Ivan Barbashev

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Blues, Sundqvist avoid arbitration with four-year, $11 million contract

The St. Louis Blues locked up another piece of their Stanley Cup winning team on Sunday when they re-signed restricted free agent forward Oskar Sundqvist to a four-year contract.

Sundqvist, 25, had filed for salary arbitration and a hearing scheduled for this week.

That will no longer be necessary thanks to this new deal.

According to the Blues the contract will pay Sundqvist a total of $11 million, averaging out to a salary cap hit of $2.75 million per season.

The Blues acquired Sundqvist, as well as a first-round draft pick that was used to select forward Klim Kostin, prior to the 2017-18 season in the trade that sent Ryan Reaves and a second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After managing just a single goal and four assists in in 42 games in his debut season with the Blues, Sundqvist had a breakout season in 2018-19 with 14 goals and 17 assists in 74 regular season games.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

He also played a big depth role in the playoffs by adding four goals and five assists in 25 playoff games.

With Sundqvist back in the mix the Blues now have two more restricted free agents to sign in forward Ivan Barbashev and defender Joel Edmundson. Edmundson has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 4. The Blues have already successfully avoided arbitration hearings with starting goalie Jordan Binnington, forward Zach Sanford, and now Sundqvist, so it seems reasonable to assume they will be able to settle with Edmundson as well.

The Blues still have around $5 million in salary cap space to work with this summer.

MORE BLUES COVERAGE:
• Binnington signs two-year, $8.8 million deal
Fabbri gets one-year deal from Blues
• PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Maroon takes Cup back to St. Louis for some toasted ravioli

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues make lineup change; Grzelcyk game-time decision

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It looks as if the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins will both be making some lineup changes for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

Let’s start with the significant news on the Boston side where the Bruins might have all of their top defenders in the lineup for the first time since the beginning of the series. After missing the past four games, Matt Grzelcyk has been cleared for action and is officially listed as a game-time decision. If he plays, and it seems extremely likely that he will, he would replace Connor Clifton.

Grzelcyk has been sidelined since early in Game 2 when he was on the receiving end of an illegal check from Oskar Sundqvist, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Blues’ forward.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It remains to be seen how much of an impact he can make since he hasn’t taken any contact since the injury, but the Bruins have definitely missed his ability to move the puck.

“I think your adrenaline will carry you through,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday.

“The one thing about Matt if he does go in after missing some games is he’s been skating with us. It’s not like he just jumped on the ice yesterday. He’s been participating, albeit non-contact, so there is a little bit of a different animal there. At this time of the year you’re not into a lot of contact in practice anyway so he’s just going to have to understand, because he did obviously live the first whatever it was, game and a half with St. Louis, he knows they are physical. He’s been there. He’s been watching. He knows he’s gotta get back in a hurry, make good decisions with it, take a hit to make a play if that’s what is required, which it usually is against this team. That’s the challenge in front of him. We’ve had discussions with him about it and he’ll be ready for it.”

Two of the three Bruins’ losses in this series came in games where they were forced to finish with five defenders due to injury with Grzelcyk exiting Game 2 and Zdeno Chara being forced to miss most of Game 4 after being hit in the face with a puck. While Chara has not missed any further game action, Grzelcyk’s absence has been significant.

“If he’s able to come back and help us tonight, he’s an incredible puck mover,” said Bruins defender Charlie McAvoy. “He’s just kind of had that fire in his eye for the playoffs. He’s been playing awesome for us, and we’ve missed him terribly since he’s been out. He just gives us that extra jolt when it comes to breaking out. He’s a gifted puck-mover. If he’s back to night, I think he’ll do his job and help us out even more.”

On the St. Louis side, forward Ivan Barbashev will be returning to the lineup after missing Game 6 due to a suspension for an illegal check to the head.

He will replace rookie forward Robert Thomas on the team’s fourth line next to Alex Steen and Sundqvist.

That is not the only change the Blues will be making.

Coach Craig Berube also said that Joel Edmundson will be drawing back into the lineup in place of Robert Bortuzzo.

Why the change? With Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko playing so many minutes on the right side Berube wants to go with four left-handed defenders in his lineup.

“With Parayko and Pietrangelo on the right side, they’re just eating so many minutes up; there’s not a lot of minutes over there,” said Berube. “So, we decided to go with the four lefties, and what he can bring, he can bring a lot. I mean, he’s got some real good upside, shoots the puck well, big guy, big body, physical player, but he does do some things well in the offensive zone, so I like his shot.”

Edmundson played sparingly over the first four games of the series, recording zero points and finishing as a minus-3 in his limited minutes. Bortuzzo scored a goal for the Blues in Game 2 of the series in Boston and also scored a game-winning goal in the Western Conference Final series against the San Jose Sharks.

Edmundson will skate on the Blues’ third defense pairing alongside Vince Dunn.

“I played in I think three Game 7s now so this is going to be my fourth. None of them compare to this one,” said Edmundson. “Obviously it’s going to be the biggest game of my life. But everyone’s excited.”

Edmundson said his first reaction upon finding out that he would be in the lineup was to text his parents, who were already planning on attending the game. One member of his family not attending the game? His brother, Jesse, who has apparently been bad luck throughout the series.

“They were coming,” said Edmundson when talking about his parent’s plans. “My brother (Jesse) stayed back because he thinks he’s bad luck. He’s been bad luck throughout the series, so he stayed back, he’s taking one for the team.”

Whatever it takes.

More Blues-Bruins Game 7
• Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys for Game 7
• The Wraparound: It is all on line for Blues-Bruins 
• Which Blues, Bruins player will get Stanley Cup handoff?
• Conn Smythe watch
• Stanley Cup roundtable discussion

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues’ Russian Two, Tarasenko and Barbashev, on verge of Cup

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Slava Fetisov called Vladimir Tarasenko midway through the second round of the playoffs to deliver an important message.

”I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got a good chance to win this year, so you’re gonna play 100 percent, maybe a little more,”’ Fetisov recalled Friday. ”’You get all your talents and your skill and you can win the Cup. And sometimes you think it’s gonna be tomorrow in that opportunity but it’s not.”’

Fetisov would know. He didn’t defect from the Soviet Union until midway through his career, and it took until age 39 for him to lift the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.

More than two decades since Fetisov and the ”Russian Five” shattered the myth that NHL teams couldn’t win with players from a nation unpopular in North America, the St. Louis Blues’ Russian Two of Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev is one victory away from lifting the same Cup after being inspired by the generation of countrymen who endured so much to get there.

”They give us reasons to dream about it and maybe one day we can do the same thing,” Tarasenko said.

How Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov reached hockey’s mountaintop is documented in the award-winning film “Russian Five” released Friday. It’s co-produced by player agent Dan Milstein, who represents Barbashev, and tells the story of the first time in NHL history five Russian teammates took the ice at the same time.

Barbashev hasn’t seen the film, but those in hockey know the tale well: Detroit seeing the Soviet Union as a source of untapped talent, putting defensemen Fetisov and Konstantinov and forwards Fedorov, Kozlov and Larionov together as one unit like the old Red Army teams and winning the Cup in 1997 by sweeping the big, tough Philadelphia Flyers that featured the ”Legion of Doom” line.

Red Wings teammate and now Vegas coach Gerard Gallant says in the film that observers figured the Russian Five is ”gonna have to play the Canadian way. They’re gonna have to toughen up.” They heard plenty of criticism from the old guard, led by Canadian commentator Don Cherry who wondered, ”What is this, ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ or ‘Hockey Night in Russia?”’

The Russian Five adapted to different rules in North America, and Tarasenko and Barbashev are perfect examples of the effects of that hybrid of skill and toughness. Barbashev is a hard-hitting forward – and his check to the head of Boston’s Marcus Johansson actually led to him being suspended for Game 6 against the Boston Bruins on Sunday night – while Tarasenko has rounded out his 200-foot game to become even more difficult to stop.

”You learn you can’t only stand waiting for the puck to come to you and score goals,” Tarasenko said. ”You need to do more to help your team win the Cup.”

The Russian Five exemplified that. A car accident ended Konstantinov’s career, leaving four to win the second of back-to-back titles in 1998 and an emotional scene of him getting the Cup on the ice in a wheelchair.

Since then, 15 of the 19 champions have had at least one Russian player, and last year Washington’s Alex Ovechkin became the first Russian captain to win the Cup. Tarasenko is in the final for the first time and said he’s never touched or even looked intentionally at the Stanley Cup, but he knows what winning it means.

”We don’t really have a lot of NHL when we was growing up back home,” Tarsenko said. ”But Washington guys won the Cup, too. So any Russian guy win the Cup, they bring it to Russia and see how excited their families or friends and people in their hometowns (are).”

Tarasenko and the Blues might not be here had Fetisov not given him a pep talk with them trailing the Dallas Stars 3-2 during the second round. Fetisov was paying attention to the NHL playoffs for the first time in a while and took it upon himself to reach out to Tarasenko to offer some advice.

”They was down in the series and I call him and we have good conversation: You talk about the game and what the Stanley Cup mean to the players,” Fetisov said. ”Since this, he become a different player and I hope that’s gonna help him to win the Cup.”

Tarasenko, 27, doesn’t talk much on the phone this time of year aside from family, but it’s a good thing he made an exception for the Hall of Fame defenseman. After recording no assists in his first 11 playoff games, Tarasenko has six goals and five assists for 11 points in his past 13 since talking to Fetisov.

Coach Craig Berube has noticed and been impressed by Tarasenko’s hard work and competitiveness that often gets overlooked because of his sublime skill.

”He’s a very good skater and he’s using his speed and he’s playing a physical game,” Berube said. ”I know he’s scoring goals, but watching him and how he’s developed in the playoffs, in my opinion, throughout this year’s playoffs, his physicality, skating and compete level, all the things, especially without the puck, too. He’s doing a real good job of working extremely hard without the puck.”

The Russian Five together was able to play keep away with the puck. Tarasenko and Barbashev don’t play that style with the Blues, but they fit well into the straightforward, north-south game that has made St. Louis so successful since being last in the NHL in early January.

Yet their success has made countless Russian players aim to win the Stanley Cup.

”I hope they come to the United States and Canada for the biggest prize in professional hockey, for the Stanley Cup,” Fetisov said. ”And you see more and more guys fight and try to win the Cup. I’m very happy for them. The teams get more and more reliable on Russian players.”

Barbashev doesn’t want to talk yet about he and Tarasenko joining the list of Russian players with their names on the Cup, though he does draw inspiration from what the Russian Five accomplished 22 years ago.

”Every time you look at those names who played in the NHL, the guys that won the Stanley Cup all together, it’s just amazing,” Barbashev said.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Blues’ Barbashev will miss Game 6 of Stanley Cup due to suspension

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Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues will miss Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final after he was suspended for delivering an illegal check to the head of Boston Bruins forward Marcus Johansson Thursday night.

There was no penalty on the play and Johansson did not miss any time during the Blues’ 2-1 Game 5 victory.

“It’s physical hockey, it’s heavy hockey out there both ways, and they’re going to look at some stuff once in a while, so that’s the way it goes,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube.

Here’s how the NHL Department of Player Safety came to their conclusion:

As the video shows, Barbashev had time to change the angle of his hit so that he did not connect with Johansson’s head.

Barbashev is now the second Blues player to be suspended in the Cup Final after forward Oskar Sundqvist sat for one game after boarding Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2.

The Blues will miss Barbashev’s presence on the fourth line and penalty kill. Berube did not say on Friday who would take his place in the lineup. This could open the door for Robby Fabbri to re-enter the picture and go to the third line while Sammy Blais joins Sundqvist and Alex Steen.

“Somebody is going to have to step in and go do the job,  a lot like Sundqvist with the suspension there,” said Berube. “Somebody will come in and do the job.”

Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final will take place Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on NBC (live stream here)

MORE BLUES – BRUINS COVERAGE:
Both teams have seen officiating controversies even before Game 5.
Blues hope to keep emotions in check.
Cassidy rips officiating
Missed opportunities haunt Bruins.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

What Blues miss with Sundqvist suspended for Game 3

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With Matt Grzelcyk injured, the Boston Bruins lose a valuable puck-mover. The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, will miss the guy who injured Grzelcyk, as Oskar Sundqvist was suspended for Game 3 (8 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN; stream here) of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Like with Grzelcyk, you get a better idea of how much Sundqvist’s absence stings when you dig deeper.

While Blues coach Craig Berube is trying to keep things close to the vest heading into Game 3, Zach Sanford skated in Sundqvist’s spot alongside Alexander Steen and Ivan Barbashev on Friday, hinting at that being the possible trio. Berube spoke about what Sundqvist brings to the table, via the Blues website:

“You miss a lot (losing Sundqvist),” Berube said. “He’s a good player, does a lot of good things for us on both sides of the puck. Good penalty killer, plays center, wing, great defensively and has produced for us in the playoffs, too.”

[MORE: Berube instilled confidence in Blues when they needed it the most.]

Berube’s assessment looks pretty accurate, whether you dive deep or keep things simple.

Sundqvist’s averaged 15:55 TOI per game during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the sixth-highest average among Blues forwards. Sundqvist’s near-16 minutes of nightly ice time ranks comfortably ahead of Tyler Bozak (14:26) and Robert Thomas (13:19), which serves as a nod to Sundqvist’s versatility.

It’s pretty clear that Sundqvist has earned the trust of the Blues’ coaching staff, as his ice time really soared once the calendar year hit 2019. He’s been a steady penalty killer for St. Louis, logging 1:29 PK time per game, the third-highest total among Blues forwards (though right there with Barbashev’s 1:25 average).

Sundqvist distinguishes himself for more-than-breaking-even in deeper stats at Natural Stat Trick, even though he’s frequently been deployed in less glamorous situations. The sexiest fact might be that he’s been on the ice for 11 goals for versus just five against at even-strength so far during the postseason, but there are other promising numbers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And, even the simplest stats and considerations are positive. Sundqvist has four goals and five assists for nine points in 21 postseason games so far, which is impressive when you consider his so-so opportunities to score, and it’s not as though he’s enjoying absurd puck luck with just a 9.8 shooting percentage.

Sundqvist isn’t going to put up numbers that rival Alex Ovechkin like his teammate Vladimir Tarasenko, yet he’s a nice piece of a Blues team that enjoys a nice mix of top-end talent and depth. When you consider how deadly the Bruins’ power play can be, the PK might end up being the spot where Sundqvist is missed the most, although Sundqvist brings enough to the table that it’s open to debate.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

More from the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.