Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
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Traverse City title another feather in cap for Carolina prospects

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We’ve written quite a bit on PHT about all the good, young talent GM Ron Francis has stockpiled in Carolina — see here, here and here.

And now, right here.

The ‘Canes captured Detroit’s Traverse City prospects tourney on Tuesday night, beating the host Red Wings 6-4 to capture the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup for the first time since 2009.

“It’s a really good group of guys,” head coach Ulf Samuelsson said, per the ‘Canes website. “A lot of talent. It was a high-scoring team. A lot of fun to be a part of.”

Julien Gauthier and Jake Bean — Carolina’s two first-round picks at June’s draft — combined to score three goals in the second period, with Gauthier finishing with two markers on the night.

The win capped off a highly successful week. The ‘Canes ran the table at the event, beating the Rangers, Wild and Stars prior to toppling the Wings.

Bean and Gauthier starred in the final, but Carolina had other quality talent going in this tourney as well. Haydn Fleury, the seventh overall pick in 2014, manned the blueline while Alex Nedeljkovic, the prized goaltending prospect that started for the U.S. at the World Juniors, held things down in goal.

Other Carolina prospects featured in Traverse City included Roland McKeown, Nicolas Roy and Sergey Tolchinsky.

Related: With Peters re-signed, ‘Canes ready to snap playoff drought

Gryba back with Oilers on training camp PTO

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Eric Gryba is returning to Edmonton, though not with the security he’d like.

The veteran d-man has agreed to attend Oilers training camp on a PTO, per the Journal. The decision comes after Gryba spent nearly the entire offseason hoping for a contract from another NHL club — an offer that never came to fruition.

So, it’s the tryout route.

The 28-year-old was acquired by Edmonton at the 2015 draft, and proceeded to play 53 games last year. Over that spell, Gryba did what Gryba does — throw plenty of hits, rack up plenty of PIM and man the penalty kill.

Limited offensively and not the fastest skater, Gryba will be in a battle to secure a contract in Edmonton. The club’s top six projects to be comprised of Oscar Klefbom, Brandon Davidson, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse, Mark Fayne and newly acquired Adam Larsson, with Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Osterle in the mix for depth spots.

 

Rask, Lundqvist make World Cup debuts as Finland-Sweden rivalry renews

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The Finns are making a significant change ahead of today’s virtual must-win against Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey.

And so are the Swedes.

Pekka Rinne, Finland’s opening night starter in goal, will be replaced by Tuukka Rask, head coach Lauri Marjamaki confirmed on Monday.

Meanwhile, Team Sweden bench boss Rickard Gronborg announced that Henrik Lunqvist, who missed the opener due to the flu, would be in net after Jacob Markstrom performed admirably in a win over the Russians.

The decision to bench Rinne is a tad surprising, though hardly shocking. The Nashville ‘tender wasn’t to blame for a lopsided 4-1 loss to Team North America — he made 39 saves, and Marjamaki called him Finland’s best player — but he did fight the puck on certain occasions.

Outside of Rinne’s performance, it’s clear Marjamaki and the Finnish coaching staff needed to shake something up.

That’s probably why they’re going with Rask, who has starred internationally in the past. He was stellar at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, posting a 1.73 GAA and .937 save percentage in helping the Finns capture bronze.

As for Sweden, it was expected Lundqvist would regain the starter’s net when healthy.

It’s early, but Columbus has to be thrilled about Bobrovsky

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It’s been said the Blue Jackets will only go as far as Sergei Bobrovsky will take them.

Debatable, sure. But after watching Team Russia at the World Cup, it’s easier to make the argument.

In the wake of Bobrovsky’s scintillating effort in a 4-3 win over Team North America — 43 saves, 19 on the power play — it’s clear the most valuable Russian isn’t Alexander Ovechkin, or Evgeni Malkin, or Vladimir Tarasenko.

It’s Bob.

“I would like to thank Sergei Bobrovsky for this win,” Artemi Panarin said, per the Russian Hockey Federation. “If he hadn’t played so well, the score would have been different.”

Bobrovsky was terrific, a continuation of the form shown throughout the exhibition and World Cup campaign. All told, he’s stopped 144 of 155 shots faced — a .929 save percentage — and posted his best performances against (arguably) the two best teams in this tournament: Canada, and TNA.

All of which is music to Jarmo Kekalainen’s ears.

The Blue Jackets GM knows how vital Bobrovsky is to the club’s success. When the franchise broke a four-season playoff drought in 2013-14, Bobrovksy was a big reason why. He started 58 games that season, going 32-20-5 with a .923 save percentage. He captured the Vezina, and was Columbus’ clear MVP.

Likewise, it was Bobrovsky’s struggles that played a major role in the Jackets’ disaster of a 2015-16 campaign. Not only did his save percentage fall to .908, a recurring groin injury limited him to just 37 appearances.

Add it all up, and the formula is simple — Columbus needs Bobrovsky to make a lot of starts, and play well in those starts.

Which is why keeping him healthy is so important.

This summer, Columbus hired a “high performance” consultant by the name of Nelson Ayotte. The purpose of the hire was to “bridge the gap between the medical staff and the staff of strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins,” but Kekalainen specifically pointed out it was “a huge priority” for Ayotte to keep Bobrovsky healthy.

So far, so good. Bobrovsky already seems to have benefited from tweaks to his offseason training regimen.

But it’s a bit alarming to think just how much is riding on him this season.

Columbus is desperate to get back into the postseason after missing in each of the last two years. The management group of Kekalainen and president John Davidson has to be feeling the pressure, especially with a $69 million payroll and some of their highest profile moves (like signing Nathan Horton, then trading Horton for David Clarkson) going bust.

Kekalainen’s already played one of his biggest cards — firing Todd Richards in favor of John Tortorella — and Torts will undoubtedly be feeling heat this season, especially if the U.S. flames out of the World Cup.

So over to you, Bob. No pressure.

Nichushkin agrees to two-year deal with CSKA Moscow

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Valeri Nichushkin is on his way back to Russia.

Nichushkin, the Dallas forward who had his KHL rights acquired by powerhouse CSKA Moscow on Monday, has agreed to a two-year deal with the club.

CSKA announced news of the contract on Tuesday. Per our hasty Google translation, it has to be pointed out that CSKA said the deal had only been “agreed” upon, and will be signed “in the near future.”

What this means for Dallas remains to be seen.

It could provide the club one final chance of reaching a new deal with the still-unsigned RFA, and perhaps try and smooth out the rocky relationship between Nichushkin and head coach Lindy Ruff.

As pointed out by Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko yesterday, Nichushkin doesn’t want to play for Ruff but does want to return to the Stars someday. That could be why his deal with CSKA is for two years — the same amount of term left on Ruff’s deal in Dallas.

The 10th overall pick in 2013, Nichuskin looked like a budding star following a 14-goal, 34-point rookie campaign. But a major hip injury and surgery sidelined him for almost all of his sophomore campaign, which set things up for an acrimonious third year.

Ruff sent a message right at the start of the season, making Nichushkin a healthy scratch while adding the 21-year-old needed to “get his head in the right place.”

In late March, an interview with with Russian news outlet Sport-Express made waves, as Nichuskin said he didn’t feel Ruff trusted him, or played him enough.

Not long after, Nichuskin’s agent tried to clear the air.

“Val loves it in Dallas,” Mark Gandler told the Morning News. “He’s very happy there.”

Related:

Despite erratic year, Stars say Nichushkin still ‘very important player to us’

Under Pressure: Valeri Nichushkin