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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Report: Staal suffered concussion, return to Rangers unclear

Marc Staal, the New York blueliner that’s dealt with concussion issues throughout his career, is reportedly dealing with another concussion — one that held him out of the Rangers’ final two games prior to their bye week, per the Post.

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Staal, who has been working out at the club’s practice facility this week, did not go through the NHL’s concussion protocol after he was held out of last week’s games in Philadelphia and Columbus with what was announced as an unidentified “upper-body” injury.

It is unknown whether the alternate captain, who reported he was not feeling well following the Jan. 3 game against the Sabres, will be available for Friday’s game against the Maple Leafs at the Garden or Saturday’s match in Montreal.

Staal has dealt with two concussions prior to this — one in 2011, courtesy a hit from brother Eric, and a second two years later following a headshot from then-Devils forward Reid Boucher.

Prior to getting hurt, the 29-year-old had been a staple of the Rangers’ lineup this year. He was averaging 19:33 through 40 games, chipping in offensively with three goals and six points.

With Staal out, Adam Clendening has been thrust into the defensive rotation — and has fared well. In Saturday’s comeback win over the Blue Jackets, he scored his first goal and recorded his first multi-point effort of the campaign.

 

Ottawa in preliminary extension talks with Smith

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Sens forward Zack Smith had a breakout performance last year, scoring a career-high 25 goals while averaging a healthy 15:24 TOI per night.

Now, in the last of his four-year $7.55 million deal, Smith is proving last year was no fluke — and that a big payday could be on the horizon.

“We’ve have some preliminary talks,” Smith said of extension negotiations on Tuesday, per the Citizen. “I don’t think we’re in a rush and I feel like both sides want to get something done. I want to be play here and I think (management) wants me to be here, too, but it’s the agent who talks about money.”

Money will undoubtedly be a focal point for Smith and the Sens. He’s a pretty good bargain right now — carrying a $1.887M cap hit — but that’s unlikely to continue with his next deal.

The 28-year-old has nine goals and 17 points through 37 games this year, missing a fair chunk of time with an abdominal injury. Despite the ailment, he’s still on pace for a pretty good offensive campaign, especially if he continues to thrive playing alongside Derick Brassard and Mark Stone.

Smith has eight points in eight games since being united with his new linemates, which included a terrific effort against Edmonton on Sunday. He notched a goal and an assist in 17:47 TOI, earning praise from assistant coach Marc Crawford.

“He is so strong on the puck and he has got a very good shot,” Crawford explained. “He’s fearless and he goes to the net.”

What kind of raise Smith gets remains to be seen. The key will be how he fits within Ottawa’s budget, and if he’s willing to potentially take less than market value to stick with the only team he’s ever known. Smith was drafted by the Sens in 2008 and has spent his entire career with the organization, but could score big in free agency — should he choose to go that route.

Kesler returns to All-Star Game, looking to prove contract doubters wrong

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In the summer of 2015, Anaheim signed Ryan Kesler to a six-year, $41.25 million extension — a deal that would keep the veteran center under contract until he was 38, and pay him $6.875M annually.

The move came with some scrutiny. Kesler was already on the wrong side of 30 and had logged over 800 career games, with many hard minutes therein. He was also coming off a modest 47-point campaign.

The critiques were out there. And apparently Kesler hear ’em.

“That gets me going,” Kesler said this week, per the L.A. Times. “Ever since I signed that contract, I want to prove people wrong. You try not to hear it but you hear what people say, and I think that motivates me every year to come back and prove that I’m not quote-unquote over the hill.”

Kesler has been full value since signing the deal. Last year, he put up 53 points — his highest total since the ’10-11 campaign in Vancouver — and was named a Selke finalist.

This year, he’s been Anaheim’s MVP.

Kesler leads the Ducks in goals and points, with 16 and 35, and is playing an absolute boatload of minutes, averaging 21:51 per night. That puts him second among all forwards in terms of ice time — only Chicago’s Patrick Kane averages more — and he remains a solid possession metrics guy, often tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top forwards.

(He also remains dominant in the faceoff circle, leading the NHL in draws won.)

As such, Kesler’s headed to his second career All-Star Game, and first in six years. It’s a deserved honor. The Ducks are neck-and-neck with San Jose for top spot in the Pacific Division, despite relatively down offensive years from Corey Perry (just seven goals through 43 games) and Ryan Getzlaf (who’s been dealing with various injuries all season).

Even Getzlaf admits Kesler has been driving the bus in Anaheim.

“He’s been our best player all season,” the captain said, per the O.C. Register. “Without a doubt.”

NHL unveils All-Star Game jerseys

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On Tuesday, the NHL announced which players would be participating in the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (Jan. 29 at 3:30 pm on NBC and the NBC Sports app).

On Wednesday, the league revealed what they’d be wearing.

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The four All-Star teams – the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific – will wear jerseys that feature colors worn by the Kings during their 50-year history: Purple (Forum Blue), Gold, Black and White. The silver also is a nod to the NHL Centennial logo and the NHL Shield.

The Pacific Division (featuring the hometown Kings) will wear the black jersey. The Atlantic Division will wear gold, the Central Division will wear purple and the Metropolitan Division will wear white.

Each jersey features a band of stars that is reminiscent of the uniforms worn in NHL All-Star Games from 1989-91. Each of the 10 stars represents a decade in the 100-year history of the League. Four stars on the socks represent the four divisions in the NHL today.

The 2017 NHL All-Star patch is located on the right shoulder, while a full-color team patch for each player is found on the left shoulder. The custom font for the numbers and player names is inspired by the letters in the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign.

I’m not one for breaking down jersey esthetics, but these are pretty nice. Feel free to add more in the comments section.

Look out, here come the Carolina Hurricanes

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On Dec. 10, Carolina suffered a 4-3 loss in San Jose and dropped to 11-11-6 on the year.

Three days later, things took a turn.

Whether it’s fair or not to call it a turning point, something happened to Carolina in a wild 8-6 win over Vancouver on Dec. 13.The victory kickstarted this current stretch in which the ‘Canes are 8-4-1 over their last 13 and have moved to within three points of Philly for the final wild card spot in the East.

Oh, and the ‘Canes have two games in hand on the Flyers. No wonder they’re feeling great.

“We’re confident, each and every night, that we’re going to get two points,” head coach Bill Peters said following Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Columbus, per ESPN. “I believe when I wake up in the morning on game day, we’re leaving at the end of the night with two.”

There are plenty of reasons for Carolina’s success, but one seems to stand out above the rest:

Home cookin’.

Carolina started this season by playing eight of 10 on the road, including a six-game trip to open the campaign (GM Ron Francis said the schedule was “not ideal,” which was putting it lightly.)

Predictably, the ‘Canes struggled to a 3-4-3 start, but there was belief within the organization things would turn when the club finally got a run of games at PNC. And that’s proven to be accurate.

Tuesday’s win over the Blue Jackets pushed Carolina to 8-1-1 in its last 10 at home and, all told, the club has just four regulation losses at PNC this year, one of the top marks in the NHL.

Peters also seems to have found something with the Jeff SkinnerVictor RaskDerek Ryan line, which combined for eight points against Columbus. Ryan, a terrific story who made his NHL debut at age 29, has turned into a bonafide scorer. He’s been a point-a-game guy through five games in January and, on the season, has eight goals and 17 points through 28 games.

Other guys have contributed as well. Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho and Cam Ward — who made his 17th straight start on Tuesday — have come up with big performances.

If this keeps going, Carolina will have a legit shot at making the postseason for the first time since 2009.