Author: Mike Halford


Panthers leading goalscorer Bjugstad (back surgery) ‘feeling 100 percent’


For the most part, this was a tremendous year for Nick Bjugstad, who scored a career-high 24 goals and inked a six-year, $24.6 million extension.

The only downer was the way it ended.

In late March, Bjugstad underwent season-ending back surgery, a procedure that kept him out of Florida’s playoff push and from representing Team USA at the World Hockey Championships.

Thankfully for Bjugstad and the Panthers, recovery is going well.

“Basically, I’m feeling 100 percent,” Bjugstad said this week, per the Panthers website. “I don’t feel any tingling or soreness in my back. They just have to remind me all the time that you can’t rush it, you can’t overdo it right now.

“Just trying to get back into shape which is nice. I feel like I could play a game right now, but obviously they’re not letting me get to that extent.”

The club’s first-round pick (19th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bjugstad has been rock solid for the Panthers sign becoming a regular last season, in what was his rookie campaign; the University of Minnesota product led the Panthers in points, with 38, and finished 13th in Calder voting.

This year, Bjugstad proved a quality scorer at even strength — his 17 goals put him on par with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Jeff Carter and Phil Kessel — and averaged a career-high 16:35 TOI under new head coach Gerard Gallant, while gaining invaluable experience from playing alongside veterans like captain Willie Mitchell and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who joined the team at the trade deadline.

“Obviously a big help from the older guys, the team was a whole different dynamic, as far as leadership,” Bjugstad explained. “Who we had playing, we had a lot of winners, Stanley Cup winners on the team. It changed the whole morale and attitude of the team.

“It was good learning a lot from those older guys, they’re all really good with the younger guys. It did nothing but help me this year.”

Report: With Sabres gig gone, Richardson to re-sign in Ottawa

Luke Richardson 3

Rumored to be in the running for the now-filled Buffalo head coaching gig, Luke Richardson — the bench boss of Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton — appears primed to stick with the Sens.

More, from the Ottawa Sun:

League sources say the Senators have tabled an offer to the 46-year-old former defenceman and while a deal isn’t in place it could happen soon now that the Buffalo coaching situation has been settled.

It’s believed the two sides need to work out the final details of the contract.

Richardson, at one point the oddsmakers’ favorite to get the Sabres job that eventually went to Dan Bylsma, is held in pretty high regard throughout the NHL. Few his age can match the combination of experience as a coach and player; Richardson appeared in over 1,400 games with the Leafs, Oilers, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Lightning and Senators before immediately moving behind the bench, where he spent three years as Ottawa’s assistant coach (under both Cory Clouston and Paul MacLean) before transitioning to the American League.

During his time in Bingo, Richardson has played a key role in the development of guys like Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Patrick Wiercioch, Cody Ceci and Mark Stone, one of the this year’s Calder Trophy finalists.

But despite Richardson’s good standing league-wide, the Sens hadn’t been asked by any clubs for permission to interview him. That came as a bit of a surprise, especially after Buffalo lost out on the Mike Babcock sweepstakes; there were also (since filled) vacancies in Edmonton, San Jose and Toronto and head coaches are still needed in Detroit and New Jersey.

Report: Sobotka to stick in KHL, won’t return to Blues next year

Vladimir Sobotka

Doesn’t sound like the rumored Vladimir Sobotka-to-St. Louis reunion is happening.

Per KHL Avangard Omsk’s website, Sobotka has reportedly agreed to return to Russia for a second season — despite a stipulation in his contract that allows for an NHL return at the culmination of any KHL campaign.

Sobotka, who parted ways with the Blues following an arbitration hearing last summer, just finished the first of a three-year deal with Omsk. His departure from St. Louis came on the heels of his best NHL season, in which he scored nine goals and 33 points in 61 games.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong has been in contact with the Sobotka camp following his club’s first-round playoff exit to Minnesota, and spoke with agent Petr Svoboda during the World Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic (Sobotka represented the Czechs in the tourney, scoring four points in 10 games.)

“I had a good talk with his agent,” Armstrong said last week. “The agent told me that the money he made last year, they guaranteed him for next year. He’s got two weeks to decide what he’s going to do. I said ‘We’d love to have him back.’ I understand if the economics are so great in the KHL and he has to stay. I respect that. Then we’ll talk again a year from now.”

Sobotka owes the Blues one season at an arbiter-elected salary of $2.7 million. If reports are accurate and he decides to remain in the KHL, he and the Blues will be in a similar position next spring.