St. Louis Blues

PHT Morning Skate: Gretzky doesn’t ‘know if hockey has ever had a classier man’ than Arbour

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Wayne Gretzky knew the late Al Arbour’s Islanders well from their Stanley Cup Final meetings in 1983 and 1984 and Gretzky has nothing but good things to say about him. (Newsday)

Are you surprised by the lack of updates regarding the potential sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe you shouldn’t be. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Here’s a detailed look at Valeri Nichushkin, who is one of the Stars’ bigger X-factors going into the 2015-16 campaign. (Dallas Morning News)

Vladimir Tarasenko’s eventful summer is coming to an end. Next he’ll join his teammates in the daunting task of living up to the high expectations thrust upon them after they’ve endured quick playoff exits in recent years. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Was Tuukka Rask’s workload an issue last season? (Puck Daddy)

Need a pick-me-up? Here are arguments in favor of each Western Conference team winning the Stanley Cup. (USA Today)

Hitch finds silver lining in Berglund injury

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Losing Patrik Berglund (shoulder) for at least four months is a setback, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock can see how this situation could have been worse.

“You never want to see a guy get hurt,” Hitchcoch said, “but it couldn’t come at a better time because it allows us to have preparation for finding his replacement. It gives us time to look at guys in training camp. We’ve brought in some NHL players to take a look at, bona fide NHL players, so we’ve got lots of time to see how it works.

“If this happens during the season or even during exhibition season, it’s a different story, but we’ve got a lot of time to figure it out and we’re going to get a good player back when we need him the most.”

Scott Gomez will be among those competing for a spot during training camp after inking a professional tryout contract on the same day that the Blues announced Berglund’s injury. This could also be seen as an opening for highly regarded prospect Robby Fabbri, although Hitchcock insists that whether or not he makes the team will be about how Fabbri does rather than the Blues’ situation.

Instead Berglund’s injury might be seen as creating more of an opening for some of the Blues’ more experienced prospects like Ty Rattie, who has spent the last two seasons playing primarily in the AHL.

The timing of Berglund’s injury also means that part of his recovery time will occur while no games of consequence are being played. The flip side to that is that after missing training camp and the early portion of the season, rust might be a factor.

Wild’s biggest question: Who will step up at center?

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In addition to whether Devan Dubnyk can replicate his 2014-15 season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Minnesota Wild heading into this season is at center.

According to NHL.com, Wild centers were amongst the least productive in the league last season combining for 49 goals. Captain Mikko Koivu led the way with 14 goals while Mikael Granlund accounted for just eight goals.

In order to improve in this area they’ll need more from Granlund – the 23-year-old, who centered a line with Jason Pominville and Zach Parise last season, will be expected to contribute more offensively.

“I don’t think anybody anticipates Granlund to be an eight-goal, 40-point guy for the rest of his career,” GM Chuck Fletcher said after signing Granlund to a new two-year, $6 million deal in July. “He is going to take off here over the next two years.”

The Wild also believe Charlie Coyle can be a full-time center. Speaking with Mackey and Judd on ESPN radio in Minnesota last week, Mike Yeo said Coyle would start the season at center.

Coyle scored 11 goals and 35 points in 82 games last season.

“You look at a guy like David Backes, for instance, he’s a centerman, he’s pretty much a fulltime centerman right now, but he spent a lot of time bouncing around,” said Yeo. “I like (Coyle’s) improvement at center last year, in particular, in his defensive game, I know he’s a real reliable guy especially to have a big body like that. You can throw him out there against an Anze Kopitar, who is (6-foot-3) and (225-pounds), you know he’s not going to get out-muscled down low. That’s a real valuable thing to have.

“What’s important for him now is if he can take another step offensively playing that position.”

More will also be expected of Erik Haula. The 24-year-old, who signed a two-year extension earlier this month, took a step back last season. Haula scored six goals and 15 points in 46 regular season games during the 2013-14 season. He added four goals and seven points in 13 playoff games.

Last season, Haula managed to score just seven goals and 14 points in 72 games.

“Just because he had a bit of a down year last year, we’re certainly not ready to give up on him because we’ve also seen the flip side,” said Yeo. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of and it’s just a process that these young kids have to go through.”

The Wild also lost Kyle Brodziak in free agency. The 31-year-old was amongst the top-scoring centers in Minnesota last season with nine goals.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Mike Reilly

It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

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The Minnesota Wild’s 2014-15 campaign was a tale of two seasons. There was the time before Devan Dubnyk and then the time after his arrival.

Before Dubnyk was traded on Jan. 14, the Wild were a team in disarray. They had lost 12 of their last 14 games, shifting the question from if they could take a step forward from their 2014 second round exit to if they could even make the playoffs. Now in the third season of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter era, their stagnation was tremendously disappointing.

On Jan. 7, Wild coach Mike Yeo seemed to lose his cool during a team practice in dramatic fashion. To make matters worse, goaltender Darcy Kuemper left the same practice with a lower-body injury.

The Minnesota Wild went on to lose another four games, including a 7-2 defeat to Pittsburgh on Jan. 13.

“We’re so easy to play against,” Zach Parise said after the game, per the Associated Press. “We lose battles. The details of our game are terrible. We don’t make it hard on the other team.”

Then Minnesota acquired Dubnyk from Arizona for a third round pick and he was given the nod on Jan. 15. He ended up starting in 39 of the Wild’s final 40 games and posted a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage over that span to salvage their campaign.

Once in the postseason, Minnesota bested the St. Louis Blues in six games, setting up a series against the Blackhawks for the third consecutive year. Chicago had beaten them twice before and despite all the Wild had accomplished on their road to Chicago this time around, the outcome would not be any different. The Blackhawks powered past Minnesota in four games.

Offseason recap

After his strong performance, the big question for the Wild this summer was how much re-signing Dubnyk would cost them. Determining fair value was no simple matter given Dubnyk’s rocky history, but the two sides ultimately settled on a six-year, $26 million deal.

Up against the cap, this has been a quiet summer for Minnesota as far roster changes go. Chris Stewart and Kyle Brodziak walked as unrestricted free agents while former Wild players Sean Bergenheim, Matt Cooke, Jordan Leopold, and Keith Ballard remain unsigned. On top of that the Wild haven’t made any significant additions thus far.

That’s to be expected though as the team has to factor in the potential raises that Jason Zucker, Jared Spurgeon , Matt Dumba, and Kuemper might get as restricted free agents next summer.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues Berglund’s injury isn’t a big setback for Blues

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Jeff Gordon doesn’t see losing Patrik Berglund (shoulder surgery) for at least four months as a big blow to the St. Louis Blues. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

What does the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to sign Christian Ehrhoff tell us about the Slava Voynov situation? (Puck Daddy)

Sidney Crosby is enthusiastic about the prospect of playing with Phil Kessel for a lot of different reasons. (DK Pittsburgh Sports)

Shane Doan is happy with the moves the Arizona Coyotes have made over the summer. (Coyotes.nhl.com)

Pavel Datsyuk’s recovery from his ankle surgery seems to be going well. (MLive.com)

Auston Matthews, who might be taken with the top pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, said that the prospect of playing with older competition and for coach Marc Crawford are two of the big reasons he decided to sign with the ZSC Lions. (Arizona Republic)