Blues expect to target defense this off-season, begin talks with Alex Pietrangelo

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The 2012 NHL Awards represented a special evening for the St. Louis Blues’ front office, with head coach Ken Hitchcock winning the Jack Adams and Doug Armstrong winning the GM of the Year award. Next season will present one of the best tests in sports, however: can they maintain that success and then build on it?

Making shrewd decisions during the off-season will be a big part of that process. Both Hitchcock and Armstrong indicated that the team won’t make too many significant moves, yet both admitted that they need another defenseman.

Interestingly enough, Armstrong said that he’s looking for more than a seventh guy who might just be a regular healthy scratch, though.

“We’re not looking to add a seventh defenseman, we’re looking to add a defenseman in our top four,” Armstrong said. “Now, that’s easier said than done also. You look at that market out there right now, if we have to wait until July 1 there’s going to be a lot of people wanting those players so it might have to come via trade.”

Armstrong pointed out that the Blues still need to make some decisions on the team’s own unrestricted free agents, yet he believes that internal growth might be accelerated simply by improved health – especially at the forward position.

Pietrangelo negotiations?

One interesting negotiation process on the horizon comes regarding stud defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. He’s about to enter the final year of his current deal, so the Blues will get their first chance to re-up him on July 1, if they chose to go in that direction. With the whopping deals handed out to Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson, the price for high-end young defensemen is booming in the NHL, so we got Armstrong’s take on how that process might go.

“With the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations going on, we have the opportunity to decide if we want to do that,” Armstrong said. “It won’t be in early July. We’ll let the dust settle on free agency and the dust settle on building our roster. If they’d like to sign we’d certainly love to sign him, he’s a big part of our future. But if it goes into the next season or goes into next summer I’m not too concerned … I think we’ll be safe.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.