HBO to produce documentary series based around Capitals and Penguins in the Winter Classic

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2011winterclassic.jpgAre you ready for some uncensored, behind the scenes NHL action? You’d better be because cable network HBO is going to be jumping head-long into the league to produce a documentary series based around the Penguins and Capitals playing in the Winter Classic this winter. Seth Rorabaugh of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette breaks the news on what it will be like.

It will be similar to the popular “Hard Knocks” series, which has documented the training camps of NFL teams over the past decade. This summer, HBO had full access to the New York Jets.

Much like “Hard Knocks,” this NHL series will have players wearing microphones on and off the ice and would offer an uncensored look at the Penguins and Capitals leading up to the New Year’s Day game. A game between the Penguins and Capitals Dec. 23 in Washington is expected to be one of the main focuses.

HBO’s “Hard Knocks” is what gets everyone’s attention for sure as that’s been a huge hit with NFL fans, but Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites clues in on another HBO series that this would more likely play out like.

And while “Hard Knocks” is being mentioned in the Post-Gazette and Puck Daddy stories, I have a feeling this is going to be of the 24/7 series variety. Hard Knocks is co-produced by NFL Films and HBO. And I believe the name is even owned by the NFL and licensed to HBO.

The 24/7 series is owned by HBO and has focused mostly on boxing, but did venture into NASCAR earlier this year with a look at Jimmie Johnson’s preparation for the Daytona 500.

The 24/7 series has won several Emmy Awards over the years and brings a well-known brand name to the NHL. It also gives the league some free marketing for the Winter Classic through HBO.

Call it “Hard Knocks” or “24/7” or even “Sid and Alex’s Winter Vacation” if you want, we’re sold on this immediately because virtually everything that HBO does that is sports-related is masterfully done. Their work in previous hockey-related productions surrounding the 1980 Miracle On Ice team and the Broad Street Bullies are shining examples of treating hockey stories with both reverence and profound respect while not dumbing things down for everyone watching at home.

The NHL handing the keys off to HBO to produce this documentary series highlighting the two most media-friendly/media-loved teams is a brilliant move to let fans see what guys like Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, and Backstrom are like behind the scenes and off the ice. Getting a more profound view of coaches Bylsma and Boudreau are going to be pleasures to watch. Getting a closer view as to what goes on into putting on a huge event like the Winter Classic will be fascinating.

The only question left is: Will die-hard fans eat it up or will they turn their backs on seeing two media darling teams continue to get more of the spotlight? While we expect there will be plenty of loud grumbling about that, when you’re dealing with two superstars like Crosby and Ovechkin, accepting that they’re going to be the most featured guys in the spotlight is all part of the game. It’s not as if they haven’t earned it after all.

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.

 

Report: Defenseman Viktor Antipin expected to join Sabres next week

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Earlier this month it was reported that defenseman Viktor Antipin was on the verge of joining the Buffalo Sabres after terminating his contract in the KHL.

Following the IIHF World Hockey Championships on Sunday, where Antipin was a key player for the Russian team that won the Bronze Medal, Antipin told a Russian news outlet (via the Buffalo News) that he will be leaving for Buffalo on May 29th so that he can join the Sabres.

The 24-year-old Antipin spent the past six years playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL.

In 59 games this past season he scored six goals and added 18 assists.

He had a really strong showing at the recent World Championship tournament, playing close to 18 minutes per game and recording four assists to go with a plus-five rating.

The Sabres defense was a major sore spot this season as the team took a pretty significant step backward in its ongoing rebuild, resulting in the firing of general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. As a team the Sabres allowed more than 34 shots on goal per game (the worst mark in the league) and 2.82 goals per game (20th in the league).

The only defensemen the Sabres have under contract for the 2017-18 season at the moment are Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Justin Falk so Antipin should get a pretty good opportunity to get a significant role right from the start.

Blues owner gives Armstrong vote of confidence

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Given all the upheaval in St. Louis this season, it was fair to ask questions about GM Doug Armstrong’s job security.

So last week the Post-Dispatch did exactly that, posing the query to Blues owner Tom Stillman: Do you think Armstrong’s the right guy for the job?

“Yes, I do,” Stillman replied. “A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even though it might not lead to as many wins in the current year.

“That’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”

Speaking of term, Armstrong is heading into the last of a five-year deal signed back in 2013. At that time, the Blues were coming off an 109-point campaign and Armstrong was the reigning NHL GM of the Year.

In announcing the deal, Stillman was full of praise.

“First, [Armstrong’s] an outstanding general manager, so we want to make sure he’s with us for a longer period,” he said, per NHL.com. “And second, I think you have to give him time to do his work and develop the team he wants to develop.”

If he extends Armstrong, Stillman could probably use the same quote again.

Because the Blues are, again, sort of in a developmental phase.

First, there was the massive hockey operations overhaul. Over the last three months, Armstrong has given six coaches their walking papers: Ken Hitchcock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, Rick Wilson and Ty Conklin.

Mike Yeo was inserted as the head coach, while Martin Brodeur temporarily added goalie coach to his assistant GM duties, before dropping the role at the end of the season.

(Brodeur will lead the charge to find a replacement, now that he’s back to being AGM and Conklin was let go.)

The coaching shakeup wasn’t the only significant change Armstrong oversaw.

The club’s younger prospects continued to push for bigger roles at the NHL level. At forward, the likes of Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford both worked their way into the mix, while Robby Fabbri was on pace for a career year before a season-ending ACL tear in early February.

The youth movement could continue into next season, too. Tage Thompson, the 6-foot-5 forward taken 26th overall last year, left Connecticut after his sophomore year to turn pro, and gained some valuable experience with AHL Chicago. Vince Dunn, a defenseman taken in the second round in 2015, had a great year with the Wolves and led all d-men in scoring.

So if there’s going to be an ongoing developmental phase in St. Louis, it makes sense that Stillman wants Armstrong to oversee it. He’s done a good job of it throughout his seven years on the job — he’s the NHL’s ninth longest-tenured active GM — and the club has been successful, with five consecutive playoff appearances.

It is worth noting, however, that “club policy” kept Stillman from talking about actually signing Armstrong to an extension.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.