Mike Halford

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Under Pressure: Petr Mrazek

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This post is part of Red Wings Day on PHT…

Last July, Petr Mrazek was on the rise. He was coming off a terrific season, posting career highs in nearly every statistical category, which led to a two-year, $8 million extension with the Red Wings. Though the negotiations were contentious — the two sides narrowly avoided arbitration — the deal looked to cement him as the club’s No. 1 netminder for the ’16-17 campaign and beyond.

Suffice to say, things haven’t gone to plan.

Mrazek struggled this year as Detroit’s quarter century-long playoff streak was snapped, and was routinely outplayed by Jimmy Howard. He finished with a .901 save percentage and 3.04 GAA, and many eyebrows were raised when GM Ken Holland opted to expose Mrazek, not Howard, to Vegas at the expansion draft.

In the aftermath, reports surfaced that Holland’s decision might’ve been a wake-up call.

From MLive.com:

Part of the reason Mrazek’s luster has faded could be due to deportment issues that can be traced to contentious off-season contract negotiations (they settled on a two-year, $8 million deal; Mrazek will be a restricted free agent in 2018).

Mrazek was not happy the Red Wings were unable to trade Howard in the off-season and let the club know in less-than-tactful terms.

Mrazek has always had a swagger and air of confidence, which appealed to the Red Wings. But sometimes he’s too cocky for his own good, some in the organization believe. He became increasingly difficult to coach last season, they said.

In July, there were more arched brows.

Goalie coach Jeff Salajko, who has a relationship with Mrazek from their days together in AHL Grand Rapids, said Howard would enter this season as Detroit’s No. 1 netminder. Salajko did so inadvertently — by discussing third-stringer Jared Coreau‘s role — but the message was pretty clear.

“We’re very comfortable with Jared as a third,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I have no problem with him being the backup goalie, either. If we can keep Jimmy Howard healthy to play 50-55 games, I was comfortable with Jared in a role like that.

“But we obviously have Petr back — Vegas didn’t have interest in him, so I’m hoping he comes in with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.”

All this makes for a pretty curious dynamic. Mrazek’s contract is up at the end of this year but, given he’ll be an RFA when it expires, Detroit still has club control. And while the organization’s goal may be to play Howard 50-55 games, health and consistency could be issues.

The 33-year-old was limited to just 24 starts last year due to knee injuries and, even though he posted a .927 save percentage, Howard failed to crack the .910 mark in each of the three years prior.

Whatever the case, it’s obvious Mrazek is back in “prove it” territory again, and has plenty to play for.

The question, it seems, is how much he’ll get to play.

Flames name Maloney VP of hockey ops, re-sign AGMs Conroy and Pascall

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Calgary made a number of front office moves on Thursday, highlighted by the promotion of Don Maloney.

Maloney, who joined the club as a scout last year after a lengthy stint as Coyotes GM, will now serve as vice president of hockey operations. In announcing that move, the Flames also revealed they’ve extended the contracts of assistant GMs Craig Conroy and Brad Pascall.

Maloney has long been tied to Calgary GM Brad Treliving, from their days together in the Arizona organization. Treliving actually served as Maloney’s assistant for several years prior to taking the Flames gig.

The Coyotes ties don’t end there. This offseason, Treliving swung a noteworthy deal to acquire veteran netminder Mike Smith. In 2013, Maloney signed Smith to a six-year, $34 million deal with a $5.67M average annual cap hit — a deal that has two years remaining.

Conroy, who spent nine years as a player in Calgary, has been serving as Treliving’s assistant for the last three years. Pascall has also been an AGM for the last three years, serving in a dual role as the GM of the club’s AHL affiliate in Stockton.

Finally, Calgary announced a series of moves within its scouting and analytic departments. Derek MacKinnon is the new director of pro personnel, Rob Sumner and Fred Parker move to assistant amateur scouting directors under head scout Tod Button, and Chris Snow is now the director of hockey analysis.

Canucks expect to have Horvat signed before training camp

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With the preseason just over six weeks away, many NHL clubs are starting to field questions about their unsigned players — specifically, questions about players going into training camp unsigned.

Such is the case with Vancouver and prized RFA center Bo Horvat.

Horvat, who led the team in goals (20) and points (52) last season, has wrapped his entry-level deal and is currently without a contract. But Canucks GM Jim Benning remains optimistic about the state of negotiations, and sounds confident a deal will be done before camp.

“I think the talks are progressing and I think we’ll get something done,” Benning said, per the Province. “It’s a typical negotiation because he’s a real good player and a good person, but I’m not going to comment publicly on the negotiation process.”

Looking at comparables, it’s long been suggested the six-year, $28.5 million deal Florida gave center Vincent Trocheck was a benchmark for Horvat. That one carries a $4.75 million cap hit.

But the contract New York gave Mika Zibanejad last month might’ve changed the landscape. Zibanejad scored $26.75 million over five years — a $5.35M cap hit — and will head into the season as the Rangers’ No. 1 center.

And that’s one of the sticking points with Horvat. Is he a first-line center? The situation in Vancouver is muddled because of Henrik Sedin‘s presence, but there’s also a question about Horvat’s ceiling. He’s younger and less proven than Zibanejad, but will likely start shouldering more of the responsibilities of a high-end pivot.

If he can rise to the challenge, then Vancouver might be wise to overpay now and enjoy the savings later.

Looking to make the leap: Michael Rasmussen

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This post is part of Red Wings Day on PHT…

First, a disclaimer — there were plenty of other viable candidates for this category. Probably more viable ones, to be honest.

Detroit’s AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, captured the Calder Cup last year on the strength of excellent performances from youngsters like Martin Frk, Evgeni Svechnikov and Tyler Bertuzzi, who captured playoff MVP.

All of them are looking to make the Wings on a full-time basis. But there’s another that says he wants to do the same, and he’s just a little more intriguing:

Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, 18, was taken ninth overall by Detroit at this year’s draft, the club’s highest pick since taking Keith Primeau at No. 3 in 1990. Now, the big-bodied power forward is looking to make a significant leap, all the way from WHL Tri-City to the NHL.

“I’m taking the approach that I’m going to take someone’s job and I’m going to take a spot on the team,” Rasmussen said at the World Junior Summer Showcase, per NHL.com. “I want to play in the NHL as fast as I can and I want to help the team win.”

Detroit’s organizational model has long been to send kids to the American League, at let ’em marinate. But times, they are a changing.

Two seasons ago, Dylan Larkin made the roster as a 19-year-old, going pro after his freshman campaign at the University of Michigan. Last year both Svechnikov (20) and Bertuzzi (22) saw games with the big club, while 22-year-olds Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha emerged as key parts of the lineup.

That could pave the way for Rasmussen getting an extended look. Especially since Detroit has the option to give him a nine-game NHL cameo before burning the first year of his entry-level deal.

Rasmussen has a few things working in his favor at the moment, too. The first is his size. At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, he should be able to handle the physical rigors of the NHL. He’s proven to be a good net-front presence that can score in bunches on the power play, and it’s worth remembering that Detroit finished 27th in the league with the man advantage last year.

Rasmussen is also healthy. He was medically cleared from a wrist injury that derailed his season in Tri-City, which resulted in a late addition to the Canadian roster for the Summer Showcase. That came as a relief to Wings GM Ken Holland, who told NHL.com it was “important” the prized prospect was healthy for training camp.

Now look, the reality of the situation is that Rasmussen’s facing an uphill battle to make the opening-night roster. A return to junior seems the likely result. He’s already been named Tri-City’s captain for next season, and several pundits have said he’ll need a spectacular showing in the exhibition campaign to stick around.

But he’s still the highest-drafted Red Wing in 27 years. That alone makes the battle worth watching.

Report: After losing farm team, Blues land new one for next season

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After losing their minor league affiliate to Vegas and being forced into playing next season without one of their own, the Blues are back in the AHL business.

Per the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis is set to announce a five-year agreement with the San Antonio Rampage, the current American League affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

More:

The Blues’ alignment with San Antonio will end a two-year search for a new AHL affiliate after a relationship with the Chicago Wolves turned sour and efforts to place an expansion club in Kansas City or Indianapolis came up short.

The Blues will operate without an affiliate in 2017-18 because the addition of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights will give the NHL one more franchise than the AHL, and with the Knights collaborating with the Wolves, it will leave the Blues as the odd team out.

But that will change the following year when the AHL expands.

The Post-Dispatch then goes on to report that, following next season, the Avs are likely to align with the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles, who would become the AHL’s 31st team for the ’18-19 campaign.

This development has to be a major relief for the Blues, as their current situation isn’t tenable. This season, they will “associate” with Vegas to have some farmhands play in Chicago, while loaning out others to various AHL teams.