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.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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via EA Sports
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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

***

Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

(Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

Best of both worlds for Coyotes

Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

(H/T to the Score.)

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.