Could four extra inches behind the net open up 'Gretzky's office' again?

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ingretzkysoffice.jpgIn Oliver Stone’s otherwise middling football move “Any Give Sunday,” Al Pacino gives a great and typically over-the-top speech about the sport (and life) being a “game of inches.” If hockey is the same way, a small change could pay dividends for the NHL’s most clever players.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa discussed the NHL’s subtle decision to decrease the depth of its nets by four inches, a small-and-barely-noticeable change that could be a boon to the best finesse players and defensemen. Even if it’s a tiny difference.

One of the minor tweaks made during last month’s research and development camp in Toronto was to reduce the depth of the net by 4 inches. By creating just that much more space behind the net, NHL thinkers believe it could free up room for offensive chances at one end and breakouts at the other.

There used to be a time when Wayne Gretzky made his living behind the net, holding onto the puck and looking to set up teammates for in-front chances. But one of the most significant shifts across the league has been the embrace of collapsing zone defenses.

In Gretzky’s prime, coaches were still instructing their forwards to stretch out and take away the points. Now, the emphasis is on eliminating the slot as a danger area.

Defensemen are stationed in front of the net. Forwards are scurrying away from the points and collapsing. As a result, there is less breathing room in front, and playmakers haven’t been as free to create from behind the net.

Perhaps with a few more inches of open ice, a playmaker like Nicklas Backstrom could dangle around defensemen, force others to commit one way, then look for Alex Ovechkin the other way.

As superhuman as Wayne Gretzky and other prolific scorers look in those hazy replays from the 1980s, one thing that also stands out is the absurd amount of space defenders used to give up. To say that coaches have caught up to many of the best offensive tricks is an understatement. There’s a reason why the league keeps searching for little ways to open up the game, even if it’s come a long way since the putrid Dead Puck Era of the mid-to-late 90s.

It won’t make the passing lanes any bigger, but I’d love to get the chance to watch Marc Savard, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and Backstrom show up to work in “Gretzky’s Office” more often. Perhaps this tweak will make that entertaining option more viable for NHL teams.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

Andreychuk confident that Stamkos will re-sign in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Former Tampa Bay Lightning player Dave Andreychuk is now a member of the club’s senior management team, and he’s confident that the Bolts won’t lose Steven Stamkos to unrestricted free agency this summer.

“Steven is going to come back. He’s going to be fine,” Andreychuk told Hockey Central today, per Sportsnet.ca.

“I still believe that Steve Yzerman is trying whatever he can do to sign Steven Stamkos, and I believe it will happen.”

Andreychuk — whose official title is VP Corporate & Community Affairs — is not part of the Lightning’s hockey operations, but presumably he speaks with Yzerman, the general manager, from time to time.

Of course, the challenge for Yzerman goes well beyond re-signing the captain. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin.

All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next.

Stamkos, Hedman, and Bishop are pending UFAs, while the other five are pending RFAs.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks

Hendricks to captain U.S. at Worlds for second straight year

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 01:  Matt Hendricks of USA celebrates goal of his team-mates during the IIHF World Championship group B match between USA and Finland at CEZ Arena on May 1, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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Last year, Matt Hendricks captained Team USA to bronze at the World Hockey Championships, marking just the second time in the last 11 years the U.S. had medaled.

So, why not go back to Hendricks again?

That’s what USA Hockey opted to do on Wednesday, announcing the Edmonton forward would reprise his role as team captain for the 2016 tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Columbus’ Nick Foligno and Arizona’s Connor Murphy were named alternate captains.

Hendricks had a pretty solid tournament for the U.S. last year, scoring two goals and three points in 10 games — an effort made more impressive by the fact it was his first time representing the U.S. internationally.

The U.S. gets its ’16 Worlds campaign underway on Friday, with a game against Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NBCSN, and a live stream will be available on NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”