Mike Halford

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

Pre-game reading: ‘Assume we are not going’ to Olympics, says Bettman

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— In what might be his most definitive statement on Olympic participation to date, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday told Reuters people shouldn’t expect players to participate in the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

“There are no negotiations ongoing,” Bettman said, while at the Sport Business Summit in New York. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.

“As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”

These remarks come after Bettman’s comments during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, when he was sharply critical of the IOC’s decision to stop covering out-of-pocket expenses for NHLers to attend the Games.

“What I think has happened…you know, there were probably some owners over time who always thought the Olympics were a good idea, there were some owners who always hated it,” said Bettman, “and there were probably a bunch of clubs that really didn’t give it much thought until the IOC said we weren’t going to pay the expenses. And then I think it caused a number of clubs to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if that’s how they value our participation, why are we knocking ourselves out?’”

Today, Bettman re-iterated Olympic participation was terribly disruptive for NHL business, adding “we have been unable to quantify any benefit from it.”

For more from Reuters, including info on which sponsors are trying to help broker a deal, click here.

Meanwhile, here’s what NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had to say on the matter:

— In what’s been a disappointing year for the Sabres, sophomore sensation Jack Eichel is playing exceptionally well. He rebounded from a severe high ankle sprain, one that cost him the first 21 games of the year, and was one of the league’s highest-scoring players over the last few months.

From NHL.com:

Since making his season debut, Eichel is tied for eighth in the NHL in scoring with 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) in 52 games and is first in shots on goal with 207. Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, the player selected ahead of Eichel in the 2015 draft and the League’s leading scorer, has 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in that time.

Since Feb. 1, Eichel is second in the NHL with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 24 games, one point behind Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, who won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion last season.

Yet to hear Eichel explain it, the personal achievements don’t mean much.

“Frustrating more than anything,” Eichel said of this season. “Want to be a playoff team. Want to play in the playoffs, get a taste of it. It’s tough when you don’t get there.”

Over at ESPN, Craig Custance, Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun and more discuss who’s the best current fighter in the league. About the only thing the writers agreed on is that it’s a difficult question to answer, which is a testament to today’s NHL.

Signing spree! Jackets ink Sedlak, Hannikainen, Harrington to two-year extensions

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Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was a busy man on Tuesday.

The Blue Jackets announced a trio of two-year extensions today — one for center Lukas Sedlak, one for left winger Markus Hannikainen and one for blueliner Scott Harrington.

Of the three, Sedlak has made the biggest impact at the NHL level this season. He has seven goals and 13 points in 56 games, emerging as a good fourth-liner, often alongside Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner. The 23-year-old really turned heads during Lake Erie’s Calder Cup championship last year, when he scored nine goals in 17 playoff games.

Hannikainen, also 23, has been up and down between Columbus and AHL Cleveland this season, appearing in 10 games for the Jackets. He’s been a good scorer at the American League level, with 24 points through 43 games.

Harrington, 24, was acquired in the Kerby Rychel trade and like Hannikainen, has split his time between Cleveland and Columbus. In 16 games with Columbus, he’s scored a goal and three points.

Update: The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline breaks down the salaries as such:

Sedlak, Hannikainen and Harrington were pending restricted free agents with arbitration rights this summer and per the Dispatch, all three extensions are of the one-way variety.

Sedlak is currently carrying a $600,000 cap hit, Harrington $632,500, and Hannikainen $717,500.

Goalie nods: Berra makes first NHL start in 15 months

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The last time Reto Berra started an NHL game, he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche. His head coach was Patrick Roy. His opponent?

The Mike Johnston-led Pittsburgh Penguins.

So yeah, been a long time.

Tonight, Berra will start for the first time since the aforementioned game — played on Dec. 9, 2015 — when the Panthers host the ‘Canes in Florida. Berra’s start comes with No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo dealing with a hip injury, and No. 2 James Reimer needing a night off (he’s been the goalie of record in eight straight).

Berra, 30, was acquired from Colorado via trade last June and has made one appearance for the Panthers this year, playing 25 minutes in relief of Reimer back on Mar. 7. That came after a lengthy stint with Florida’s AHL affiliate in Springfield, where he went 12-14-2 with a .910 save percentage and 2.53 GAA.

Berra’s in the last of a three-year, $4.35M deal (signed with the Avs back in 2014), so this audition is fairly important. If he can prove enough to be a capable NHL backup, he might find work this summer.

For the ‘Canes, Cam Ward starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist is closing in on a return from injury, but not there yet, so Antti Raanta starts again as the Rangers visit New Jersey. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils, looking to turn around a terrible month of March (0-5-0, 3.81 GAA, .882 save percentage).

— Even though Marc-Andre Fleury recorded a shutout on Sunday, Pittsburgh will go with Matt Murray tonight in Buffalo. No word yet on a Sabres starter.

— Another big Atlantic Division tilt, as the B’s host the Sens (one night after they lost in Toronto). Looks as though Bruce Cassidy will go back to Tuukka Rask, who made 26 saves on Monday. The Sens are going with Craig Anderson, his third game in four nights.

— The red-hot Brian Elliott, currently on an 11-game winning streak, goes for Calgary tonight in Washington. The Caps will counter with Braden Holtby.

— It’s Louis Domingue versus Andrei Vasilevskiy as the Coyotes host the Lightning.

Al Montoya starts for the first time since Mar. 9 as the Habs host the Red Wings in Montreal. No word yet on a Detroit starter, though Jimmy Howard is expected to get the call.

Michael Hutchinson, who’s hasn’t start since Jan. 16, gets a rare opportunity when the Jets host the Flyers. Steve Mason, who’s been Philly’s go-to for most of March, will be in goal.

Corey Crawford, fresh off an OT win against Toronto on Saturday, goes for Chicago. The visiting Canucks have yet to name a starter, but Ryan Miller is likely after Richard Bachman played over the weekend against Edmonton.

— Good matchup in Minnesota, as Martin Jones and the Sharks take on Devan Dubnyk and the Wild.

Jake Allen, who’s rebounded fantastically to salvage his season, gets the call as the Blues visit Colorado. Calvin Pickard‘s in for the Avs.

Bolts sign d-man Hajek, who made DeAngelo expendable

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Tampa Bay took care of some business on Tuesday, signing WHL Saskatoon blueliner Libor Hajek to a three-year entry-level deal.

Hajek, 19, was taken 37th overall at last year’s draft. Bolts GM Steve Yzerman traded up seven spots to acquire Hajek, sending another promising young blueliner — Anthony DeAngelo — to the Arizona Coyotes.

It was a bit of a surprise.

At the ’14 draft, the Lightning were thrilled to get DeAngelo. They took him 19th overall and, following selection, director of scouting Al Murray called DeAngelo “the most skilled offensive defenseman in the draft,” saying he was a better passer and puck mover than the No. 1 overall pick — Aaron Ekblad.

“Ekblad’s a special player, but he doesn’t have the offensive ability that Anthony has at this point,” he said. “Aaron Ekblad’s a tremendous player. He’s physically strong enough to be in the NHL next year, he’s a shutdown defenseman that plays with a mean streak.

“But when it comes to his actual puck skills and offensive game, he makes a solid first pass and he’s got a bomb for a shot from the point — but we don’t see the same ability to move the puck around, have the same vision, make all the different passes in different zones that Anthony has.”

DeAngelo certainly showcased his offensive ability in his first year with the Bolts’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse, scoring 43 points in 69 contests. But there was concern about the growth of his overall game. When Hajek “slipped” to the second round — Tampa Bay believed he had first-round talent — the club opted to make a move.

“Tony is one-dimensional right now,” Murray said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Hajek has offensive ability, not at Tony’s level, but is much more well-rounded and bigger, and probably a safer bet to be able to adapt both offensively and defensively to the NHL.”

Yzerman confirmed as much.

“Anthony is a very talented, and skilled young player,” he said of the trade. “It’s more about Libor Hajek than about Anthony DeAngelo.”

DeAngelo made his NHL debut in Arizona this year, and has racked up 11 points in 31 games.

Dubnyk’s ‘been through much worse,’ confident he can bump slump

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It’s been a rough month of March for Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk — he has just two wins over 10 appearances, while posting an unsightly .899 save percentage.

Not that he’s worried about getting out of this funk.

“I’ve been through much worse than this,” Dubnyk said on Tuesday, per the Pioneer Press. “I’ve got no problems about getting out of it.”

Dubnyk’s slump has, not surprisingly, coincided with a rough stretch for the Wild. After ending February with a 6-5 win over Winnipeg — pushing their record to 41-14-6 in the process — the club looked to be in control of the Central Division.

But things changed.

Minnesota is 2-8-0 in its last 10, and heads into tonight’s game against San Jose seven points back of Chicago for tops in the Central. It’s unfair to pin that skid entirely on Dubnyk, as a myriad of factors have played a role: Zach Parise and Jason Pominville got the mumps, key deadline pickup Martin Hanzal was sidelined with illness (unrelated to the mumps) and the club’s defensive depth was whittled away with injuries to Christian Folin and Mathew Dumba.

Still, there’s a ton of focus on Dubnyk.

Part of that comes from the incredibly high standard he’s set this year. He’s considered by many a lock for one the three Vezina finalist spots — if not the outright favorite to win — and has been floated as a potential Hart Trophy candidate as well. Even with this recent slump, his numbers on the year are still terrific, as he sits tied for third in the league in wins (36), fourth in save percentage (.927) and fifth in GAA (2.18).

As mentioned above, this isn’t the roughest patch of his career.

It’s almost easy to forget that, three years ago, Dubnyk was toiling with Montreal’s AHL affiliate after unsuccessful stints in Edmonton and Nashville. It was certainly a low point for the former first-round pick but, to his credit, he revived his career with aplomb and is now considered one of the NHL’s best.

Still, both Dubnyk and the Wild know they need to turn things around, and in a hurry. There are just 11 games left in the regular season, more than enough time to rediscover good form.

That’ll be important, since the postseason hasn’t been especially successful. Dubnyk has just six wins from 16 playoff games over the last two seasons, posting an .896 save percentage and 2.84 GAA.