Mike Halford

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Martin Hanzal #11 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Gila River Arena on November 25, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 4-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Welcome Martin Hanzal to the trade rumor mill

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There’s a youth movement going on in Arizona, so it’s not entirely surprising to hear veteran center Martin Hanzal pop up in trade rumors.

On Thursday, Sportsnet’s Eric Engels was told Hanzal “could be on the move soon,” adding the Canadiens were one of the teams in the hunt.

Engels’ report came on the heels of another Sportsnet analyst — Elliotte Friedman — touching on Hanzal’s availability in his most recent 30 Thoughts column:

Arizona has told teams that pending unrestricted free agent Martin Hanzal will not be dealt unless the Coyotes receive a young player who can step in now.

The preference is a centre. It sounds like there’s quite a bit of interest. Could see San Jose and St. Louis being among them. Fits what both need and both do.

Hanzal, who turns 30 in February, has four points through 10 games this year, missing time with a lower-body injury. Health has been a major issue for the big Czech — he stands 6-foot-6, 226 pounds — and, over the last two years, he’s missed 63 games due to various ailments.

But when healthy, Hanzal can be very effective.

Last year he racked up a career-high 41 points (in just 64 games played), often skating alongside two youngsters in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Hanzal was also terrific in the faceoff circle, winning nearly 56 percent of his draws, and has routinely averaged around 18 minutes per night for the Coyotes, the only NHL club he’s ever known.

Financially speaking, Hanzal has appeal. He’s in the last of a five-year, $15.5 million deal with a very affordable $3.1M average annual cap hit.

Given that price point and the need for big, workhorse centers across the league, one can expect the bidding for Hanzal to be pretty high, and aggressive.

But it could also be why the Coyotes would like to keep him in the fold.

Related: PHT’s very own Jason Brough pegged this move back in October

Sabres hire Kaleta as youth hockey ambassador

Patrick Kaleta
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In a move that seemingly doubles as a retirement announcement, the Sabres have hired longtime forward Patrick Kaleta as a youth hockey ambassador.

More, from the club:

In this role, Kaleta will implement and manage the Buffalo Sabres’ Learn to Play Program.

Focusing primarily on the Western New York region, Kaleta will also serve as a liaison to the local high school hockey community and will provide additional support and instruction for other youth hockey initiatives.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work in the community in which I was born and raised, and to help grow the game of hockey among the youth of Western New York,” Kaleta said. “As a kid, it was always a dream of mine to become a Buffalo Sabre and now I’ll have the opportunity to help other young kids develop the same passion for hockey.”

Born and raised in Angola, NY, Kaleta was drafted by Buffalo in 2004 and spent his entire professional career with the Sabres organization, appearing in nearly 350 NHL contests.

Now, there’s no sense in glossing over the obvious here — there will be remarks made about hiring Kaleta, one of the most notorious players of his generation.

A known agitator, Kaleta was at peak infamy from 2009-13, when he was fined or suspended seven times during a four-year stretch, culminating with a 10-game ban for a headshot on Columbus’ Jack Johnson.

Kaleta unsuccessfully appealed that suspension, at which time another forward with a checkered history — Matt Cooke — offered to help Kaleta change his style of play.

Wild send talented rookie Eriksson Ek back to Sweden

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23:  Joel Eriksson Ek #14 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on October 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Wild 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On paper, Joel Eriksson Ek made a pretty good case for sticking in the NHL — two goals and five points through his first nine games — but on Thursday, Minnesota opted to return its prized prospect to his native Sweden, where he’ll suit up for Farjestad.

Eriksson Ek, 19, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft. He cracked the opening night roster after a strong exhibition showing and, at times, showed well in the early parts of the season, though his ice time had decreased recently.

He was getting fourth-line minutes before getting dropped from the lineup completely last week, sitting as a healthy scratch.

Still, Minnesota has no regrets about giving Eriksson Ek a look.

“This experience has really helped him,” GM Chuck Fletcher said earlier this week, per the Star-Tribune. “The thing we have to be careful of is when do we need to make sure he’s in a stable environment where he can play consistently big minutes?

“That’s what we’re weighing because we also want to make sure we protect our hockey club in the short term.”

It’s safe to say the Wild envision Eriksson Ek as a top-six forward, and the opportunities to play in the top six just weren’t there right now. Zach Parise recently returned from injury, as did Erik Haula — a versatile guy that can play up and down the lineup.

 

Helm out at least six weeks with dislocated shoulder

Darren Helm
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Earlier today, we passed along word that Detroit forward Darren Helm underwent an MRI for an upper-body injury today, and that the Wings weren’t optimistic about how it’d turn out.

Turns out that lack of optimism was well founded.

Helm will be out at least the next six weeks with a separated shoulder, the club announced. The injury occurred during last night’s 4-3 loss to the Lightning, and will sideline him through the end of December.

Looking at Detroit’s schedule, Helm missing the next 20 games is a safe estimate.

It’s a big blow for the Red Wings. The club is already without the services of Thomas Vanek and Andreas Athanasiou — the latter is still two weeks away, head coach Jeff Blashill said today — and Helm brings several things to the table.

A speed guy that can play down the middle or on the wing, he had seven points through 11 games this season, sitting tied for second on the team in goals. Helm also averages over 15 minutes a night, and is employed by Blashill in a number of different situations.

 

Goalie nods: Smith makes first start for Coyotes in nearly a month

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Coyotes will welcome back their No. 1 netminder tonight when they host Calgary, as Mike Smith will make his first start since Oct. 18.

Smith, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, stopped 54 of 60 shots before getting hurt — for a .900 save percentage. While those numbers aren’t great, they did come in a small sample size, and it was clear the Coyotes struggled without their veteran presence in goal.

Arizona went 4-8-0 while Smith was out, relying largely on Louis Domingue over that span.

Smith’s return isn’t the only big storyline, however.

For the first time this season, Calgary will start Chad Johnson on back-to-back nights. Johnson is coming off a 27-save shutout win over Minnesota on Tuesday, his second strong effort of the month (back on Nov. 3, he stopped 26 shots in a 3-2 win over the Sharks.)

Given the Flames are desperate for wins and just suffered a major blow with the Johnny Gaudreau injury, head coach Glen Gulutzan seems to be in “play whoever gives us the best chance to win” mode.

That strategy, at least for tonight, comes at the expense of No. 1 netminder Brian Elliott, who hasn’t played since allowing four goals on 28 shots in a loss to the Rangers on Saturday.

Elsewhere…

— Light night on the NHL schedule, with just one other game: In Washington, we’ll get a rematch of last year’s second-round playoff series as Matt Murray and the visiting Penguins take on Braden Holtby and the Caps. Murray has been outstanding since returning from a broken hand, going 4-0-0 with a 1.25 GAA and .961 save percentage.