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Blues add Darryl Sydor as assistant coach

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The St. Louis Blues continued to assemble the coaching staff for Mike Yeo on Wednesday when they announced the hiring of former NHL defenseman Darryl Sydor.

Sydor previously served as an assistant on Yeo’s staff for several years when he was the head coach of the Minnesota Wild. Before joining the Blues, Sydor was an assistant coach for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this past season.

“I am excited to have Darryl back on my staff,” Yeo said in a statement released by the team. “He was an outstanding teacher during our time in Minnesota and will add a wealth of experience and knowledge to our team.”

Before joining the coaching ranks Sydor was a defenseman in the NHL for 18 seasons, playing 1,291 games for the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues. The Blues were his final stop in the NHL, playing 47 games for the team during the 2009-10 season. He was a member of two Stanley Cup winning teams, winning it with the Stars in 1998-99 and then with the Lightning in 2003-04.

The Blues hired Yeo to be their coach-in-waiting to work alongside Ken Hitchcock before the start of the 2016-17 season, but when Hitchcock was fired in the middle of the season Yeo was promoted a few months earlier than expected.

The Blues eliminated the Wild in the first-round of the playoffs this season but were defeated by the Nashville Predators in the second round.

Blues owner gives Armstrong vote of confidence

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Given all the upheaval in St. Louis this season, it was fair to ask questions about GM Doug Armstrong’s job security.

So last week the Post-Dispatch did exactly that, posing the query to Blues owner Tom Stillman: Do you think Armstrong’s the right guy for the job?

“Yes, I do,” Stillman replied. “A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even though it might not lead to as many wins in the current year.

“That’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”

Speaking of term, Armstrong is heading into the last of a five-year deal signed back in 2013. At that time, the Blues were coming off an 109-point campaign and Armstrong was the reigning NHL GM of the Year.

In announcing the deal, Stillman was full of praise.

“First, [Armstrong’s] an outstanding general manager, so we want to make sure he’s with us for a longer period,” he said, per NHL.com. “And second, I think you have to give him time to do his work and develop the team he wants to develop.”

If he extends Armstrong, Stillman could probably use the same quote again.

Because the Blues are, again, sort of in a developmental phase.

First, there was the massive hockey operations overhaul. Over the last three months, Armstrong has given six coaches their walking papers: Ken Hitchcock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, Rick Wilson and Ty Conklin.

Mike Yeo was inserted as the head coach, while Martin Brodeur temporarily added goalie coach to his assistant GM duties, before dropping the role at the end of the season.

(Brodeur will lead the charge to find a replacement, now that he’s back to being AGM and Conklin was let go.)

The coaching shakeup wasn’t the only significant change Armstrong oversaw.

The club’s younger prospects continued to push for bigger roles at the NHL level. At forward, the likes of Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford both worked their way into the mix, while Robby Fabbri was on pace for a career year before a season-ending ACL tear in early February.

The youth movement could continue into next season, too. Tage Thompson, the 6-foot-5 forward taken 26th overall last year, left Connecticut after his sophomore year to turn pro, and gained some valuable experience with AHL Chicago. Vince Dunn, a defenseman taken in the second round in 2015, had a great year with the Wolves and led all d-men in scoring.

So if there’s going to be an ongoing developmental phase in St. Louis, it makes sense that Stillman wants Armstrong to oversee it. He’s done a good job of it throughout his seven years on the job — he’s the NHL’s ninth longest-tenured active GM — and the club has been successful, with five consecutive playoff appearances.

It is worth noting, however, that “club policy” kept Stillman from talking about actually signing Armstrong to an extension.

‘I wish we wouldn’t have done that’: Wild owner regrets Martin Hanzal trade

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In the first half of the regular season, the Minnesota Wild looked like a legit Stanley Cup contender, but they faded quickly down the stretch.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher tried to get his team back on the rails by making a splash on deadline day, so he landed Martin Hanzal, Ryan White and a fourth-round pick from Arizona for a first-round pick in 2017, a second-round pick in 2018, a conditional pick in 2019 and Grayson Downing.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the deal didn’t exactly give them the shot in the arm they were hoping for, as they were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by Jake Allen and the St. Louis Blues.

Looking back, owner Craig Leopold wishes his team hadn’t given up all those picks for Hanzal, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

“In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that,” said Leipold, per the Minneapolis Tribune. “I supported that decision at the time, and I’m willing to live with it.”

Hanzal was far from terrible after joining the Wild (four goals, 13 points, 15:31 of average ice time in 20 games), but he just didn’t make a big enough impact to warrant giving up all those draft picks.

Those picks could have really come in handy right now. They could’ve used them to strike a deal with Vegas to make sure a player like Nino Niederreiter or Matt Dumba doesn’t get taken in the expansion draft, or they could have used them to entice another team to take an expensive contract with a no-move clause off their hands (i.e. Jason Pominville).

It’ll be interesting to see what Fletcher is able to pull this summer.

Related:

Wild GM is “all ears” for trade offers ahead of expansion draft

Report: Coyotes sign KHL forward Kempe (Updated)

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Arizona has landed an intriguing player out of Russia: Swedish forward Mario Kempe, the older brother of L.A. prospect Adrian Kempe.

Mario, 28, has — per Swedish news outlet Aftonbladet — agreed to join the Coyotes after a three-year stint with KHL club Vityaz Podolsk. He had 14 goals and 34 points in 56 games this year.

Update: Arizona has confirmed the signing. It’s a one-year, two-way deal. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Kempe does have some experience in North America. He was Philly’s fifth-round pick at the 2007 draft and, following a couple of good seasons in the Quebec junior league, played a handful of games for the AHL Phantoms.

Kempe returned to his native Sweden after his minor-league stint, then played a few seasons in the SHL before jumping to Russia.

Some may remember Kempe from his role on the Swedish team at the 2008 World Juniors. He was part of the silver medal-winning team that featured a number of future NHLers, including the likes of Victor Hedman, Carl Hagelin, Patrik Berglund, Mikael Backlund and Magnus Paajarvi.

After ‘bad’ season, Lehtera at crossroads in St. Louis

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Jori Lehtera‘s first NHL campaign was an unquestioned success. He scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games, and looked to have great chemistry with Vladimir Tarasenko.

Since then? Things have gone south.

Lehtera’s sophomore campaign was down slightly in terms of production — nine goals and 34 points in 79 games — though he had a decent playoff, scoring nine points as St. Louis advanced to the Western Conference final.

This year, though, was a major letdown.

Lehtera missed extensive time with an upper-body injury then, after recovering, was parked as a healthy scratch. The 29-year-old Finn then suffered a concussion in March, missed another 12 games, and was in and out of the Blues’ lineup during the playoffs.

Lehtera told the Post-Dispatch “it was a bad season for myself,” adding that he needed to come back next season and show “I can play much better hockey.”

But will he even get the chance?

Lehtera’s three-year extension — which GM Doug Armstrong gave him after the aforementioned first NHL campaign — kicked in this past season. He has two years left at $4.7 million per, a big price to pay for a forward that scored seven goals in 64 games.

More, from the Post-Dispatch:

The Blues might not be able to trade Lehtera, but he could be lost in the NHL expansion draft June 21, when the Vegas Golden Knights select their roster. The Blues will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, and Lehtera is likely to be left off the list.

“We’ll be talking to Vegas the first of June on what they want to do,” Armstrong said. “It’s not only what we’re going to protect, but what other teams are going to make available. I think there could be a flurry of activities.”

If there’s no traction at the expansion draft, Armstrong could move Lehtera simply to get some younger forwards in the mix, something fans in St. Louis have been clamoring for. Ivan Barbashev made strides this year, while ’15 first-rounder Tage Thompson turned pro, and gained valuable experience playing for AHL Chicago.

Speaking of the Wolves, will AHL leading scorer Kenny Agostino get a look? He captured league MVP honors on the strength of 83 points in 65 games, and is only 25 years old. In seven games with the Blues this year, he racked up three points.