Ray Whitney, Eric Belanger, Shane Doan

While Coyotes focus on hockey, speculation over potential Winnipeg move grows intense

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Life as a Phoenix Coyote is pretty trying. The team has their hands full in dealing with a Detroit Red Wings team in the playoffs that looked all sorts of tough in Game 1 as the Wings took it 4-2. As things go these days for the Coyotes, half of what gets discussed about them comes off of the ice with regard to their in limbo status with ownership. The NHL still owns the team and time is ticking away for potential buyer Matthew Hulsizer to get a deal done to purchase the moribund Coyotes.

While the team is rumored to be getting closer to a decision being made, rumblings out of Winnipeg are growing louder that they’re soon to be in the serious planning stages of preparing to get back the franchise that left them 15 years ago. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless shares that the True North Sports and Entertainment group that would be the buyers for the Coyotes should Hulsizer’s deal fall through is preparing to start a campaign to sell season tickets for the returned NHL franchise.

A Winnipeg franchise is not a guaranteed economic success in the minds of many NHL types and it’s a certainty the league’s board of governors will tell True North, should they get to the point where they are prepared to relocate to Winnipeg, to go to its constituents and ask for a vote of confidence.

Such a cash call could come as early as next week.

True North, in order to satisfy the board of governors, will likely ask Winnipeggers to commit to purchasing season tickets for a minimum of three seasons.

It’s unknown how long the community will have to respond but count on a week to sell the vast majority of the MTS Centre’s 15,000 seats.

Before you get too excited about this, remember that Jim Balsillie also started to sell season tickets in Hamilton, Ontario when he thought he was about to land the Coyotes. Of course, that scenario is a bit different in that Balsillie ignored everything the NHL was trying to do in questioning his attempted purchase of the team. This time around, David Thomson’s True North group would seemingly be still playing by the rules and trying to prove something to the NHL in that Winnipeg is ready to have a team once again.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News says that a deal is a lot closer to being done with Winnipeg than not. As with all things having to do with reports on sales being imminent, take it with a grain of salt because nothing is ever as clear as it might read and you can never discount the possibility of a last minute Hail Mary coming through for Gary Bettman and the NHL. As it is, Campbell’s report looks like something we’ve read before and says that a potential deal would be announced between the end of the Stanley Cup final and the NHL Draft.

According to the source, the deal calls for the Coyotes to be sold to True North Sports and Entertainment for $140 million. It’s believed the deal will be announced at something north of $200 million, but that includes more than $60 million in renovations to add 2,500 seats to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

The source said the deal has not been signed, but there is a memorandum of agreement in place and that the deal will be signed when the NHL’s deal with Hulsizer officially dies.

Sources and insider takes on these things are what they are but with the way the chatter has inconveniently picked up just as the playoffs have started, the flashbacks for how the Winnipeg Jets initially left Canada  are starting to become a bit too surreal. In 1996, the Jets final game was played at home in Winnipeg as the Jets were bounced from the playoffs by none other than the Red Wings.

Should things break down the way it’s being said that it will the coincidences and the sadness that will be felt in Phoenix and Glendale will be all too similar and under the circumstances it’s a tragic story not just for the fans but for the city itself. Glendale has invested a lot of money in the area, the team, and the arena and to see it possibly go away for colder climes will be a bitter pill to swallow for the residents of Glendale who will be paying for an empty arena for years to come.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear of all this for sure, but the bell is beginning to toll on the Coyotes days in Arizona.

No ‘crystal ball’ — CEO for Barclays Center can’t guarantee Isles will stay

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21:  Fans arrive for the game between the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Barclays Center on September 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Pleased with the progress made during the New York Islanders’ first season in Brooklyn, Brett Yormark is looking forward to the team’s second year at Barclays Center.

“I thought we ended the year in a much better place than we started,” said Brett Yormark, the Chief Executive Office for Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which oversees business operations and marketing for the Barclays Center. “When you look back at those playoff games they were some of the most dramatic moments we’ve had here.”

Pointing to the improvements the team made with game presentation, including the hiring of a hockey-centric group to take over game days, Yormark said the atmosphere during the Islanders’ run to the Eastern Conference semifinals – and their first postseason series victory since 1993 – showed “hockey has arrived in Brooklyn.”

However, Yormark wouldn’t comment on reports the Islanders were already considering leaving for a new arena either near Citi Field, home to baseball’s New York Mets, or Belmont Park.

“I can’t speak to that,” Yormark said Monday in a Q&A with media before the team’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Flyers. “All I can speak to is that collectively our team here at Barclays Center will do everything we can to provide the fans and the players with a first-class experience. And that’s what I’m focused on.”

The Islanders moved to the Brooklyn arena – home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets since 2012 – last year after spending the franchise’s first 43 seasons at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The deal with Barclays Center on a 25-year lease was announced in 2012 after a failed attempt to secure public financing for a new arena on Long Island and zoning approval was rejected for a privately funded development plan that would have included renovations to the Coliseum

Newsday reported earlier this month the lease has an opt-out clause with a January 2017 deadline for either side to terminate the deal. The Islanders could do it effective the end of the third season, and either side could do it for after the fourth season.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Yormark said. “I can’t tell you what the future holds. But I can tell you adamantly that we’re committed to providing a great season for everyone involved.”

To that end, Yormark said arena management conducted focus groups with fans in Brooklyn and on Long Island, asking what they liked and what they wanted to see improved.

One of the top complaints was about transportation on the Long Island Rail Road after games. Fans were displeased with the service during the season, but noted it had improved for the playoffs, and Yormark said the LIRR had agreed to maintain the additional schedule of trains after games this season.

Among other topics Yormark addressed:

— Fans can expect to see more Islanders branding and signage around the arena, “so they can feel this is their home.” He also said there will be more equal availability of Islanders and Nets merchandising at the arena’s retail stores.

— With fans’ desire for more weekend games, Yormark noted there were 18 games scheduled on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays this season, an increase from last year. “It’s something we need to look at and see where we can make more improvements for next year,” he said.

— The team’s ticket base had grown, with a marked increase in Manhattan residents who grew up in Long Island. He said the Long Island base had stabilized, while acknowledging some full-season ticket holders had chosen to trade down to partial plans.

“We’ve addressed everything fans had their hands raised about,” Yormark said. “I’m sure there will be more during the course of the season. We’ll remain flexible like we were last year. We’ll continue to learn and where we can get better, we will.”

Rangers believe Zibanejad’s best is yet to come

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 5:  Mika Zibanejad #93 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 5,2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Senators defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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It’s plausible – yet not guaranteed – that Derick Brassard will be better next season than the player he was traded for, Mika Zibanejad.

Plenty of New York Rangers fans are justified in being excited about the long-term impact of the move, and not merely because of the second-round pick they received in the swap.

Zibanejad is a lot younger than Brassard. Even if Brassard ages well at 29, his Swedish trade counterpart is merely 23. The Rangers, quite reasonably, wonder if Zibanejad’s best days are still ahead of him.

“He’s a younger player that our scouting staff and our management all felt he was on the upswing,” Vigneault said to the Rangers’ website. “The speed is there. The skill is there. The youth is there. We believe he’s not fully developed yet and with the right environment teammate wise, coaching wise, we can get more from [him].”

Brassard provides a decent example of Vigneault & Co. bringing a prospect to the next level, actually.

After maintaining his level of play in his first season with the Rangers (45 points in 81 games with a 15:48 average time on ice), Brassard scored 60 and 58 points during his next two seasons with New York. He peaked at almost 18 minutes per game last season, which is right in line with the reps Zibanejad enjoyed with Ottawa in 2015-16.

Zibanejad believes he hasn’t peaked yet either, which is promising since he scored 21 goals and 51 points last season. It’s not outrageous to pencil him in for Brassard-like production in 2016-17.

DJ Z Bad lined up between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich to start things off with the Rangers, making for quite the interesting mix of talent, speed and force.

The trade already looks promising for the Rangers, but depending upon how Zibanejad develops, the difference could be especially glaring.

More on DJ Z Bad

Poll: Who will win the trade?

Zibanejad wants to take the next step

He’s under pressure

Capitals pushed by ‘that hurt’ from playoff letdown

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his game winning overtime goal against the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When Matt Niskanen contemplated skipping a trip to the gym over the summer, he remembered what happened in May.

As the offseason went on, Niskanen thought less and less about the Washington Capitals’ loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Instead, he let the memory of the second-round playoff exit fuel him from time to time.

“That hurt, it lingers, and I think you can use that as motivation,” Niskanen said. “That kind of stuff creeps into your mind and it pushes you.”

Now several months removed from another painful playoff loss, the Capitals came to training camp ready to harness whatever energy they could from that while also preparing to move past it and focus on another run at the Cup this season. Almost the entire roster is back from the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team that ran roughshod over the NHL during the regular season, and with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby in their primes, there isn’t time to waste on reflection and hindsight.

“You need to see where things went awry and try to rectify it,” said veteran winger Justin Williams, one of several players with one year left on his contract. “We set a standard with having successful teams, a team every year fans can look at and say, `You know, we legitimately have a chance to win it again.’ As players we embrace that and we respect it and we know that these opportunities that we have in front of us aren’t forever.”

Along with Williams, winger T.J. Oshie and defenseman Karl Alzner could be unrestricted free agents July 1. Restricted free agent center Evgeny Kuznetsov will get a big raise on a new deal, and Washington’s salary cap picture will get more difficult as the years go on.

Ovechkin also just turned 31, and while he led the league in scoring last season, there’s no certainty as to how long his Hall of Fame-caliber production will keep up. After winning the division by 16 points and losing in the second round – again – general manager Brian MacLellan doesn’t think there’s a bigger burden on winning this year with so many unknowns on the horizon.

“I think there’s pressure every year,” MacLellan said. “Last year we were a contender, there’s pressure. Same pressure this year. We have a goal of winning a championship. We know we’re close and we need to pursue it and we’ll do everything we can to get there.”

Alzner was just starting to get over the early exit when pictures of the Penguins celebrating with the Cup filled up his social media feeds. The ironman whose groin injury forced him out of the deciding Game 6 and led to sports hernia surgery scoffed at the notion that Pittsburgh winning makes the loss easier to take.

“It’s worse, in my opinion, because then you really think, `OK if I could have got past that team then the Cup was ours,”‘ said Alzner, who’s still working his way back to 100 percent. “I think that all of us in the room thought that we were going to win that last year.”

Being great in the regular season and losing in the first or second round has become the Capitals’ reputation over the past decade. The 2015-16 team was perhaps the best on paper, which made the late stumble into summer that much more confounding.

As more top players continue to trickle back into town after playing in the World Cup of Hockey, associate coach Todd Reirden expects the staff to impart lessons about last season on the full group. Early in camp, the mood is light with players eager to make a fresh start and learn from losing to the Penguins.

Asked what the Capitals can do to improve, Williams deadpanned: “We can finish the season with a win. That’s it.”

That’s a challenge that can’t be accomplished until the spring. Players, coaches and fans may want to fast-forward until then, but Washington has to again get there first.

“You’ve got to be patient,” center Jay Beagle said. “The game has to develop. We’ve got new guys, so we want to go into this year making sure we’re playing our best going into the end of the year and in the playoffs.”

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

Plenty of betting options for World Cup final round

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 24:  Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins checks Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Bovada released a wide array of betting options for the best-of-three final round of the World Cup between Canada and Team Europe on Monday.

Naturally, there are the run of the mill matters like game lines:

Europe vs. Canada (World Cup of Hockey Finals)

Europe +575 (23/4)

Canada -1000 (1/10)

Total Goals Europe vs. Canada (World Cup of Hockey Finals)

Over/Under 6

Interesting over/under, huh?

Things get more fun as the prop bets get stranger/more specific. Personally, the head-to-head player bets rank among the most fascinating:

Who will record more points in the game?

Sidney Crosby (CAN) 2/3

Anze Kopitar (EUR) 11/4

Draw 5/2

Who will record more points in the game?

Patrice Bergeron (CAN) 1/1

Draw 2/1

Marian Hossa (EUR) 9/4

Who will record more points in the game?

Brad Marchand (CAN) 4/5

Draw 9/5

Mats Zuccarello (EUR) 3/1

Hmm, maybe Marchand wouldn’t be the greatest bet. He’s probably feeling pretty fat and happy after signing that $49 million contract extension, after all.

At least one outlet finds Europe to be an enticing gamble thanks to Jaroslav Halak‘s hot play, for what it’s worth.