Blues have ‘options’ next season — including using Fabbri at center

1 Comment

Robby Fabbri had a strong rookie season with the St. Louis Blues, but his sophomore campaign had its obstacles.

He was a healthy scratch, and, as a result, asked by Ken Hitchcock to play with more “tenacity.”

He was then injured, his season ending in February. Good news: He’s back skating and on track to be ready for training camp.

According to numerous reports, the Blues have different plans for Fabbri when camp opens. St. Louis, a team that added Brayden Schenn at center with a big draft-day trade, will give Fabbri a look up the middle, per reports in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

“We have options here and we’re going to use the time in training camp to try and do things,” head coach Mike Yeo told the Dispatch. “If something works off the bat, then we might give it a little bit more time. But we’re also willing, either through the course of a game or game to game, to mix and match.”

Fabbri, taken 21st overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, has experience playing both the wing and up the middle.

“I’ve played center my whole life, so I’ll be comfortable,” Fabbri told the Dispatch earlier this summer.

“The last year and a half, getting that confidence helped me with my decision. I’d like to think speed is kind of part of my game and I can utilize it pretty well playing center. I’m going in with the mindset that it is going to work and then if it doesn’t, it doesn’t and we go forward. But I’m pretty confident going into it.”

Jaromir Jagr a fit with Flames? It’s been a hot topic this summer


This post is part of Flames day at PHT…

The hockey world is still waiting to see where Jaromir Jagr plays next season.

The NHL?

In Europe, perhaps in the Czech Republic?

It’s the end of August and the 45-year-old future Hall-of-Famer with 1,711 NHL games played is still without a contract for the upcoming season, although there have been rumblings that perhaps the Calgary Flames may be interested. It’s intriguing for a team that appears to be on the rise in the Western Conference.

It’s been reported before but there’s a past connection between Jagr and current Flames bench boss Glen Gulutzan. The two worked together as members of the Dallas Stars during the lockout-shortened season.

“When I had him … first of all he’s not as fast as he used to be, but below the tops of the circles he is still stronger on the puck than most guys in the League,” Gulutzan said of Jagr last season, per “But probably the most impressive thing with [Jaromir], for me, of all those physical skills, obviously the size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and the strength and the hands, is his hockey IQ is off the charts.

“We clipped some clips, I remember back in Dallas, that we sat and watched as a coaching staff going, ‘Oh my God, how did he even do that?’ … He can score, he can pass, he can do it all … I think that’s what’s allowed him to play. And he has a real passion for the game.”

So, the Flames coach had high praise for Jagr. That doesn’t necessarily mean it eventually translates into a contract and roster spot.

In his mid-40s, Jagr may not have the speed others need to be successful in the NHL. But equipped with deft skill and a 6-foot-3 tall and 230-pound frame, he still has puck possession skills as a right winger, which is a position the Flames may need to upgrade heading into the season. He was productive last season, too, with 16 goals and 46 points, playing in all 82 regular season games.

The year before that? He scored 27 goals and 66 points — again, despite his age.

He also had good numbers on the power play — an area of strength in Calgary, which ranked 10th in the league last year at 20.2 per cent — with eight goals and 13 points. For a team that made it to the playoffs last season and could take another step toward contending in the West next spring, a player like Jagr may be able to still help a forward lineup that already features some dangerous, young talents.

There has been talk of a possible Jagr-Flames fit dating back to early July after the market opened. A number of factors could go into a possible decision, from both camps. Do the Flames have the money available to make such a deal? Calgary has about $7.1 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly, but still needs to get restricted free agent Sam Bennett under contract.

Flames sign d-man Kulak to one-year, two-way deal


This post is part of Flames Day at PHT…

Talk about perfect timing.

The Calgary Flames made some news Monday — on Flames Day at PHT — by signing restricted free agent and depth defenseman Brett Kulak to a one-year, two-way contract. Per the club, the annual average value is $650,000 at the NHL level.

Selected by the Flames in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Kulak has split time between the big club and Calgary’s minor league affiliates over the last three seasons.

Kulak appeared in 21 games for the Flames last season. He’s still searching for his first NHL goal.

The Flames still have two restricted free agents — Sam Bennett and Tyler Wotherspoon — left to get under contract.

Danis Zaripov eligible to play in NHL after receiving two-year IIHF ban for doping


Russian forward Danis Zaripov, who received a two-year suspension from the IIHF for testing positive for WADA-banned substances last season in the KHL, is now eligible to sign in the National Hockey League.

The NHL made the announcement Monday afternoon. Zaripov, who is 36 years old, was suspended in July “from the participation in all competitions or activities authorized and organized by IIHF and IIHF Member National Associations.”

He has appealed the suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with the NHL stating that appeal is still pending.

Zaripov has spent his entire professional career in Russia, including the last four years with Magnitogorsk Metallurg.

From the NHL:

Following due consideration of all of the available evidence (including Mr. Zaripov’s own appearance and testimony — which, as discussed below, the IIHF Disciplinary Board did not have the benefit of), it has been determined that Mr. Zaripov is hereby deemed eligible to sign and play professional hockey in the NHL, effective immediately, and without imposition of any NHL-imposed suspension or penalty.

In determining that Mr. Zaripov is immediately eligible for play in the NHL, several important factors were relied on. First, and perhaps most importantly, it should be noted that because of the differences between the NHL’s Prohibited Substances List and the WADA Code, the Player’s initial test result likely would not have triggered a suspension under the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement because, among other things, pseudoephedrine (the presence of which was below WADA’s applicable threshold in any event) is not on the League’s Prohibited Substances List.

Zaripov is an accomplished goal scorer and point producer in the KHL. Despite growing older, he has scored 20 or more goals in three of his last four seasons with Magnitogorsk.

It will be interesting to see how much interest he garners in the NHL, with Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reporting over the weekend that the Rangers and Golden Knights are expected to pursue the winger.

Flames – Oilers rivalry is worth getting excited about again


This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

For about a recent 10-year period, the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers — known as the Battle of Alberta — had really just become about the past.

It was about old memories, a trip back in time to when both clubs were battling it out, particularly during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, for hockey supremacy in that Canadian province. That’s because, over this more recent stretch, the Flames and Oilers had been mired in mediocrity in the Western Conference.

From 2006 to 2016, the Flames had made the playoffs five times, advancing to the second round only once and the team’s success that season under Bob Hartley was in no way going to be sustainable long-term. The Oilers, well, they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and then endured 10 straight seasons out of the playoffs. For both franchises, that is a far cry from their glory days and fiercest battles against each other.

Technically, the rivalry still existed during this 10-year downturn. But it was never really worth getting too excited about. At one point, there was hope from Oilers executive Kevin Lowe that perhaps the outspoken Brian Burke would help rekindle the rivalry when he joined the Flames a few years ago.

It appears, however, that has all changed.

Both teams not only made the playoffs last season, which is a positive sign, but have rosters that should allow them to build on those steps forward when the upcoming season gets underway.

After management changes, coaching changes and getting the No. 1 overall selection in four out of six years — Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov are no longer with Edmonton — the Oilers appear like they are turning a corner following the second year of the Connor McDavid Era and with the play of Cam Talbot in goal last season.

The Flames? Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau anchor their offensive attack, with Matthew Tkachuk set for his sophomore season after an impressive rookie campaign as a teenager. The Flames have also done a nice job of building a strong group of defensemen, particularly their top four, with the summer addition of Travis Hamonic to join Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

Does Calgary now have the best defense in the NHL? That’s up for debate, but it’s still a solid blue line, with their top four under contract for at least another three years. (Giordano has five years remaining on his deal and Hamilton has another four years.)

Acquiring Mike Smith to take over the starting duties in net (he’s under some pressure) and adding Eddie Lack as a capable No. 2 are also moves that indicate the Flames feel they are, within this cycle of the organization, ready to compete for the West.

Not only should both clubs remain competitive over the next few years, but the star power they both contain helps grow the rivalry, as well.

McDavid is, well, McDavid.

For the Flames, Johnny Hockey isn’t the biggest player on the ice but with his slick hands and ability to evade larger defenders, he’s shown capable of producing at a point-per-game pace over a long season and doing so with some flair for the fans. Monahan, only 22 years old, was recently listed as one of the top 20 centers in the NHL, and has scored at least 20 goals or more in each of his four seasons.

The Flames and Oilers won’t have to wait long to renew the rivalry. With star players involved, steps taken in the right direction by both franchises last season and higher expectations in 2017-18, they will face each other on Oct. 4 in Edmonton to kick off the new season.

This next chapter in the Battle of Alberta shouldn’t have to rely on nostalgia.