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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Goalie nods: Raanta goes back-to-back in Battle of New York

Another chapter in one of the league’s most storied rivalries will be written tonight, when the Isles take on the Rangers at MSG.

And in goal, it’ll be Thomas Greiss against Antti Raanta.

Raanta, the goalie of record in seven of the Rangers’ last eight games, gets the call even though Henrik Lundqvist is reportedly healthy enough to return from his hip injury. Lundqvist is expected to resume playing on the club’s upcoming three-game California swing through Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

So that means tonight’s game falls to Raanta, who continues to put up solid numbers. He’s now at 15-7-2 on the year with a 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage, and has allowed three goals or fewer in each of his last five appearances. That includes last night’s 3-2 OT loss to the Devils, in which he made 26 saves.

Greiss, meanwhile, is coming off a very good performance in Saturday’s 3-2 OT loss to the Jackets. He stopped 35 of 38 shots for a .921 save percentage, and knows he’ll need to be as good — or better — as the Isles are in desperate need of points.

The Isles head into tonight’s action three points back of the Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Elsewhere…

— Toronto won’t start former Blue Jacket Curtis McElhinney tonight, when it visits Columbus. Instead, head coach Mike Babcock will continue to roll with the red-hot Frederik Andersen, who’s coming off a 33-save win against Boston on Monday. For the Jackets, Joonas Korpisalo looks to be in goal.

Jonathan Bernier continues to pile up the starts in Anaheim, with John Gibson still nursing his lower-body injury. Bernier will get the call when the Ducks host the Oilers tonight. And guess who’s in for Edmonton? If you guessed anybody other than Cam Talbot, you haven’t been reading this column often enough.

Columbus started extension talks with key youngsters Wennberg, Anderson

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Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was a busy man on Tuesday, signing three players — center Lukas Sedlak, left winger Markus Hannikainen and blueliner Scott Harrington — to two-year extensions.

Kekalainen’s also working on some more significant deals as well.

Per the Dispatch, he’s begun preliminary extension talks with three Columbus’ brightest young players — forwards Josh Anderson and Alex Wennberg, and goalie Joonas Korpisalo — all of whom are pending restricted free agents.

Though talks will reportedly be sidelined as the team focuses on its playoff run, Kekalainen insisted all three deals would get done.

“They’re all restricted,” he said. “And they’re all going to be re-signed.”

Of the three, Wennberg and Anderson have made the biggest impact this season.

Wennberg, 22, has done a terrific job filling the hole left at center from the Ryan JohansenSeth Jones trade. The 14th overall pick in ’13 leads the team in assists this year, with 42, and sits second in scoring with 54 points.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said of Wenneberg, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

Anderson, also 22, has made a major impact in his first fulls season with the Jackets. He’s found the back of the net 16 times — more than Henrik Zetterberg, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — and has been a physical presence, sitting third on the team with 119 hits.

Korpisalo’s had a smaller role this season, though that has to do with the heavy workload shouldered by No. 1 netminder Sergei Bobrovsky (and the fact now-Maple Leaf Curtis McElhinney spent time as the backup). But the organization is high on Korpisalo who, at 22, projects to be a potential goalie of the future.

It’s fair to suggest Wennberg will get the biggest raise this summer. The question will be if the club tries to sign him to a bridge deal, like it did with Boone Jenner, or negotiate a long-term deal, like it did with Jones.

Kekalainen also has a few UFAs to make decisions on, with the most interesting being Sam Gagner. Signed on the cheap last summer — one year, $650,000 — he’s done an excellent job of reviving his career, notching 18 goals and 44 points through 70 games.

Career back on track, Bernier hopes he can re-sign in Anaheim

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One of the better stories in Anaheim this season has been the revival of goalie Jonathan Bernier.

Bernier, a once-ballyhooed prospect that fell on hard times over the last few years, has a 1.78 goals-against and .943 save percentage in his last 10 starts. He’s been the Ducks’ life preserver while No. 1 netminder John Gibson deals with a lingering injury — Gibson’s played just once over the last 30 days — and, on Mar. 13, Bernier’s cap received a nice feather as the NHL named him its second star of the week.

It’s a dramatic turnaround from a guy that, in January, went 23 days between starts and admitted he was in a difficult situation.

But things have certainly turned around, which has kickstarted conversations about Bernier’s playing future.

From the L.A. Daily News:

A potential unrestricted free agent this summer, Bernier faces an uncertain future in a typically fickle goalie market. The number of openings among the 30 teams fluctuates from year to year. And there is now a 31st – the Vegas Golden Knights – to factor in.

It is a given the Ducks will choose Gibson as the one goalie they can protect from the expansion draft, which will leave Bernier available for the Golden Knights to pluck away if they so choose. And even if he isn’t grabbed, Bernier could choose to seek the best contract he can find.

“I think it’s been a tough year for a lot of teams and a lot of GMs, just with the Vegas team,” Bernier said. “There are a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made after the season. And especially for me, right? I’m a free agent. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But playing in Anaheim is working and Bernier had a one-word response for possibly staying.

“Hopefully.”

Anaheim appears set in goal with regards to the expansion draft. Gibson will be protected, and AHL San Diego ‘tender Dustin Tokarski was re-signed a couple months ago, presumably as the goalie to be made available.

(The Ducks also have Jhonas Enroth in the fold, currently serving as Bernier’s backup. But Enroth hasn’t seen a second of game action for the Ducks since coming over from Toronto.)

Add it all up, and Bernier seems destined to hit free agency on July 1. That said, don’t rule out a return to the Ducks to work in tandem with Gibson next year. Head coach Randy Carlyle is a fan and, as Bernier’s above quotes illustrate, he’d be happy for another stint in Orange County.

Ristolainen to have hearing for hit that concussed Guentzel

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Buffalo blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen will have a disciplinary hearing following Tuesday night’s interference major on Pens forward Jake Guentzel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has announced.

Ristolainen was given a five-minute interference major and game misconduct for the hit, which left Guentzel bloodied and, as we later learned, with a concussion. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the diagnosis in his postgame presser.

Ristolainen, 22, doesn’t have any history with the NHL’s DoPS, so that should be reflected in any potential punishment. At the same time, Guentzel was injured on the play, and it could be argued he was in a prone position.

“I thought it was bad,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said of the hit, per the Buffalo News. “The puck doesn’t get to him. He’s looking to get the puck to get into the play, and the guy holds up a second and then he still goes through him.”

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.