gyi0062469036-alexovechkin

Now that Alex Kovalev hit 1,000 points, which European NHLer could be next?

Alex Kovalev is many things – talented, enigmatic and inconsistent are some of the most common descriptions for the winger – but one thing that is undeniable is the fact that he’s one of the all-time leading scorers among European-born NHL players.

He solidified that status on Monday by hitting the 1,000 point mark for his career. Oddly enough, he wasn’t the first Ottawa Senators forward to do it this season as Daniel Alfredsson reached that plateau earlier in 2010-11.

Naturally, with Kovalev hitting such an outstanding milestone, it had people wondering: who’s next? NHL.com specifically asked which European player – born and trained outside of Canada – might be the next one to do so? I thought I’d look at some of the most likely candidates and one pair who could be the most interesting case.

Marian Hossa, Chicago
Age: 31
Points: 787 in 850 games

At his current pace, Hossa would need to play another 225 games to reach 1,000 points, meaning he could get the milestone some time early in the 2013-14 season. But injuries could be a problem. Besides missing time earlier this season, he played just 57 games (51 points) last season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Still, he has to be considered the favorite because he has a big lead over other European stars.

My take: With only 213 points to go, I think Hossa is almost a guarantee to hit that mark unless he really falls apart due to injury.

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey
Age: 27
Points: 652 in 641 games

At his current pace, Kovalchuk would need about 340 more games to reach 1,000 points, putting him there early in the 2014-15 season. But that assumes he continues at his career pace — which is a lot faster than his pace with the Devils this season. Kovalchuk was the focus of the offense from the time he arrived in the NHL with the Thrashers until the Devils acquired him last February. Since then, he’s struggled to fit into New Jersey’s system, first under coach Jacques Lemaire and this season under new coach John MacLean.

My take: Not only am I confident that Kovalchuk will hit the 1,000 point mark soon, but I wonder if he might reach that plateau before he wins a playoff series in his career. That’s messed up, I know, but you never know.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington
Age: 25
Points: 555 in 418 games

At his current pace, Ovi would reach the 1,000-point milestone in 335 more games, meaning he’d get there early in 2014-15 — and putting him in a race with Kovalchuk to become the fourth Russian to get there. Both players are big, strong, fast and talented. However, Ovechkin is much more of a physical player, making him more susceptible to injuries — he missed 10 games to injuries and suspensions last season after missing just four (three for a family matter) in his first four seasons.

My take: Not only will Ovechkin hit that one grand mark, he has a great chance to do so before he even turns 30 years old. Maybe the talk of physical play will hamper him in a chase to 2,000 points, but I’ve heard that logic year after year yet he remains far less injury prone than his contemporary point scoring rival Sidney Crosby.

John Kreiser mentions players such as Pavel Dastyuk and Milan Hedjuk among his picks as “longshots” to hit that mark, but the most interesting duo in that group is the Sedin twins.

Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin
Age: 30
Points: 596 in 748 games (Henrik); 571 in 725 games
(Daniel)

Vancouver’s twins may get to 1,000 points (becoming the first twins to do so), but they’ll be hard-pressed to get there before players like Hossa, Kovalchuk or Ovechkin. Still, both are coming off their best seasons in the NHL and have produced 24 points in 20 games for the Canucks this season. Even if they produce at last season’s rate of roughly 1.36 points per game, they each would need nearly five full seasons to reach 1,000 points — by which time Hossa, Kovalchuk and Ovechkin (and maybe more) should be past that mark.

My take: Sure, they won’t be the next ones to get there, but considering the fact that their less-than-rugged styles will keep them relatively less exposed to injury, I think they will become the first pair of twins to score 1,000 points each. Heck, it might only take five more seasons if they keep playing like they have been.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers at Penguins on Rivalry Night

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Three
Leave a comment

Tonight, the New York Rangers are in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins at Consol, in a rematch of the ’14 and ’15 playoffs (the Blueshirts eliminated the Pens from each of the last two postseasons, you’ll recall.)

You can catch the game at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, or watch live online with NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some relevant linkage for tonight’s tilt:

NHL on NBCSN: Rangers, Penguins renew acquaintances on Rivalry Night

Rangers ‘are doing a lot of good things’

‘I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

Malkin (lower body) to miss rest of week

Crosby, Karlsson and Trocheck are NHL’s three stars of the week

Report: With Byfuglien sticking in Winnipeg, Kings ‘may now turn their attention’ to Ladd

Andrew Ladd, Anze Kopitar
1 Comment

Maybe Dean Lombardi and Kevin Cheveldayoff still have something to discuss after all.

Sure, those Dustin Byfuglien-to-Los Angeles rumors are now dead — On Monday, Big Buff signed a five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets  — but a new rumor has emerged, one that suggests the Kings are interested in another of Winnipeg’s pending UFAs:

Andrew Ladd.

More, from the Free Press:

The common thinking now regarding Ladd is with Byfuglien now committed to a new five-year, US$38-million extension, the window to re-sign the captain is being slammed shut, especially knowing the young core of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Adam Lowry all become restricted free agents this summer and will earn raises.

[Cheveldayoff], not surprisingly, offered no hints Monday after the Byfuglien announcement. Sources say the Jets and Ladd’s camp have kept communication open, but that hardly means a deal is close to getting done. In fact, if anything, the Byfuglien signing has only cranked up more Ladd speculation, including rumours the Los Angeles Kings — who were also thought to be in on any potential Byfuglien trade discussion — may now turn their attention to the Jets captain.

Ladd’s currently in the last of a five-year, $22 million deal with a $4.4M cap hit and, per TSN senior correspondent Gary Lawless, is seeking a six-year extension “with an average annual value north of $6 million.”

Which explains why the Jets might be forced to move him.

That L.A. is in the mix shouldn’t come as a surprise. Lombardi has a history of swinging for the fences with his deadline acquisitions — Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Andrej Sekera, to name a few — and Ladd has a ton of postseason experience, with two Stanley Cups on his resume.

Report: Jets, Ladd break off contract talks

At season’s end, Holland will ‘plot a plan’ to deal with Red Wings’ goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
AP
3 Comments

“As we wake up today, obviously Petr Mrazek is our number-one guy.”

That was Detroit GM Ken Holland today on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa, when asked about his goaltending situation.

“Obviously” was the right word to use.

Mrazek, 23, has been brilliant this season, going 20-10-4 with a .933 save percentage. Without him, it’s fair to wonder if the Wings would be in a playoff spot.

But Mrazek, a pending restricted free agent, has also created a problem of sorts for Holland. That’s because 31-year-old Jimmy Howard is already locked up through 2018-19 for a cap hit of almost $5.3 million — and that’s a lot of money to pay a backup, especially one with a .904 save percentage.

Holland said he isn’t focused on that now.

“When the year’s out and I’ve got all the information, I’ll sit down and plot a plan heading into the offseason,” he said. “But for now, we’ve got a top, young goaltender in Petr Mrazek and we’ve got a guy that’s in the prime of his career, Jimmy Howard, that’s been the number-one guy here.

“It’s been tough for [Howard] recently; every time he plays a game he seems to play the second game of a back-to-back. … He’s had some real tough games against some real good teams, hasn’t had a lot of puck luck. Our team really hasn’t played very well for him when he’s been in there, but he keeps battling and he keeps competing.”

The challenge for Holland might be to sell that story to another GM, because Howard’s save percentage has been below the league average the past three seasons.

Related: Howard pulled again, calls his performance ‘unacceptable’

With 1967 expansion, the NHL ‘spread the game from California to New York’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04:  Los Angeles Kings fans gather outside of the arena prior to Game One of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

The NHL’s “great expansion” of 1967 delivered hockey to California, led to the “Broad Street Bullies” and legitimized the league as a major force in North American professional sports.

Fifty years ago this week, the owners of the Original Six teams unanimously approved doubling in size by awarding franchises to Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul. No other pro sports league had ever doubled the number of its teams and the move was considered a gamble.

It proved to be one of the most important decisions in hockey history, and helped convince many that the NHL was for real.

“It had a major impact on the league because thereafter there was almost a lineup for other cities to want to join the league,” said Brian O’Neill, the league’s former director of administration who oversaw the 1967 expansion draft and scheduling. “That was a key to the expansion, to spread the game from California to New York. … It convinced a lot of people that hockey was a major sport now and it was coast-to-coast and that selling franchises would not be difficult.”

From 1943 to 1967, the NHL was a stable, six-team league made up of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The move to expand came in the league’s 50th season amid plenty of internal debate.

Owners considered adding two teams at a time, but at their Feb. 7-9 meeting in New York they unanimously approved what President Clarence Campbell later referred to as the “great expansion.” Hockey had some catching up to do: Major League Baseball had 20 teams, the National Basketball Association had nine and the National Football League had 14, with more on the way.

The MLB, the NBA and NFL all had a presence in California, too, something the NHL needed.

“The big issue, of course, is television,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “They wanted to get national. That’s why it was important to have L.A. and at that time Oakland, and then all the others followed in.”

Owners each paid the $2 million expansion fee, and the Los Angeles Kings and California Seals joined the fold along with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars. New owners needed the draw of facing traditional opponents while the old guard owners wanted to make sure their teams could still win, so the expansion teams went into the new West Division with the champions of East and West meeting for the Stanley Cup.

The goal was to help the new teams but not hurt the old ones.

“When they made expansion, they took the players that were expendable, put them on a team and called them a team,” said Bob Kelly, who was part of the early Flyers teams. “We didn’t have the real identity that an Original Six team has or the history behind that. (We were) just happy to be in the NHL.”

It worked in most places, as an Original Six team won the Cup the first six years before Kelly and the Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” teams broke through with back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

“Really, the Original Six was kind of who we were, and then all of a sudden here we are an expansion team and seven years later we were able to win the Cup,” Kelly said Wednesday. “That’s what you dream about as a kid.”

Despite the Oakland-based Seals never catching on and moving to Cleveland before folding in 1978, the NHL expanded to such places as Vancouver, Buffalo, Long Island and Washington, and reached 21 teams with the integration of the World Hockey Association in 1979.

Hockey returned to the Bay Area with the San Jose Sharks in 1991, and after the North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993, Minnesota got the Wild in 2000. The NHL returned to Atlanta (which didn’t work) and Denver (which did) and has landed in nontraditional markets like Phoenix, South Florida and Tampa.

The league stands at 30 teams and is considering expanding once again to either 31 or 32, with Las Vegas and Quebec City under consideration.