Forget the 'conspiracy', Canucks have other issues

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Canucks.jpgIt happens in all sports, not just the NHL. Fans become convinced
that there is a ‘conspiracy’ in place against their team, some sort of
call from a higher authority that determines the trajectory a team
takes. This is amped up even more, when penalty calls and decisions made
by NHL officials can have a direct result on a playoff series.

Detroit
Red Wings fans are convinced the NHL has it out for their team.

Dallas
Mavericks fans are convinced the NBA decided their loss to the Heat in
the finals (although with NBA officiating, that may have some merit).

Now,
it seems, the Vancouver Canucks could have a target on their backs. With Mike Murphy, former coach of the Kings, as the VP of hockey operations there are claims that he’s calling the shots in favor of the Kings.

I’m
not buying it.

Bad calls are made against every team, in every
sport, all the time. In fact, as
Greg Wyshynski puts it on Puck Daddy
, the War Room decisions are a
consensus of a group of people. It’s not just Murphy making the
decisions.

If the NHL really had it out for the Red
Wings, then the league wouldn’t have called back several borderline
goals by the Dallas Stars two years ago. They wouldn’t have given Todd
Bertuzzi a goal this season when he “kicked” it in when the back of his
skate.

What is really unfortunate, is when the media plays up the
conspiracy theories as well. From
Ed Willes of The Province:

Oh, the call on
Daniel’s non-goal will make for some talk-show fodder
today, particularly because it’s now clear the NHL wants the Kings to
win.

To be fair, Willes’ article harps on how the
Canucks are doing everything wrong if they hope to beat the Kings, and
that should really be the focus of this series. Forget the penalty calls
or the controversial goal; the NHL makes horrible war room decisions
all the time, not just against the Canucks or the Red Wings.

Let’s
talk about how Roberto Luongo looks just as bad as he did coming back
from the Olympics. How Henrik Sedin is struggling to live up
expectations. How the Vancouver defense is left standing around and
watching as the Kings forwards overmatch them game after game. That is
where the focus should be. Forget conspiracies, it’s just a way of
forgetting what the real issues are with your team.

Hemsky, Faksa and the Michalek brothers added to Czech Republic’s World Cup roster

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18:  Ales Hemsky #83 of Czech Republic celebrates after scoring in the first period against Slovakia during the Men's Qualification Playoff Game on day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
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Team Czech Republic announced their full 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Like every other team, the Czechs named 16 players to their roster back in March. Joining the likes of Jakub Voracek, Tomas Plekanec, Ondrej Palat and David Krejci are Milan Michalek (Toronto), Dmitrij Jaskin (St. Louis), Ales Hemsky (Dallas), Radek Faksa (Dallas), Jakub Nakladal (Calgary), Zbynek Michalek (Arizona) and Michal Jordan (Carolina).

Hemsky posted 13 goals and 39 points in 2015-16 and added a goal and four points during the Stars’ postseason run.

Milan Michalek has represented his country a number of times, including in the last Olympics where he had no points in five contests. The 31-year-old was traded from Ottawa to Toronto as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade, but he didn’t have a good season, as a finger injury derailed his year. He finished the season with seven goals and 16 points in 45 games.

Milan’s older brother, Zbynek, has also represented his nation a number of times at the international level. He took part in each of the last two Olympics.

Nakladal completed his first season in the NHL in 2015-16. The 28-year-old had two goals and five points in 27 contests with the Flames.

Former St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka, who was named to the team back on Mar. 2, is the only player on the roster who isn’t currently in the NHL.

Here’s the full roster:

G Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings
G Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers
G Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets

D Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers
D Michal Jordan, Carolina Hurricanes *
D Michal Kempny, Chicago Blackhawks
D Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes *
D Jakub Nakladal, Calgary Flames *
D Roman Polak, San Jose Sharks
D Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning

F Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars *
F Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames
F Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes
F Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars *
F Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
F Dmitrij Jaskin, St. Louis Blues *
F David Krejci, Boston Bruins
F Milan Michalek, Toronto Maple Leafs *
F Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens
F Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (KHL)
F Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Earlier this week, Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr announced that he wouldn’t be taking part in the World Cup event.

In a surprising move, Jagr’s teammate in Florida, Jiri Hudler, was left off the roster. The 32-year-old had 16 goals and 46 points in 72 games with the Flames and Panthers in 2015-16. Radim Vrbata (Canucks), Tomas Fleischmann and Andrej Nestrasil (Carolina) also didn’t make the cut.

Laine makes Team Finland for World Cup, Puljujarvi doesn’t

Patrik Laine of Finland celebrates scoring against Russia during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship final match between Finland and Russia in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT
AP
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The Finns rounded out their 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster on Friday morning, and two of the country’s brightest young prospects received decidedly different news.

Patrik Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP and likely No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft, was named to the squad. Jesse Puljujarvi, the 2016 World Juniors MVP and presumptive No. 3 pick, was left off.

Puljujarvi, 18, was edged out for a spot at forward by Laine, Minnesota’s Erik Haula and Sebastian Aho, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect that spent last season playing for Karpat of the SM-liiga.

Aho, another 18-year-old, played alongside Laine for Finland’s silver medal-winning squad at the Worlds and finished the tournament with seven points in 10 games.

On defense, Finland added three more skaters to the roster: Calgary’s Jyrki Jokipakka, Chicago farmhand Ville Pokka and Sami Lepisto, who plays in the KHL.

In goal, another KHLer — SKA Saint Petersburgh’s Mikko Koskinen — was selected, and will compete for minutes with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.

The Finnish roster, in full:

G Mikko Koskinen, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) *
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

D Jyrki Jokipakka, Calgary Flames *
D Sami Lepisto, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) *
D Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars
D Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Ville Pokka, Rockford IceHogs (AHL) *
D Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
D Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks

F Sebastian Aho, Karpat Oulu (SM-liiga) *
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
F Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
F Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild *
F Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
F Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
F Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers
F Patrik Laine, Tappara Tempere (SM-liiga) *
F Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues
F Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks

* named to roster today

Among the notable “snubs” for Finland? Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen, Vancouver’s Markus Granlund (Mikael’s brother), Winnipeg’s Joel Armia, former Boston Bruin Joonas Kemppainen and Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki.

In addition to Puljujarvi, it’s also worth noting two of the country’s brightest young prospects failed to make it: Kasperi Kapanen, who made his NHL debut for the Leafs this year, and Mikko Rantanen, the promising Colorado forward taken 10th overall in ’15.

Pittsburgh’s run fueled by ‘Baby Pens’

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Thursday night was big for Pittsburgh.

But it was also big for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well.

After the Penguins defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, head coach Mike Sullivan praised four key players that spent parts of this year with the club’s minor-league affiliate: Matt Murray, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Lest we forget, Sullivan is a WBS guy too. He was coaching in the AHL prior to replacing Mike Johnston midway through the year, and seemed to know his minor league guys — the ‘Baby Pens’ — could produce at the NHL level.

“Those guys were huge,” Sullivan said in his presser. “I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it
took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played.”

The most obvious hero was Rust, a rookie that scored both goals in the Game 7 win. The Notre Dame product had five goals in 55 career regular season games, but now has five goals in 17 playoff games this year.

“I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be  happier  for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now,” Sullivan said of Rust. “To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.”

Murray, who turned 22 earlier this week, was also a key factor. He was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, had two points through Games 5-7 and fired an impressive five shots on goal tonight. Kuhnhackl was a little quieter, but still chipped in with five points this postseason, and provided a physical presence.

Overall, the quartet provided something that Pittsburgh’s lacked in previous playoffs. The knock was always that if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin weren’t producing, the Pens weren’t winning. They just didn’t have the depth at forward to compensate when their star players went quiet.

That’s not a problem anymore.

“Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays — plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit,” Sullivan explained. “There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.”

‘We love him’ — Bolts heap praise on Stamkos as uncertain future awaits

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This may have been Steve Stamkos‘ last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

If it was, it didn’t go according to script.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.

Stamkos stunned the hockey world on Thursday night by making his playoff debut in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, returning from a two-month absence due to a blood clotting issue.

After undergoing vascular surgery and spending weeks on blood thinners, the captain was cleared to return for his team’s most crucial game of the season — one the Bolts lost, 2-1, the narrowest of margins.

The outcome didn’t take away from how Tampa’s players and coaches felt about Stamkos’ return

“He’s an extremely important player on our team, and we weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

By the boxscore, Stamkos’ impact on the game was minimal. He received less than 12 minutes of ice time and finished minus-1. But he did have two shots on net — one of them showing just how dangerous, even in a limited capacity, No. 91 can be:

“I thought I beat him,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “It just went through him and out the other side.”

The focus for Stamkos and the Bolts now shifts to his contract situation. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former 60-goal scorer projects to be the biggest star to hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became UFAs in 2012.

Those two, you may recall, cashed in quite nicely, signing identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

So you can see why Stamkos’ future is of great interest across the league.

Of course, nobody has officially ruled out the 26-year-old’s return to Tampa Bay, and tonight’s drama probably strengthened some pretty serious emotional ties. Remember, this is the only team he’s ever known. The Lightning made Stamkos the first overall pick in 2008 and, six years later, the 10th captain in franchise history. He won two Rocket Richard trophies with the Bolts, and played in a pair of Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.

He’s the team’s leader and face of the franchise. That’s not small stuff.

But in the end, it might not matter. It’s important to remember the Lightning got to this point without Stamkos because they’ve got incredible depth and some really good young players. Those young players will need to be paid too, and there might not be enough money under the cap for GM Steve Yzerman to make Stamkos an offer he can’t refuse.

Which is why it was hard not to listen to comments the Bolts made tonight, and wonder if they’re aware of what the future probably holds.

“We hope we can stick together, but you just never know,” Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Thought we were destined for some pretty special things.”