September 26th, 2017

Posted by Ryan Lambert

NHL

The University of Denver Pioneers were one of the two or three best teams in the country for the entirety of the 2016-17 season.

Soon after the start of last season, they ripped off a 14-game unbeaten streak. They closed the season winning five straight, and 18 of 19, and outscored opponents in the NCAA tournament by a combined score of 20-8. In those four games, against some of the best teams in the country, they never trailed, and were tied for less than 30 minutes out of the 160 they played.

And here’s the bad news for the rest of the college hockey landscape:

They bring almost everybody back.

The notable loss, the one that stings the most, is obviously that of Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, a senior defenseman who signed with the Devils and was probably the best defenseman in the country in each of the past two seasons. They suffered no early departures, and only two forwards who cleared 20 points last season graduated.

These are important losses, though Butcher will be nearly impossible to replace, but it could have — hell, probably should have — been a lot worse.

Many expected Troy Terry, who led the team in scoring as a sophomore and was drafted by Anaheim in 2015, to leave early. The same is true of 2016 Florida first-rounder Henrik Borgström, who was just two points behind Terry as a freshman. And also 2016 Sharks second-rounder Dylan Gambrell, who was a point back of Borgström. Or maybe undrafted junior goaltender Tanner Jaillet, who went .929 last season and played the vast majority of Denver’s minutes.

All four of those players were selected to the NCHC All-Conference team, which is understandable. They’re very much known quantities, and the quantities of goals both scored and saved they provide this year will likely be considerable.

And hell, there were even rumors their brilliant coach, Jim Montgomery, would bolt for the NHL. He was specifically mentioned, often, in connection with the Florida job, but the Panthers went in a different direction.

Oh, and they are largely considered to have one of the better recruiting classes in the country once again this year.

So while there are plenty of teams nationwide we can reasonably expect to be very good this year — Boston University, North Dakota, Providence College, Minnesota-Duluth, UMass Lowell, etc. — they all have to reasonably fall short of the Pioneers.

“I think on paper this is the most talented team I’ve had at Denver, but it’s teams that win championships,” Montgomery said at NCHC’s media day. “Every year you have to grow your team as the players have to grow. You have new leaders…how they keep each other accountable that’s the stuff.. and then how do people on ice fit together…that’s the fun part, but the nuts and bolts of how you win championships is how you become a real good team that communicates well and trusts each other”

Not to give this sort of thing too much credence, but in the nation’s first preseason poll, Denver was picked as the top team in the country by 48 of the 50 voters, and frankly the two who picked Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth should be tested for a concussion or something.

Both did, however, have Denver second, so the brain trauma can’t have been too severe.

A few weeks ago I came up with a very simple predictive model that spit out results for what teams had coming back versus the national average, across goals, save percentage and shot differential, then adjusts for quality of the conference. The results were mostly what I might have expected to be a pretty good national top-10 (even if the model couldn’t account for the talent of incoming players or how much last year’s backups will probably play). The model rated Denver and Penn State — where University Park has become the shot-volume capitol of college hockey, and they bring back a ton of talent — well above anyone else even in the top 10. Denver’s rating in this regard was also more than double the next-closest team in their conference, the nails-tough NCHC.

The riches the Pioneers bring back for another go-round are borderline embarrassing. More than 76 percent of their goals, and 73 percent of their shots on goal come back. Jaillet was the goalie of record in 85 percent of their wins. And with a coach who has a basically perfect system in place — Denver outshot opponents by 9.8 shots per game last year, despite leading in the vast majority of their total TOI — there’s little reason to expect a drop-off in performance.

The only qualifiers here are these: First, it’s back-to-back-or-bust for Denver, at least insofar as that’s a reasonable expectation for a national championship that brings back so much. It’s hard to win a national title even if you’re the best team in the country.

Also, senior defenseman Tariq Hammond, who will be counted on to carry a heavy load in Butcher’s absence, might not be ready to start the season, having broken his ankle in the third period of the national championship game. He’s skating and is expected to be ready starting with the regular season, which for Denver begins on Oct. 13 against a solid Notre Dame team in South Bend.

Again, replacing Butcher will be next to impossible, and will therefore have to be done by committee (though with that having been said, while it’s impossible to replace the best player in the country, it should be said that he, fortunately, just one man.)

“I think how hard we are going to be to play against is going to be our biggest challenge,” Montgomery said. “Besides Will Butcher, we had five seniors that played every night, that understood their role, embraced it and were incredibly consistent in how hard they were to play against. Getting our third and fourth lines to do the same things they did last year is going to be the work in progress.”

All of which is to say Denver has a very small number of question marks. The question marks for other teams, even those considered at or near the top of the country, are many.

Take, for example, the fact that Harvard — currently polling at fourth in the country and one of the other two teams to get a first-place vote — returns less than half its goalscoring from last season. Duluth — ranked sixth — returns less than 40 percent of its goals, and also saw its goalie leave school early. Both those teams will likely be fine, at a minimum, in terms of making the NCAA tournament, but the fact remains, it’s impossible to see how they can be considered on Denver’s level.

No. 7 North Dakota has to replace the quality of Brock Boeser, Tyson Jost, and Tucker Poolman, all of whom were vital to their dangerous offense, as well as a solid defenseman in Gage Ausmus. No. 2 BU lost its top two centers, No. 1 defenseman, and an improving top-six winger. No. 5 Lowell saw its two best forwards and top two defensemen leave as well. The various abilities of coaches or other players to make up for those losses should be there, but to what extent, we don’t know. And can’t.

And Denver is more than prepared to take on the ups and downs of the season as they come.

“We’re going to try to tweak a couple areas to be even more aggressive with our puck pressure,” Montgomery said. “With the puck, we’re just going to try to evolve from where we were last year. I think by the end of the year last year we were a well-oiled machine and the last two years we’ve scored at least a goal and a half per game more post-Christmas than we have pre-Christmas, so I hopefully we continue to get better throughout the year offensively.”

Everything is, of course, unknown, but if Denver doesn’t follow up last year’s “one-of-the-three-best-teams-in-the-country” performance from last year with an encore, it would be a big surprise and bigger disappointment.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist and occasionally covers the NCAA for College Hockey News. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

It must be hard for Tony Granato, head coach of the 2018 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, not to dip into the well at Lake Placid too many times.

There isn’t easier shorthand for what an NHL-less Olympics looks like for an American player: The rag-tag group of underdogs looking to overcome insurmountable odds to win gold, just like they did in 1980.

(Oh and, of course, under the tutelage of a charismatic coach.)

“I think we have lots of players in our country and in our talent pool that will give us the same kind of excitement we had in Lake Placid. I thought [the NHL in the Olympics] was great for our game. But this is a great opportunity for these guys,” said Granato at an Olympic media summit, via the Star Tribune.

We won’t know the exact makeup of the team until January 1, 2018, when the first roster is expected to be released. (Although, due to the NHL vs. IOC pissing match, not likely at the Winter Classic.)

We can expect some young college stars like Jordan Greenway of Boston University (above) and Troy Terry of the University of Denver to make the cut – after all, they participated in the media summit – but who else is headed to Pyeongchang?

From the Star Tribune:

Granato views the Europe-based pros as a good base for the team, because they already are playing on Olympic-size ice for teams whose schedules will not wear them out before February. A group of those players — along with Granato and his Olympic staff — will represent the U.S. at Germany’s Deutschland Cup in November, the only pre-Olympic tournament the Americans will play.

“We’ll get a pretty good idea at that tournament of what we have,’’ Granato said. “From that tournament, we’ll probably have a pretty good chunk of our team that will be with us moving forward, then we’ll fill in with the college players and players here in the minors.”

He echoed that to the LA Times:

“We will have NHL-caliber players on our team. We will have players that play on our team that will advance to the NHL and be stars in the NHL after,” Granato said at the Team USA media summit. “We’re looking for a confident and energized group of players that we believe will give us the best chance to win.

“I think there’s an elite group of players that are playing professionally in Europe that we’ll kind of build our team around from the standpoint of they’re playing on the big sheet right now and they’re playing a relatively friendly schedule compared to our NHL schedule. It’s not quite as grinding and they should be a little bit fresher as they head into the month of February. But we’ll look for character players. … We’re going to have a team that I think the American people and the American hockey fan will be proud of.”

In a tournament like this, the success or failure of the U.S. squad will be all about execution of systems and quality of goaltending.

On that first aspect, Granato told Craig Custance of The Athletic:

“You’re not going to have a ton of practice time. The system we put in is going to be simple. Simple systems usually are the best systems anyways. Everybody has played the way we’re going to teach and coach.”

Which is the best thing to hear.

But as far as goalies … well, who knows?

Cal Petersen seemed like a likely choice, but the Notre Dame goalie is now in the Los Angeles Kings’ system. As an AHL player, he won’t be able to go.

Ryan Zapolski, 30, a former ECHL and AHL farmhand? Potentially, given he’s played in Europe for the last five years, and has played well for Jokerit (1.39 GAA, .943 save percentage) so far this season.

Bottom line: Granato and Team USA have some hasty decisions to make.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

September 25th, 2017

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

After handing out its first suspension over the weekend to Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals for interference, the NHL Department of Player Safety rung up New York Rangers forward Andrew Desjardins for two preseason games on Monday, after his hit to the head of Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils.

Yes, two preseason games. Basically the death penalty, if the death penalty was a stern talking to with no tangible consequences for the team (if a few for the player).

Here’s the play in question:

“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m happy about it,” Wood said of Desjardins’ hearing, via NorthJersey.com. “Stuff like that shouldn’t go on in hockey. The fact that he is having a hearing speaks a lot about Player Safety and what they want to see in a hockey game. Hockey is supposed to be played hard but there’s a fine line and when you cross it like that hit, it has to get looked at.

This is your classic “learn how to hit a guy the proper way in 2017” suspension, as Wood was eligible to be checked and Desjardins recklessly picked the head.

“If Desjardins wishes to deliver this check, he must take an angle of approach through Woods’ core, delivering a legal, full-bodied check,” said DoPS.

Through the core?

NHL

Like with Wilson’s two (preseason) game suspension, this is the first time Desjardins, 31, has been suspended in his NHL career. Unlike Wilson, this suspension could impact his status for next season: He’s on a professional tryout contract with the Rangers, so missing these games will mean missing some audition time. And some Rangers fans already wonder what his role with this team would be anyway.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

The Vegas Golden Knights are days away from their inaugural season opener on Oct. 10. It’s going to be a massive celebration for the team and its fans, which worked together to make this NHL expansion dream come true.

The Golden Knights have decided to do something symbolically to solidify that relationship.

We’re talking solid as a block of ice.

The Knights revealed on Monday that they’re freezing the names of their first season-ticket holders inside the home ice at T-Mobile Arena.

NHL

Giant scrolls of names were laid out and then frozen over on the rink. It appears from this video released by the team that they were then painted over with the blue lines. (We emailed the Knights for clarification.)

Now, they’re not the first to do this, as the San Jose Sharks have also placed names under the ice. 

But the most touching thing about this gesture is that many of those fans helped make the case that Las Vegas deserved an NHL team.

Remember that Vegas wasn’t a sure bet with the Board of Governors – the team had to show that there was a fan base in the city hungry for hockey. So the fans surpassed every season-ticket benchmark established, showing the NHL and any doubters that it was a viable market, even before the casinos and corporate ticket sales flooded in.

There’s a kinship between every expansion team and their fans, a notion that they’re in it together through the bumpy start, and for the long haul. We’ve just never seen it captured quite like this.

Vegas is fun. Glad to have them.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

For nearly two years, the ECHL Reading Royals would notice a few things were disappearing from their equipment offices. A couple of sticks. A few skates. Which, admittedly, was weird.

Even weirder: The gear was actually disappearing due to an ongoing inside job by their former assistant equipment manager, who is accused of stealing gear and then selling it at a local skating rink.

According to Reading police, 36-year-old Thomas J. Plaugher was charged with felony counts of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property after the Philadelphia Flyers affiliate reported the thefts in May. The thefts allegedly occurred from Dec. 2015 to March 2017.

He remains free to await a preliminary hearing on Oct. 6.

From the Reading Eagle:

Criminal investigator Joseph N. Snell spoke to several people who bought equipment from Plaugher at Skateway, a skating facility on the Lancaster Pike in Cumru Township. Investigators said that he sold 29 Super or Ultra Tack sticks for $2,465, two goalie sticks for $177.50 and various other items for a total of $4,343.

According to investigators: Plaugher was the assistant equipment manager and had access to the office where the hockey sticks were kept. He also had access to other hockey equipment while games were being played at the Santander Arena, and had a key to access the hockey team’s facilities so he could use the fitness equipment.

One of the more incredible parts of this story? That Plaugher, according to WFMZ-TV, actually sold five hockey sticks he stole from the team during a Royals game last season, “having the buyer let in by a security guard through the VIP doors.”

The word you’re looking for is “brazen.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been defended, assailed, saluted and eviscerated for their announcement on Sunday that the Stanley Cup champions would attend a White House celebration with President Trump. Some fans have applauded it. Some fans, including some Penguins fans, are disappointed.

The timing, at least for the NHL, was atrocious: Arriving on the same weekend that the president called NFL players peacefully protesting police brutality during the national anthem “sons of bitches” who should be fired by team owners, and formally disinvited the NBA champion Golden State Warriors (and star Steph Curry) from visiting the White House for their criticism of him.

(It should be said the NCAA men’s basketball national champion North Carolina Tar Heels aren’t going as well, citing an inability to find a workable date to visit.)

Here were predominantly black pro athletes being singled out by the office of the presidency, and here was the current standard-bearer of a 93-percent white sport distancing itself from that controversy by claiming the status quo. But the president is now a fan, apparently:

Naturally, the controversy has bubbled over and covered the rest of the hockey world, to the point where Auston Matthews is playing constitutional scholar at practices.

So why did the Penguins ultimately decide to go, in light of this weekend’s events?

“Everyone’s got the right to go or not to go. But we’ve been invited and we accepted the invitation. I don’t think you have to read into it any more than that,” said Sidney Crosby on Sunday, via the AP, after facing the St. Louis Blues during a Hockeyville USA exhibition game Sunday night in Cranberry Township, Pa.

(Does that first line apply to Penguins players who might not want to attend on moral grounds? Time will tell.)

Via the Post-Gazette, here’s Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan:

“We respect the office of the president and the White House, and the history and tradition of the championship team getting invited to the White House. As an organization, we decided that we were going to accept the invitation. It’s politics aside. Having said that, we also respect the fact that someone has a right to protest. We totally respect that, as well. That’s how our organization looks at it and that’s how we all feel.”

All of this is very much in keeping with the Penguins’ statement on the decision to accept the invitation, which talks about “respecting the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House.”

Now, where did this decision come from? Sullivan, whose bench buddy John Tortorella threatened to bench any player that didn’t stand for the anthem?

How about ownership: Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle?

Burkle’s interesting. The supermarket chain owner is a Democrat, outwardly, and has been a fundraiser for progressive causes throughout his life. More recently, however, he sounded disillusioned with the Clintons, disappointed in President Obama and raised money for GOP candidate John Kasich in 2016. (For the record, he’s also fundraised for California Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat, this year.)

He’s known Trump for years, although one couldn’t call him a fan of his politics.

Burkle’s role in this decision has been murky, because of that assumed conflict of interests: He should, in theory, abhor the current administration, and yet here are the Penguins going to the White House.

But Dave Molinari, in a revelatory piece on Burkle this summer for the Post Gazette, got him on the record about a White House visit with words that sound very familiar to anyone who read the team’s statement:

“I do a lot of fundraising,” he said. “People would cut Ralph’s [loyalty] cards up … if I had a fundraiser for a candidate they didn’t like. “And they can do that. That’s why you shouldn’t mix politics and business. I didn’t mix it, but to the extent that people pay attention, that was the situation.”

“I think it’s a tradition that should be honored, first and foremost,” Burkle said. “There’s a lot of emotion around the president. There’s a lot of negativity, and there’s a lot of passion. But it is the president, it is the White House.

“If you want to protest, you can protest. If you want to be unhappy, you can be unhappy. If you want to voice your opinion, you can voice your opinion. But I, personally, don’t think this is the stage to do it on.

“It’s an honor to go there. It’s a moment a lot of people won’t ever get again. I hope we win again, but you don’t take it for granted that you get to go to the White House. … Every time I go there, it’s an amazing thing. I don’t think that who the occupant is should determine whether the team goes to the White House.”

Like we said yesterday: The Penguins know their demographics. They know their geography, and understand what the color red means on an electoral map, just like the Warriors know they’re playing to their base in standing up to the president.

They also know that there’s a greater chance they’ll lose more customers and create a larger distraction by declining the invitation than accepting it, because that’s just how that goes. And for a two-time Stanley Cup champion, you know they’re going to choose the path of least resistance.

While they’ll cite tradition and honor and whatever else they apply to what is essentially a photo op with a politician, the reality is that it’s a decision they’re able to make thanks to their privilege as champions of a 93-percent white, majority conservative sport; players who can watch their peers in the NFL and NBA get singled-out and disparaged by the White House and ignore it, because it’s not their fight. Even if it should be.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Posted by Justin Cuthbert

For really the first time in the Brendan Shanahan-Mike Babcock era, scrutiny awaits the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Expectations are sky-high for a club coming off a season in which it rose from the NHL basement to nab the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot before making things undeniably uncomfortable for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in their memorable six-game series last spring.

But what the Maple Leafs and their fans shouldn’t lose sight of is the fact that everything that could go right, did go right for the club last season — and still it was only just enough to squeeze into that eighth seed.

It’s far easier to make up ground in the lower half of the league standings. With a largely unchanged roster save for the addition of veteran winger Patrick Marleau, is it realistic to expect the Maple Leafs to make a similar jump, knowing that adversity must hit at some point?

 

 

Posted by Ryan Lambert

Easy to forget, given how the playoffs went, that the Montreal Canadiens were pretty damn good last season.

They had the third-best possession number in the league for 2016-17, and that was with Michel Therrien being their coach until mid-February. That number didn’t change much after Claude Julien came aboard, but with a full offseason in which to nail down that system, the number could take off.

Yyeah, okay, systems alone don’t win you everything over 82 games, so that’s why it’s important to note the Canadiens also have Carey Price — who was merely “very good” last year at .923 over 62 appearances and not “transcendent,” as he was in his previous full season — as well as a good amount of talent up front in Jonathan Drouin, Max Pacioretty, Ales Hemsky, and so on. The blue line isn’t great but it’s got some solid guys from Nos. 1 through 6, so that’s not a big issue either.

While they didn’t have the best summer, and there are still plenty of controversies surrounding the management of the team, and there are sexier picks within the division, one has to ask: What, if anything, stops Montreal from being a 100-point team again this year and probably winning the Atlantic?

Any argument against the Canadiens’ third division title in four season, at this point, has to be an argument in favor of another team taking their place. They didn’t really drop off much this summer, even if you expect the loss of Alex Radulov hurts (which it likely does). People expecting the Leafs to take a step forward are right to do so, but how much of a step do we expect here? The Habs were eight points clear of them. The same is true of Tampa, which barely missed the playoffs in a season when almost everything went exactly wrong for them. To predict a big bounce-back season from the Lightning is very understandable.

But for both Toronto and Tampa, the only two other credible picks to win that division, they’d have to get bounces to go their way. They’d need better-than-league-average goaltending from their two goalies. They’d need most of their top guys to keep shooting north of 10 percent (as eight of their top 10 scorers did last year). It’s possible, even plausible, that this comes to pass because that’s their talent level, but is it likely? I’m not so sure.

Same with the Lightning. The talent level is obvious but they need some guys to stay healthy (Steven Stamkos), round back into form (Tyler Johnson, Anton Stralman), and prove they can play the full slate (Andrei Vasilevskiy). If all those things happen, that’s a big stumbling block for the Habs to overcome.

But again, you look at this Montreal roster and see various problems — they don’t have top-end guys up front and no clear No. 1 defenseman, which you usually need to win in the playoffs — but they have enough players who are higher-end for their positions that they can roll with their depth. Price obviously adds a strong pretty reliable safety net as well, if he stays healthy. Plus that whole “They have Julien for the full 82 now” thing is going to work very well in their favor.

Consequently, it’s fair to say that while the Leafs or Bolts need at least a few things to go their way to make a run at the division title, things would probably have to go pear-shaped for the Habs to allow them anything resembling an easy path. That’s not to say there aren’t questions for the Canadiens. How does Drouin look as a center? How well does a D-corps that, talent-wise, scans as largely being defense-first, non-puck-moving guys do in today’s game? How does that forward depth hold up from October to April?

These are all good questions, but if the answers are even something like, “Just fine,” you have to like the Habs’ position to fend off a challenge for that top divisional playoff spot.

I really think the impact of Julien’s expertise can’t be overstated in this discussion. The Canadiens have been a weirdly up-and-down team the past few years. In Price’s MVP year, got killed in most games only to be bailed out every time by their best player. The next year, they got a lot better in terms of how they played the game, but cratered because Price got hurt and one or two key contributors had slightly down years. Last year, everything went well on both fronts and, look at that, they had 103 points despite getting worse the previous summer.

The reason Julien helps so much, then, is that he makes the process even better. Here’s what he did with an ever-worsening Bruins roster over the past five seasons, in terms of league rank:

NHL

This speaks, I think, to Julien’s clear talent and adaptability. The Bruins were horrid in both 2014-15 and ’15-16. Not a lot of talent, and Julien had little to work with. The roster got a little better last season thanks in part to an infusion of youth but also because Julien changed the way they played to be more responsive to the roster’s talent, something he arguably hadn’t done the previous seasons. I think the pre-2013-14 track record speaks for itself in terms of what Julien can do with a high-end NHL roster.

Specifically, the Bruins played a lot faster in attack last season (attempting the most 5-on-5 attempts per 60 in the league) but still locked it down defensively (with the second-fewest attempts against). And he did that with a defense giving a lot of minutes to Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller.

So if Julien can make these kinds of on-the-fly changes even with a not-great team, and generally has a strong track record with talented ones, it’s hard to imagine the Canadiens stumbling, even if Price isn’t .920-plus again next season (and certainly, that’s a “he’d have to prove he can’t be .920-plus before I’d stop penciling him in for it).

Toronto and Tampa both look well-positioned for both next season and the long-term. Montreal only falls into that first category. But that’s really all that matters right now. They’re not the most exciting pick to win the Atlantic, but then who ever called Claude Julien hockey exciting until last year?

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Pulling for Ondrej Kase to have another strong season in Anaheim. Fun player last year.

Arizona Coyotes: Man am I excited for Clayton Keller to get power play minutes at the NHL level. He was a treat to watch in college and his skills will absolutely translate, hopefully right away.

Boston Bruins: Under no circumstances should anyone read too much into preseason results, and the loss Saturday night is a good example why: Their roster looked more like the Providence Bruins’ midseason offering than anything their Boston counterparts will roll in October.

Buffalo Sabres: Roster decisions are pretty easy to make at this point in September. To wit, the Sabres — with that blue line — are still carrying 12 defensemen in their NHL camp. Imagine being the 12th-best Sabres defenseman. Yeesh.

Calgary Flames: This arena stuff is getting embarrassing for Flames ownership, but being a billionaire allows you to transcend shame, so we’re gonna be spinning our tires for a while here.

Carolina Hurricanes: Darling being “banged up” at this time of year is, I’m sure, exactly what the ‘Canes brass wants. These guys can’t catch a break, man.

Chicago: Look, if you can’t find room on the roster for a player with Alex DeBrincat’s skill level, but you’re finding room for one of John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza, I don’t know what to tell you.

Colorado Avalanche: As much as I want Yak to get things together for his career, I’m not betting on it at this point.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Not saying Seth Jones isn’t a very good player, but “next great star?” Sorry to hear of the untimely passing of Connor McDavid.

Dallas Stars: Offense isn’t going to be the problem with the Stars. Never was. We all know that. But Ken Hitchcock doesn’t see it that way, and his take on the issue is, not surprisingly, very good.

Detroit Red Wings: Dennis Cholowski in particular seems like he could be a player on the blue line, but do you really want to throw him into an NHL role already? With this team? I dunno, man.

Edmonton Oilers: Keeping track of McDavid on the rush must be a nightmare. One day, Julian Melchiori will be able to tell his kids, “Yeah, one time Connor McDavid skated by me like I wasn’t even there.”

Florida Panthers: Can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t think of James Reimer as a legit NHL starter at this point — check that track record — but skepticism about Luongo turning back into The Roberto Luongo is well-founded.

Los Angeles Kings: Unlikely as it may have seemed, Chinese hockey fans really liked a Kings/Canucks preseason game. Call it recency bias.

Minnesota Wild: For the record, I can totally see the Wild winning their division. They’re a lot like the Habs in that they have a great coach, solid depth, and (potentially) top-level goaltending. But I can’t be convinced this team is a legit Cup contender, as much as I like them.

Montreal Canadiens: So, that whole “Zach Fucale is the goalie of the future” thing didn’t really work out.

Nashville Predators: Seems awful early to make this kind of prediction about Ryan Ellis replacing his replacement.

New Jersey Devils: Everyone seems to think Jesper Bratt has earned himself at least a nine-game tryout with the big club. That’d be fair. And hey, if you’re tanking anyway, now’s the time to experiment.

New York Islanders: My son is making me so proud. He was the highlight player for every one of his shifts in the one Islander preseason game I watched this week!

New York Rangers: But hey, AV, let’s not-not lower them, hey?

Ottawa Senators: Ahhh, folks, Erik Karlsson! He’s back, folks!

Philadelphia Flyers: Things are going great in Flyers country.

Pittsburgh Penguins: If you had asked me to guess on Saturday afternoon which of the four “major” sports — if we’re being extremely generous to the NHL these days — was going to have someone put out the worst possible take of this whole Trump/“sons of bitches”/“stick to sports” thing, I might not have said “The NHL.” This only serves to highlight my embarrassing naïveté. Because of course the stupid-ass Penguins took a day when everyone — well, everyone who isn’t some MAGA C.H.U.D. goober named Sackston Gricklesby and has a Twitter name like @DeplorableCovfefeDivorcedDad with a picture of himself holding a fish in the back of a $70,000 pickup truck — agreed Donald Trump was in the wrong and using his bully pulpit for dumb-assed red-meat-for-the-base reasons, to say, “Well, you gotta hear both sides and by the way, Don, see ya at the White House.” Get lost with this. Of course most hockey players are probably Trump guys; they’re rich and white and from meat-and-potatoes places in North America. I get that and it’s fine. Well, not fine but you know what I mean. But for this to be the official team statement is the organization, and the league, and the sport showing their collective asses and humiliating themselves as cowardly bootlickers of the highest order. Even if the Penguins always planned to go, which of course they did, the thing they should have said yesterday, when this was a huge deal: Nothing. Just, like, don’t say anything. Pretty easy. But because this is the NHL, of course the Penguins not only took a dump on the floor but also stepped in then fall backwards on top of it. Classic stuff. That’s Hockey!

San Jose Sharks: I guess, technically, anything that’s not a position of weakness is a position of strength.

St. Louis Blues: Robby Fabbri comes back from injury, immediately re-injures himself. Bummer.

Tampa Bay Lightning: All I can say is, welcome to the club.

Toronto Maple Leafs: There’s a 50 percent chance the Leafs get another defenseman before the start of the season? Now that’s going out on a limb, baby!

Vancouver Canucks: Canucks home games normally start at 10 a.m. if you live in Beijing. As foreign fan experiences go, well, at least you’re not setting an alarm on a Saturday.

Vegas Golden Knights: This is actually not good. If normal, local fans can’t have ready access to Knights games, how do you build a long-term fanbase in Las Vegas?

Washington Capitals: What’s so good about the NHL’s supplementary discipline system is it technically does not consider Tom Wilson a repeat offender.

Winnipeg Jets: Blake Wheeler is a smart guy.

Play of the weekend

Please to inform you of this great pass from Anthony Mantha:

Gold Star Award

Sign Jagr.

Minus of the Weekend

NHL

The Penguins are the dweebs who tell the teacher she didn’t give the class any homework.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Neutrinos” is firing on all cylinders.

To Sabres: Horvat, Tanev

To Canucks: Eichel, Moulson

Signoff

Well, I acquired it legally. You can be sure of that.

 

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

 

September 24th, 2017

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

In the last 48 hours, President Donald Trump made “sticking to sports” impossible, because he stuck it to sports.

Or, more specifically, to athletes of color who dared protest police brutality through peaceful demonstration at NFL games, or decided not to be a human political commercial for a president whose words, deeds and actions they find abhorrent by visiting the White House.

Trump said NFL players who “take a knee” during the national anthem are “sons of bitches” who should be fired by some of the rich Caucasian team owners that contributed funds to his inauguration. That unleashed a firestorm of backlash from NFL players, the vast majority of them black.

He rescinded an invitation to the White House to Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, which Curry had already declined. This led LeBron James to call the president a “bum” with a tweet that has cleared one million favorites on Twitter. It opened up another firestorm of reaction of predominantly black NBA players, as well Steve Kerr, the white coach of the Warriors, who said, “because of the differences in this country, the president has made it really, really difficult for us to honor that institution.”

The Warriors announced they would not attend a White House ceremony, but would travel to Washington, D.C. for events that “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion.”

“Inclusion” … great word.

It’s actually included in the last bullet point of the recent “Principles of Hockey” that the National Hockey League unveiled in concert with a dozen other hockey organizations around the world: That hockey should be “a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Simply put, hockey is for everyone.”

So how does one square the Pittsburgh Penguins’ meek statement on Sunday, formally accepting an invitation to stand with Trump for a White House photo op, with that alleged bedrock philosophy of hockey? How does one look around the current landscape of the sports world and the U.S., and as the current standard-bearer of a lily-white professional sports league (93 percent of the players identify as white) decide this is the best course of action?

From the Penguins:

The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.

Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.

The most hilarious part of this inane statement has to be that political protests “can be expressed in other ways” by NHL players, as if the Penguins or the League or hockey culture would ever allow a player to take a knee during the anthem or write “Black Lives Matter” on their pristine helmets. What nonsense, and it’s complete nonsense when you consider the political realities of standing with the president for a photo op at the White House. Congrats, you’re a campaign ad. But please shut up.

Two things about personal politics. By and large, NHL players are conservative. Not necessarily socially, but most certainly fiscally.

And the Penguins’ fan base is, by and large, based in crimson-red counties in Western Pennsylvania as well as West Virginia and parts of Ohio. We’re not saying this decision is completely fueled by that, but it’s not like we’re talking about the Golden State Warriors telling the Bay Area they’re not supporting a president that the community rejected with fervor last election.

So it could be said that the Penguins – who, for the record, have only a handful of American players and only one player of color in Ryan Reaves, acquired this offseason – are playing it safe, corporate and pallid in accepting this invitation.

Or it could be said that they’re actually putting their players in front of a speeding “never sticking to sports again until the president stops calling black athletes ‘sons of bitches’ for peaceful protests at sporting events” train.

Consider what another infinitely more popular Pittsburgh team did on Sunday. Coach Mike Tomlin of the Steelers decided to keep his team in the locker room during the national anthem, telling CBS Sports:

“We’re not going to play politics. We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today — not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”

Now, that’s a decision fraught with censorship and cowardice, and yet it’s 1000 percent a better decision that the Penguins have made by going to the White House and announcing it at this time.

Removing one’s self from the narrative is a better option, at this point, than symbolically mussing Trump’s hair while he mangles your names and talks more about the Rangers than he does the Penguins for 20 minutes. (“Great franchise, wonderful franchise, Jim Dolan is a friend, we always had the best seats, the best seats, nothing like a Rangers game, let me tell you. And here’s Evgeno Malkin…”)

Look, if the Penguins are going to the White House, and the team is saying “find another way to protest,” then one assumes someone like Sidney Crosby is going to shrug his shoulders and rest on “team’s decision” rather than taking a stand for his peers in the NHL and in professional sports that have been maligned by this president. And not just those peers, but their families and their children. So while they’re been rightfully asked about this decision, and rightfully demonized for playing along, they’re ultimately going to pass the buck to their teams.

But let’s be real: The Penguins, and thus the NHL, participating in his folly at a time when other professional leagues have decided to not to go through the motions with the single most destructive and divisive political figure I’ve seen in my lifetime is a tone-deaf disgrace.

(Perhaps the oddest part of this: That the NBA decided something first and Gary Bettman didn’t see that as coverage for the NHL to do the same, perhaps for the first time.)

It’s an endorsement of an office that’s made marginalizing a legion of hockey fans its priority, through deeds and actions. It’s an acknowledgement of the undeniable privilege that a predominantly white, predominantly foreign-born American sports league maintains, while athletes in other sports worry about their loved ones every time they’re pulled over by a cop or every time the administration threatens immigration policies. And it’s a cynical hypocrisy to the philosophies of inclusion that this “hockey is for everyone!” sloganeering so desperately wants the NHL to be defined by. It makes them not worth the giant framed scroll they’re printed on.

Unlike a lot of my peers, I stood by Tim Thomas when he decided not to attend an Obama White House celebration for the Boston Bruins. Sure, it’s a decision that carries consequences in its aftermath, which is something the marketplace decides for any outspoken athlete. (Although that decision can sometimes be collusion, quite frankly.) But it’s a stance and a freedom of expression that should be celebrated: That an athlete so vehemently disagrees with the current administration, he or she doesn’t feel the necessity to play grab-ass with that politician at a de facto campaign stop. That’s as ideally American as you get: Putting one’s freedoms and beliefs ahead of genuflecting to the crown.

The Penguins and hockey culture aren’t going to allow these players to speak out at the White House. This, we already know. So one hopes that in the spirit of “respecting the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit,” the Penguins allow their own players to take the Tomlin route and skip this event without punishment. To skip it as a form of personal protest, or simply to ‘peace out’ on politics like the Steelers did.

These are not normal times, and this was not a normal weekend in sports. Alas, the statement today from the Penguins, and by proxy the NHL, was as expected as it was docile and regrettable.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

More NHL coverage on Yahoo Sports:

September 23rd, 2017

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

The NHL Department of Player Safety decided that Tom Wilson’s hit on St. Louis Blues rookie center Robert Thomas on Friday night was way late, and suspended him for two preseason games.

Here’s the suspension video, released on Saturday:

So what was wrong with the hit, which was flagged for interference?

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well after he’s eligible to be checked” is how the Department of Player Safety defines it.

As the video mentioned, it’s not just that it’s interference – the NHL deemed it suspension worthy because of “the predatory nature and force of the hit,” as they saw Wilson tracking Thomas and “altering the course of his approach” to land the forceful check.

NHL

Again, two preseason games is like suspending a guy from practice, as it has little impact on the games that matter for the Washington Capitals. But it does hand Wilson, a player who toes the line of illegality on many of his hits, the first suspension of his NHL career. The next one means he’s a repeat offender.

As we mentioned this morning, he’s on notice.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

The delightful Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals has a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Saturday, which is not only the first hearing from the 2017-18 preseason but the first under new Player Safety boss George Parros.

History will be made!

Wilson’s hearing is a result from this hit on St. Louis Blues rookie center Robert Thomas on Friday night:

Thomas lost the puck as he exited his own zone. Wilson then ensured that Thomas was further separated from the puck by leaping into him near the boards.

The Blues’ Dmitrij Jaskin skated over to Wilson to get punched in the face, including when he was down on the ice, because Tom Wilson is why.

So the Department of Player Safety will hear Wilson’s argument that this interference isn’t worthy of a suspension.

Wilson is one of those “plays on the edge” guys that the Department always has an eye on, but that hasn’t been suspended. He was fined for kneeing Conor Sheary of the Pittsburgh Penguins in April 2016, and was fined for diving in March 2015. So this could be one of those “you’re on notice” preseason suspensions, should he garner one.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

Posted by Mackenzie Liddell

Brady Tkachuk (left), Andrei Svechnikov (centre) and Rasmus Dahlin (right) are the early front-runners atop the 2018 NHL draft.

Considering the puck hasn’t even dropped on the NHL season, it’s a little early to start thinking about next year’s draft.

But that will change quickly once reality begins to set in for fans of teams destined for the NHL’s basement.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Chasing a lottery pick, while soul-sucking at times, gives fans something to occupy their minds during the long winter. It also spurs fun debate, like Taylor vs. Tyler and Nico vs. Nolan for the truly downtrodden, or who to target if you’re not handed a golden ticket. And in the end, despite the pain of watching mostly awful hockey for six months, you get to walk away with a shiny new toy and a legitimate reason to believe a prosperous future is on the horizon.

So to help sort through some of the inevitable topics of discussion, we reached out to Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, to get his take on this year’s crop of draft-eligible prospects.

Is this a “good draft?”

You hear it ever year. It’s a weak draft. It’s a strong draft. It’s a deep draft. The draft is top-heavy. How is this year’s draft shaping up?

Central Scouting: “There’s a lot more depth to the draft. Right now there’s not a lot of front-line, top-end guys. There’s a lot more B players to go through than there has been in the past years.”

Dahlin vs. Svechnikov: Who’s the early favourite to go No. 1?

This will be the main event all season.

Rasmus Dahlin (pronounced dah-lean) is projected to be the first player off the board next June. The silky-smooth Swedish defenceman has elite offensive tools with a mind to match his skill set.  At 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, Dahlin has a good frame and isn’t afraid to play physical. He is currently playing for Frolunda in the SHL and will be the star attraction on Sweden’s world junior squad.

Andrei Svechnikov, the younger brother of Red Wings first-rounder Evgeny Svechnikov, is an absolute assassin. The big (6’3″, 184) Russian winger isn’t just a goal-scorer, which he is quite good at, but he’s also a creative playmaker with exceptional wheels and a strong work ethic. After dominating the USHL last season at 16, Svechnikov will look to do the same in the OHL as the go-to player on the Barrie Colts.

So who has the edge?

Central Scouting:  “Two different positions and two different style of players. You ask some people and they’ll have one guy No. 1 and you ask others and they’ll have the other No. 1.”

Is there anyone else capable of challenging for the No. 1 spot?

Things get a little murkier after Dahlin and Svechnikov. The next wave includes players like Brady Tkachuk, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina up front, along with a glut of defencemen.

But do any of them truly have what it takes to join or surpass the two front-runners?

Central Scouting: “Brady Tkachuk is capable to challenge for that mix. He would be the one guy that I could see being in that conversation no problem.”

The centre vs. winger debate

After Svechnikov, Tkachuk and Joe Veleno are projected to be the next best forwards. They both have played wing and centre, although Veleno is probably more suited to the middle than Tkachuk.

But what do you do if you want a forward at No. 3 overall? Do you take the player (Tkachuk) who has a slight edge but might be better suited for the wing? Or do you pass on Tkachuk and take Veleno because high-end centres are so hard to come by?

Central Scouting: “The fact that they can play both positions well, do a good job and make things happen, that just gives them an extra checkmark. Joey is more of a natural centreman, but that’s from a scout’s perspective. I saw him in a couple different roles this summer, but to me he stood out when he was able to control the play a lot more in the middle and he was able to make things happen because he processes things so quickly.”

Sorting out the D

Dahlin is undoubtedly the best defenceman available, but there are a number of supremely talented blueliners up for grabs in this draft.

Adam Boqvist (Brynas), Quinn Hughes (Michigan), Ryan Merkley (Guelph), Bode Wilde (USNTDP), Jared McIsaac (Halifax) and Ty Smith (Spokane) are all candidates to go in the top-10. But is there a player who has separated himself from the pack?

Central Scouting: “If we look at the play this summer at the various U18 camps, the world junior camps, the Ivan Hlinka, Boqvist really stood out ahead of some of the names there … I know in our group he was heads and tails above the other players there.

“He controlled the game and rarely went deeper than the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. He’s got very good anticipation, hockey sense and instincts that he can read the play and make the play. He made a lot of things happen in all zones, but he’s not one of those rushing d-men that keeps the puck and goes end-to-end all the time. He’s very, very smooth and very cool under pressure. If he makes a mistake, you don’t see that mistake repeated — he’s a very coachable kid.”

Who’s flying under the radar heading into the season?

Outside of the top guys, there’s always a bit of mystery surrounding some of players lingering further down the (extremely) early mock drafts.

Which players are poised to make some noise and shoot up the rankings?

Central Scouting: One player who made a significant move for us — the A-grade player in Barrett Hayton of Sault Ste. Marie.

“I’m also very interested to see how Akil Thomas’s season goes. People don’t recognize him for the really strong work ethic and compete game that he has. He has the speed and skill and can shoot, but he has a solid two-way game and he’s very responsible.

“Oliver Wahlstrom is another dynamic player who can make a good jump and continue to climb as the season goes on. They’re all kind of dynamic, exciting players.”

Any other lesser-known players who will raise eyebrows?

Dmitri Zavgorodny (Rimouski, QMJHL, C/W): “In that category of being a special player; he had five goals the other night as a rookie in the league. He might be the guy there, but he’s 5’8 1/2″ so that’s always the qualifier. It’s going to be interesting to see if he has the type of year we expect him to have. He’s one of those kids, I put my stamp of approval on him now.”

Gabriel Fortier (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL, LW): Another smaller player in Quebec. Really played well at the Ivan Hlinka in a number of roles. He’s such an effortless skater that he surprised the opponents on the ice. All of a sudden he’s there, all of a sudden he’s pulling away.”

Kevin Bahl (Ottawa, OHL, D): “He’s 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and he moves like he’s 6-foot-1, 190. He has a very soft touch with the puck. He was very intriguing at the U18s and I think he’s the kind of guy that’s going to get a lot of attention this year.”

Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL, RW): “He turned heads at the Ivan Hlinka and everyone noticed him last year because he’s a good strong, size-strength player, works hard, strong skater. You just want to see what his hockey sense and puck skills are like, and he made a good showing in the summer and he’s another player teams will be focusing on.”

Any last words of wisdom?

Central Scouting: “What I found over time is that some of the better players at the Ivan Hlinka, they’re not necessarily the higher draft picks, but they are the better players once they get to the NHL as well. That’s one of my barometers I look for. The top players that you thought were good players in that tournament often end up being good NHL players.”

More NHL coverage on Yahoo Sports:


September 22nd, 2017

Posted by Ryan Lambert

NHL

What happens to the Los Angeles Kings this season should absolutely dictate what they do going forward. Their big-name players are all in their late 20s or early 30s, and they don’t really have too many impactful forwards at the other end of the age spectrum.

That’s the price of success, such as it has been for the Kings in recent years. You win two Cups and any GM in the league — right or wrong — is going to marry himself to the roster that got him there for the long term. I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Kings have a lot of questions ahead of them after the coaching turnover in the offseason, but the more I’ve thought about them as the season approaches, the clearer the answer to those questions became, at least in terms of what the answers entail.

If the Kings try and fail to make the playoffs for the third time in four years — and the one time they made it, they got stomped in the first round, by the Sharks, 4-1 — then you gotta cut bait with the whole group. You take the new GM, new coach, and just start ‘er all over again. Because what’s the alternative, right? Given the ages of most of the big names involved, if they’re not capable of even earning a playoff spot now, the odds that they will be one, two, three years from now are only going to diminish.

Jeff Carter is 32. Anze Kopitar is 30. Drew Doughty will be 28 in December. Jonathan Quick, regardless of what you think of his quality, is 31 and coming off a huge injury. Even Jake Muzzin, who I think gets the “Young Joe Pavelski” treatment, turns 29 in late February.

There’s a lot of older talent there, to be sure, and much like the Penguins before they won their back-to-back Cups, I think it’s fair to say they really suffered because the Kings couldn’t put any reasonable depth behind them. A few of these guys have had not-great seasons judging by their own lofty standards, and when you pair that with injuries and the aging process, plus a paucity of meaningful contributions from guys deeper down the lineup, well, I don’t know how you fix that without just nuking the roster.

The problem, of course, is that they don’t have many options for doing that. Heading into the 2019-20 season (the last one before another potential lockout, you see), the Kings will have the following guys signed for at least $3.75 million: Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Carter, Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Alec Martinez, Muzzin, and Quick. Average age of those players at that time: Almost 32. Not pretty.

That doesn’t count a few of the other contracts the team has on the books right now, like the horrible Trevor Lewis deal, but it all adds up to $53.3 million committed to just 11 players — if you’re scoring at home, that’s an average of more than $5 million per — and all but Toffoli, Pearson, and Kyle Clifford will be 30-plus.

All of this is to say nothing of the already-broiling (because Toronto is theoretically involved) rumors that Drew Doughty might pack his bags and go to a team that has a legitimate chance of winning a Stanley Cup in the following five years. If it’s even looking vaguely, if-you-kinda-squint-at-it like Doughty’s not going to come back, that only accelerates the need to rebuild.

Again, you definitely have to say this is the cost of success to some extent, both because the Kings are now overpaying depth players with whom they had success — de rigueur in the NHL, no doubt — but also picked low enough and missed on enough draft picks to have barely supported those players. There is, simply put, no help coming any time soon.

The combined number of games played by all Kings draft picks taken from 2013 to present: 50.

Total. Between 34 draftees.

To be fair, Dean Lombardi, in fighting to save his job, only allowed the Kings to get two first-round picks in that time — and one of them was the No. 29 pick — but that, too, doesn’t set you up for the future. In fact, you have to go back to Tyler Toffoli, drafted in 2010, to find a Kings draftee who played 250-plus games in the NHL. (Pearson will hit that number this year.)

It’s a bad situation. Contrast that with the Penguins, who have been successful in the league, generally speaking, for a lot longer than the Kings and who can turn late- and mid-round picks into NHL players. And unlike the Kings, the Pens went through their tough times in the playoffs while Crosby and Malkin were still reasonably young; they had time to reload the roster with those draft picks they were hitting on. The Kings, flatly, do not.

More problematically, this likely isn’t even a rebuild-on-the-fly situation. The higher-end guys are going to be good enough for another few years that they can be good contributors for the time being, but if a rebuild takes four or five years?

Forget it.

Kopitar at 35, Carter at 37? They won’t have retired because their contracts give them financial incentive not to, but they’re probably not going to be any sort of impact players. You’re better off seeing what you can get for them in trade, as long as you can find someone willing to take on the last six years of a 30-plus contract for a guy making $10 million against the cap. And good luck with that.

So the issue for Rob Blake et al is clear: Lombardi left the team nothing to play with. The roster is old, shallow, and expensive. The farm system is middling at best, and only saved, in large part, by the draft they put together this past June.

This has to be it for this group. Maybe, if you want to be forgiving and float John Stevens an extra year of leeway, you say two more ought to do it. If this team can’t get back into the playoffs, you have to start making hard choices and auctioning off anyone who fetches any kind of value. In any rebuild, you need expensive vets around to fill out the roster, be capital-‘L’ Leaders, and help you hit the cap floor.

And that’s good news for the Kings: Even when they trade half their expensive veterans if they miss the playoffs, they still have too many on the roster.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.


Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

When it comes to players voicing their frustration with the NHL over its decision not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, we’re not even at the tip of the iceberg. We’ve basically just spotted one through the binoculars. There’s going to be some much more chilly shade thrown at the League in the coming months (even if, as we’ve written before, it’s not necessarily warranted).

This week, two prominent Canadian players took to Twitter to poke the bear. San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Édouard Vlasic, who won gold with Team Canada in Sochi, tweeted a video of the 2018 Olympics medals at the NHL with the message “Beautiful, right?”

Vlasic, it should be said, has been on the NHL for most of the year about the Olympic decision, including an open letter he penned in June for Radio-Canada:

“I’m not taking this stance solely for myself,” Vlasic wrote. “Hockey careers are so short that it’s very possible the absence of the NHL in Pyeongchang removes any chance for certain guys to play in the Olympics, simply because this creates an eight-year gap between two participations. For a professional hockey player, eight years is too long.”

This is sadly true, and it makes you feel for players who are, say, pushing 30 and might be in the prime of their careers when it comes to Olympic participation.

Players like Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who joined the pile-on:

Again, this is the guy that’s been totally shafted in the NHL’s war with the IOC: The player who hasn’t gotten the chance to play for his nation in the Olympics, and has worked his rump off to become the kind of elite talent that deserves that shot.

Especially when that player is Canadian, and thus knows they will collect a gold medal with the ease of someone taking a free sample of quinoa salad at a Trader Joe’s.

At least until Auston and Jack lead the American stranglehold on international hockey glory.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.


Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

Sean Avery’s new book “Ice Capades: A Memoir Of Fast Living And Tough Hockey” was a must-read the moment it was announced, and it’s every bit the scathing, funny, frequently infuriating celebration of all things Sean Avery as anticipated.

It follows his NHL journey from the Detroit Red Wings to the Los Angeles Kings to the New York Rangers to the fiasco with the Dallas Stars through his eventual return to and retirement from the Rangers. It covers all the greatest hockey hits: ‘Sloppy Seconds’ and his NHL suspension, the Avery Rule, his on-ice role as a pest. It also details his relationships with Rachel Hunter, Elisha Cuthbert, and now-wife Hilary Rhoda, his journeys behind velvet ropes in New York clubs and that VOGUE internship.

It’s the first hockey-adjacent memoir that manages to line up a 580-game NHL career next to an acid trip at a Phish show and a make-out session with Scarlett Johansson. Sean Avery The Book is Sean Avery The Player: Introspective and self-aggrandizing, illuminating and at times repulsive, but rarely tedious.

It’s a candid and controversial one-sided conversation. Which is fine when so much of that conversation is putting John Tortorella on blast.

Avery savages the current Columbus Blue Jackets coach and 2017 Jack Adams Award winner, who coached Avery with the New York Rangers from 2008-12.

On respect for John Tortorella:

“Tortorella has a reputation as a hard-ass, but not if you know him as a player. We used to laugh at him all the time. There was always someone in the dressing room who wanted to take their skate and decapitate him or take their stick and whack him over the head with it. Marion Gaborik despised him with every bone in his body. Even Hank Lundqvist, an even-keeled Swede who was usually in his own world, thought Tortorella was a terrible manager of pro athletes. And he can’t skate and stickhandle a puck at the same time, and he doesn’t realize we don’t take him seriously because of that.”

As far as Tortorella’s volatile relationship with the media goes, Avery writes: “The funny thing is that Tortorella can skate just about as well as some of our beat writers.”

NHL

Avery writes on a conflict he had with Tortorella about investing in a second New York bar (“Tiny’s”). The coach claimed that a slumping Henrik Lundqvist was distracted by being an investor in the venture, a claim that Avery … well, didn’t agree with, especially when Tortorella suggested that Lundqvist pull out of the investment:

“I’ve never walked out of a meeting with my head coach, but if I didn’t leave the room I was going to end up in Rikers for choking this little shithead within an inch of his miserable life. If he really believed that Henrik was playing poorly because of Tiny’s, then he knew nothing about his star player. Lundqvist was not working at Tiny’s, he was investing in it. Players have slumps. Anyone who knows how to coach professional athletes would know how to deal with that.”

“I told [Rangers GM] Glen Sather about it, but he had nothing to say, really. He kept a poker face and wasn’t going to play his hand, but all he had to do was watch a game – he didn’t have to live through playing for a coach who responded to something he didn’t like on the ice by kicking water bottles or throwing shit on the bench or tugging on a player’s jersey and screaming at him and ripping him a new asshole.”

Avery doesn’t spare Tortorella’s right-hand man during those years: Current Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who has won two straight Stanley Cups. From Avery, after the 2009-10 season:

“None of us can stand listening to the mental midget and his big goofy sidekick, Mike Sullivan. Tortorella is a power-hungry control freak but he’s not smart enough to hire a good cop, even one he could play like a violin. If Mike Sullivan had played the good cop, he could still have turned around after meeting with a disgruntled player and told his puppet-master JT the details while giving the players some form of relief. Instead, they’re only able to bitch and vent to each other. This creates an unhealthy locker room.”

Avery also writes about his late friend Derek Boogaard, the enforcer’s addiction to painkillers and makes some incendiary claims about his time with the Rangers with that addiction.

“Derek had an addiction to painkillers. The NHL knew about it, and Tortorella probably knew it, too. If he did, he sure didn’t seem to care,” he writes.

As Avery writes, a team rule change when the two played together in New York meant that injured players had to get medical treatment for an injury and do conditioning work before the healthy players practiced as a team. So the Rangers would see Boogaard, who suffered another concussion in the 2010-11 season, leave the rink as they arrived. This mattered to Avery, who stayed in touch with Boogaard away from the rink, but according to him it meant nothing to their coach.

“It seemed to me that Tortorella was trying to make life as difficult as he could for Boogey,” Avery writes. “Tortorella could give two shits about players who can’t help him win, whereas great coaches protect their players as long as their names are on the team’s roster.”

“I reached my breaking point with how Tortorella was treating Boogaard, and spoke to many people about it,” he writes. “We hated it, and felt guilty that we could not stop the torment of Boogaard, but we played on, more for ourselves than for that lunatic running the show.”

But it was after Boogaard’s death in May 2011 – after having left the Rangers in March for rehab in California – that Tortorella hit Avery’s final nerve.

The entire Rangers team, thanks to a phone call from Avery, had permission from GM Glen Sather to attend the funeral in Regina. But Avery was informed by the team’s public relations department that Tortorella was not going to attend it.

From Avery on Derek Boogaard’s funeral:

“I was sick to my stomach and [wife Hilary Rhoda] was there to console me and give me support, which helped stop me from doing something that could have landed me in prison. I have never felt more hatred toward someone in my life than I felt toward Tortorella at that moment. It was more of a shock than when I heard Derek had died.

“… Tortorella’s stated reason for missing the funeral was an inability to fly because of recent hip surgery. I can promise you right now that if I had been Tortorella and the doctors had told me not to fly, I would have taken a bus (which Mr. Dolan would have surely paid for) with whatever physiotherapist needed to make the trip to Regina – a thirty-hour drive from New York City. A coach not attending his player’s funeral is unheard of. But maybe it’s just as well he wasn’t there, since in my opinion the appalling manner in which he’d treated Derek after he was injured had been a factor in Derek’s decline and death.”

Damn.

Like we said: Avery is an acquired taste. The book’s an entertaining read, albeit one where the author clearly states he was “playing a character” during his NHL career. One can’t shake that notion about the narrator during some of these tales, and his selection of which stories to tell and how to tell them.

“Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey” by Sean Avery and Michael McKinley arrived on Oct. 24. Pre-order it in hardcover here and Kindle here from Amazon.

(Note: These passages are from an uncorrected proof of the book.)

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

Kris Versteeg wasn’t around the last time this happened in the NHL, when a tidal wave of penalty calls came crashing down on preseason games to emphasize whatever the League’s cause célèbre was that season. He was in his late teens in 2005-06, toiling in the minor leagues while his older peers attempted to figure out what constituted obstruction during early season games that would feature over 20 combined power plays.

He wasn’t there, but he gets it. He understands the slashing penalties that have created a groundswell of consternation from players, coaches and fans during the 2017-18 exhibition schedule.

“I think it’s necessary, for sure. You see a lot of guys on our team get hurt. I think [the slashing] is unnecessary at times,” said Versteeg to the Calgary Sun. “It’s kind of like the old hooking and holding after the last lockout — once we get used to it I think the pace of the game will settle right in.”

Like most rule changes or reemphasis in the NHL, the catalysts for this slashing crackdown occurred in the previous season: Johnny Gaudreau getting his hand chopped like he was an honorary Skywalker by the Minnesota Wild, and Sidney Crosby giving the world’s worst manicure to Marc Methot of the Ottawa Senators.

There were others, to be sure, as the NHL’s officials called 791 slashing penalties last season, or around 0.64 per game. But the goal isn’t total elimination of these infractions; as per usual with the NHL and player safety, it’s about repeat offenders and reeducation.

“We’re going to eliminate guys who are repeatedly, with force, slashing guys on the fingertips and slashing guys away from the play. When a guy has the puck on his stick, and they’re slashing the hands, we’re going to be taking a look at that closer,” said George Parros, the new head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“There’s two things we want to eliminate. We want to eliminate repeat offenders in this department and eliminate the same kind of slashes, although we’ve get to define that. Each play is unique. But initially, I’ll be looking at where the slashes take place. If you’re slashing a guy on the elbow pad, I think that would be different than slashing a guy on the finger tips.”

(In the sense that Sidney Crosby probably can’t slash your elbow off, one imagines. Although if he puts his mind to it …)

This crackdown has led to a couple of different strains of hysteria. The first is that fundamentally changing the way slashing is called – based on a League mandate – isn’t fair to the players or the officials. The current officials can’t say anything to the public about these League mandates for penalties, but to hear former referee Paul Stewart tell it, they suck.

“The NHL wants cookie cutter reffing by email mandates, no longer by hockey sense, feel for the game and judgment,” he tweeted.

It’s hard to figure out if the players agree or disagree with this, because depending on the outcome of the game they’ll either tell you it was managed well by the referees or that they “need to call the rulebook” rather than officiating by “hockey sense.” But one imagines that older players, by and large, would rather see referees address slashing with something looser than the zero tolerance they’ve exhibited in the preseason.

“We’ve been swinging our sticks for 20 years. It’s a habit, a frustration. The hard thing is — over the last 10 years — now I can’t grab your free hand. It’s just natural to get waxed,” said Doug Weight, head coach of the New York Islanders, to the NY Post.

The “waxing” is where the NHL is most concerned, according to Stephen Walkom, the head of officiating. Because as obstruction of offensive players has declined, slashing became the preferred means by which to slow an attacker.

“They learned the art of the quick whack on the hand. The whack happens so fast. And as a referee you’re like, ‘Whoa. Did he get him on the hand? Did he get him on the stick?’” he said, via the Toronto Star. “Now we’re giving the benefit of doubt to the player with the puck. So we’re hoping the [defenders] will adapt, and stop [slashing].”

This crackdown serves two purposes: Protecting the players, as much as they can be protected in an inherently violent sport; and seeking to increase goal-scoring by forcing defensive players to play stick on puck, removing a reliable tool from their belts and asking them to find another way to build a wall in front of their zone.

Which brings us to the other strain of hysteria in this preseason, which is that this tidal wave of penalties is going to flood the regular season, creating choppy (hehe) games filled with power plays.

To which I say:

What’s wrong with that?

NHL

[Rolls out soapbox]

Goals per NHL game stood at 5.54 last season, which was a six-season high for the League. That’s great, but still nowhere near the pre-trap averages from 20 years ago. The 1993-94 season saw 6.48 goals per game, for example. It also saw 0.90 power-play goals per game, on 5.04 power play opportunities per game. Those percentages in 2016-17? NHL games had 0.57 power-play goals per game on just 2.99 opportunities per game, the lowest number of power plays on average … um, ever? Or at least since Hockey-Reference.com started tabulating them back to 1963.

So, like, call the damn penalties, right?

Especially when you consider this, from an excellent post from Woodblog on the NHL’s lack of goal-scoring and lack of power plays: The NHL has essentially the same five-on-five scoring levels that it did in 1994. Seriously: It was 2.12 goals per team last season, and 2.19 in 1994. Last season was the best even-strength scoring season since 1997. and

Meanwhile, power-play goals per opportunity are actually at a level (0.192) commiserate with the early 1990s, “have actually been rising overall since 1998 and are as high as they were in the early 90’s before the talent dilution of rapid expansion happened.”

Woodguy’s summation?

Think of it: Teams get more shots per minute on the power play; power play opportunities are at an all time low; yet the shots per game are up and the goals per power play are up. I think this is strong evidence that the players are better and coaching is better. All we need the NHL to do is actually call more penalties and we should see a reasonable spike in goals.

When listening to league officials, especially Colin Campbell, there seems to be an underlying idea coming from the league that they don’t want to call too many penalties as it changes the complexion of the game too much and its “not the way we’ve always done things.”

The problem with this line of thinking is that each team earning 4.2-5.5 power play opportunities per game IS “the way we’ve always done things” in the NHL. Today’s dismal 3.1-3.0 ppo/gm is unprecedented in the modern era.

Here’s the deal: Systems and goalies and defensemen are too good in the modern NHL to expect a massive spike in even-strength scoring, bringing it up to, say, 1990’s 2.60 goals per team. (We’re at 2.12 now.) Not without fundamentally changing the game — we’re talking a shift to 4-on-4 hockey or eliminating offside or soccer-sized nets. Those types of changes.

If you want more goals on the board, more 100-point forwards, more celebration highlights, more grist for the fantasy sports mill, then you need to allow offensive players more opportunities to score when they’re best able to, which is on the power play. And the starting point for that is to get power-play opportunities back to respectable levels, despite the hue and cry that the hockey is too choppy or that they interrupt the game flow.

Because calling a massive number of slashing penalties not only benefits that game flow by limiting another form of obstruction, but it also can help on the player safety front while also increasing the number of power-play chances for teams. Which, as was illustrated here, means more goals per game. And this is a good thing, ultimately, for the sport’s popularity. Unless you’re a goalie, which means you’re a weirdo whose opinion shouldn’t matter anyway.

(Granted, in my world, more power plays is just the first step. Gimmie ‘dem two-minute majors and restrictions on the penalty kill. But that’s another column…)

So go ahead, zebras. Raise the arms. Call the slashes. Worst case scenario? We get the power plays the NHL should be granting anyway, given the history. Best case scenario? The players figure out their behavior quickly and this ‘rules emphasis’ saves fingers and opens up the game even more.

Or, alternately: Best case scenario is that only a small percentage of players take advantage of this NHL mandate by dropping their sticks and feigning injury on every love tap.

Worst case: The referees continue this draconian enforcement for two months, forget about it like obstruction, and Johnny Gaudreau has to start wearing those green rubber Hulk Hands under his gloves to save his precious cargo.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 


September 21st, 2017

Posted by Ryan Lambert

NHL

It’s a mailbag column. People love those. If you have a question you want answered in the future, you can email me or get at me on Twitter.

Rich asks via email: How well would last year’s KHL champ SKA St. Petersburg do within the NHL?”

Well first of all, Rich, this is barely an NHL question but it’s technically one so I have to answer it, legally.

There are a lot of guys on that team who could absolutely play in the NHL and make a big impact. Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk stand out, obviously, but so do a couple guys who are now heading to the NHL — Evgeny Dadonov with Florida and Vadim Shipachyov with Vegas, for example — plus a few guys who already have NHL experience like Slava Voynov, Sergei Plotnikov, and Anton Belov, as well as guys who could absolutely play in the NHL if they wanted, like Nikita Gusev.

But this team, like any other KHL team, would suffer because they have no real depth. Sometimes, even guys who do well in the KHL can’t keep up in the NHL, and when you’re getting outside, say, the top six or seven scorers or any given KHL club, it’s a rough group. Moreover, they seem to have good goaltending, but lots of good goalies in the KHL are in the early 20s and eventually move over to North America for a reason.

Think of SKA, I guess, like the Boston Bruins: Great top-end players but serious depth issues that would eventually sink them. I think even elite KHL teams would probably end up pretty close to the NHL’s bottom-five.

Sasha asks: “Which team do you see winning the West?”

If we’re talking about the regular season, I think there’s a wide-open discussion to have. If we’re talking about the playoffs, I think it might be Nashville again. Sorry for the lack of imagination on that one.

The reason I think the West is a little wide open in the regular season is that Edmonton is in a much weaker division than what any real contenders in the Central would face. Look at all the games the Oilers will get against Vegas, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Arizona. Lots of Ws to pick up there. Anaheim and Calgary are probably going to be good to one extent or another, but they might not pose that big of a threat to Connor McDavid and Co.

Meanwhile, let’s say you like Nashville, Minnesota, or Dallas to win the Central: They have to all edge out each other — and I for-sure see the argument that there’s not much separating them — plus Chicago and St. Louis. Winnipeg is a step back, but not a pushover like the bottom of the Pacific. Only Colorado seems like a bottom-five-to-seven team in the league out of the Central.

But does Edmonton have the depth, on defense or up front, to really get too deep in the playoffs? McDavid alone is gonna get you a good amount of goals in any given postseason game, but he’s gonna play 22 minutes a night. Tough to see what happens in the other 38 minutes against actual elite teams.

I could honestly see a decent number of teams in the Central making a bit of a deep run but the most reliable group in the division is absolutely Nashville. That ‘D’ corps, that forward group, and potentially also the goaltending? Tough to argue with that.

That is, assuming everyone stays healthy. Which, y’know.

Sam asks: “Is Shea Weber really that difficult to play against?”

Well it depends what you mean by “Play against.”

The very nice boy PJ Kearns, who writes for all sorts of hockey publications, once explained it in a way that I think can’t be topped (paraphrasing): “If Shea Weber comes to take $3 from you every day, and punches you in the stomach to get it, you’re really not going to like it. But if Erik Karlsson comes to take $5 from you every day and just picks your pocket, you lost more money but it didn’t hurt as much.”

The question is, which do you prefer? The extra shots and goals that come with playing against Weber, but also some bumps and bruises, or getting outshot and outscored against Karlsson, but also not checked by a big mean guy?

Those are your options, and I think most NHL players would trade the extra ice packs for the extra goals and points in the standings.

Bobby asks: “Who is the next big NHL star to come out of a U.S. college?”

This also depends: If I can include NHL rookies who are coming out of college now, I’m inclined to go with former Boston University Terrier Clayton Keller, who’s about to start his first full pro season with Arizona. He’s a small, super-skilled player who picked apart the toughest top-to-bottom conference in college hockey last season, and who is routinely ranked among the best handful of prospects, regardless of league, in the entire hockey world.

But if I can’t include Keller, which would be fair enough, I’m inclined to say Colorado draft pick Cale Makar, a defenseman who’s headed to UMass for his freshman year, starting in just a couple weeks. He was the No. 4 overall pick in this June’s draft and from what everyone says he projects as an elite No. 1 puck-mover. The comparisons to Erik Karlsson (which I’ve seen in a few places) seem a bit overblown, since Karlsson is an all-time great, but if he’s even landing somewhere in that neighborhood, damn, that’s a player.

Some other guys worth mentioning who will be draft-eligible next June: BU’s Brady Tkachuk (you may have heard of his dad or brother) and Michigan’s Quinton Hughes are both projected to go pretty high.

NHL

Spencer asks: “Some people think Spencer Foo will be good. Others say he’s bad. What’s the real story?”

Related to college hockey free agent signings, and I’ve said this many times before, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Foo played three seasons of college hockey in a middling conference, posting two so-so seasons (50 points with a pretty even division of goals and assists in 75 total games) and one electrifying season (26-36-62 in 38).

He did that as a 23-year-old, which is on the higher end for third-season college players but not outrageous or anything.

So what should Calgary Flames fans expect from him? Tough to say. He’s not a top-six winger. He’s probably not even a top-nine guy. Could he contribute on a skilled fourth line? Maybe. But probably not right now. And again, given that he turns 24 in January, you have to legitimately ask how many more years of development he really has.

In Foo’s case, sorry, I’m not that high on him even if he was a perfectly good college player across his three-season career, especially considering he played with a guy who had previously posted 50 points in an NCAA season absent Foo.

This kind of thinking applies to all NCAA free agents, by the way. Lots of them come out at 22, 23, 24 years old, and sometimes even 25. What’s their ceiling? How long does it take to reach it? How much of a track record do this player have of putting up points? Foo doesn’t check too many boxes here and he’s running out of track pretty quick.

Take the Jimmy Vesey example: He dominated the same league Foo did, but for three years instead of one, and had way more of a pedigree as a scouted and well-regarded prospect. He’s an okay bottom-six NHLer at age 24. Foo doesn’t seem like he’s even that, but that doesn’t mean he’s bad. It just means he’s probably not a reliable NHLer.

Erik asks: “Is it possible the Caps will do better with ‘less’ talent?”

Lots of things are possible. But the idea that the Caps are particularly likely to repeat a season’s performance in which they already had a high PDO, their best players are all a year older, and a bunch of talent shed is not well-founded.

Is this still a good team? Absolutely it is. Is this still a team that’s in real contention to win the Presidents’ Trophy, or even the division title? Ehhhhh, not really.

What would be very funny, to me, is if this is the year they somehow got to the Eastern Conference Final. I’d love it!

Zach asks: “Given Seattle’s new arena announcement would it surprise you if Calgary uses that as leverage for a new arena for themselves?”

Zach, I gotta tell ya: It surprises me they haven’t done it already.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter


Posted by Yahoo Sports Staff


The Ottawa Senators enjoyed an incredible 2016-17 season, finishing just one goal shy of upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. But unfortunately for Ottawa fans, a lot has changed during the offseason.

The Senators are likely going to be in a dog fight for a playoff spot in 2017-18. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are expected to be the powerhouses of the Atlantic Division, and the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers will represent tough competition as well.

Making matters worse, Senators captain Eric Karlsson has yet to start skating after having an artificial tendon inserted in his foot, and there’s no timetable for his return. HIs absence leaves a glaring hole in Ottawa’s defensive corps, and he’s not even the only notable absentee. The Senators lost Marc Methot to the expansion draft shortly after the 2016-17 season.

The Senators may be long shots to qualify for the postseason, but then again, this team tends shine when its back is against the wall.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

NHL

There are certain hockey minds whose introduction into a team’s ecosystem immediately makes a positive impact. Larry Robinson possesses one such hockey mind.

His work with the New Jersey Devils during their 1995 (as an assistant coach), 2000 (as head coach) and 2003 (as an assistant, again) championships was that of a defenseman whisperer, but also someone whose sage advice permeated throughout the organization. He got them back to the Cup Final in 2001 as a head coach, and was a vital assistant for that 2012 team that made the Cup Final as well.

Then it was off to San Jose where he was an associate coach and director of player development and … well, look at that, the Sharks made their first Stanley Cup Final with Larry Robinson in the organization.

(He also had a four-year stint with the mid-1990s Los Angeles Kings, and should not be blamed for this.)

The other constant on those Devils teams was, of course, Martin Brodeur, who is now an assistant general manager with the St. Louis Blues. That’s a team with Alex Pietrangelo as their standout defenseman and Colton Parayko as the star-in-waiting. And now it’s a team that will have that Larry Robinson pixie dust sprinkled on them, too.

The Blues announced that Robinson has joined the organization as “Senior Consultant to Hockey Operations,” which sounds like the kind of made-up title you create so make “we’re paying Larry Robinson to help make us champions” sound more formal.

The Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman played in 1,384 regular season games and 227 playoff games in a 20-year NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens (1972-89) and the Los Angeles Kings (1989-92). As a player, he participated in the playoffs in every season in which he played, which is what happens when you played in Montreal during the 1970s and 80s.

I’ve written about The Larry Robinson Effect before. It’s not simply his one-on-one work with players; it’s how he identifies the virtues of every defenseman on the roster and understands, inherently, how they should be deployed. He makes great defensemen better. He makes your bottom pairing play much better than their rung on the roster ladder. Without knowing the actual level of his input and interaction, this could be a very big deal.

This new plan from the Blues is really compelling. Jake Allen can’t find that next level? Throw some Marty Brodeur at the problem. Want to make sure that five-year investment in Colton Parayko maxes out? Apply some Larry Robinson.

Now, get Brett Hull off the business development team and have him teach Tarasenko how to hit 70 goals after two six-packs …

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Posted by Greg Wyshynski

Jagr

The unfathomable absence of Jaromir Jagr from an NHL roster continues as the preseason rolls on.

The last few days have brought some clarity to his next steps if North America is out of the picture, as well as when we can expect the 45-year-old legend to announce them. Aivis Kalnins reports that Jagr’s agent has set an October 5th target for a decision:

“The future of Jagr will be known in October, the day after NHL regular season begins, after which there will be where he will continue his career.” He noted that almost 100% of the rumors on Jagr’s next team on the internet are inaccurate and should be considered rumors. “Jagr wants to continue to play, but we are not sure where he will continue his career.”

Please note that October 5th is one day after the start of the NHL season.

That last bit from the agent could be targeting the reports that Jagr is KHL bound if no NHL team steps up. Specifically, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik has voiced interest in the legend and claims it has the resources to sign him.

Jagr didn’t exactly douse those flames in recent comments to Igor Eronko of Sports Express:

“There’re 3-4 teams we talk to. If I know for sure it’s no NHL then I gonna look for something else in Europe. KHL is possible cause if I’m not in NHL then I want to go to the Olympics. I want to try to make the team. And if I want the Olympics, I have to play in the best possible league, that’s what the KHL is.”

Jagr also said he’s not coming to an NHL on a tryout contract because “after 25 years they know what kind of player I am.”

(He’s just the greatest.)

At this point, the smart money’s on Jagr playing in Europe, tearing up the Olympics as a quasi-audition – which, if memory serves, the 2010 Vancouver Games were for him too, in a way – and then trying to hook up with an NHL team as a late-season boost. Especially for a moribund power play, where Jagr’s best value is likely found.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

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