Day 1 of NHL research and development camp sees hits and misses with rules

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Day one of the NHL’s Research and Development Camp has come and gone now and folks are sounding off about just what it was they were seeing, innovation-wise, on the ice in Toronto. With such a huge list of things to run through in the two days of the camp, times figure to be busy and intriguing.

With a host of NHL authority figures and media on to watch the proceedings, curiosity as to how these potential rule changes could play out in reality is sky high. Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press had these observations, including how warmly received the test run for “hybrid” icing went.

The proposed change gives linesmen the ability to make a ruling on whether a play will be called icing based on which player reaches the faceoff dot first — rather than who is first to touch the puck.

“Anything we can do with icing to protect our players we should do,” Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said Wednesday. “If the linesman can make the call earlier, then obviously it will benefit the good players in our league.”

Ken Hitchcock is coaching one of the teams participating in the camp and believes the hybrid icing rule belongs in the NHL.

“It’s a competitive and safe way of playing,” said Hitchcock. “You would almost completely eliminate those big injuries that come and yet you’re still creating the competition for (the puck). … For me, it’s a real good idea.

“There’s no worse feeling than what happened to a guy like Kurtis Foster.”

Kurtis Foster, then of the Minnesota Wild, infamously had his leg broken grotesquely in pursuit of a puck with Torrey Mitchell of the Sharks on a potential icing call. Since then, the league has instituted penalties for hitting players into the boards on icing calls to help player safety.

What “hybrid” icing would do is institute a brand of no-touch icing where if the defending player beats the opponent to the face-off circle chasing a puck down for icing, it would be called immediately without touching up the puck. If the opponent beats the defending team to the puck, icing is waived off and play continues.

One intriguing thing tested out was altering the face-off circles in the attack zones, making it so there was only one circle in the zone and it would be set right in the slot in front of the net. The thinking of doing that there is that it would make teams think twice about freezing the puck in their own end. It also has the crazy effect of making the attack zone look like the portrait of a Cyclops. Panthers GM Dale Tallon was not a fan of this innovation.

“You lose the intensity and the strength,” said Florida Panthers GM
Dale Tallon. “There’s got to be more to it than just finesse. Guys are
going to cheat on that anyway.

“I just like the way it is.”

One thing that was played around with a bit today were different variances of how to play in overtime. David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail divulges that these were not quite as big a hit with coaches.

Also drawing some praise was a twist on the NHL’s regular-season overtime. The session started with three minutes of four-on-four play, followed by three minutes of three-on-three and then three minutes of two-on-two. There was more offence created in the three-on-three session but the two-on-two looked gimmicky. [Sens GM Bryan] Murray agreed.

However, [Ken] Hitchcock, who is even more renowned for his love of defensive hockey than Murray, disagreed. He thinks NHL coaches have managed to slow down regular-season overtime because they would rather take their chances in the shootout.

“Too many times in our league we have ways of making sure we keep four-on-four a non-scoring event so we get into a shootout,” Hitchcock said. “Two-on-two was a little bit gimmicky but when it went three-on-three it was in the net. In the NHL in overtime three-on three, I don’t think you would get to many shootouts. It would be in somebody’s net for sure.”

Whether you enjoy the shootout is a matter of personal taste, of course, but having seasons decided on what amounts to be a practice ritual and pastime during the All-Star Game skills competition is a bit maddening. As for what NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development and man in charge of the two-day event, Brendan Shanahan thought about the first day of action, here’s a video with Shanny discussing how he saw things.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf

Day two of the camp proves to get more interesting on its own as we’ll see the controversial rule enacting icing on the penalty kill tested out among other things. We’ll have more reactions and video tomorrow from day two of the camp.

(Photos: Matthew Manor – Getty Images)

Contract stability and cost certainty key to Blackhawks’ overhaul

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Stan Bowman promised change this offseason and he delivered a lot of it on Friday when he completed two blockbuster trades to significantly alter the makeup of his core.

After sending Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defensemen Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin, the Blackhawks quickly followed that up by re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a deal centered around Artemi Panarin.

In the short-term the trades don’t do much to help the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation. Saad and Panarin have matching $6 million cap hits for this season, while Murphy offers them just a couple hundred thousand in cap savings in the Hjalmarsson deal.

But what the trades do in the long-term is give the Blackhawks a little bit of cost certainty when it comes to their salary cap structure.

Scott Powers at The Athletic quotes a Blackhawks source as saying “We believe this helps us because of contract stability. Saad has four years remaining on his deal and Murphy has five years.”

That is the key here.

Hjalmarsson, still a tremendous defensive defenseman, is set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Panarin, one of the NHL’s most prolific point producers since entering the league, will join him.

It is almost a given that if Panarin continues on the same trajectory he has been on during his first two years in the league (pretty much a top-10 scorer) he is going to cost significantly more than the $6 million cap hit he and Saad both account for this season. Finding a way to keep him with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford still on the books would have been incredibly difficult, if not completely impossible. Something like this was almost certain to happen at some point anyway.

Along with the cost certainty and “contract stability” that comes with the changes, they are also getting a little younger, something the Blackhawks could also use.

Murphy is seven years younger than Hjalmarsson and gives them another right-handed shot on their blue line. Saad, along with being locked in to a long-term contract, is a year younger than Panarin.

All of this makes sense for the Blackhawks from a long-term contract outlook, and in a capped league teams can never lose sight of the long-term finances.

But the most important question at the end of the day, of course, is are they better? Hjalmarsson is still an excellent player but he is also going to be 30 years old this season and is going to eventually reach a point where his game declines. That time will be sooner rather than later. Murphy, in theory, should still have his best days ahead of him and was — by a pretty wide margin — Arizona’s best defenseman when it came to suppressing shots and shutting down opposing players this past season.

Saad is an excellent two-way player and obviously has a lengthy history of production with the Blackhawks. But again, Panarin has been one of the 10 most productive players in the NHL the past two seasons. Is Saad’s all-around play so much better that it makes up for the difference in offense?

The one thing that could help make up for that is if prized prospect Alex Debrincat makes the jump to the NHL and is as good as advertised.

Even after all of these moves on Friday the Blackhawks still probably have more work to do given their salary cap situation. But these two moves at least gave them some long-term certainty when it comes to their core.

Related:

Chicago Fire: Blackhawks re-acquire Saad

Blackhawks send Hjalmarsson to Arizona

Coyotes expect Stepan to be ‘true number-one center’

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Derek Stepan is 27 years old and has played over 500 games in the NHL.

Though he has never registered more than 57 points in a single season, the Arizona Coyotes believe he’s the big piece they’ve been looking for.

“We are thrilled to acquire Derek,” said GM John Chayka after Friday’s trade with the Rangers. “Our organization has been searching for a true number-one center for over a decade and we are confident that he can be that for us.”

Chayka is absolutely right that the Coyotes haven’t had great centers for a while now. Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal were fine players for them, but Jeremy Roenick was their last elite center, and he’s been gone since 2001.

But is it fair to expect Stepan to be a true number one?

Well, the Rangers were reportedly concerned his game was on the decline. And at 27, his prime years are probably behind him.

Also consider the bar for number-one centers in the NHL. It’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom, and a few others who rate higher than Stepan.

One could even make the argument that the Rangers never won the Stanley Cup with Stepan because they never had an elite number-one center while he was there. (No disrespect to Brad Richards, but his game was on the decline when he signed in New York.)

So, no, it’s not fair to expect Stepan to be a true number-one center, even if he’s deployed like one next season.

The real hope for a number-one center in Arizona is with Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, and Clayton Keller.

In the meantime, Stepan will have to do.

Blockbuster: Rangers send Stepan, Raanta to Coyotes for No. 7 pick, DeAngelo

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Just when you thought Stan Bowman was the busiest man at draft weekend, John Chayka upped the ante.

Just minutes after acquiring Niklas Hjalmarsson from the ‘Hawks, Chayka went out and acquired veteran Rangers center Derek Stepan — along with netminder Antti Raanta — in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick at tonight’s draft, and young d-man Anthony DeAngelo.

The trade was first broken by TSN’s Darren Dreger, later confirmed by fellow TSNer Bob McKenzie.

Phew.

In Stepan the Coyotes get a massive upgrade at the center position, which was bereft of talent for all of last season. It’s why Arizona had been tied to Stepan for most of this week. The 27-year-old has consistently been able to go beyond the 50-point plateau, with 17 goals and 55 points last season, and will certainly be a boost to Arizona’s crop of talented young forwards.

Stepan’s entering the third year of a six-year, $39 million contract that comes with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million. And, importantly, the Rangers moved him prior to his no-trade clause kicking in next season. The money freed up by trading Stepan could be used in free agency to land, say, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

As for the other part of this deal, the Coyotes could also have their starting netminder of the future in Raanta, now that Mike Smith has been shipped off to Calgary. Raanta has been one of the league’s best backups working behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York, and a new No. 2 goalie is probably on the Rangers’ revised shopping list.

This trade also gives New York a pair of first-rounders this evening — the Rangers already held the No. 21 overall selection — which is important, given GM Jeff Gorton is without second- and third-round picks. They Blueshirts also received a good puck mover in DeAngelo, a former first-round pick himself.

DeAngelo, 21, made his NHL debut last year and scored 14 points in 39 games. He’s been described as a skilled offensive defenseman, but one with a history of disciplinary issues. That continued last year in Arizona, when he was suspended three games for abuse of an official.

More to follow…

 

Chicago Fire: ‘Hawks re-acquire Saad, send Panarin to Columbus as massive shakeup continues

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Stan Bowman has made good on his promise for big changes in Chicago.

Just minutes after sending longtime defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, Bowman got the band back together by re-acquiring former ‘Hawk Brandon Saad, who he traded to Columbus two years ago.

Per Sportsnet, the Blue Jackets will receive Artemi Panarin in exchange. Right now it’s unclear if any other pieces are involved in the deal, though earlier the ‘Hawks were reportedly looking to move up to the No. 7 pick in tonight’s draft, a pick Arizona currently holds.

UPDATE: Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Chicago will also get goalie Anton Forsberg and Columbus’ fifth-round pick in 2018. Columbus will get Tyler Motte and Chicago’s sixth-round pick this year.

Saad left Chicago shortly after the 2015 Stanley Cup win, in a deal that landed the ‘Hawks Artem Aninisov and a handful of others. The 24-year-old has since gone on to score 31 and 24 goals in his two years with the Blue Jackets.

Immediately after Saad left, Panarin joined the ‘Hawks and immediately stepped in as a frontline contributor. He’s posted back-to-back 30-goal campaigns — capturing the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie in 2016 — and has been a dynamic offensive player, often alongside Patrick Kane.

As for the money involved, both carry identical $6 million hits. Big difference is that Saad’s locked in through 2021, whereas Panarin is eligible to be a UFA in 2019. So there’s certainly more cost certainty for Bowman with this trade.

More to follow…