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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Flames sign first-rounder Tkachuk to entry-level deal

Calgary was thrilled to land Matthew Tkachuk with the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft, and it wasted little time locking him in.

On Thursday, the Flames announced Tkachuk has signed his three-year, entry-level deal. Per General Fanger, it carries a $925,000 cap hit and a $1.775M average annual value.

Tkachuk, 18, is coming off a stellar junior season in which he helped the OHL’s London Knights capture the Memorial Cup. The son of longtime NHLer Keith Tkachuk, he’s considered to be a very strong prospect and racked up 30 goals and a whopping 107 points in just 57 games this year, then piled up another 40 in 18 playoff games.

Shortly after selecting Tkachuk, Flames president Brian Burke spoke highly of the club’s newest young talent.

“Kid’s a kind of pain in the ass,” said Burke, per the Calgary Herald. “We don’t have enough guys who are pains in the ass. And the way I like to play, I like guys who are pains in the ass.

“So, I thought that was a real important pick for us.”

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see where Tkachuk starts next season. There will undoubtedly be temptation within the Flames organization to have him start the year in Calgary, as he can play nine NHL games before burning the first year of his entry-level deal.

Tkachuk would be a compelling addition to a gifted forward group that includes fellow youngsters Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett — and it’s worth noting the latter two debuted in their draft years.

Tkachuk goes 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, so he’s got big-league size. He’s also on record saying his goal is to make the team this fall.

“It’s to make an impact and try to make the Calgary Flames,” he said, per NHL.com. “It’s everybody’s goal, to try to turn some heads and make themselves known around the organization, the management, the coaching staff, and try to give yourself the best shot at making the team.”

AHL cracks down on fighting, eliminates timeouts after icing

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Some interesting developments from today’s AHL Board of Governors meeting — in addition to new divisional realignment, the league also laid down several new rules, including some aimed directly at the fight game.

From the league:

• Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.

• In any instance where the opposing player was assessed an instigator penalty, the fighting major shall not count towards the player’s total for this rule.

That first rule essentially takes aim at “staged fights,” or those orchestrated by two players chirping at each other prior to puck drop.

As for the second and third rules, it’s probably worth noting that 22 AHLers had at least 10 fights last year, and eight had 14 or more. (Per HockeyFights)

Other interesting developments from the BOG:

— No more time outs for the offending team on an icing. While it’s not a huge development, it certainly is interesting in terms of a creative way to try and produce more scoring. Coaches looking to give their gassed skaters a break after a long shift will now have to get creative. Maybe Ken Hitchcock’s fake goalie switch will become en vogue.

— The ice cleaning procedures used during promotional timeouts will also be used prior to overtime during the regular season, replacing the “dry scrape.”

For a full rundown of realignment and scheduling, click here.

Leafs found a flaw in Matthews’ skating stride

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NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario (AP) Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were born about five months apart in 1997.

And it’s entirely possible both teenage prospects will be suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL next season.

The Maple Leafs may be turning 100 years old next year, but the centennial edition of the team is likely to be brimming with youth and inexperience.

Toronto could have as many as seven rookies on the roster in the fall, the first real signs the seeds planted in the Brendan Shanahan era are starting to blossom.

“I think we’ll be really exciting,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said last month.

For now, Matthews and Marner have to be content with top billing at the Leafs’ weeklong development camp in Niagara Falls.

Toronto is getting its first up-close look at Matthews, the Arizona-born center who played last season for the top Swiss League team in Zurich.

Like each of the 41 prospects invited to the camp, Matthews bounced from rink to rink at Gale Centre Arena on Tuesday morning to work on various skills.

On one pad, Matthews and his group worked with Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill. The group looked at times like synchronized swimmers performing carefully choreographed movements, only on skates.

Underhill quickly noticed a flaw in Matthews’ stride: his left shoulder wasn’t coming across enough.

“She definitely paid close attention to it so I’ll try and work on it throughout the week,” Matthews said.

Slight skating hitch aside, expectations will be high for Matthews. He’s a real threat to become the first Leaf to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie in 50 years.

He’s likely to be joined in Toronto’s rookie spotlight by William Nylander, who shined intermittently with 13 points in his first 22 NHL games, and perhaps Marner, who dominated in the Ontario Hockey League again last season, leading all players in postseason scoring en route to the Memorial Cup.

The ongoing question for Marner is whether he’s physically ready for the NHL.

Currently around 163 pounds, Marner is trying to get to 170 for the fall.

“I just want to make sure that I feel comfortable enough to go out against men and play hard and play my game and make sure I can go out there and do things I like to do,” said Marner, the London Knights star and fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft.

It’s worth wondering how any added weight will affect the speed and shiftiness which helped the Thornhill, Ontario, native become one of the OHL’s most productive talents. Marner recalled entering the league at 165 pounds and feeling a touch too slow.

He dropped 5 pounds and felt like himself again.

If the Leafs decide Marner isn’t ready for the NHL, they can return him to the Knights for another season.

Toronto will be young and inexperienced regardless of whether Marner makes the lineup or not. Just how young likely depends on how many rising talents are ready to make the leap.

Nikita Soshnikov, 22, and 24-year-old Zach Hyman impressed during a brief NHL stint at the end of last season.

So too did Connor Brown, a 22-year-old Toronto native who had six points in his first seven games, including a three-point game that preceded his return to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Also joining the Leafs is 24-year-old former KHL defenseman Nikita Zaitsev.

That could mean seven rookies on the roster initially (and perhaps more as the season wears on) as well as a number of others with limited NHL experience, including new No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen.

How Babcock employs that young talent is worth watching. Will he lean toward veteran Matt Hunwick on the team’s defensive top pair or opt to play 22-year-old Morgan Rielly with 24-year-old Martin Marincin, who offered glimpses of potential late last season?

Shanahan was hired in April 2014, but the true fruits of his labor are only now beginning to show, just as the team sports a new logo and uniform both driven from his office.

The Shanahan-led front office shuffled out stale personnel from old management groups in the previous two seasons while accumulating scores of picks and prospects.

Now, however, the process begins turning toward players drafted and developed by the current regime, beginning with Nylander, the first pick of Shanahan’s tenure.

Sensing that incoming infusion of youth, the Leafs sought veterans on the free-agent market. They signed 27-year-old Matt Martin and 30-year-old Roman Polak, who returns to the Leafs after being traded to San Jose last season.

Other veteran roles for the Leafs next season will be Leo Komarov, an alternate captain last season, returning center Tyler Bozak and Brooks Laich, easily the oldest Leaf at the ripe age of 33.

PHT Morning Skate: Is Las Vegas the big winner from free agency?

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Interesting idea here — in the aftermath of all the moves made in free agency, did the expansion Las Vegas team make out the best? (Sportsnet)

Longtime NHL defenseman Jason Smith, formerly an assistant coach in Ottawa, has taken the head job for WHL Kelowna. (Edmonton Journal)

Detroit GM Ken Holland would still “love to get a top three defenseman,” but doesn’t know “if one is ever going to be available via trade.” (Detroit News)

Sabres prospect Justin Bailey is trying to “show them something they haven’t seen” at development camp. (WKBW)

Columbus has signed undrafted OHL London blueliner Jacob Graves to an entry-level deal. (Blue Jackets)

Should Dallas make a play for Marc-Andre Fleury? The club’s most prominent beat writer says it would be a bad idea. (Morning-News)

After starring at prospects camp, Sergachev aiming to make Habs

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When Montreal took Mikhail Sergachev ninth overall at the draft, few figured he’d have a shot of making the team this year.

Sergachev, however, was not one of those people.

“Obviously it’s better if I stay here and play for Montreal,” Sergachev said, per NHL.com. “Because I want to play as soon as possible.”

The second defenseman off the board in Buffalo — OHL London’s Olli Juolevi was the first, at No. 5 to Vancouver — Sergachev is considered a major longshot to stick in the NHL this fall.

But his eye-popping efforts at prospects camp seems to have opened the door — ever so slightly.

The 18-year-old wowed onlookers with his skill set and puck control abilities, and finished the scrimmage portion with three goals. Praise for Sergachev quickly carried over to social media, where folks began wondering if he had a shot of cracking the opening night roster.

Exciting stuff, sure. But still a major uphill battle.

For one, Sergachev is still 18 years old. While he’s got NHL-caliber size — 6-foot-2, 221 pounds — he’s played strictly junior hockey over the last two years, first in Russia’s MHL and with OHL Windsor last season.

The Montreal blueline is also pretty deep. Eight guys — Shea Weber, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn, Mark Barberio and Zach Redmond — are under contract for next season, with prospects like ’15 first-rounder Noah Juulsen still in the system.

Al that said, it’s clear Montreal is high on Sergachev.

GM Marc Bergevin wasted little time inking him to an entry-level deal, and the club felt fortunate that Sergachev was available with the ninth overall selection.

Now, he’s ready to try and make his mark immediately, rather than wait for the future.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make the Canadiens but if I don’t I’ll go back to Windsor,” Sergachev said, per the Gazette. “We’ll have a good team there and we have a chance to win the Memorial Cup.”