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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Flyers parting ways with Del Zotto, Schultz

It was always likely, but now it’s official — defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz won’t be back in Philadelphia next season.

Del Zotto was informed of the decision by Flyers GM Ron Hextall earlier this week. It marks the end of a three-year run with the Flyers, which included Del Zotto matching a career-high with 10 goals during the ’14-15 campaign.

“It’s unfortunate and a little emotional,” the 26-year-old said, per the Inquirer. “I’ve been here three years and made some great friendships.”

Schultz, 34, knew of his fate earlier. Like Del Zotto, he’s spent the last three years in Philly and, also like Del Zotto, is being allowed to walk in free agency so the club can usher in its prized young defensemen.

This year, the club had 23-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere and 20-year-old Ivan Provorov as blueline mainstays, while giving two bright prospects — Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg — their NHL debuts. It’s expected both Morin (21 years old) and Hagg (22) will be competing for spots next year, along with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Travis Sanheim (who just turned 21 at the end of March).

 

Kings continue overhaul, move Futa to assistant GM

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The massive restructuring in Los Angeles continues.

On Wednesday, the Kings announced that longtime front office man Mike Futa has been named assistant GM, moving him from his previous role of VP of hockey ops and director of player personnel.

“Mike has made tremendous contributions to our hockey club over the years and he will be one of several people we are going to internally lean on,” GM Rob Blake said in a release. “He and his department have enjoyed success here both with the NHL Draft and the Ontario Hockey League in particular, and we look forward to additional success in the immediate future.”

Retaining Futa is an important move.

A well-respected executive, Futa has been tied to a number of vacancies across the league over the last few years. Buffalo asked to interview him for the GM gig that eventually went to Tim Murray, and there were rumblings Toronto was interested in bringing him aboard following its managerial overhaul two years ago.

Futa will now play a prominent role in Los Angeles’ new look hockey operations department. Gone are ex-GM Dean Lombardi, head coach Darryl Sutter and one of Sutter’s assistants, Davis Payne.

In are Blake (GM and VP of hockey ops) and Luc Robitaille (club president).

The club has yet to make a decision on the future of assistant coach John Stevens, who’s been behind the bench since the ’10-11 campaign.

Related: Kings will explore ‘different philosophies’ to help scoring woes

 

Report: Avs to protect Varlamov, expose Pickard for expansion draft

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Colorado GM Joe Sakic thinks Semyon Varlamov is a key piece of the team, and is apparently ready to prove it.

According to BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater, the Avalanche are going to protect Varlamov at the upcoming expansion draft, meaning 24-year-old Calvin Pickard will be eligible to be selected by Las Vegas.

The move will undoubtedly raise eyebrows. Varlamov, who turns 29 later this month, has two years left on a five-year, $29.5 million deal. His $5.9M cap hit is the 12th highest among all goalies, but his numbers have taken a precipitous fall over the last few campaigns.

Some of that’s to do with chronic hip and groin problems, culminating in a disastrous ’16-17 season in which he was in and out of the lineup, starting just 23 games before undergoing season-ending surgery in January.

To hear Sakic explain it, losing Varlamov played a big role in Colorado’s awful season.

“Our goaltending situation, with [Varlamov] being out, we might as well say the whole year with his issues, that snowballed,” Sakic told the Denver Post.

The veteran Russian may well indeed be a big part of the team.

But is it worth protecting him?

It could be argued that, given his age and contract, Varlamov wouldn’t be on Vegas’ radar anyway. There are rumblings that Golden Knights GM George McPhee — who had Varlamov in Washington, only to trade him to Colorado amid a contract squabble — would prefer go young and cheap.

Pickard, a former second-round pick, carries a $1M cap hit and has shown well in the past, posting a .922 save percentage or better in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The Avs thought Pickard had enough ability to challenge Varlamov for the No. 1 gig, and actually used him quite a bit at the beginning of the season — before everything went pear-shaped.

Simply put, Pickard would appear a more likely target for Vegas than Varlamov.

Which is why this decision will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. There’s a very legitimate scenario in which the Avs could expose Varlamov, protect Pickard and end up with both on the roster come next season.

But that doesn’t appear to be the direction Sakic will go.

‘Canes axe goalie coach, and there may be more changes in net

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Suffice to say, this was not a good year between the pipes in Carolina.

Cam Ward and Eddie Lack combined to post the NHL’s fourth-worst combined save percentage. Lack missed extensive time with concussion problems — forcing the 33-year-old Ward into a heavy workload — and upon returning, the lanky Swede was lambasted by head coach Bill Peters in a now-infamous rant.

Today, the ‘Canes made the first in what could be a series of moves to improve their goaltending.

GM Ron Francis announced the team was cutting ties with goalie coach David Marcoux. Marcoux had been with the club for the past three seasons, having joined the Carolina organization after a six-year stint in Calgary.

There have been rumblings that Lack and Marcoux never gelled, something that was emphasized when Lack spoke to The Province last season.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Lack explained. “At times, it’s been really hard. Sometimes I catch myself in games looking down to see where I am in the crease because I have no idea where I am.”

Changes in Carolina sound like they’ll go beyond the Marcoux dismissal, however.

Both Lack and Ward are heading into the final years of their respective contracts. Ward will earn $3.3 million, Lack $2.75M, and both are eligible to be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft.

Francis said the tandem didn’t work out this season, in large part because Lack’s injury issue forced the club to “lean extremely heavily” on Ward — too much, Francis said.

The GM also didn’t sound very enthusiastic about Carolina’s prospect pool. He said the club has “throw a lot of darts at the board over the last few years,” to try and find a good young goalie, but the results have been negligible. Francis added he couldn’t honestly say if they have a future No. 1 in the organization.

Luckily for the ‘Canes, this is a good summer to be goalie shopping. The UFA market could feature the likes of Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier and Scott Darling.

Francis said the club will be in a good financial position to add players this offseason, through trades or free agency. As such, he may be given the green light to snag a goalie and deal with the ramifications later — under this scenario, he’d have until early October to figure out a potential three-headed goalie monster.

Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup? PHT staffers make their picks…

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Sixteen teams out of 30 make the playoffs, but only one can win. Now that we know those 16 teams, we’re making our Stanley Cup picks again. Has anything changed our minds from the preseason? 

Jason Brough: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Penguins over Blackhawks)

I would’ve stuck with the Penguins, but Kris Letang‘s injury swung the pendulum towards Washington. I just don’t see Pittsburgh winning four series with that defense. The Capitals, on the other hand, have three very capable, right-shot d-men in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk. They’re obviously deep up front as well, with a much improved third line. Plus, they’ve got an excellent goalie. Bottom line: this really feels like Washington’s time. Granted, I said the same thing last year and was wrong, but only because the Caps ran into Pittsburgh. I don’t think the Pens will trip them up this year.

Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks

(Preseason pick: Lightning over Blues)

“That energy, that ambition and motivation is back,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said earlier this week. “We have that feeling again.” Without reading too much into a fairly stock quote, I’m buying what Toews is selling. Getting bounced by St. Louis in Round 1 last year might’ve been a good thing — it made the ‘Hawks hungrier, not unlike when they lost to Arizona in the opening round in 2012, then came back to win it all the season following. The energy angle is interesting, because it comes on two fronts: One is from all the young guys (Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Tanner Kero) that’ve never had a deep playoff run before, and are all playing vital roles. The second? The old guys, back for another shot at glory — Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, specifically.

Adam Gretz: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Predators over Lightning)

Simply put, I think the Capitals are the best team in the NHL. They don’t really have any glaring weakness, they have elite forwards, are the best defensive team in hockey and only made themselves better after adding Kevin Shattenkirk, and they have a Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender behind all of that. Yes, they have been the best team in the league before and it has not yet brought them a Stanley Cup, but sooner or later things have to break their way in the playoffs, don’t they? They can’t run into a hot goalie every year, can they? Their obvious challenge in the Eastern Conference is going to be if they have to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round again, but even that should be different than a year ago simply because the Penguins will not have Kris Letang in their lineup, which is a total game-changer.

James O’Brien: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Stars over Penguins)

Much of what others have said about Washington’s depth and favorable luck (the Caps being healthy, peers such as the Penguins not so much) applies here. But allow me to add another wrinkle: the Capitals have some hungry players chasing raises. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov are the standouts among a slew of pending free agents who can boost their bank accounts via playoff heroics. “Greed is good” in sports, and it’s yet another feather in the Capitals’ … cap.

Cam Tucker: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Capitals over Predators)

I am sticking with the Capitals. This is it. This is the year the Capitals get beyond the second round and win the Stanley Cup. And they’re going to do so by getting by Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the second round. It’s simple: The Capitals have just too many weapons. Look beyond the starting point of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Eleven different players reached double digits in goals scored and 11 different players had 30 points or more. They are stacked. If they remain healthy, they should get it done. Not only are they among the best scoring teams in the league, behind only Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but they allowed the fewest goals against. They’re among the best in the league on the power play and penalty kill. They have Braden Holtby in net. This is their time.

Joey Alfieri: Chicago Blackhawks

(Preason pick: Lightning over Stars)

The ‘Hawks got off to a decent start this season, but they really turned it on after their bye week in mid-February. Their 13-3-1 stretch allowed them to blow by Minnesota for top spot in the Central Division. The Blackhawks might not be as deep as a team like the Capitals, but they still have seven players (Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Hartman) that scored at least 19 goals in 2016-17. Add a group of veteran defensemen like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, and a star goalie in Corey Crawford and you have a pretty solid team.