Michael Leighton, Steve Miller

NHL pulls linesman out of playoff rotation as rumors swirl about missing Cup-winning puck

While eight teams fight to see who will collect the 2011 Stanley Cup winning goal, the intrigue regarding the whereabouts of last year’s winning puck is heating up.

In case you need a refresher, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane sent an odd-angle shot through Philadelphia Flyers Michael Leighton. The seemingly uncertain nature of the goal meant little to Kane, who was one of the few who realized he just won the Cup. Amid the chaos of that celebration, the championship-winning puck was lost in the shuffle.

The search for a guilty party (and the puck) heats up

Chris Pronger was the first suspect in The Case of the Missing Puck due to past offenses, but it eventually became clear that “The Puck Burglar” was innocent for once. Chicago-based restaurant Harry Caray’s offered a $50,000 reward for the absent piece of rubber. The search reached its most absurd level when Chicago-area FBI agents volunteered their services (off the clock, naturally) to solve this riddle.

Now it seems like one major culprit has emerged: 11-year NHL linesman Steve Miller. As Wayne Drehs of ESPN points out, Philadelphia sports blogger Kyle Scott pieced together a case against Miller for his site Crossing Broad. While Drehs’ Outside the Lines report surfaced on April 20, Miller hasn’t officiated a game since April 17, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Various sources indicate that Miller wasn’t listed among the linesmen who will appear in the league’s second round of games, a strong sign that he’ll be a “healthy scratch” on at least a temporary basis.

The NHL responds

It’s tough to contend with the notion that such a move emboldens the rumor mill, but Drehs shares this quote from the NHL’s senior VP of public relations, Gary Meagher.

“There are lots of questions out there and to have any potential distraction while our playoffs are going on is not fair,” Meagher said.

(snip)

“We’d love to find the answers but I don’t know if we’ll ever get the answers,” he said. “We’re asking the questions. We want to find out. But the bottom line is we just don’t know. And Steve doesn’t know.

“At the end of the day you either believe someone or you don’t believe them. We’ve talked to [Steve] as a league and talked to various people and we stand behind him. He absolutely doesn’t recall getting the puck or doing anything with the puck.”

Drehs also reports that the aforementioned FBI volunteers deemed it a “100 percent certainty” that Miller picked up that puck after watching the video. To be fair to Miller, that doesn’t guarantee that he still possesses the puck or knows where it ended up, even if he did actually snatch it.

Obviously, it’s pretty tough to avoid the suspicion that Miller knows a bit more than he leads on, especially since there’s some evidence that he came into contact with that historic puck. (This post’s main image features Miller, Leighton, that net and that puck, after all.)

Logic behind the oddness

At this point, you might be wondering: is one piece of vulcanized rubber really worth all of this controversy? After all, it became important by means of coincidence more than anything else.

Yet if you have even a vague understanding of the money generated by sports memorabilia – not to mention how much the Hockey Hall of Fame would love to display that puck – the puck’s ceremonial value comes into focus.

This story has been entertaining for most of us, but remains potentially damaging for Miller’s career as an NHL linesman. It’ll be interesting to see if the league reinstates him once the headlines simmer down. After all, if you’re an official during the Stanley Cup finals, chances are high that you’re considered one of the top guys at the job.

We’ll let you know when this wacky little saga twists and turns once again.

Trade talk: Who Oilers might deal, Eric Staal in limbo

Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal (12) celebrates his second-period goal with teammates, including his brother Jordan Staal, second from left, during an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. The Penguins won 5-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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As has often been the case, some big trades have already happened before the hype-soaked Feb. 29 deadline, but there’s plenty of speculation regarding what might happen next.

TSN’s Insider Trading segment is always a must-watch, so check it out right here.

To reiterate, the video’s worth watching in full, but here are some highlights:

  • The Edmonton Oilers shine as one of the most obvious “sellers.” Teddy Purcell could be a nice supplementary piece, yet Pierre LeBrun rightly points to Justin Schultz as the most interesting name.

He’s really received just about every chance you can ask for in Edmonton, but LeBrun notes that his confidence is “shot.” Schultz is a pricey guy to take on thanks to his qualifying rights; still, some team might believe that they can make that reclamation project work.

  • Andrew Ladd seems to be in limbo with the Winnipeg Jets, as it sounds like there’s the possibility of an extension or a trade.
  • Eric Staal‘s situation is murky, too. Bob McKenzie points out that Staal has control of his situation with no-trade/no-movement clauses, so he can dictate his future with (or without) the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • An interesting opinion raised by LeBrun: Mikkel Boedker‘s maybe the No. 1 rental forward.

Darren Dreger reports that Boedker is looking for a six-year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit (which would be $33 million), whether that comes from the Arizona Coyotes or someone else.

***

Again, watch the full video, as a lot of names and teams are discussed. Plenty of things can happen, but we’ll ultimately need to wait and see.

Brian Elliott’s been steady for up-and-down Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) lunges to make a save against the Nashville Predators during the first period Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Sanford Myers)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Brian Elliott is on a roll. Too bad the St. Louis Blues have little to show for it.

During a prolonged scoring slump, the veteran goalie’s play has bordered on spectacular. He has seized the opportunity since Jake Allen was sidelined by a knee injury in early January.

The 30-year-old Elliott has allowed one or fewer goals in regulation and overtime in five of his last seven starts, a run that has put him among the NHL’s best with a 2.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage on the season.

“Fantastic,” captain David Backes said after Elliott’s latest standout effort in a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. “You can’t complain about our goaltending, that’s for dang sure.”

“Our goalie was our best player again. Played great,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The rest of the team is in the doldrums, and the bottom line is the Blues have lost four of six. The Blues have scored no more than one goal in five of their last six.

Hitchcock said the offense didn’t work nearly hard enough to sustain chances against the Jets, then put his players through a rigorous workout the next day to drive home the point. The defense is adjusting to expanded roles without Alex Pietrangelo, who is among the league leaders in minutes played but will be sidelined at least three weeks with a right knee injury.

Elliott describes Pietrangelo as the type of player who “stick handles in a phone booth” to get the puck out of the zone.

“Umm, we have some work to do,” Hitchcock said. “It’s pretty obvious.”

Elliott has thrived with a heavy work load and is set to make his 13th consecutive start on Friday at Florida. Last year, Elliott was an All-Star.

“It’s fun, it’s awesome,” Elliott said. “It’s why you play, to play the game and not to watch.”

Before relieving Allen on Jan. 8 in the second period at Anaheim, Elliott had played just three games in the previous 14. There was no question who was No. 1.

Whenever Allen returns, it’s liable to be more of a job share.

“You try not to think about the past and the future, you just focus on the present,” Elliott said. “I don’t really look at the stats, I just keep trying to be the rock back there for the guys.”

The last week or so, the 25-year-old Allen has been jumping into the latter stages of practices. Hitchcock said there’ll be something to talk about when he’s a full participant.

The team is hoping injecting Jaden Schwartz will help revive the offense. The speedy forward was third on the team with 63 points last season but has played just seven games this season and is coming off a 49-game layoff from a broken left ankle heading into Friday’s game.

“It doesn’t matter how many goals we score, you want to keep as many as you can out of your own net,” Allen said. “Obviously, we haven’t had a good amount of goals the last few games but we’re still coming out with some points.”

Despite the scoring drought, the Blues have kept themselves in the vanguard, picking up at least a point in 12 of the last 15 games. Nine of them have been decided by a single goal.

“Good teams get through tough situations,” Elliott said. “When things start clicking we’re going to be a dangerous team.”

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.