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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Lehtonen says it’s hard not to think about buyout, trade

Amid rumblings that Dallas is ready to move on from its maligned two-goalie system, Kari Lehtonen is trying to block out the noise.

Which is easier said than done.

From the Dallas Morning-News:

Lehtonen could be moved, be bought out or remain and try to establish a new relationship with a younger goalie. He said he’s aware of all of the options but is working hard to keep them at arm’s length.

“It’s hard sometimes not to think about it, but you have a job to do,” he said. “It’s part of this sport, and you do best when you concentrate on controlling what you can control. To me, I feel most healthy when I don’t think about it.”

Both Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are 33. They’re also both under contract through 2018, but Lehtonen carries the slightly larger cap hit ($5.9 million to Niemi’s $4.5M). From a financial standpoint, it might make sense for Dallas to get rid of the bigger hit, but there’s also a case to be made for keeping Lehtonen over Niemi.

Especially lately.

Lehtonen is playing his best hockey of the year. He has a .921 save percentage over his last five starts, which included 40-plus saves in consecutive wins over the Panthers and Capitals. That’s given the Stars the faintest flicker of playoff hope, as they head into tonight’s action seven points back of St. Louis for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

(Of note, Lehtonen will start tonight against Ottawa.)

But this all might be a case of too little, too late. Lehtonen’s overall body of work has been spotty — he hasn’t posted a save percentage above .906 in three years — and given Niemi’s equally underwhelming performance over the last couple of seasons, the case could be made to overhaul the entire thing, and move on from both.

Logistically, though, that could be tough.

Buyouts are costly, trades will be tough to orchestrate and it’s not like Dallas has a slew of goalie options in the pipeline. Prospect Philippe Desrosiers is only 21 and still a few seasons away from competing for an NHL gig.

Nill could try and upgrade the position in free agency, though it remains to be seen who’ll come available (and which other teams, like Calgary, will be in the goalie mix).

In the end, it could be that Dallas opts to part with just one of Lehtonen or Niemi. And if that’s the case, Lehtonen says he wants to stick.

“The whole city, the whole organization, it’s all very important to me,” he said.

Canada brings back Ducharme as World Juniors coach

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After capturing silver at this year’s World Juniors, Dominique Ducharme is back for a shot at gold.

On Wednesday, Hockey Canada announced that Ducharme would return as head coach for the 2018 World Juniors, along with assistants Tim Hunter and Kris Knoblauch. The trio was instrumental in helping Canada medal this year after a disappointing sixth-place finish in 2016.

“This is a very unique opportunity to return an entire coaching staff that came within a shot of winning gold last year,” Hockey Canada’s Scott Salmond said, in a release. “The Program of Excellence Policy Committee unanimously agreed that it was in the best interest of the program to keep this coaching staff together and that their experience will provide us the best opportunity of winning gold in 2018.”

Two months ago, Ducharme’s charges came agonizingly close to winning it all, losing in a shootout to the Troy Terry-led U.S. squad in Montreal.

The 2018 tournament will be held in Buffalo. USA Hockey has yet to announce if head coach Bob Motzko will return to defend his title.

Of note, Canada and the U.S. will play an outdoor game at this year’s tournament.

 

Sabres could ‘hear the disappointment in the building’ last night

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Dan Bylsma hoped his team had enough pain and anguish.

The answer? Nope.

The Sabres continued skidding on Tuesday night, dropping a 6-3 decision at home to Philadelphia. It was their third straight loss and second straight at home, and whatever playoff hopes the team might’ve had — remember, they were 26-23-10 on Feb. 18 — have been dashed, thanks to an ugly 1-5-2 mark over its last eight games.

“You can clearly hear the disappointment in the building,” goaltender Robin Lehner said, per the Buffalo News. “It’s been a long season. It’s disappointing where we are.”

With last night’s loss, Buffalo’s points percentage dropped to .493 on the year. That’s down (albeit ever so slightly) from last year’s .494 which, regardless size of decrease, is troubling. This was supposed to be a Sabres team on the rise, one ready to challenge for the playoffs. That was the impetus behind splashy free agent signing Kyle Okposo, to build on a trajectory that saw Buffalo improve by a whopping 27 points from ’14-15 to ’15-16.

This year?

The Sabres are on pace for 81… just like last year.

The biggest concern from this recent stretch is the club’s resiliency. Specifically, the lack of it.

Bylsma and the Sabres could have, at least previously, hung their hats on their ability to keep the bad times from going too long. They have just two three-game regulation losing streaks this year, finding ways to eke out OT ans shootout points. They also played some solid hockey in late January and early February, to ignite talks of snapping their six-year postseason drought.

From Jan. 20 to Feb. 18, Buffalo went 9-5-1 behind some quality play from Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. Those those two have put forth good campaigns — Eichel’s been a point-a-game player since returning from his ankle injury, with 45 in 46 games, while Kane leads the team with 24 goals.

But those efforts haven’t masked some larger, looming issues. The defense is a mess. Lehner’s been criticized for his inability to deliver a big save. And there are questions about Dan Bylsma’s job security, to the point where GM Tim Murray was asked recently about it.

Murray defended his coach, putting the blame on the players’ shoulders. As you’d expect him to. But heading into an offseason that projects to be filled with options — Ken Hitchcock, Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano, Michel Therrien among them — one has to wonder if a coaching change will be considered.

Blues prospect Thompson goes pro, signs ELC

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It’s been a pretty good year for Tage Thompson, and it just got better.

On Tuesday, the Blues announced that Thompson — taken 26th overall at last year’s draft — has signed his entry-level contract, forgoing his final two years at the University of Connecticut as a result. He’ll report to the club’s AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Thompson, 19, has enjoyed a banner campaign. He racked up 32 points in 36 games to lead UConn in scoring this season, and captured gold with Team USA at the World Juniors. Thompson had five points in seven games, registering an assist in the gold medal win over Canada.

At 6-foot-5 and 201 pounds, Thompson has good NHL size, and pedigree to boot. He’s the son of former Kings, Jets and Coyotes blueliner Brent Thompson, who’s currently serving as head coach of the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

Goalie nods: Peters gives Lack second straight start

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Eddie Lack is back in his coach’s good graces.

Lack, who on Friday was lambasted for his poor play by ‘Canes bench boss Bill Peters, will make his second consecutive start tonight when the ‘Canes take on the Avs in Colorado.

Lack stopped 25 of 26 shots in a win over Arizona on Sunday, a result that came just 48 hours after Peters let loose on the Swedish ‘tender.

“Well, you’ve got to push,” Peters said to the assembled media. “One guy has played 10 games. Eddie has played 10 games and was poor in his last outing, let’s not kid ourselves, right? There were 16 shots, four went in. Not good enough. You look at his numbers in the league, they’re not good enough.”

Peters continued by saying Lack “better earn some respect” from his teammates, before punctuating the rant by staring at Lack’s dressing room stall and saying “make an [expletive] save.”

On Saturday, Peters didn’t back down from his critique, saying he was “just being honest.” But after Lack’s strong performance on Sunday, Peters acknowledged he and his goalie had a good talk at the airport prior to departing for Arizona.

Peters later added ripping on Lack was “not my proudest moment.”

Lack only has nine starts on the year, and back-to-back appearances have been a rarity. So it’ll be interesting to see how he fares, especially given this is a pretty great matchup — Colorado has the worst offense in the league, and scored just two goals in its last four games.

For the Avs, Calvin Pickard gets the start.

Elsewhere…

Keith Kinkaid gets a rare start, his first since Feb. 19, when the Devils take on the Blue Jackets. Columbus will counter with Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s coming off a 20-save shutout against the Devils on Sunday.

James Reimer looks to snap a three-game losing streak when the Panthers host the Rangers. The skid is by no means his fault, though, as he’s posted a .951 save percentage over the three games. No word yet on a New York starter, but Antti Raanta did play last night.

— It’s Steve Mason versus Robin Lehner as the Flyers take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

Frederik Andersen has been great over his last four games, posting a .942 save percentage, but the Leafs don’t have a single win to show for it. They hope to change that tonight as they host Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings.

Jake Allen, fresh off a shutout of Colorado on Sunday, gets the start in Minnesota. No surprises for the Wild, who will continue to ride Devan Dubnyk‘s hot hand.

— After getting pulled in Calgary on Sunday, Thomas Greiss resumes his starting duties in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, as per usual.

Carey Price is surging under new head coach Claude Julien, so the Habs will keep rolling with Price tonight in Vancouver. Ryan Miller‘s back in for the Canucks, after AHL recall Richard Bachman starred in a win over Anaheim on Sunday.

John Gibson‘s still hurt, so Jonathan Bernier gets another start for the Ducks. The visiting Preds are going with Pekka Rinne.