The NHL research and development camp takes a look at moving one referee off the ice

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tennisump.jpgI called the NHL research and development camp a mad hockey laboratory before, and – no doubt about it – the event features some odd little hockey experiments. We plan on discussing some of the most interesting ideas and studies taking place in the two-day event, but one of the most interesting changes could affect how referees see the game.

The league used Scott Ferguson as a “guinea pig” to see want kind of benefits would come from placing one official on an elevated platform off the ice instead of having a traditional spot between the boards. NHL.com features an interesting story about the experience, which might compare to being a tennis chair umpire like the one in the photo for this post.

“I think there is good and bad to it,” he said. “It’s good in regard that when (Lewis) is down at the net I can see what is going on behind him. Say we have a scrum at the net and the D-men come in, I can always communicate with him. I can watch the changes on the bench so if we have a too-many-men-on-the-ice situation, I can see that. But you don’t feel the game. You don’t feel when the intensity starts to rise and that was the tough part about it.”

He also said he didn’t think he had a better look at the game from his elevated post, and he did not see the far end of the ice well.

“Certain angles you could see better, like, say, along the boards. But I would say definitely you could not see better as being on the ice,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson was able to make five penalty calls during the game, but pointed out that he struggled to communicate with his reffing partner Dave Lewis. Then again, there was the amusing benefit of not being able to hear coach Ken Hitchcock barking at him for a call or lack of a call. Having some eyes outside the fray might have a “Big Brother” effect, although unlike in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, that virtual omniscience could make for some cleaner play.

Interesting because, as Hitchcock noted, having Ferguson in his elevated position meant the players couldn’t get away with anything cheap behind the play.

“He can see everything, and when you’re up that high the game is slower, so I think the players mentally are more careful,” Hitchcock said. “A couple of guys commented that you’re not going to get away with anything. It’s an interesting concept because if you’re talking about cleaning up the dirty work behind the play, you’re not going to get away with anything with a guy standing there.”

The idea certainly has some merit, but I doubt that we’d see it in action any time soon. Of course, one of the biggest reasons why it might not ever happen is as simple as dollars and cents: would an NHL team want to block off some of their most expensive seats so an official could stand on such a perch? I highly doubt it, but it would be interesting if it made officiating a more “exact science” in hockey.

Update: Here is a video of referees commenting on the changed vantage point.

Brian Gionta goes from captaining U.S. Olympic team to Boston Bruins

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Brian Gionta was hoping to use the 2018 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to showcase his game to NHL teams after not being re-signed by the Buffalo Sabres last season.

On Sunday, the Boston Bruins felt he could help them down the stretch and signed the 39-year-old forward to a contract for the remainder of the season. Gionta will earn a pro-rated $700,000 salary.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has been busy. He’s traded for Nick Holden to bolster his blue line, acquired Rick Nash to strengthen his forward group and now added Gionta for some depth up front. “If there is an area we can continue to supplement our group, we will do that,” he said on Saturday.

[Rick Nash addition shows Bruins loading up for Stanley Cup run]

In order to play in the postseason, Gionta, who’s no stranger to Boston having helped deliver a national title to Boston College in 2001, needed to sign a contract by Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Despite spending all summer as an unrestricted free agent, Gionta still hadn’t shut the door on the NHL. “If the right situation came across, I’d have to think long and hard about it, for sure,” he told me in November.

Gionta went pointless in five games in PyeongChang while captaining the Americans, who were bounced in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic. He looked very much his 39 years on the big ice, but maybe a return to the NHL could rejuvenate him? He did score 15 goals and recorded 35 points in 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17.

It’s a low-risk move for the Bruins. If it doesn’t work out, Gionta’s not an anchor on their salary cap and they can part ways. If he can contribute, it was worth the lottery ticket for Sweeney.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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

Trade: Blue Jackets welcome back a familiar face in Mark Letestu in three-way deal

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Why the Predators are making this trade: Picks are nice. Teams like draft picks. Aberg also hadn’t played in 10 days and his future in the Music City was in doubt. Perhaps the deal is part of a bigger plan for general manager David Poile, who apparently are in the running for Erik Karlsson. (Wouldn’t that be something.)

Or maybe another conspiracy?

Why the Oilers are making this trade: Two words: Fire. Sale. The Oilers need to dump pending unrestricted free agents and get something in return. Aberg is the return. He wasn’t a fit on a very strong Predators team but perhaps could offer something to the Oilers going forward. He has one year left on a two-year, $1.3 million deal.

Or maybe not:

Why the Blue Jackets are making this trade: The Blue Jackets needed help in their bottom six and get some with veteran center Letestu, who will likely be hungry to perform as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Letestu knows the area well, having played parts of four season with the Blue Jackets. He has eight goals and 19 points in 60 games this season.

Perhaps some further context as well:

Who won this trade: Another one of these even deals, for the most part. Blue Jackets get depth, Predators grab a pick. But what do the Oilers gain in Aberg? He’s a cheap player going forward, but his metrics aren’t great. Maybe a change of scenery will help. Edmonton got something for a pending UFA, so that’s something.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Trade: Maple Leafs add depth, acquire veteran center Tomas Plekanec

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in the deal.

Why the Maple Leafs are making this trade: Plekanec slides right into a fourth line center role with the Leafs as an upgrade over Dominic Moore. The 35-year-old’s production might be waning, but he’s still a solid two-way center that can be counted on to be responsible in the defensive zone. He could also move right into the mix on Toronto’s top penalty kill unit. Immediately, he could also help fill the gaps with Auston Matthews out of the lineup due to injury.

With the Canadiens retaining 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in his final season of a two-year, $12 million contract, the Leafs can still stay busy in the trade market without immediate worry about cap woes.

According to CapFriendly, the Leafs still have $3,423,334 worth of cap room to play with.

Why the Canadiens are making this trade: Well, for starters, getting a return for Plekanec, a pending unrestricted free agent, was a must. And they certainly got a nice haul for him. The Canadiens, who look to be entering a time of rebuilding, now have four second-round picks — and nine total — in the 2018 draft after Sunday’s trade. That pick is the primary factor in this trade.

Rychel led the Toronto Marlies in scoring last season, but hasn’t been able to crack the Leafs after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rychel was taken 19th overall in the 2013 draft and has 37 NHL games under his belt.

Valiev has 10 NHL games. He’s shown some promise as a depth, safe defenseman.

Who won the trade? It’s a trade that benefits both sides. The playoff-bound Maple Leafs add depth to the spine of the forward contingent. Also, they get a guy who has quite a bit of playoff experience. Plekanec has played in 87 postseason games, amassing 16 goals and 49 points, including 11 points in 19 games during the 2009-10 season. The Canadiens add another pick to their stable, and get two prospects that will likely get looks before the end of the season.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

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WATCH LIVE on NBC – 12 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

St. Louis Blues

Forwards

Ivan BarbashevPaul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Sobotka

Alexander SteenPatrik BerglundNikita Soshnikov

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakDmitrij Jaskin

Defenseman

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko

Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

Nashville Predators

Forwards

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Scott HartnellNick BoninoCalle Jarnkrok

Miikka SalomakiColton SissonsAustin Watson

Defenseman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck