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Report: Winter Classic could be pushed back to prime time evening start

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The weather has been a hot topic for the past week leading up to the 2011 Winter Classic and if reports are to be believed, this year’s game might be getting a later start than scheduled.

With unseasonably warm temperatures and a high likelihood of rain and even thunderstorms moving into Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon, the NHL might be changing the start time for the Winter Classic from 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Katie Carrera of The Washington Post has the report.

The latest weather reports predict about 0.5″ of rain in Pittsburgh between Saturday morning and afternoon, with 80 percent of it falling before 1 p.m. It should taper off around 3-4 p.m., theoretically giving Winter Classic officials time to get the ice ready for faceoff.

NHL officials have been keeping a close eye on the weather updates and Carrera also reports that the NHL will have a decision made by 5:00 pm about what will happen. As it is, the weather today in Pittsburgh was in the low 50s and it felt very warm at field level and it showed on the ice during the Alumni Game and during both team practices. Soft ice is no good for the speed of the game as well as for the ability of the pucks to move and goalies to to play effective in their crease.

We’ll keep you up to date on what happens here in Pittsburgh as it happens.

Update: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will have an update at 5:00 pm as to what the NHL will do.

Devils send ’15 first-rounder Zacha back to junior

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.

Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.

The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.

“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.

The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.

Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.