Report: Blues, Schwartz making progress, still about $500K apart


Most of the RFA haggling updates from TSN’s latest Insider Trading segment seemed to trot out the same vague doom and gloom – things still appear pretty “nasty” between Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets, while there’s similarly little progress with Dan Ellis and the Nashville Predators – but Pierre LeBrun provides somewhat-promising news regarding Jaden Schwartz and the St. Louis Blues.

The good: The two sides appear to be making progress and are $500K apart on a two-year “bridge” deal, which at least stands as promising compared to the Johansen and Ellis situations.

The bad: $500K can be a bigger mountain to climb than one might think … just ask Vladimir Sobotka, who allegedly left for the KHL over about $300K.

LeBrun reports that the Blues’ offer is at around a $2 million mark while Schwartz’s representatives are angling for about $2.6 million.

St. Louis is taxed quite a bit cap-space wise (LeBrun notes that the Blues are “counting every penny,”), but it’s plausible that Schwartz could be a steal at either price in 2014-15.

In the 22-year-old’s first true full season of NHL action (it’s tempting to throw out 2013-14 stats sometimes), Schwartz scored 25 goals and 56 points in 80 games played while showing significant improvements in possession stats. There are some interesting parallels between Schwartz and Johansen – from age to pedigree to seeing an enormous jump in productivity last season – but the remarkable thing is that it isn’t outrageous to expect comparable numbers from Schwartz … even though it sounds like he could be much cheaper to sign.

(At least through 2014-15 and maybe 2015-16, that is.)

Some may criticize Blues GM Doug Armstrong’s ways considering Sobotka’s painful departure, but St. Louis enjoys a deep roster full of bargains (examples: David Backes at just $4.5 million per season and T.J. Oshie for only $4 million). Letting Schwartz walk over what could be a marginal amount of money would add some serious fuel to the fire, though.

Related: Armstrong will stay silent about Schwartz talks going forward

Lindback, Rynnas battle for backup job in Dallas


One of the on-going battles at Stars camp is in goal as the Dallas coaching staff looks for a suitable backup behind No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

It’s a position the Stars have struggled to fill over the past three seasons using Andrew Raycroft, Richard Bachman, Cristopher Nilstorp, Dan Ellis and Tim Thomas.

This season it’ll likely be either Anders Lindback or Jussi Rynnas behind Lehtonen as the two battle in camp.

“It will be very hard. I mean, three weeks and just six exhibition games, you wish you had more time (to decide),” Stars’ goaltending coach Mike Valley told The Dallas Morning News. “But we got to spend some quality time together at the camp, and I think that gives us a great opportunity to really work off of the same page going forward.”

Lindback, 26, wasn’t retained by Tampa Bay after he struggled to replace the injured Ben Bishop last season. Lindback went 8-12-2 with the Lightning during the regular season and lost three playoff games.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Lindback, who signed a one-year deal with the Stars in July. “I think you push last year behind you and you work on being your best, and I think this team will help me do that. I know what I can do, and I know what I have to do, and it’s all up to me now.”

Rynnas, 27, has appeared in just three career NHL games all with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent last season in Finland posting a 28-5-7 record with a 1.51 GAA for Karpat before suffering a back injury.

With the confidence of last season his back pocket, Rynnas is looking for another chance at the NHL level.

“It’s the best league, and you want to play in the best league,” he said. “I feel healthy, I am excited to be with this team, a team on the rise, and I think they can push me to the next level.”

Rynnas signed a two-year deal with the Stars on July 7.

Both goalies will require waivers to get to the minors. As a result, if it doesn’t work out in Dallas, their efforts at camp could be used as an audition for one of the other 29 clubs.

“They’re both good goaltenders, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to have them push each other,” Valley said. “They’re confident and hungry, and they want to win this battle, and that should bring out the best in both of them. They’re both excited, and that tells you something about how they’re looking at this.”

The Stars also have 22-year-old prospect Jack Campbell in the mix. The Michigan native was reduced to just 16 games in 2013-14 and is heading into the final year of his entry-level contract with just one NHL appearance under his belt.

Hopefully the Stars can finally find a suitable No. 2 behind Lehtonen, who has battled both groin and back injuries throughout his career. Both Lindback and Rynnas are more experienced making them a suitable fit for a backup role over Campbell, who will likely start in Texas of the American Hockey League once again.

Related: Stars putting their hopes in Lehtonen

‘Canes want clear-cut, No. 1 goalie, says Peters


One of the biggest goalie stories heading into the preseason is from Carolina, where new head coach Bill Peters will watch Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward battle for the starting gig.

From the Raleigh News & Observer:

Peters said he’d like to have a clearcut No. 1 goalie, someone who could handle a 60-game workload. Ward and Khudobin, he said, have seven exhibition games to settle that issue before the Oct. 10 season-opener against the New York Islanders.

“Let them compete,” Peters said, in response to how the club will handle both goalies during the preseason. “Seven exhibition games — everyone’s going to play, everyone’s going to have an equal opportunity to show how good they are and how ready they are to start the year on time.”

While there’s always a possibility for change, it doesn’t sound like Carolina will utilize a two-man platoon system this year (Peters did say that, with just two home games for all of October, he’ll probably use both goalies during the opening month). Having a bell cow in goal will be something new for the ‘Canes; last season, the workload was shared among three guys (Khudobin, Ward and Justin Peters) much like it was during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, when Peters, Ward and Dan Ellis split the load.

In terms of being a 60-plus game guy, Ward definitely has the edge over Khudobin. He’s eclipsed that plateau five times in his career — including a league-high 74 games in 2010-11 — while Khudobin has never played more than 36, a career high he attained last season.

One final issue to consider in this goaltending battle? Salary. Ward has two years left on a deal that pays $6.3 million annually — the fifth-highest cap hit among all NHL goalies — and the optics around having a $6 million backup are, how should we say this, not so good.

Under Pressure: Cam Ward


After an injury plagued 2013-14 season, Cam Ward has Anton Khudobin breathing down his neck for the starter’s job in Carolina.

Ward, 30, suffered a season-ending knee injury in March 2013, however, his problems continued into the 2013-14 season.

Ward missed 10 games to start November 2013 with a lower body injury then in December, the Saskatchewan native again suffered a lower body injury forcing him to miss more than a month of action.

Ward went 10-12-6 last season, his ninth with the ‘Canes, while posting an ugly 3.06 GAA and an .898 save percentage as Carolina missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and seventh time in eight seasons.

Ward’s struggles along with the inconsistent play of others, led former general manager Jim Rutherford to call the ‘Canes “the most frustrating team to watch in a long time” during an interview in April.

In Ward’s absence last season, the Hurricanes were able to audition a pair of goaltenders — including Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin, 28, appeared in all 14 games for the ‘Canes in January going 10-4-0 with a 2.19 GAA and a .927 save percentage earning himself one of the month’s three stars.

“It’s hard to say what was more important, if Ward’s injury or my game,” Khuhobin said this week. “But probably my game, because even if Ward wouldn’t get injured and I wouldn’t play that way, they wouldn’t play me that often.”

Originally a seventh-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in 2004, Khudobin helped Carolina move into third place in the Metropolitan division.

Khudobin signed a new two-year deal in Carolina in March.

The Kazakhstan native along with Justin Peters saw time in a Hurricanes uniform last season. However, Peters signed with the Washington Capitals.

Khudobin’s deal puts pressure on Ward, who has already had his name dragged through the rumor mill ahead of the March 2014 trade deadline.

Those rumors won’t go away regardless of how Ward plays this season.

He is due $6.7 million this season and then $6.8 million in 2015-16. With Khudobin locked up through 2015-16 as well at a considerably lower cap hit of $2.25 million, the writing is on the wall.

Here’s a look at the duo’s contract situation via CapGeek:


According to rookie general manager, Ron Francis, the plan is to split duties between Khudobin and Ward in 2014-15. Francis has to hope Ward, who is due over $12 million, can regain his form, which helped him win the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy in 2006.

Trading Ward will be a tall task for Francis as a result of the aforementioned money remaining. However, you’d have to believe Ward is likely to return more via trade this season, with one year left, than as a pending unrestricted free-agent. Carolina would likely have to eat salary on any trade involving Ward.

With Drew MacIntyre next on the depth chart behind Khudobin and Ward, a budding goaltending prospect or proven veteran would need to be a part of the package for Ward to give Khudobin a reliable backup.

As for what’s behind MacIntyre, a career minor leaguer, with one career NHL start on his resume, the ‘Canes have 20-year-old Daniel Altshuller and 18-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic

Altshuller, the ‘Canes 2012 third-round pick, is likely to turn pro in Charlotte this season while Nedeljkovic, Carolina’s second-round pick from June, is likely to spend 2014-15 in the OHL.

Related: It’s Carolina Hurricanes day on PHT

And then there were 12: Stars eliminated


For more entries in this series, click here.

When it comes down to it, the Dallas Stars’ 2013-14 season assessment probably boils down to perspective.

Some will look at the team blowing a two-goal lead with its playoff hopes on the line and feel quite sour. Others will accentuate the positive in the Stars even getting as far as to push the Western Conference’s top team to six (and almost seven) playoff games, even in the first round.

There’s no debating that the Ducks won it 4-2 after a stunning overtime win in Game 6, however.

  • Change was in the air for the Stars overall.
  • Long-time Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff took over in Dallas and helped the team make it back to the playoffs after edging some stout competition, particularly in the Phoenix Coyotes.
  • The Stars drew Detroit Red Wings GM Jim Nill to the Lone Star State with considerable initial results.
  • Most importantly, Dallas gave face-of-the-franchise Jamie Benn a partner-in-crime in Tyler Seguin, who proved definitively that he’s a top-line forward in the NHL (if there was any doubt in Boston).
  • The Stars even enjoyed a nice bit of early returns in the draft, as Valeri Nichushkin became an immediate impact player.
  • The franchise did a nice job giving Kari Lehtonen useful backup support, first with Dan Ellis and then by trading Ellis for Tim Thomas.
  • Dallas seems to be mixing wide-open offensive talent in the form of Benn and Seguin with players who have a knack for getting under opponents’ skin, particularly in Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt.
  • Ultimately, it likely comes down to how Nill decides to support what’s looking like an increasingly promising core. While Shawn Horcoff enjoyed strong playoff performances, former stalwarts such as Ray Whitney slipped to the point of being healthy scratches.

While the Blues find themselves asking big questions and the Red Wings wonder how many runs are left in them, the Stars seem to face a bright future. Still, the Ducks highlighted that there’s still plenty of work to do.