Ryan Kesler

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Done deal: Coyotes sign 2016 first-round pick Chychrun to entry-level contract

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Jakob Chychrun poses for a portrait after being selected 16th overall by the Arizona Coyotes  in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes moved up the draft order to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun at 16th overall. And now, they have signed Chychrun to a three-year entry-level contract.

The Coyotes made the announcement on Saturday.

“We are very pleased to sign Jakob to an entry-level contract,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka in a statement. “Jakob is a highly-skilled player with an all-around game. He has a great work ethic and is very determined. We look forward to watching him continue to develop this season.”

When the 2015-16 season began, it was suggested Chychrun could potentially be a top-three pick in the draft in June. But he fell down the order, despite being the No. 4-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

He was the fifth defenseman taken in the draft.

Listed at six-foot-two-inches tall and 215 pounds, Chychrun brings size and strong skating ability to the blue line. He had 11 goals and 49 points last season with Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League.

The Coyotes selected Chychrun after acquiring the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract from the Detroit Red Wings and moving up the order.

Chychrun’s fall — and what precipitated it in the first place — was discussed in great detail when the Coyotes held their development camp earlier this month.

“I think it was about being tense,” said Coyotes director of player development Steve Sullivan. “All the pressure of wanting to be second overall and maybe not having a great season; it snowballed the wrong way for him.

“Now he needs to understand he’s been drafted into the National Hockey League and we’re going to put him in a game plan to get him here as fast as we can. He can loosen up and play the way we think he can play. If that happens, there is no reason why he won’t be here sooner than later.”

Related:

Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

Report: Stone and Coyotes agree to one-year, $4M deal

Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension

Report: NHL linesman Henderson required neck surgery, friends fear his career may be over

Nashville Predators' players look over the bench at linesman Don Henderson after he was hit by Calgary Flames' Dennis Wideman during second period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alberta, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Don Henderson, the NHL linesman knocked to the ice by Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman, has undergone neck surgery to repair damage from the hit and there are fears his career may now be over, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

From Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe:

According to one of his friends in the officiating business, Henderson’s recent surgery was aimed at repairing two ruptured disks in his neck, the result of the hit. Felled in the second period, he dusted himself off and finished the game the night he was injured.

“I know a lot of people are saying stuff like, ‘Hey, Wideman’s not that type of guy . . . that’s not in his nature . . . he’s a good kid,’ ’’ said one of Henderson’s longtime pals in stripes. “And I say, ‘Yeah, so what?!’ That doesn’t make it any less egregious. He attacked him from behind, the puck was nowhere near the two of them, and now Henderson’s career may be finished. I don’t see much difference between what he did and Wayne Maki cracking his stick over Teddy Green’s head.’’

This is the latest development in a saga that has dominated headlines in the NHL since the incident occurred late in January.

Wideman apologized following the incident, saying the collision was ‘completely unintentional.’ The league later confirmed that Wideman had suffered a concussion from a hit just seconds before he checked Henderson to the ice near the bench.

He eventually received a 20-game suspension, but that was reduced to 10 games by a neutral arbitrator, although Wideman had already sat out 19 games when the decision was handed down following an appeal.

Related:

Report: NHL dismisses neutral arbitrator who reduced Wideman’s suspension

NHL sues NHLPA to reverse Wideman’s suspension reduction

NHL Officials’ Association ‘strongly disagrees’ with the decision to reduce Wideman’s suspension

Gabriel Landeskog hopes his concussion story helps others

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When you’re an impossibly young captain of the Colorado Avalanche, it’s probably tough to choose your own health over the best interests of your team.

That scenario presented itself to Gabriel Landeskog, and he decided to fight through the pain. As you can see in the video above, he regrets the decision.

Landeskog shared his story, stemming from an injury in 2013, with “EMPWR,” a charitable foundation focused on concussion awareness. You can watch him discuss that tough period in his life in the video above.

It appears that Landeskog was discussing this hard hit by then-San Jose Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart:

NHL.com’s game report notes that Landeskog delivered multiple hits on Stuart after that. While he was giving rather than receiving those checks, those moments still likely left the Avalanche captain vulnerable to further injury.

It’s easy to say “Don’t go back in the game” when you’re not in the situation, but hopefully more players will protect themselves in the future.

Landeskog isn’t the only NHL player to share his experiences, and some weren’t as “lucky” as he was. Take Joey Hishon, whose career unraveled thanks in part to concussion issues:

(H/T to CSNNE.com.)

Is Rickard Rakell worth $4M per season to the Ducks?

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks have two significant restricted free agents they still need to take care of, and Hampus Lindholm is easily the most important name to cross off the list.

(Seriously, the analytics community pegs him as a budding star, so the Ducks should probably lock him up for as long and cheap as possible.)

While Lindholm is a must-sign, Rickard Rakell‘s situation is more interesting since it presents a murkier risk-reward debate.

Elevated ground

Rakell broke through in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. He blew away all of his previous numbers while logging more than 16 minutes per game.

His agent Peter Wallen told the OC Register that the team and his RFA client “I think we will find common ground for a solid agreement,” yet one must wonder if Ducks management is trembling at the gamble ahead.

That report ponders a long-term deal that would net Rakell around a $4 million cap hit, something that the Hockey News backs up.

Kadri’s six-year, $27-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which pays an average of $4.5 million per season, is probably the upper limit of what Rakell is set to earn, while Coyle’s five-year, $16-million deal with the Minnesota Wild, an average of $3.2 million per season, is likely the low end. The most likely comparisons boil down to two players, then, with Rask and Backlund each having signed their current deals over the course of the past 13 months.

For a budget-conscious team like the Ducks, betting big on Rakell could be especially risky.

Cushy gig

If the 23-year-old does land a generous deal, he should send Bruce Boudreau a “Thank You” note or three. Rakell began a whopping 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2015-16, putting him in a great position to maximize his chances.

His most common skating partners were Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Sami Vatanen and Lindholm to boot.

One shouldn’t penalize Rakell for seizing his opportunities, but with a limited sample size of the young forward being a difference-maker, you have to wonder how much his value has been inflated.

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The OC Register explains the advantages of locking him up for a longer term (avoiding arbitration years, not having to risk an even bigger deal if Rakell pans out), yet a “bridge deal” might be the better way to go here.

Replacing Boudreau with Randy Carlyle was a polarizing decision, yet that the Ducks face some other tough calls this off-season.