Mike Halford

Wild in extension talks with Spurgeon, Zucker


Minnesota has started contract extension talks with defenseman Jared Spurgeon and forward Jason Zucker, per the Star-Tribune.

Spurgeon, 26, is in the last of a deal with a $2.66 million annual cap hit, while Zucker, 23, is in the last of one that pays just over $900,000.

Both are pending RFAs, and both figure to be very interesting negotiations.

Spurgeon’s value to the Wild blueline cannot be understated. He sits second to Ryan Suter in a number of key statistical categories — including points (16) and TOI per game (22:16) — and is regarded as one of the club’s best skating and puck-moving d-men.

Zucker, meanwhile, is one of the league’s best bargains.

The diminutive speedster finished with 21 goals in just 51 games last year, 19 of which came at even strength. Those 19 ESG put him on par with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Logan Couture and Matt Duchene — some pretty impressive company.

This year, Zucker has 14 points in 28 games, while averaging a career-high 17:54 TOI per night.

Both figure to get fairly significant raises on their current deals.

The Wild, of course, don’t have a ton of financial wiggle room.

(GM Chuck Fletcher told the Star-Tribune his club is a cap team and that “every dollar counts,” adding “it’s a challenge every year.”)

Per war-on-ice, the Wild have around $56 million already committed for next season — to just 15 players. Fletcher also has another key RFA to deal with this summer in blueliner Matt Dumba, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2012.

Backup netminder Darcy Kuemper is a RFA as well.

So, as you can imagine, all of this has made life difficult for Fletcher.

Just ask him.

“We’re not in any hurry to get something done,” Fletcher said. “We just want to make the right deal, and whenever that happens, it happens.

“It’s hard.”

Mired in career-worst scoring slump, Moulson ‘just trying to find some confidence’

Jared McCann, Matt Moulson

November 1.

That’s the last time Buffalo veteran Matt Moulson found the back of the net — which, for those of you not currently looking at the Sabres’ schedule, was 18 games ago.

It marks the longest scoring slump of Moulson’s career, accentuating a disappointing season in which he’s scored just four times in 30 games.

Needless to say, he’s desperate to break out.

“For me it’s just trying to find some confidence whether it’s making a play or getting a chance and trying to feed off that,” Moulson said, per the Buffalo News. “It’s not a light switch thing where it just turns on.”

The Sabres probably wish it was that simple.

In the second of a five-year, $25 million deal — with a fairly hefty $5M average annual cap hit — Moulson is Buffalo’s third highest-paid forward, and he’s been given opportunities befitting a guy making that kind of money.

In Saturday’s 2-1 OT win over the Kings, he skated on a line with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. His last goal came playing alongside Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Gionta.

Translation: Head coach Dan Bylsma has moved the 32-year-old around plenty in the hopes of sparking his game — but to no avail. Moulson’s production has fallen through the floor and his shots on goal numbers remain startlingly low.

And Buffalo’s first six games through the month of December could say a lot about what lies ahead.

In those six games, Moulson has only eclipsed 16 minutes once (in the aforementioned win over L.A.)

Aside from that, he’s been hovering around 12 minutes, and played a season-low 10:44 in Calgary last Thursday.

Crazy run of injures has Bolts digging deep into depth chart

Ondrej Palat

Ravaged by injury at forward, Tampa Bay is relying more than ever on its AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

On Monday, the club announced that Joel Vermin and Yanni Gourde have been recalled from the Crunch.

(Yes, those are real names.)

They’ve been brought up with three of Tampa Bay’s most important forwards out injured: Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin.

Johnson, who missed Saturday’s game against Washington, is expected to miss at least three more with what’s been classified as a re-aggravation of his upper-body injury. It’s the same ailment that hampered him throughout November.

Palat, who only recent returned from an ankle injury that cost him five weeks, re-injured the ankle against the Caps (when T.J. Oshie fell and landed on him) and is currently listed as day-to-day.

Drouin, who like Johnson missed this weekend’s tilt against Washington, is dealing with a lower-body injury.  Drouin had previously missed 11 games with an “undisclosed” injury, suffered in late October.

As if losing the services of those three wasn’t enough, Tampa Bay is also without the services of depth forwards Cedric Paquette (upper body) and Erik Condra (lower body).

With all these guys out, head coach Jon Cooper has been forced to go with a number of different lineups recently.

Vermin has appeared in five games, while Gourde has yet to make his NHL debut; the Bolts have also dressed the likes of Mike Blunden, Jonathan Marchessault and Tye McGinn.

Hamhuis (facial fracture) out ‘at least’ two months, says Desjardins

Dan Hamhuis, Ian Walsh

The Canucks still aren’t 100 percent sure how long they’ll be without injured defenseman Dan Hamhuis, but they’ve got a pretty decent idea of the timeline.

On Friday, head coach Willie Desjardins said he expects Hamhuis to be out “at least” the next two months, after undergoing surgery for facial fractures suffered on a Brian Boyle shot from Wednesday night.

Hamhuis, 32, had no goals and four points through 27 games this year, averaging just under 20 minutes a night. The former Canadian Olympic defenseman was scheduled to go under the knife today.

The loss only furthered depletes a blueline that was already quite thin.

Fellow defenseman Luca Sbisa, who hasn’t played since Dec. 1, is still on injured reserve, leaving Desjardins to comprise a group made up of Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Yannick Weber, Matt Bartkowski, Ben Hutton and Alex Biega.

Blues d-man prospect Dunn injured, leaves Canada’s WJC camp

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Vince Dunn, St. Louis’ second-round pick (56th overall) at this year’s draft, has been forced to leave Team Canada’s World Junior evaluation camp with a pre-existing injury, Hockey Canada announced on Friday.

Dunn, 19, is currently with OHL Niagara, where he’s scored eight goals and 24 points in 26 games this year. He signed an entry-level deal with the Blues in September.

Dunn was one of 11 d-men invited to selection camp. With him out of the mix, there are now 10 blueliners competing for seven jobs: Thomas Chabot, Jakob Chycrun, Travis Dermott, Haydn Fleury, Joe Hicketts, Brandon Hickey, Noah Juulsen, Jeremy Lauzon, Roland McKeown and Travis Sanheim.