Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler confirms villain status, scores highlight reel goal as Vancouver takes 3-1 series lead

1 Comment

If you ask many hockey people, Ryan Kesler is just as big a part of the Vancouver Canucks’ success as the Sedin twins. Some will even say that he is their true MVP.

He’s also a wildly different player than those Swedish siblings. While Henrik and Daniel Sedin aren’t likely to make an impact on a game if they aren’t scoring (or creating a lot of chances), Kesler’s two-way play and agitating presence requires attention even when he’s not lighting up the scoreboard.

After struggling to score goals for a big chunk of the playoffs (but doing just about everything else), Kesler is finding the net against the Nashville Predators. His tendency to draw penalties and score heart-breaking goals is making him perhaps the first true villain for the still-relatively-young Predators fan base.

Vancouver 4, Nashville 2; Canucks lead series 3-1

Kesler drew a penalty (and plenty of ire) in overtime of Game 3 before scoring the game-winner on the ensuing power play, but that image won’t live on in hockey history. Not compared to his absolute beauty of a game-winning goal from Game 4. Rather than spilling a bunch of digital ink explaining his great defense-splitting move, I’ll just let you enjoy the footage in its jaw-dropping glory.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Yup, that’s pretty amazing. Kesler’s goal (and boisterous celebration) was the only truly captivating moment in this muck-and-grind Game 4. Let’s give you a quick rundown of how it all happened, though.

An “explosive” first period

Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead in the first period, although the biggest moment of interest revolved around Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s angry reaction. Rinne thought that Alex Burrows interfered with him on that goal, but if you ask me, Burrows was far enough outside the crease that the goal was OK.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Joel Ward is becoming quite the success story in this year’s playoffs. He tied things up with less than minute left in the first period. To give you an idea of how tight this series has been, the opening frame’s two goals provided more offense than the three previous games’ first periods combined total of just one.

Predators don’t give up

Alexander Edler gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead through the second period, but the Predators have been a resilient group in this series. Cody Franson’s point shot beat Roberto Luongo to make it 2-2 early in the third, even if the two teams’ non-reaction reminded many of the confusion surrounding Patrick Kane’s 2010 Cup-winning goal.

That 2-2 tie set the stage for Kesler’s star-making moment. He forced a tired Ryan Suter to take a holding penalty and then scored that gorgeous goal. Henrik Sedin finally scored his first playoff goal on an empty net and also provided two assists, but the Sedin twins weren’t as effective as their improved stats would indicate in this game.

Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise, though, as Kesler is carrying the mail himself.

Outlook for both teams

The Canucks must feel great about their 3-1 lead, but they better not take Game 5 lightly. They took their gas off the pedal in the first round and were an overtime period away from humiliation. Vancouver seems content to sit back on leads in individual games, too, so they need to avoid taking this situation for granted.

That’s especially true if the San Jose Sharks make short work of the Detroit Red Wings. A well-rested Sharks team would be a tough match for them anyway, but if Nashville forces an extra grinding game or two, it could be a big problem. The Sedin twins obviously need to get it going, as well.

The Predators cannot be happy right now, but they can find solace in how close these games have been. Chicago was close behind Vancouver and broke through when the Canucks relaxed. Obviously it wasn’t enough to win that series, but if Barry Trotz needs to find a light at the end of the tunnel, that might be it.

Perhaps Nashville could steal Game 5 and then see how it goes? We’ll find out Saturday night on Versus at 8 p.m. ET.

Marchessault, Pirri providing great bang for buck

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 13: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Florida Panthers celebrates a goal during Opening Night of the 2016-2017 NHL Season against New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center on October 13, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

This summer’s free agent class was highlighted by a number of big-money deals.

Yet through the first month of the season, the real highlight has been the guys that came on the cheap.

Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where Jonathan Marchessault — signed to a two-year, $1.5 million deal with a $750,000 cap hit — has been a revelation. The undrafted free agent, who spent time with the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Lightning, has five goals and 10 points through seven games with the Panthers.

Marchessault is playing on the club’s top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, and leads the Panthers in scoring.

“It’s been a wonderful find for us,” team president Dale Tallon told Sportsnet. “He’s real tricky and good down low. Sees the ice well. He’s not the biggest guy. Some guys slip through the cracks. Some guys are late bloomers.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not get drafted.”

In New York, one of Tallon’s ex-players is providing equally good value.

Brandon Pirri, who went most of the summer without a contract before signing with the Rangers in August, is off to a terrific start. Inked to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, Pirri has four goals and six points in seven games, and leads the team in power-play markers.

“I’m glad we’re the ones who got him,” Derek Stepan said, per the Associated Press. “He’s got a knack for the net. It’s not easy to score goals in this league and he seems to be in those areas to score.

“That’s a difficult thing and, to me, that’s a skill. If you have it, it’s special and it’s rare.”

Some other under-the-radar signings that have stood out:

— The backup goalie position in Montreal was a disaster last season, so full credit to GM Marc Bergevin for solving it on the cheap. Al Montoya was brought aboard for $950,000, and all he’s done is go 3-0-1 with a .955 save percentage and 1.47 GAA. He also provided crucial stability at the start of the year, too, when Carey Price was sidelined with the flu.

— In Dallas, Adam Cracknell has capitalized on the opportunity provided by all the club’s injuries at forward. Signed to a two-way deal with a $600,000 cap hit, 31-year-old has two goals and three points through seven games, appearing in every contest for the Stars this season while averaging over 10 minutes per.

Patrick Wiercioch, who didn’t even get a qualifying offer from Ottawa, signed with Colorado for $800,000. The 26-year-old d-man has been great offensively, with five points through five games, leading all Avs blueliners in scoring.

— Speaking of Ottawa, GM Pierre Dorion did well to sign Tom Pyatt out of the Swiss League. Inked to a one-year, two-way deal worth $800,000, Pyatt returned to the NHL after two years abroad and “has been really good for us on both sides of the ice,” according to head coach Guy Boucher. Pyatt has three points through six games and is one of the club’s top penalty killers.

Tim Leiweke could play role in redevelopment of Seattle’s KeyArena

Leave a comment

Tim Leiweke is best known as the former president and CEO of sports empires AEG and MLSE. (And also for calling out the “just terrible” character of the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

But Leiweke has a new gig now, and according to the Seattle Times, he may end up playing a key role in Seattle’s long-running arena saga.

A powerful, new Los Angeles-based company headed by sports executive Tim Leiweke and concert kingpin Irving Azoff wants to renovate KeyArena and make it compatible for NBA and NHL use.

“We believe in the KeyArena location,” Leiweke, CEO of the 11-month-old Oak View Group, told The Seattle Times in an interview Thursday night. “We believe that the studies have proven — and we will continue to do additional studies as we go through this process — that there is a chance to renovate and make that arena work for music and sports.”

We wrote yesterday about the potential renovation of KeyArena. It’s worth noting that Leiweke’s new company was formed in partnership with MSG, which owns the New York Rangers. Leiweke’s old company, AEG — which owns the Los Angeles Kings — is also interested in the KeyArena project.

Seattle mayor Ed Murray confirmed yesterday that the city will issue a request for proposals in early January “to solicit specific plans from private parties interested in the redevelopment of KeyArena. Proposals would be centered around developing an entertainment facility that can host meetings, concerts and sporting events.”

Where that leaves Chris Hansen’s SoDo project remains to be seen. Hansen started this week’s avalanche of news by offering to build his arena without public financing.

Murray did note in his statement that any KeyArena proposals would “join the recently-revised proposal from the group led by Chris Hansen as possibilities for the development of an arena in Seattle.”

Related: Is the NHL just waiting for Seattle?

Rantanen to debut on Colorado’s ‘kid line’ with Grigorenko, MacKinnon

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to facing the Carolina Hurricanes at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

It’s not often a 22-year-old is the elder statesmen on his line, but that’s exactly what Mikhail Grigorenko will be on Friday night.

Grigorenko’s the resident greybeard on Colorado’s “Kid Line,” one that features 21-year-old Nathan MacKinnon and, for the first time this season, 19-year-old Mikko Rantanen.

Rantanen, taken 10th overall by Colorado in 2015, will make his season debut tonight against Winnipeg, after missing time with an ankle injury and fulfilling a rehab stint in AHL San Antonio.

Needless to say, the Avs are glad to have him back.

Rantanen had a terrific ’15-16 campaign. He split AHL Rookie of the Year honors with Providence’s Frank Vatrano, and helped Finland capture gold at the World Juniors. Rantanen also became the second-youngest player (18 years old) to participate in an AHL All-Star Game and earned a late-season recall to Colorado, where he made his NHL debut and appeared in nine games.

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Rantanen has the size and physique to be a real force alongside Grigorenko and MacKinnon.

And he’s hoping he can be a force at the NHL level for a long time.

“I want to do what I do best, bring my strengths to our team,” he said, per the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I want to do everything I can to stay here. I would like to stay here for a while.”

It’s fair to suggest head coach Jared Bednar made this move in the hopes of providing a spark. The Avs are 3-2-0 to start the year, but have lost two of three and haven’t played since last Saturday.

MacKinnon is tied for the team scoring lead with five points through five games, while Grigorenko sits tied for second in assists, with three.

McIlrath clears waivers, which may surprise a few people

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25:  Dylan McIlrath #6 of the New York Rangers takes the puck as Matt Moulson #26 of the Buffalo Sabres defends at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Alain Vigneault got his wish. Dylan McIlrath has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Hartford.

McIlrath, 24, was placed on waivers yesterday after getting into just one game for the New York Rangers through their first seven.

“Selfishly, I hope he clears waivers and goes to Hartford and plays,” the Rangers’ head coach said. “But if somebody would pick him up and give him an opportunity, I’d be very happy for him.”

Many speculated that McIlrath, a right shot, would get claimed, perhaps by a team like the Boston Bruins. But the emergence of rookie Brandon Carlo, combined with the return of Adam McQuaid from injury, made a claim less likely for the B’s. Carlo and McQuaid both shoot right, as does regular Colin Miller. (Ditto for Kevan Miller, though he’s on injured reserve with a broken hand.)

And so McIlrath remains a member of the organization that drafted him. Hartford plays tonight and tomorrow at home to Lehigh Valley and Utica, respectively.