NBC’s Doc Emrick gives his thoughts on the intrigue of this year’s All-Star Weekend

2 Comments

NHL on NBC’s lead play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick will be on the mic for the NHL SuperSkills Saturday night and All-Star Game Sunday afternoon for Versus and if you asked him, the way the team draft plays out on Friday night for the NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft at 8 p.m. the real drama kicks the weekend off right.

“It used to be that the first day of All-Star Weekend was a travel day. Now with the draft on Friday it’s arguably the most looked forward to part of it all. During our Winter Classic broadcast, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, and Darren Pang had a sort of mock trial about all this and Mike asked, ‘Do you pick your friends or do you pick the guys you figure will make the best team?’ It’s a great question and it’s a great concept.You know, it makes it so fun especially when it comes down to who ends up getting picked last.”

Emrick is one of the biggest appreciators of the game around and it’s something that you can tell in how he calls a game on the air. While being a professional at what he does at calling the games he finds it’s hard to not be a fan with how the selection process will break down especially with so many possible story lines to go through that may come up suddenly on Friday night, especially with the Staal boys. With the fantasy draft on Friday night, he’s now got an event he’s looking forward to more than an old stand by.

“I always liked seeing Zdeno Chara taking the hardest shot and whether or not he could break his mark from the previous year. But now our thoughts don’t turn to that as much as it does to who’s is going to choose whom and at what point and what statement is being made by that. All this speculation about that, it helps make this meet up that much more fun.”

It’s hard not to be caught in thinking about how the Fantasy Draft will turn out on Friday night. After all, we don’t even have teams and rosters to break down and compare to one another. All we’ve got for now is that Eric Staal has Washington’s Mike Green and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler as his assistants while Nick Lidstrom has Martin St. Louis and Patrick Kane helping him out. Everything else is up in the air now especially with Sidney Crosby and Ales Hemsky out of the game with injuries.

With all the attention being on these guys for how things will play out on Friday night, some are wondering whether or not it’ll make for good television. Emrick says that rather than hamming it up as showmen, Staal and Lidstrom would be better served to do things the same way they always have.

“I don’t know whether they’re going to turn into showbiz guys. To tell you the honest truth, I’d be a little disappointed if they did because that’s not the personality of either one. They’re decisive guys. If they’re going to end up showboating or anything like that, that would be a bit that’s out of character for them,” Emrick says.

“If they’re going to have fun with it though, that’s great. Their idea of fun might be different than that of somebody who’s in the entertainment business. The good news is they’re going to be making some great hockey. I’m going to be a fan of the whole thing too.”

Often times folks look at the All-Star Game with a bit of a cynical view and while that’s understandable in some cases, it’s also a stress-free way to show off the game and with how things will set up for Sunday via Friday night’s draft you have to be a pretty hardened character to not look at this whole thing with a sense of wonderment and curiosity.

If you’ve ever played a video game or fantasy hockey (or fantasy sports of any kind) you always wondered how the team you’ve picked would shake out. It’s just one game, but if heard it from Doc Emrick, you’d start to see that maybe looking at things so cut and dried is maybe missing the point of it all.

“The players don’t think much about the business side of things when they’re out on the ice. Once that puck drops, they’re going to be doing the absolute best they can with the skill sets they have and probably have a lot of smiles on their faces because they know it doesn’t cost them anything in the standings,” Emrick says.

“That’s the reason the video you see from all-star games shows players laughing. This is not the serious business of moving up in the standings this is just having a little fun on the weekend and let’s see what happens.”

Canada would consider Doan, Iginla for 2018 Winter Olympics

Getty
Leave a comment

When discussing the construction of Canada’s possible roster heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, Sean Burke can be almost frustratingly coy. Still, in leaving virtually every available avenue at least conceivably open, he leaves room for some fascinating scenarios.

It might be tough to top this one discussed on TSN’s Overdrive 1050: if NHL teams pass on signing Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, perhaps the Olympics could be their swan song?

Yes, there are quite a few “ifs” involved, but it’s an intriguing thought during the dog days of the hockey summer.

Burke likely presented more realistic possibilities in acknowledging that professional players plying their trade in Europe, particularly the KHL, might be the greatest source for talent.

“Most of our players will be guys that come from Europe playing in the KHL,” Burke said to TSN’s Overdrive 1050.

When pondering possible entries, recent international tournaments could be helpful.

Looking at Canada’s 2016 Deutschland Cup roster and who they’re sending to the 2017 Sochi Open, NHL castoffs such as Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Nigel Dawes, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Lee, and Mason Raymond all seem likely logical choices. College players such as Cale Makar make things more complicated – both for Canada and the U.S. – as well.

In a separate interview with TSN, Burke noted that he would rather not supply specific names himself. Even in being vague, he provided an additional interesting detail: upcoming tournaments may illuminate what Canada lacks on its roster as much as who could have a leg-up on making the team.

And, if nothing else, they’ll get a good look at some players through a rigorous process.

Wow.

That notion makes you wonder if AHL players will be at a significant disadvantage to make both Team Canada and the United States rosters. As the Associated Press notes, AHL teams look poised to loan certain players, but only for a window of Feb. 5-26.

Burke notes that he’ll want a significant chunk of his roster more or less settled around December, and he already pointed to a preference for those who are playing in Europe.

Now, that doesn’t mean Canada or the U.S. will ignore an obvious AHL talent – if available – yet it sounds like those players would face an uphill battle to making the 2018 Winter Olympics.

That said, a lot can change, especially considering how often injuries can throw a wrench in things.

As much as we’d all love to watch a “best-on-best” tournament featuring NHL players, the alternative is also intriguing: seeing how different teams construct rosters from a variety of other leagues/resources.

And, hey, it could be awfully fun to see the likes of Iginla and/or Doan leading a motley crew of young players and former NHLers. Such a thought might even get Doan to admit that he was out of bounds in blaspheming “Miracle.”

Zibanejad jumps at opportunity to be Rangers’ No. 1 center

Getty
1 Comment

It’s reasonable to assume that the New York Rangers were comfortable trading Derek Stepan in part because they believed Mika Zibanejad could step into the No. 1 center role.

That puts a lot of pressure on Zibanejad, who’s never been the top pivot on an NHL team before. If that wasn’t enough, now he’ll need to justify the first big contract of his career (seeing his cap hit rise from $2.625 million to $5.35 million).

MORE: Rangers lock up Zibanejad for five years

At least he isn’t oblivious to this challenge, and as the Rangers website notes, he’s actually super happy* to raise the stakes.

“I think even before signing, seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “As a player, you always want more responsibility and a bigger role. It’s something that I’m working really hard to make sure that I’m … taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”

Stepan drew criticism – arguably unfair criticism – from Rangers fans for not being quite the No. 1 center many of them wanted, so it will be interesting to see how Zibanejad handles the challenge/burden.

If you were to grade his first season with the Rangers, you might be tempted to hand him an “Incomplete.”

Injuries really limited him for much of 2016-17, but when he played, he was solid, scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 56 games. Zibanejad had a flair for the dramatic, too.

Still, in full seasons, Zibanejad’s produced nice-but-unspectacular numbers. Two straight 20+ goal seasons to finish his Senators days were helpful, but many of his stats more or less fell in line with Stepan’s production.

Now, at 24, it’s reasonable to believe that Zibanejad’s best days are in front of him. It’s also true that, while he’s received nice opportunities to succeed, he wasn’t quite getting those top-line reps that Stepan received.

In all likelihood, it will come down to expectations. If Rangers fans want Zibanejad to produce at a level far exceeding Stepan, they might be disappointed; the bar for a successful season by most forwards’ standards has changed in the NHL, and Stepan’s mostly made the grade. On the other hand, if expectations are kept in check, Zibanejad could be a very nice fit for the Rangers.

Though he might miss the Derick Brassard comparisons now that the measuring stick changed to Derek Stepan.

* – Seriously, the guy said “super happy” a lot.

Yandle is happy Tallon is back running the Panthers

Getty
Leave a comment

It’s that time.

We’re approaching August, which means that the deluge of hockey optimism is really headed our way.

Players on teams that missed the playoffs – sometimes badly – will fill notebooks with quotes about how excited they are about next season. Guys whose past seasons were riddled by injuries will say that they’re in the best shape of their lives.

Now, look, there’s nothing wrong with that. And, hey, some of those players will almost certainly end up being right. Sometimes they provide some substance beyond the blindly positive comments.

That’s not really the interesting part of Keith Yandle‘s gushing comments about the Florida Panthers, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. Nope, it’s interesting because he’s praising GM Dale Tallon regaining his post.

“Having Dale back in charge, I think that was the main thing that got everyone going,” Yandle said. “You sense the power over the locker room that Dale can have. It’s such a positive thing when you have a guy like Dale Tallon. Everyone respects him and everything he does for the team. Going into the season knowing he has our back, he has the team, and obviously that he hired great coaches too, it’s a great thing.”

Yandle’s enthusiasm regarding Tallon is interesting because, frankly, Yandle seems like he was part of the batch of analytics-driven signings.

Without knowing for sure, Yandle seems like the sort of defenseman “old-school-types” might not like. There were rumblings that he refused to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, only fueling thoughts that the very executive he’s praising might have wanted him out.

Tallon’s already done work to walk back certain moves from that not-so-old-regime, as he engineered the moves to send not just Jonathan Marchessault but also Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights. There were also rumors that the Panthers were shopping Jason Demers, possibly more than once.

Now, it’s possible that Yandle could be excited about the direction of the team, even if said team might prefer that he was playing elsewhere. Still, it’s an amusing note amid a fairly typical round of optimistic quotes.

(Yandle does make some solid points about why 2017-18 could be better, by the way.)

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

Getty
7 Comments

The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes