Mike Halford

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Let’s look at the many, many key injuries heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs

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Over the next few months, you’ll be subjected to a litany of stories — some written by PHT! — about players getting hurt during the exhausting, physical Stanley Cup playoff grind.

So why not get out in front, and look at all the injuries heading into the postseason?

Because there are a lot of them.

• We begin in Pittsburgh, where the defending champs have lost No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang (neck) for the year. It’s an absolutely massive void to fill. Letang played arguably the best hockey of his career in helping the Pens to the 2016 Stanley Cup. He had three goals and 12 assists in 23 playoff games while averaging a team-high 28:53 of ice time.

Pittsburgh probably has better overall defensive depth than last year — the trade deadline acquisitions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit certainly helped — so the hope is the collective can mitigate the loss. But there’s no sugarcoating Letang’s absence. It’s huge.

Watch Penguins vs. Blue Jackets on NBC Sports

As for the other limping Penguins, there’s no definitive word on the returns of Evgeni Malkin (missed last 13 games with an upper-body injury) and Carl Hagelin (missed last 16 games with a lower-body injury). Malkin appears close to returning, having practiced last week. Hagelin is back skating, but might not be ready for Game 1 against Columbus on Wednesday.

Finally, Chris Kunitz is out long-term with a lower-body ailment.

• Boston could be without Torey Krug (lower body) for its entire opening-round series against Ottawa, and rookie Brandon Carlo (upper body) is definitely out for Game 1. Krug was injured in the Bruins’ second-to-last game of the regular season, and then Carlo was forced to leave their final game.

The Bruins did address those losses by signing prized prospect Charlie McAvoy to his entry-level deal, and McAvoy immediately began practicing on a d-pair with John-Michael Liles. But McAvoy is only 19 years old, and has never played in the NHL. The Bruins are already asking a lot of McAvoy just by putting him in, so it’s safe to suggest he won’t be getting the usual ice times of Krug (21:36 per night) or Carlo (20:49). As such, look for Liles, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to get a bump, and for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to shoulder an even heavier load.

Watch Bruins vs. Senators on NBC Sports

• Yet another key blueliner is expected to miss the entire first round — Anaheim’s Cam Fowler. Fowler suffered a knee injury on a hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano near the end of the regular season, and will miss the next 2-6 weeks as a result.

The Ducks have a very deep defense, and are better equipped than most to deal with the loss. And while it is a sizable loss — Fowler averages nearly 25 minutes a night, and leads all Anaheim d-men in scoring — head coach Randy Carlyle can still ice a top-six of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Kevin Bieksa, Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore, with a veteran like Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

• St. Louis has been without top center Paul Stastny for nearly three weeks, as he’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury. Blues head coach Mike Yeo played coy when asked if Stastny would be ready for the opener against the Wild, saying “we’ll see” while grinning.

Earlier, Yeo was much more vocal in explaining how big a role Stastny plays.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”‘

Watch Blues vs. Wild on NBC Sports

• Physical Habs d-man Alexei Emelin is definitely out for Game 1 of the Rangers series, and possibly more. Emelin missed the final two games of the regular season with a lower-body ailment.

• Caps blueliner John Carlson (lower body) missed the last four games of the season, but that was precautionary as Washington didn’t have much to play for. He is expected to play Game 1 against Toronto.

• Ottawa d-man Marc Methot hasn’t suited up since getting his finger mangled on a Sidney Crosby slash in late March, but could be back in time for Game 1 against Boston. In fact, all the banged-up Sens might be in the opener — Erik Karlson (foot) is expected to play, as is forward Zack Smith.

• There was some thought Columbus d-man Ryan Murray would return from his broken hand in time for the playoffs… but it’s not shaping up that way. Zach Werenski, meanwhile, is expected to be ready for Game 1 against Pittsburgh, after sitting down the stretch with a shoulder ailment.

• Finally, we get to the Sharks, who lost both Logan Couture (face/mouth) and Joe Thronton (knee) to injuries over the final week of the season. Thornton said there was “no doubt” he’d be in for the opener in Edmonton, but has infrequently skated or participated in practice since then. Couture has also skated and practiced occasionally, but missed the final seven games of the season and was decidedly less committal about his playoff availability.

It is worth noting, though, that both Thornton and Couture practiced with the Sharks on Monday.

Ducks-Flames series heats up as Treliving rips Murray’s ‘asinine’ remarks

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Tempers are expected to flare in a few days when the Ducks and Flames begin their opening-round playoff series.

On Monday, Flames GM Brad Treliving cranked the thermostat a bit.

Treliving responded to Ducks GM Bob Murray’s assertion that Calgary captain Mark Giordano — who knocked out Anaheim blueliner Cam Fowler with a knee-on-knee hit — was a dirty player, with a history of similar instances.

“I hear how Gio is a good guy, and he’s this and that,” Murray said. “Well, he’s done this before. I have no respect for people who go after knees.”

Watch Ducks vs. Flames on NBC Sports

Treliving’s response?

Murray was livid in the aftermath of losing Fowler for 2-6 weeks to a knee injury. It’s likely the talented blueliner will miss all of the Anaheim-Calgary series, which gets underway Thursday at the Honda Center.

Some have suggested Murray’s beef with Giordano goes all the way back to 2011, when Giordano took out then-Ducks forward Bobby Ryan with a similar knee-on-knee collision.

In his latest rant, Murray acknowledged he may have crossed a line.

But he didn’t seem overly concerned about it.

“I’m sorry, but knees, they wreck your career real quick,” he fumed. “I don’t like it. I know I’ve said too much, but I don’t care.”

All of this adds up to — and I’ll steal some Ilya Bryzgalov terminology here — a very spicy situation.

There’s some legitimate bad blood between these two teams. The game in which Giordano hit Fowler turned into an ugly, fight-filled affair, and there was already some animosity from earlier in the season, when Ryan Kesler acknowledged he and the Ducks were targeting Johnny Gaudreau.

‘Marquee’ Air Force goalie Starrett signs with Oilers

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Edmonton has added an intriguing goalie prospect to the mix.

On Monday, the club announced it inked 6-foot-5 Air Force netminder Shane Starrett to a two-year, entry-level contract.

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Starrett, 22, appeared in 37 games with the NCAA’s Air Force Falcons (Atlantic Hockey) this season, posting a record of 26-6-4, a 1.99 goals against average and .925 save percentage, as well as five shutouts.

This past season he was named the Most Valuable Player at the Atlantic Hockey Final Four and was voted by his teammates as the Falcons Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Starrett was also a semi-finalist this season for the Mike Richter Award, given to the nation’s top goaltender.

Starrett, a sophomore, backstopped the Falcons to the NCAA championship this year, where they defeated Western Michigan before losing to Harvard in the national quarterfinals. Air Force head coach Frank Serratore called Starrett the club’s “marquee player.”

In other Oilers news, the club also agreed to terms with KHL blueliner Ziyat Paigin, also on a two-year ELC. Paigin, a seventh-round pick in ’15, played most of this year with Ak-Bars Kazan, but also appeared in two games with the club’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

Jets have had extension talks with Cheveldayoff, none with Maurice

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After missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year, Winnipeg faces a number of questions this summer.

And many of those questions start at the top.

The future of GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice are chief among those queries and, during Monday’s end-of-year media availability, both individuals touched on what the future has in store.

Both are heading into the final year of their respective deals. Per the Sun, Cheveldayoff’s had discussions about an extension while Maurice has yet to open similar talks.

Cheveldayoff’s been in charge of the Jets since their relocation from Atlanta in 2011. Reviews have been mixed. There’s an obvious level of disappointment with just one playoff appearance but, at the same time, the 47-year-old has stockpiled a tremendous amount of young, promising talent, primarily through the draft.

Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey have all come aboard on Cheveldayoff’s watch, and become important pieces. This year also saw the debuts of two highly touted ’15 draftees — Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic — while Eric Comrie, regarded as the team’s potential goalie of the future, also saw his first NHL action.

Other Cheveldayoff picks like Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Nic Petan have also graduated to the big club.

As for Maurice, Cheveldayoff said the veteran bench boss has his “full support.”

The 50-year-old has been in charge of the Jets since taking over from Claude Noel in ’13-14 and, like Cheveldayoff, reviews have been mixed. The Jets have been one of the league’s least disciplined teams under Maurice — the Jets took 307 minor penalties this year, fourth-most — and that issue was compounded by an awful penalty kill that finished 26th in the NHL.

But Maurice has also been somewhat undone by lacklustre goaltending, a signature problem of the Cheveldayoff era. Ondrej Pavelec, Al Montoya, Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck were Maurice’s primary options over the last four years, and none really got the job done.

Guerin, Drury named to U.S. management team for Worlds

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USA Hockey is going with a collaborative approach for selecting this year’s roster for the World Hockey Championships.

The National Team Advisory Group — led by USA Hockey’s Jim Johannson — was announced on Monday, and included a pair of former NHLers now in managerial roles: Bill Guerin, currently the assistant GM in Pittsburgh, and Chris Drury, who serves the same role for the Rangers.

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[The National Team Advisory Group also] includes NHL general managers Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks), Dean Lombardi (L.A. Kings), David Poile (Nashville Predators), and Ray Shero (New Jersey Devils), along with Florida Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon and Carolina Hurricanes President Don Waddell.

Guerin, 46, retired from playing in 2010 and moved immediately into hockey ops. He spent three years as the Penguins’ developmental coach before transitioning to front office work in 2014.

Drury, 40, wrapped up his career in ’11, only to circle back with the Rangers four years later. He came on in ’15 as the director of player development and, last summer, was promoted to work under GM Jeff Gorton.

It’s worth noting that both Guerin and Drury are members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.