Mike Milbury’s Hat Trick

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Each week here at ProHockeyTalk, NHL on NBC’s Mike Milbury gives us his take on three hot topics of discussion around the league. We’re happy to have Mike join us and give us his unique and fiery opinions on what’s going on in the NHL.

Who comes out ahead in the Wojtek Wolski-Michal Rozsival trade between New York and Phoenix?

I think both teams got things that they needed. Obviously it’s a positional trade, a winger for a defenseman. Phoenix has needs and a lack of depth at the position they opted for Rozsival despite his age and despite the fact that he’s got a contract that goes for another year. Because of the injuries that have occurred to the Rangers they opt for a one-time goal scorer who’s not playing great hockey right now but he’s young and he’s fitting a pattern the Rangers follow right now. He fills a need and serves their purposes for that and youth.

Skill players like Wolski seem to get a few more passes than then average Joe. A guy that can put the puck in the back of the net is a valuable resource. There are many people that will take a shot at a guy that might need to mature a little bit. It might be his last chance to prove himself but it would surprise me if it is. That all depends on Wolski and how he performs. The Rangers and John Tortorella are hoping that he can get hot once again and do it consistently.

With the teams being announced for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, what are your thoughts on the game itself?

I hate the All-Star Game. It sucks. I wish they’d just throw it away. I hate the Pro Bowl, I don’t like the NBA All-Star Game, I don’t even like what Major League Baseball does, although I will tune in for the home run hitting contest.

We’ve got a spectacular for the sport in the Winter Classic. I don’t like the All-Star Game and I wish we’d be the first sport to get rid of it. I know it’s a chance to shmooze some sponsors. It’s a business decision to show promote the identity of the players and sell it to big sponsors. There’s got to be a better way to do that though. Maybe a golf tournament in the middle of the summer when the guys are relaxed.

But to pull out a four-day weekend in the middle of an 82-game schedule to is nonsensical for me and from the players standpoint. You ask players and they’re honored to be selected whether it’s their first or their 50th time. But it becomes more of a burden than a pleasure to go to these things.

I’ve coached in an All-Star Game and you barely see these guys. Their itinerary is chock full of activities and social events and they barely get time for themselves. They do all this and then they’re back on a plane and back to join their teams for the re-start of the regular season. It doesn’t serve them well and it doesn’t serve the game well in that it tires players out. It adds something to the business side of things, I get that part of it, I just wish they’d find a better way to expose the players to the major sponsors and make them more sociable at that point.

There’s a handful of teams facing struggles right now. What’s out there for Ottawa and Los Angeles to do to change things up?

Ottawa’s missing some key offensive players despite Kovalev’s lack of production and they still believe he’s a bonafide offensive producer and they’re still without Jason Spezza. You take out two ice time eaters and major producers you’re going to suffer. It’s gone way past that.

Brian Elliott looked tough in goal, their defense was shoddy last night, Sergei Gonchar is not the Gonchar that we’ve come to expect, and Daniel Alfredsson is not having a banner year. They look like a team that’s lacking in focus and discipline and in desperate need of a change of some type or another. I’m not close enough to them to say the coach should go or the manager must go, but all in all last night (a 6-0 loss to Boston) was a real rough performance. This is a team that now trails Toronto in points in the Eastern Conference, that’s not a slam on Toronto just showing where they’re at and it’s not good.

As for Los Angeles, Terry Murray has been a good coach for a long time and maybe he’s changed his ways in recent years but he used to be a real stern taskmaster. I’m not there to watch his practices but you wonder if that’s the approach the Kings need at this point.

I don’t think that’s going to happen during the course of this season, but maybe he’s developed, the way Michel Therrien did in Pittsburgh, a work ethic and an identity and a defensive scheme and then that style may not be the right fit now.  I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon though. I’m not saying Terry Murry is a bad coach, he’s a very good coach. It’s just that sometimes the fit is off and you take a team as far as you can take them and then you hand them off. It might be coming to that time in L.A.

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Got a question you’d like for us to ask Mike? Leave one for us in the comments or e-mail us at prohockeytalk@gmail.com to pass it along and share it with you in the future.

WATCH LIVE: Edmonton Oilers at St. Louis Blues

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It’s not even December and the St. Louis Blues (31 points) almost have double the standings points as the Edmonton Oilers (16).

One could have predicted the Blues – a team that just keeps unearthing talent and competing, even if the deep playoff runs remain frustratingly rare – would be a good team. Some might have seen the Oilers slipping. But both of these factors, particularly with the Blues’ bevvy of injuries? It’s quite the mind-number.

While Connor McDavid absorbs some heat and the Oilers already wonder if they can make the playoffs, the Blues get Jay Bouwmeester back and some wonder if St. Louis has just about locked up a spot.

With all this in mind, it’s still not out of the question to imagine this being a playoff series, and my, is there a lot of talent involved. McDavid’s joined by the likes of Leon Draisaitl, while the Blues throw out a line that must be considered among the best in the NHL in Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, and a rising Brayden Schenn.

It should be a fascinating game to check on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

For an in-depth preview, check out this post.

Canucks’ Dorsett returns to Vancouver for precautionary reasons

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Derek Dorsett’s remarkable comeback story has taken an unfortunate turn.

Dorsett won’t play on Tuesday in Philadelphia against the Flyers and may be sidelined for some time after the Canucks revealed Dorsett is dealing with complications that appear to stem from last season’s spinal surgery, which forced him to miss 68 games last season.

Via the Canucks Twitter account:

Derek Dorsett returned to Vancouver today for precautionary reasons to be evaluated by medical staff. His rehab following a cervical fusion procedure last year progressed well, consistent with expectations, and resulted in his fitness to play.

Recently, symptoms of neck and back stiffness presented. Given the nature of the injury and surgery, it was determined the best course of action is for a specialist to review his status. Derek will be assessed to determine cause and treatment of the symptoms before any further action is taken.

Dorsett’s surgery, according to Sportsnet, was a brutal procedure of getting “cut through the front of his neck, pull his vocal chords aside, remove a damaged disc between his C5 and C6 vertebrae, replace it with a washer and chunk of bone from his hip, then screw the vertebrae together so the tissue could fuse.”

Canucks head coach Travis Green spoke to the media prior to Tuesday’s game.

“I think the symptoms just slowly came around the last week or so,” Green said. “He’s been kind of dealing with it the past several days, week.”

Playing in a fourth-line checking role, Dorsett had also found his scoring touch with seven goals and nine points playing with Brandon Sutter and Sam Gagner.

Green didn’t want Tuesday’s setback to take away from Dorsett’s comeback this season.

“I don’t want to talk like it was a remarkable comeback. It still is,” Green said. “He’s had a great start to the year, he’s been a big part of our team. Hopefully, he’s joining our group again soon.”

Green said it was too early to talk about when Dorsett would play again.

“I think we just call it wait and see… that’s all there is right now,” he said.


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

NHL awards: Handing out hardware at the season’s quarter mark

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Almost every NHL team has hit the 20-game mark, which means it’s time to look back at the first month and a half of the season and see who’s ahead of the pack for some of the league’s top hardware.

A lot will change between now and June, but certainly some of the players named below will still be in the mix come awards season while others will tail off after hot starts.

HART TROPHY

Who is the most valuable to their team? That’s a tough choice as you look at some of the performances so far this season. Nikita Kucherov (17-16—33) can’t stop scoring and Steven Stamkos (10-25—35) is averaging 1.75 points per night for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jaden Schwartz (10-16—26) is powering the St. Louis Blues. Johnny Gaudreau (10-21—31) is leading the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky it tops among all goaltenders with a .941 even strength save percentage.

There are a number of strong candidates for the Hart at the quarter mark. If voting took place now, how many votes would Kucherov and Stamkos split? And would that allow Bobrovsky to sneak in and steal it? Or does Bob have enough love right now to surpass the Lightning duo?

Our vote:
1. Bobrovsky

2. Kucherov
3. Schwartz

NORRIS TROPHY

Alex Pietrangelo and John Klingberg are all tied for the scoring lead among blue liners with 19 points, but lookie here, it’s Erik Karlsson, he of five games missed this season, lurking behind them at 17. He also has the best Corsi (56 percent, via Corsica) out of the top scoring defensemen and is averaging 1.21 points per game. Victor Hedman is also just behind with 15 points and 25:18 of ice time a night.

Our vote:
1. Karlsson

2. Pietrangelo
3. Hedman

VEZINA TROPHY

Outside of Bob, you have Andrei Vasilievskiy’s play helping the Lightning to a ridiculous start. He has a .931 ESSV and has played the seventh-most minutes (1,024:24). There’s also Connor Hellebuyck (.938) and Corey Crawford (.932) to consider; both have been key reasons for why their teams currently reside in playoff positions.

But in the end it’s hard to top what Bobrovsky is doing in Columbus. And it goes to show, as we’ve seen the last few years, just how good he is when healthy.

Our vote:
1. Bobrovsky

2. Hellebuyck
3. Crawford

CALDER TROPHY

In October, Clayton Keller (11-9—20) of the Arizona Coyotes appeared to have one hand on the rookie of the year award. But then a few other names entered the picture, like Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, who sits second in rookie scoring with 4 goals and 19 points. Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks (7-10—17) is a bright ray of hope for the franchise. New Jersey Devils blue liner Will Butcher has been an assist machine with 14 of his 16 points recorded as helpers.

Speaking of rookie defensemen, Charlie McAvoy has 10 points for the Boston Bruins, but just as impressive is the fact that he’s averaging 23:16 a night next to Zdeno Chara. No other freshman skater is over 20 minutes a night.

One goaltender of note is Charlie Lindgren (.929), who has played well filling in for Carey Price. But that’s not going to last once the Montreal Canadiens get their franchise goaltender back from injury very soon.

Our vote:
1. Keller

2. Barzal
3. McAvoy

JACK ADAMS AWARD

Who had the Vegas Golden Knights sitting in a playoff spot and not a lottery spot this season? Well, through the quarter mark, Gerard Gallant’s men have used a strong home record (8-1-0) to get off to an historic start.

There’s also plenty of praise for the jobs that Jon Cooper and Mike Yeo are doing in Tampa and St. Louis, respectively, but typically this award ends up going to a team that exceeded expectations or made a huge turnaround from either the current season or previous year. That’s why if they keep up the pace, John Hynes of the New Jersey Devils and Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets will find themselves getting some coach of the year love in June.

Our vote:
1. Gallant

2. Cooper
3. Hynes

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BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – TEAM

The Edmonton Oilers were a trendy Stanley Cup pick before the season after a nice playoff run last spring. But it’s all come crashing back down to earth as they sit out of the Western Conference playoff picture and three points ahead of the league-worst Arizona Coyotes. The Montreal Canadiens have been an interesting mess and we’re waiting on the Philadelphia Flyers to take that next step with some exciting young players. The Dallas Stars seem to have issues living up expectations, while Bruce Boudreau’s penchant for winning division titles could take a hit for a second straight season with the Minnesota Wild.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – PLAYER

It took until game No. 18 for Ryan Johansen, owner of a new $8 million cap hit, to score his first goal of the season for the Nashville Predators. Steve Mason (.879 ESSV) was handed a nice $8.2 million deal over the summer but has watched as Hellebuyck has taken the No. 1 job for the Jets. Martin Hanzal was given a three-year, $14.25 million deal by the Stars and has one goal through 17 games. Ben Bishop also hasn’t quite lit it up for the Stars with a .904 ESSV. Carey Price is injured, but sure wasn’t playing like his old self before he left the Canadiens lineup. His .877 ESSV is downright ugly.

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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.

Dallas Stars head coach fed up with injury rigmarole

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Now here’s a trend we could all get behind.

Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock told members of the media on Tuesday that he wants to “stop the dance” when it comes to revealing information about his injured players.

Via Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic:

“I think we collectively hate playing the game. What I mean by that is we say ‘upper body,’ then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. We try to make your work easier, quite frankly, and so we just don’t like going through the dance.

“It’s just easy to tell you what it is and let’s move forward. It’s just the whole game. It’s an injury, and within two hours after we tell you it’s ‘upper body,’ you know exactly what it is, so why not just tell you? And the players don’t go out and say, ‘He has a broken left pinky and we’re going to go after the pinky.’ Nobody thinks like that. Our feeling is just tell them what the injury is and move it forward and just stop the dance.”

Perhaps Hitchcock, who has been coaching in the NHL since 1995, is just tired of the same old rigmarole he’s dealt with for the past 20-plus years. Reporters everywhere are too.

It’s also likely that most fans would also appreciate a higher level of transparency from the team they spend hundreds on for tickets each night.

Right, Montreal?

Given the mayhem that has ensued for the Canadiens over the status of Carey Price’s lower body, perhaps more teams will alleviate future headaches before they set in by adopting this route.

What is certain is that hockey scribes everywhere just became the biggest Hitchcock fans.

For now, if you’re looking for some of the Stars’ state secrets, they can be had on their official Twitter account:


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