St. Louis Blues

Maple Leafs’ biggest question: Who will follow Kessel out the door?

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When Phil Kessel was traded, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan called it a “recognition” that “what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

But for all that Kessel was criticized during his time in Toronto, he was only one piece of the core that “wasn’t good enough.” Hence, the trade speculation that continues to surround Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and many others.

Basically, if you played for the Leafs last year and your name isn’t Morgan Rielly, if you’re still on the roster, you may not be for long.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, it’s not a great time to be dumping salaries. They had to eat part of Kessel’s contract to move him to Pittsburgh. They’d likely be asked to do the same in any swap involving Phaneuf, Bozak, or Lupul, the latter of whom may be untradeable, period.

And remember that a team can only retain the salaries of three players. Kessel is on the books through 2022. Carl Gunnarsson is on there (for a paltry $200,000) through next season.

In addition to the veterans, there’s the younger guys like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Jonathan Bernier. They still have to show management that they can be part of the long-term solution.

To illustrate, here’s what Mike Babcock said when Kadri re-signed for one year: “I expect him to be an elite player. He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us.”

Gauntlet: thrown down.

A youngish player like James van Riemsdyk isn’t safe either, even after leading the Leafs with 27 goals last season. The 26-year-old has three years left before he can become an unrestricted free agent. So, do the Leafs envision him re-signing? Because the way they’re talking, he’ll be closing on 30 when the team is ready to start contending.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that,” said Shanahan.

“We’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

In the meantime, expect the Leafs to be active on the trade front, as it’s out with old core and in with the new.

Related: Wings reportedly no longer interested in Phaneuf

JayBo admits groin injury meant he ‘couldn’t do some of the things that I was used to doing’

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Jay Bouwmeester is hoping that the groin injury that cost him his “Ironman” streak won’t be a recurring thing.

Because not only did the injury, suffered in November, mean Bouwmeester’s streak of 737 straight games was over, it kind of messed up the rest of his season with the Blues.

“I’m a guy that relies on my skating, so yeah, that’s a big part of my game,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was a whole combination of things, but the bottom line is, I couldn’t do some of the things that I was used to doing. When you’re used to playing a certain way, things come naturally, and when you have to compensate a bit, it can throw some things off. It’s not a good position to be in.”

The 31-year-old defenseman finished with just 13 points in 72 games. He then went pointless in six playoff games, while averaging just 20:28 of ice time.

“So hopefully it’s nothing that keeps coming back,” he said. “I have no reason to think that I won’t be ready for camp or won’t be feeling good.”

Hitch says Backes’ role will be determined by play of Jaskin, Rattie, and Fabbri

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A pending unrestricted free agent, David Backes could be relegated to third-line duty next season for the Blues.

According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview with coach Ken Hitchcock, Backes’ role will be determined by the readiness of youngsters Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie and Robby Fabbri. If one of those three can hold down a top-six role, Backes will likely be the third-line center. If not, Hitchcock is planning for Backes to play right wing in the top six, with Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera as the top two centers.

“I can tell you right now, (Backes) is going to play more right wing than he’s played since I got here,” said Hitchcock. “Whether he’s a full-time player there or not, we don’t know yet. That depends on those three young kids.”

Backes had 26 goals and 32 assists last season. The 31-year-old’s long-term future with the Blues is not clear at this point.

PHT Morning Skate: Backes gives back to his alma mater

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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.

David Backes spent three years playing at Minnesota State-Mankato and, now, he and wife Kelly are donating $100,000 for the final renovations to the school’s Verizon Wireless Center hockey upgrades. (Mankato Free Press)

Jake Gyllenhaal remembers “crying on the kitchen counter” when his parents made him pass on the starring role in the original Mighty Ducks movie. His loss was Joshua Jackson’s gain. (Puck Daddy)

More movie-related news: Tyler Seguin is taking acting classes and has a cameo in the upcoming sequel to the 2011 flick Goon, titled “Goon: Last of the Enforcers.” (Dallas Morning News)

Buffalo has signed its second-round pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Brendan Guhle, to an entry-level contract. (WGRZ Buffalo)

LA Kings assistant GM Rob Blake had high praise for Jordan Weal, who starred for AHL Manchester last season and won Calder Cup MVP. (Frozen Royalty)

Report: Blue Jackets have interest in Ehrhoff

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Will Christian Ehrhoff’s long wait for a new contract end with him joining the Columbus Blue Jackets?

It seems that there have been discussions between the two sides, according the Columbus Dispatch’s sources. It was previously reportedly that Columbus went after Dougie Hamilton, Paul Martin, and Kevin Shattenkirk over the course of the offseason in an attempt to bolster their defense, so Ehrhoff would be the latest in a long line of targets.

The problem at this point is that Columbus is close to the cap after acquiring and signing Brandon Saad. Ehrhoff’s agent has already said that his client is open to another one-year contract after completing his $4 million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2014-15 campaign. If he’s willing to be accommodating from a financial standpoint as well, then the Blue Jackets might be able to fit him in under the ceiling.

It’s possible that this situation will drag on as Ehrhoff might wait to see if other more lucrative options materialize, assuming that there aren’t already such prospects on the table.

Ehrhoff was limited to 49 games in 2014-15 due to injuries and finished with three goals and 14 points.