San Jose not the typical southern hockey market

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SanJose.jpgSince I grew up learning and loving hockey in Dallas, I am someone
who firmly believes that hockey is a sport that can work anywhere. It
doesn’t matter if it’s in Michigan or Mississippi, if the team is
successful and marketed right the fans will come and these issues facing
“hockey in the south” are forgotten.

With the possibility
looming over the past year or so that the Phoenix Coyotes might move
back to Canada, the argument that hockey doesn’t belong in the south
rose up once more. For most, it seems as if it’s just an issue that
hockey is a sport played on ice, it originated in the north on ponds and
the fact that there are two teams in Florida is sacrilege. That these
teams struggle with revenue and success on the ice is even more
frustrating.

Yet there are a few teams that have proved that if
there is some actual winning involved, and an effort to promote the
sport locally, then there will be success in the region and among the
fans. The Dallas Stars, until Tom Hicks’ financial misdealings derailed
them, were one of the top revenue-producing teams in the NHL and were
one of the most successful teams of the 2000s. In the regular season, at
least. While marching to the Stanley Cup in 1999, the town became crazy
with hockey fever and while the team doesn’t have the exact same
success today the sport of hockey is doing extremely well in local
rinks.

The San Jose Sharks are enjoying a similar story. As the
Sharks move deeper into the playoffs, a spot they haven’t reached since
2004, the rest of the NHL is finally getting to see just how crazed the
fans are. The Shark Tank is one of the toughest places to win at for a
road team, yet you rarely hear how the Sharks have a great fan base. You
hear about the Flyers and Canadiens fans, but rarely about the Sharks. Todd
McLellan is ready for the stigma that San Jose is a black hole for
hockey to be erased:

“Perhaps the most telling
thing for me was when we acquired Dany
Heatley and some of the pundits out there said he can go to California
and just hide,” said head coach Todd McClellan. “That’s not what it’s
like in San Jose, by any means. You can’t hide here when you play for
the Sharks.

“It’s a passionate hockey community and I don’t know
how I get that
across to the hockey world. You can’t walk down the street, you can’t go
for dinner (without being recognized). They know who you are and they
expect big things from you.

Perhaps the fact that the Sharks have developed a bit of a reputation
for choking in the playoffs has contributed to how the team and the
fans are dismissed nationally.

If the Sharks are successful
against the Blackhawks and find a way to get to the Stanley Cup finals,
that is most likely going to change. More and more national audiences
(and writers) will be exposed to just how passionate this town is about
the team.

Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

“Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

“The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

(The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.

McLellan: Maroon’s lower-body injury not considered serious

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It appears Patrick Maroon‘s injury from Wednesday’s preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks looked worse than it is.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was in obvious pain immediately after he went hard into the boards from an awkward hit delivered by James Sheppard just past the midway point of the third period. Maroon needed help to the bench and was unable to put much, if any, pressure on his left leg.

He left the game and didn’t return.

Good news, however, from the Oilers: Head coach Todd McLellan told reporters on Friday that the injury — lower body — is not serious, as per the team’s Twitter account.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the 28-year-old Maroon is expected to be ready for Edmonton’s season opener against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12.

The Oilers acquired Maroon at last season’s trade deadline, a move that certainly added size and an element of grit to their group of forwards.

In 16 games with Edmonton, he scored eight goals and 14 points. In 56 games with Anaheim that same season, he registered only 13 points before the trade.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).