of the trade while recovering from a broken kneecap.

Two weeks after returning, he suffered a season-ending wrist tendon laceration.

Which brings us to the present.

Bleackley has until June 1 to reach a deal with the Coyotes. If he doesn’t, he’ll go back into the draft for a second time — something you don’t see very often.

“If that does happen, I think two teams would’ve made mistakes,” Bleackley said, per the Calgary Herald. “Whether I’m taken in the fourth round, fifth, seventh, not at all, or in the first round, my job doesn’t change — that’s to be a hockey player.”

Bleackley could take optimism from the case of Kyle Wood.

Wood, like Bleackley, was taken by Colorado at the ’14 draft. Wood, like Bleackley, never received a contract from the Avs and Wood, along with Bleackley, was shipped to the Coyotes in the aforementioned Boedker deal.

In March, Arizona signed Wood to a entry-level deal.

Bleackley is hoping for something similar. And hey, he did still manage to score 46 points in 55 games this year, which is good production given all his health issues.

He remains convinced he’s still a prospect worth investing in.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot left to give,” Bleackley said. “A lot of people may have counted me out already … but you won’t be able to convince me otherwise until it’s all said and done.”

Arizona’s Rieder hurt at worlds, expected to miss a month

New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes
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Coming off a career year, Tobias Rieder was looking forward to representing the German national team at the world hockey championships in Russia.

Unfortunately for him, his tournament has ended early.

Rieder has been knocked out of the worlds with a lower-body injury and will be sidelined for a month, Coyotes GM John Chayka told the team website.

“Tobi has a long summer to recover and get his training in,” Chayka said. “We expect him to be ready to go at training camp in September at 100 percent.”

Rieder, 23, is coming off a solid campaign in which he scored 14 goals and 37 points in 82 games. He was one of just two Coyotes to play in every game this year, and averaged over 17 minutes a night.

Looking ahead, it’s fair to speculate Rieder’s injury could make him questionable for Team Europe selection for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

He wasn’t named to the initial 16-man roster, but was considered to be in the mix for one of the final seven spots.

Canucks sign former Coyotes draftee Laplante

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Yan Pavel Laplante, 62nd pick overall by the Phoenix Coyotes, poses for a portrait during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Vancouver has added one of the top scorers from the Quebec League, inking Yan-Pavel Laplante to a three-year, entry-level deal.

Laplante, 21, was originally selected by Arizona in the third round of he 2013 draft, but went unsigned and re-entered the draft two years later.

He wasn’t picked in his second go-round.

That paved the way for him to play a final QMJHL season as an overager with Gatineau, and he fared well: 34 goals and 65 points in 63 games, finishing tied for 17th in the league in goals.

The Canucks may have been drawn to Laplante’s aggressive, physical game — he fought four times this year — as well as his pedigree as a former touted prospect. In ’13, Laplante shot up the pre-draft rankings while dealing with a serious shoulder injury.