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: Marchenko the latest to join Russian powerhouse CSKA

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Following yesterday’s news that d-man Alexey Marchenko was parting ways with Toronto, reports are now suggesting Marchenko will sign a three-year deal with KHL super club CSKA Moscow.

Marchenko, 25, joined the Maple Leafs last season after being claimed off waivers from Detroit, but didn’t get much of an opportunity. He appeared in just 11 games for the Leafs, none in the playoffs.

All told appeared in 41 contests last season, scoring one goal and adding six assists. That one goal came during his brief time with the Leafs.

Yesterday, agent Dan Millstein announced Marchenko had been waived, with The Athletic later confirming he was placed on unconditional waivers — a move that would lead to the termination of his contract, and the freedom to sign elsewhere.

Enter CSKA.

The Moscow-based team is a KHL powerhouse, and has made several significant moves this offseason. Most recently, the club retained the services of Dallas forward Valeri Nichushkin, and signed former Habs d-man Nikita Nesterov and ex-Avs forward Mikhail Grigorenko.

The club also said that prized Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov would remain with the team for the next three years.

CSKA also reportedly has an agreement in place with Colorado d-man Nikita Zadorov, should he fail to re-sign with the Avs. Oh yeah, Roman Lybimov also joined the team after a brief stint in Philly.

All these moves come after both the KHL and Russian hockey federation went vocal with their stated goal of keeping KHL players from leaving for North America and bringing NHL free agents back this summer, to prepare for and participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

 

Sweeney shoots down Pastrnak trade rumors

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Yesterday, the hockey world was brought out of its August slumber when former player, agent and GM Brian Lawton tweeted about a potential trade of talented young Boston sniper David Pastrnak.

Shortly thereafter, the B’s responded.

On Monday evening, GM Don Sweeney sent the Boston Globe a three-word reply to queries about the rumor:

“Not trading Pastrnak.”

OK then!

Sweeney was forced to address the situation after Lawton, who currently works as an analyst for NHL Network, send out the following:

Pastrnak, 21, is coming off a terrific campaign in which he scored 34 goals and 70 points, emerging as one of the best young goalscorers in the league (he, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid were the three youngest players in the league to hit the 30-goal plateau last year).

Agent J.P. Barry described negotiations as “very open,” adding that both sides still had plenty of time left.

The Globe reports that Pastrnak could be looking to majorly cash in on his banner year, to the tune of $6 million annually. There are also rumblings the Pastrnak camp is waiting to see what kind of deal Leon Draisaitl signs in Edmonton. Draisaitl, like Pastrnak, was a first-round pick in 2014 and, like Pastrnak, is coming off a terrific offensive campaign (29 goals, 77 points).

Trade rumors surface all the time, but what makes the Pastrnak thing so compelling is Boston’s history of dealing away talented young offensive players. Phil Kessel scored 36 goals for the Bruins in 2008-09, and was traded that offseason. He was 21 at the time. Four years later, the B’s sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas. He was also 21.

Looking to make the leap: Joel Eriksson Ek

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This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

There’s no shortage of talented young prospects in the Wild organization — Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, to name a few.

But in terms of being ready to make the leap, one stands out.

Eriksson Ek, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft, and made his NHL debut last season by scoring seven points in 15 games, while appearing in three postseason contests. That came during a year in which he made the Wild out of training camp, stuck around for a month before being returned to his native Sweden, then came back to Minnesota late in the year, making his Stanley Cup playoff debut in the process.

An exciting year, sure, but one with quite a bit of upheaval.

Now Eriksson Ek’s looking to stick in one place.

That, of course, would be in North America, preferably in Minnesota rather than Iowa. And it sounds like there’s a good chance of that happening, given Eriksson Ek’s performance in ’16-17 alleviated many of the club’s concerns about his game translating to the NHL.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said last season, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player.”

It doesn’t seem like playing surface really matters to Eriksson Ek. Consider what he accomplished last year. With SHL club Farjestads, he had 16 points in 26 games, and six in seven playoff contests. With Sweden at the World Juniors, he captained the club and had nine points in seven games. With Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, he had three points in 10 games en route to a gold medal win over Canada.

Yet even after all that success, there’s still an undeniably steep learning curve ahead. Eriksson Ek played limited and sheltered minutes last season, cracking the 12-minute plateau in just three of his 15 games (he was used sparingly in the postseason as well, skating just 22:44 total in the series versus St. Louis).

But that might change, as head coach Bruce Boudreau no longer has a wealth of options down the middle.

Last season, Boudreau didn’t have to throw Eriksson Ek into uncomfortable positions, because he had a host of veteran centers to fill ’em: Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Graovac all logged extensive minutes.

That depth is no longer there. Hanzal signed in Dallas, Haula was taken by Vegas at the expansion draft, and Graovac was traded to Washington.

As such, it certainly seems like Fletcher and company have opened up a spot for Eriksson Ek this fall.

Now we wait to see if grabs it.

Under Pressure: Paul Stastny

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

On the opening day of free agency in 2014, the Blues signed free agent center Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million contract. It instantly made him the highest-paid forward on the team — since surpassed by Vladimir Tarasenko — and, in announcing the deal, GM Doug Armstrong raved about Stastny’s hockey IQ and how he “thinks the game strong.”

It was expected the gifted playmaker would become St. Louis’ top-line center.

But things haven’t exactly gone to plan.

The Stastny era is now three years old, and the major theme throughout has been health — specifically, his lack thereof. He’s missed 42 contests over that time, and failed to crack the 70 games-played plateau in each of the last two seasons. Unsurprisingly, his production has tailed off. After racking up 60 points in his final year in Colorado, he’s gone 46-49-40 with the Blues, and now heads into a contract year facing a number of major questions.

Among them:

Is Stastny a No. 1 center?

Blues head coach Mike Yeo certainly thinks so, describing the 31-year-old as such when Stastny got hurt back in February.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

The Blues certainly paid him like a 1C. At $7 million per, he’s making more annually than the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Nicklas Backstrom, John Tavares and Jeff Carter. What’s more, the Blues don’t have much depth down the middle. Patrik Berglund has proven to be a decent, if unspectacular, option that scored 23 goals last year, but his ceiling is a 3C that can be pushed into the 2C role in a pinch.

Jori Lehtera, who underwhelmed last season, was flipped to Philly in the Brayden Schenn trade, but the Blues might have the same problem with Schenn that the Flyers did —  is he a center, or better suited on the wing?

Youngsters Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev can also play the middle, but aren’t yet considered full-time guys. Fabbri’s coming off a torn ACL.

So is Stastny a No. 1? Traditionally speaking, maybe not. In St. Louis, maybe so.

Do the Blues want to keep him?

Given what we just laid out, probably. But it would have to be at the right price.

Next July, Armstrong has some work to do and not a ton of cap space to do it with. The most pressing contracts will be for a pair of young RFAs — Fabbri, and d-man Joel Edmundson — while Stastny’s the lone UFA of note.

If Stastny’s willing to take a significant haircut, his return could happen. Signing with St. Louis back in ’14 was essentially a homecoming, as he grew up in the city and went to Chaminade College Prep School. Both his father and brother previously played with the Blues.

The real question, it would seem, is if Stastny fits with the direction of the club. Armstrong hasn’t been shy about turning his team over to the younger generation over the last few years, while cutting ties with veterans in a myriad of ways.

Just consider what happened to Stastny’s former running mates up front. Lehtera was traded Philly, T.J. Oshie was flipped to Washington, while David Backes and Troy Brouwer were allowed to walk in free agency.

Could this be another Kevin Shattenkirk situation?

Two years ago, Armstrong opted to keep Backes and Brouwer — both UFAs — past the deadline, and the Blues responded with a playoff run to the Western Conference Final. But that summer, both assets were lost for no return.

Last year, Armstrong took a different tact, opting to flip Shattenkirk, a pending UFA, at the deadline for a package that included promising forward Zach Sanford and a first-round pick (the Blues later used that pick to acquire Schenn).

“We are not in the business of trading good players for prospects when your team has a chance to win the Cup,” Armstrong said at the time, per the Post-Dispatch. “This team now has to get in on its own. It’s going to be more difficult, but if we get in, you always have a chance to win.”

One wonders if last year’s experience might’ve changed Armstrong’s outlook.

All things considered, the Blues fared well following Shattenkirk’s departure. They finished third in the Central Division, and upended 106-point Minnesota in the opening playoff round before bowing out to the eventual conference champ, Nashville, in Round 2.

The big difference between Shattenkirk and Stastny, though, is the depth at their respective positions. Parting ways with Shattenkirk was made easier by the presences of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, and the emergence of Edmundson and Colton Parayko.

At center, the Blues don’t have such options.

Looking to make the leap: Vince Dunn

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

When it comes to talented young defensemen, the St. Louis Blues don’t rebuild so much as they reload.

Consider, for a moment, what transpired last season. A pair of 24-year-olds, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson, cemented their places as core d-men of the future. Jordan Schmaltz, the club’s first-round pick in 2012, made his NHL debut. And this came on a Blues defense in which veterans Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester continued to carry the mail, finishing first and second on the team in TOI per game.

Now, there appears to be another kid on the horizon: Vince Dunn, the 20-year-old taken in the second round of the ’15 draft.

Dunn turned pro last season following a three-year junior career in Niagara, and performed extremely well. He led all AHL Chicago blueliners with 13 goals and 45 points in 72 games, then racked up another six points in 10 playoff contests. He repped the Wolves at the AHL All-Star Game, and finished as the league’s top rookie d-man scorer.

In most organizations, that would have you knocking on the NHL door.

But the Blues aren’t most organizations.

As mentioned above, there’s a ton of depth on defense. Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Parayko and Edmundson are locked in as the top four, and Blues GM Doug Armstrong has options for the bottom spots in veterans Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, Chris Butler and Nate Prosser.

As such, Dunn is facing an uphill battle to crack the roster, especially since marinating him in the AHL for another campaign is an easy call.

Yet there is something to consider — increased offense from the back end.

Like many clubs, the Blues have it from the top-end guys. Pietrangelo produces an an elite rate, which included a career-high 14 goals last year, and Parayko has averaged 34 points over his first two years on the job. But after those two, things dry up. Edmundson and Bouwmeester aren’t offensively-minded guys, while Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson combined for just 11 points last year. The Blues also lost a significant offensive weapon by dealing Kevin Shattenkirk to the Caps at the deadline.

Which is why we should point out that, in the aftermath of the Shattenkirk deal, Armstrong pointed at Dunn as one of the players in the minors that should see an increased opportunity.

Dunn wasn’t the only youngster Armstrong singled out, though. Schmaltz was in the mix, as was former Providence standout Jake Walman (who left school to turn pro in March). Still-unsigned RFA Petteri Lindbohm is also right there, having played 40 big league contests over the last three seasons.

So, put it this way. It would be a mighty big leap for Dunn to stick in St. Louis this fall. But given how he responded to the jump from junior to the AHL, making it shouldn’t be ruled out.