Mike Halford

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

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.

Flyers prospect Friedman skips senior season, turns pro

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Mark Friedman, the Bowling Green defenseman taken 86th overall by Philly at the ’14 draft, has signed his entry-level contract, per BGSUHockey.com.

Friedman, 21, just wrapped his junior campaign with an impressive eight goals and 26 points in 40 games. He led all Bowling Green blueliners in scoring, and finished just three back of newly signed ‘Hawks d-man Luc Snuggerud for most goals (by a defenseman) in the country.

Though he’s not as ballyhooed as Philly’s other defensive prospects — AHLers Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and star rookie Ivan Provorov — Friedman could challenge for a spot next season, which might explain why he opted to balk on returning for his senior campaign.

There figures to be some significant changeover for the Flyers: Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz could walk in free agency, and it’s possible a guy like Brandon Manning may be claimed by Vegas in the expansion draft.

 

 

Weise ‘certainly a better player than he’s shown,’ says Hextall

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Ron Hextall became Flyers GM three years ago and, over that time, he’s been praised for a number of his moves.

The Dale Weise contract? Yeah, that’s not one of them.

Weise — signed to a four-year, $9.4 million deal last summer — has been a huge disappointment thus far. He’s had repeat trips to the press box as a healthy scratch, lost three games to suspension and, all told, has just four goals and eight points in 53 games played.

Yesterday, Hextall addressed the Weise signing (among other topics), and confirmed the obvious: Weise has fallen way short of expectations.

“If you’re evaluating right now, you’d probably say he hasn’t put up the type of numbers that we hoped,” Hextall said, per Philly.com. “He’s playing pretty well lately. He’s certainly a better player than he’s shown over the course of the year.

“I think at the time we added depth to our lineup and we expected 12 to 15 goals and he’s nowhere near there. In a nutshell, we all know Dale can play better.”

Hextall was clearly hoping Weise could regain the form shown in Montreal. The 28-year-old had 14 goals and 26 points in 56 games for the Habs in ’15-16 (this after scoring 10 goals and 29 points in ’14-15).

But there were warning signs his statistical outburst was an anomaly, rather than the start of something big. Weise’s time in Chicago following a deadline deal from Montreal was, as he put it, a “disaster.” He went scoreless with just one point in 15 regular-season games, and was a non-factor in the playoffs.

Looking ahead, one wonders how big an albatross Weise’s contract could become. He turns 29 in August, and is owed $2.35 million annually through 2020. It’s not a crippling cap hit or anything, but for a guy that’s only found the back of the net four times this season, it’s a significant chunk of change.

Pre-game reading: Wild prospect, NCAA star Kunin wrestling with decision to turn pro

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— Minnesota has a bunch of quality young prospects (Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway, Alex Tuch, Kirill Kaprizov) in the pipleline. But right now, one is garnering more interest than the rest: University of Wisconsin star Luke Kunin, the 15th overall pick at last year’s draft.

Kunin, 19, just wrapped his sophomore campaign for the Badgers, and it was a good one. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, with four points in seven games.

Kunin does have some unfinished business at Wisconsin — the club fell short of qualifying for the NCAA championships this year — but according to the Star-Trubine’s Mike Russo, most expect him to forgo the rest of his eligibility and turn pro.

For more on what Badgers head coach Tony Granato had to say, click here.

— More players have weighed in on the NHL’s Olympic participation (or, lack thereof). This time, it’s Bruins captain Zdeno Chara speaking out. From ESPN:

“Any time there’s some sort of interference, it looks bad on the sport and it looks bad on the people making the decisions. We are at a point where people need to really sit down behind one table and find a solution, instead of always kind of being defensive I would say, or finding ways not to find solutions. That’s what I’m hoping for and believe that it will eventually happen. Things will find a way and fall into place for the Olympics, for the sport and for the history of all the nations being in the same place; come together and we will see the best hockey players for their countries at the Olympics.”

Chara’s comments came after Philly forward Jakub Voracek said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” there’s no Olympic deal yet.

— Nick Paccione is 12 years old. Earlier this season, he won a contest to do play-by-play of the first period for the Devils radio broadcast and, on Sunday, was on the call for New Jersey’s home game against Columbus.

So, how’d he do?

“He did a good job and handled the pace well,” Devils play-by-play voice Matt Loughlin said. “He had excellent energy and his goal calls were spot on. What a way to begin a career. A shorthanded penalty shot, another shorthanded goal and a power-play goal. That’s not easy.”

Hear some of Paccione’s call here.