Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.

Detroit’s made ‘a number of offers’ to Athanasiou

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One of the brightest — and fastest — young players in Detroit is right in the thick of contract negotiations.

That’s what Red Wings GM Ken Holland told MLive this week, explaining that he’s constantly speaking with the agent for RFA forward Andreas Athanasiou.

“I had a number of offers. We continue to talk,” Holland said. “We’ve had a number of conversations.”

Athanasiou, 23, just wrapped his entry-level deal and did so in style, posting career highs in goals (18), assists (11), points (29) and TOI (13:28 per night). He’s regarded as arguably the best and fastest skater on the team — one of the true speedsters in the NHL — and, in an earlier report from MLive, could be looking at a deal that pays $1.5 million annually.

Athanasiou doesn’t have arbitration rights, so Holland will largely dictate how negotiations play out. That said, Holland’s hamstrung by the club’s salary cap situation, as outlined here:

Holland said Monday he anticipates being slightly over the $75 million cap if everyone is healthy to start the season. That would force the team to trade or waive a player. But Holland said they will wait to see what unfolds in camp and preseason.

The Red Wings’ cap figure stands at about $77.5 million, including $2.56 million of dead space from Stephen Weiss, who was bought out in 2015, and Franzen. They could get as much as $3.95 million in cap relief from Franzen, which would take them down to roughly $73.6 million. That doesn’t leave a lot to sign Athanasiou, a restricted free agent, and provide a small cushion to recall a player from the Grand Rapids Griffins as a replacement for someone on short-term IR.

In late July, Detroit signed RFA forward Tomas Tatar to a four-year, $21.2 million extension, one that carries a $5.3M average annual cap hit.

Under Pressure: Andrei Vasilevskiy

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This post is part of Lightning Day on PHT…

By all accounts, Tampa Bay had a pretty good summer.

Captain Steve Stamkos recovered from major knee surgery, and will start next season at full health. GM Steve Yzerman deftly maneuvered under the salary cap, locking in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov to team-friendly deals. That gave the Bolts enough money to add some veteran presences in free agency — Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz, specifically.

Add it all up, and you’ve got the blueprint for a bounce back after a disappointing ’16-17 campaign.

So long as Andrei Vasilevskiy holds up his end of the bargain, that is.

For the first time in his five years with the Lightning organization, Vasilevskiy will enter as the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder. It was the role Yzerman envisioned when he took Vasilevskiy with the 19th overall selection in 2012 and now, the plan has come to fruition.

There were just a few roadblocks along the way.

The biggest one, literally, was the emergence of Ben Bishop, who played like one of the NHL’s top-flight netminders over the last few years — and, in doing so, created a conundrum. The better Bishop played, the more valuable he was to the Lightning. The more valuable he was to the Lightning, the more he cost to keep. Yzerman could’ve mitigated that cost by signing Bishop long-term, but that would’ve stunted Vasilevskiy’s development.

Having two talented goalies is a good problem to have. But it’s still a problem.

This is how the Lightning ended up in the uncomfortable situation of last year. Bishop, fresh off being named a Vezina finalist (and nearly being traded to Calgary) slumped through a campaign riddled with contract uncertainty. At the same time, the Bolts made the push to get Vasilevskiy more minutes, and more exposure as a No. 1 goalie.

It was a tough season. Pegged by many as a potential Stanley Cup finalist, the Bolts missed the playoffs entirely — and it’s hard not to look at goaltending as a culprit. The Lightning finished with a .910 team save percentage, 16th in the league. Bishop dealt with injury problems and Vasilevskiy, as some expected, struggled adjusting to a heavier workload.

Then Bishop was traded. And things changed.

It’s hard to ignore the uptick in Vasilevsky’s numbers after Bishop landed in L.A. The 23-year-old went 12-4-2 with a 2.27 GAA and .929 save percentage in 18 starts following the trade, playing a huge role in Tampa’s late-season playoff surge. (It should be noted the goalie brought back in the trade, Peter Budaj, was a journeyman veteran in a clearly defined backup role. He was in no way pushing Vasilevskiy for starts, and the tandem worked so effectively the Bolts re-upped with Budaj in June.)

There’s clarity in goal for the Bolts now. And there’s also a clarity in vision for the upcoming campaign — get back into the playoffs, and make a run at unseating Pittsburgh as power team in the Eastern Conference.

This is where the pressure comes in for Vasilevskiy. He will, almost undoubtedly, have to start more than his career-high of 47 games. He’ll need to be more consistent than last year, when his monthly save percentages went .929, .944, .892, .896, .919, .922 and .936.

He’ll be asked to shoulder a bigger load than ever before, while still learning his craft. Remember, Vasilevskiy only turned 23 a few weeks ago. He was the sixth-youngest goalie to appear in at least one game last season.

Now he’s tasked with taking the Bolts back to the dance.

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

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This post is part of Lightning Day on PHT…

Mikhail Sergachev, the talented defenseman Tampa Bay acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade with Montreal, is ready to play in the NHL.

But circumstances beyond his control might keep him back.

On talent alone, Sergachev should push for a roster spot. The 19-year-old wowed in a four-game cameo with the Habs last season, and was a dynamic offensive force in junior with OHL Windsor. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound rearguard put up 10 goals and 43 points in 50 games for the Spits and, in January, starred on the international scene by helping Russia capture bronze at the World Juniors.

Sergachev says he’s ready to make the next step.

“I’ve played a lot in juniors and I learned a lot in those years,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “And I feel like this is my time to play in the NHL and I’ll do my best and play my best to make the Lightning roster.”

But there are those aforementioned circumstances at play.

If Sergachev doesn’t play 40 games for Tampa Bay this season, then the Lightning will receive the Canadiens’ second-round pick in 2018, and the Canadiens will receive the Lightning’s sixth-round pick.

So in a roundabout way, there’s an incentive for the Lightning to return Sergachev to junior for another year. The Bolts would get a second-round pick for a sixth-round pick, and that’s a good trade.

There’s another factor to consider as well. The Lightning have Stanley Cup aspirations. As such, they’re not in a position to gift anyone a roster spot — especially if it costs them a second-round pick.

Right now, the club projects to ice a top-six defense of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr. Jake Dotchin is firmly in that mix as well, and Ben Thomas — a key part of the Syracuse team that made the Calder Cup Final last year — could also push his way into the conversation.

Still, the allure of getting Sergachev into the lineup is high.

His puck moving skills and creativity would be a boon for the power play, especially on a back end that’s essentially carried by Hedman. To that point: Hedman led the team in PP assists last year, with 29. The next closest blueliner was Stralman, who had six.

In the end, this decision could come down to the preseason. If Sergachev plays like a guy Tampa has to keep in the lineup, the club will probably respond accordingly. And if not? Well, the consolation prize is a second-round pick, which isn’t too bad.

Minor leaguers on NHL contracts can’t go to Olympics

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If you’ve got an NHL deal, you’re not going to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

That’s what deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press on Monday, explaining that players signed to two-way contracts — or loaned to minor league affiliates by their clubs — wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the Olympics.

This development comes roughly three weeks after American Hockey League president David Andrews confirmed that players on AHL-only deals would be able to participate. The league’s 30 member clubs were informed of the decision in mid-June.

In a related development on Monday, the hockey community got another look at what Olympic rosters might look like as Canada fell 3-2 to Russia today at the 2017 Sochi Hockey Open, a tournament that’s doubling as a evaluation period for both respective national teams.

The Canadian team featured a number of ex-NHLers plying their trade in Europe: Gilbert Brule, Mason Raymond, Daniel Paille and Max Talbot among them.

 

 

Under Pressure: Jonathan Drouin

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This post is part of Canadiens Day on PHT…

“There’s obviously a lot of pressure playing in Montreal, everybody knows that. But for me as a player I think I’d rather have that pressure on myself [here], than some other places.

“I’m French-Canadian and I’m going to thrive on that pressure. I like that stuff.”

That was Jonathan Drouin (per NHL.com) last month, in the wake of a blockbuster trade that saw Montreal send prized d-man Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay to acquire his services.

In many ways, it was the prodigal son’s return.

Drouin was born roughly 60 miles north of Montreal, played all his minor hockey in Quebec and starred in the QMJHL prior to being selected third overall by Tampa at the ’13 draft. There were tumultuous times with the Bolts but, by the end, Drouin emerged a budding star.

The argument can be made that, among the NHL’s elite French-Canadian skaters, he’s in the top five. Patrice Bergeron and Kris Letang would grapple for the No. 1 and 2 spots, while Drouin jockeys with Jonathan Huberdeau and Derick Brassard for spots three-through-five.

So landing him was a big get.

And just hours after the trade was announced, Habs GM Marc Bergevin made the ballyhooed homecoming complete. Drouin was signed to a six-year, $33 million extension, one that carries a $5.5 million cap hit. It was signed straight out of his entry-level contract. No bridge, no arbitration, nothing.

Now comes the pressure.

Drouin will be counted on to breathe life into an erratic Montreal offense. The club finished middle of the pack in goals scored last season — 2.72 per game, 15th in the NHL. The Habs weren’t much better in shots on goal per game (30.0, 17th in the league). The power play finished 13th.

And that was with Alex Radulov in the lineup.

The veteran Russian forward, now in Dallas, was an integral part of Montreal’s attack. He finished second to captain Max Pacioretty in points, and led the team in assists. Drouin seems capable of replacing that lost offense — he enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, with 21 goals and 53 points — but it’s not just the production on the minds of Habs fans.

It’s where that production will come from.

Drouin played both wing and center in Tampa Bay and, in case you haven’t heard, the center position is a bit of an issue in Montreal. There’s a undeniable opportunity for Drouin to grab the 1C spot, but is he capable of snaring it?

“Hard to tell,” Bergevin said at the draft in Chicago. “To play center in this league, it’s very demanding. You have to play a 200-foot game, and it’s hard. So for me to put this kid in that position right now, it wouldn’t be fair for him.

“I love the acquisition and we paid a high price. I love Jonathan Drouin and I think he’s going to help our team a lot. Claude [Julien] will see at the end of the day where he fits best. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I’m not sure right now.”

Drouin has elite playmaking ability, and his competition for prime minutes down the middle — Alex Galchenyuk, Phillip Danault, Tomas Plekanec — isn’t overwhelming. That said, he struggled in the faceoff circle last season and may not be the prototypical two-way, defensively responsible center Julien prefers (and has experience with, from his days in Boston with the aforementioned Bergeron).

But those are the kind of expectations Drouin faces now. The Habs paid a big price to get him, shelled out big bucks to sign him and the message was clear:

He needs to be an impact guy.

If he is, he’ll be a hero in Montreal.

If not….