Mike Halford

Todd McLellan

McLellan faces former Sharks team for first time tonight

He’s the longest-tenured and winningest coach in San Jose history.

But tonight, he’ll be trying to deal the Sharks a loss.

That, of course, is Todd McLellan, currently in his first year as Oilers bench boss after spending the previous seven seasons in the Bay Area.

Tonight, the Oilers will host the Sharks at Rexall — the first meeting of the year between the two clubs — and, prior to, McLellan discussed how he felt about facing his former club.

“It’s different,” he explained, per the team website. “I can downplay it, but it’s different. I probably know that team better than I know our team here in Edmonton now, at least personally, family-wise and what a lot of those players and individuals have gone through.

“I was invested with them. So that’s a little bit different.”

Tonight’s game features two teams going in different directions.

The Sharks have lost four straight and five of their last six, including Tuesday’s 4-2 defeat in Calgary.

The Oilers have won three straight and four of their last five, including Sunday’s 4-2 victory over Buffalo.

Edmonton’s recent streak came after a lousy stretch in which it went 1-3-1 on a five-game road trip, which was punctuated by an ugly 3-0 loss in Toronto — and McLellan calling out certain underachieving players.

While pundits thought that could’ve been a breaking point, it seemed to have the opposite effect as the Oilers have since played some of their best hockey of the year.

Perhaps that’s what McLellan was talking about when he was introduced as the new bench boss, saying his goal was to “build that mental strength” he thought the club lacked.

Related: Oilers waive d-man Fayne, he of the $14.5M contract

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    Amid concussion issues, veteran d-man Ballard retires

    Minnesota Wild v Dallas Stars
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    After 10 years and over 600 games, longtime NHL defenseman Keith Ballard has officially announced his retirement.

    Ballard, 33, is walking away from the game nearly one year after suffering three facial fractures — and what ended up being his last concussion — in a collision against the Isles on Dec. 9, 2014:

    Ballard, who had a history of concussion issues prior to that incident, never played again following the Islanders game and has since re-enrolled as a student at the University of Minnesota, where he starred from 2001-04.

    “I didn’t want to retire at this time, but with the bigger picture in mind, it was a no-brainer,” Ballard said, per the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “You look at so many athletes and they struggle for so long and I don’t want that to be me.

    “I want to live a healthy life, be there for my wife and kids.”

    Ballard said he still experiences headaches, dizziness and fogginess, but explained the symptoms “aren’t bad like they were.”

    Prior to finishing his career with the Wild, Ballard had spent time with the Coyotes, Panthers and Canucks. His most prolific season was in his rookie campaign, when he scored a career-high eight goals and 39 points.

    After GM’s urging, Pens to play rookie Sprong tonight

    Daniel Sprong
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    In the wake of the latest Pittsburgh drama — GM Jim Rutherford openly questioning head coach Mike Johnston’s use of rookie Daniel Sprong — it appears there’s some type of resolution on the horizon, as Sprong will play for the first time in eight games tonight in Colorado.

    From the Post-Gazette:

    Coach Mike Johnston said he hadn’t yet decided what line Sprong will play on. The Penguins juggled lines in practice Tuesday at Big Bear Ice Arena, a recreational rink on the outskirts of the city.

    Sprong skated on a line with center Matt Cullen and winger Sergei Plotnikov.

    Sprong, 18, has two goals in 14 games this year, while averaging 9:16 TOI per night. He’s been brought along very slowly by the Penguins, with some suggesting that’s been to his disadvantage — a prolific scorer in junior, Sprong seems to be the type that would thrive playing alongside more offensively-gifted players.

    As for the Johnston-Rutherford rift, it’s hard to say it had any impact on Sprong playing tonight.

    With yesterday’s news that Pascal Dupuis won’t play again due to blood clots, a spot opened up at forward and Sprong was the only extra forward on Pittsburgh’s current four-game road swing.

    Semin placed on unconditional waivers

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    It always felt like it was going to end this way, but now it’s official — Alex Semin is done as a Montreal Canadien.

    On Wednesday, the club placed Semin on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.

    The move comes not long after Montreal exposed Semin to standard waivers — which he cleared — then assigned him to its AHL affiliate in St. John’s.

    Per multiple reports (see here and here), Semin had no plans to report to the IceCaps, hence the move to terminate his deal. Montreal would then be off the hook entirely for Semin’s $1M cap hit.

    At this point, all signs suggest Semin could be on his way back to the KHL. The 31-year-old Russian has a long history with the league — after making his NHL debut in 2003-04, Semin spent two years playing for Tolyatti and Mytishchi Khimik before returning to North America.

    During the lockout, Semin appeared in 20 games for KHL club Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo.

     

    Oilers waive d-man Fayne, he of the $14.5M contract

    Rene Bourque, Mark Fayne
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    In July of 2014, the Oilers signed Mark Fayne to a four-year, $14.5 million deal, with then-GM Craig MacTavish calling Fayne “a very good defender” that made plays “highly effectively.”

    How times have changed.

    On Wednesday, the Oilers announced they’ve put Fayne on waivers for the purpose of assignment to AHL Bakersfield.

    It’s a big development, and a bit of a stunner — but there was writing on the wall.

    Fayne has been a healthy scratch a few times this year and had his role reduced under new head coach Todd McLellan. The former Devils rearguard averaged nearly 18 minutes per game last season, but has seen that total fall to 16:13 per night.

    Fayne, 28, also has no goals and just one point through 24 contests.

    In Edmonton’s last game, a 4-2 win over the Sabres on Sunday, Fayne watched from the press box as the Oilers went with a six-man defensive unit of Andre Sekera, Justin Schultz, Darnell Nurse, Eric Gryba, Oscar Klefbom and Brandon Davidson.

    In a telling stat, Nurse — the youngest blueliner on the team, at age 20 — and Klefbom, 22, led the team in ice time.

    As for Fayne’s future? Should he clear waivers, he’ll be off to Bakersfield and the Oilers would get some relief from his $3.625M cap hit.

    It’ll undoubtedly be a tough blow for the veteran, though.

    Fayne barely spent any time in the American League after graduating from Providence, playing in just 19 games for Albany before becoming a full-time member of the Devils.

    Finally, it’s worth pointing out that should he clear, Fayne won’t be the only high-priced contract the Oilers have stashed in the minor — Nikita Nikitin, who is making $4.5 million this year, is also currently in Bakersfield.