Thrashers fans nervously await their team’s uncertain future

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When the Phoenix Coyotes were bounced from the playoffs, there seemed to be two major reactionary forces on Twitter: those who mocked the expected death of that franchise and those who were appalled by those jokers. However you may feel about the situation, the Coyotes sale/lack thereof receives a lot of attention. The league itself has done so much to keep the team in Glendale one can almost imagine NHL executives crab-walking into meetings.

Yet it seems like the other non-traditional, in-peril market receives little of the same attention. The Atlanta Thrashers franchise is seen to some as a “Plan B” for True North and the hockey-hungry Winnipeg market, but what about the Atlanta market and Thrashers fans?

Sure, there’s some validity to the notion that it’s a bit sadder to see a hockey market fail twice*, but there seems to be a perception that a possible Thrashers move is being met with a yawn. (At least compared to the outright desperation the league is showing regarding a Coyotes relocation.)

Of course, an Atlanta Thrashers move is far from certain. In fact, as anxious as the Winnipeg market is to bring back the NHL, it’s tough to think that a sale can be completed with enough time for everything to be ready by the 2011-12 season.

Either way, the Thrashers fan base is understandably uncomfortable about the situation. Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared some of their thoughts in this story.

“Many of us fans watched as Gary Bettman saved struggling franchises in Nashville and Tampa over the past several years,” season-ticket holder Tony L. Blair, an attorney who lives in Lawrenceville, said by email. “We continue to watch the league go to extraordinary lengths to save what many feel is a lost cause, that being the Phoenix Coyotes. Yet, many Thrashers fans are distressed by what appears to be on the surface the lack of the same commitment toward the Atlanta market.”

Blair added: “We as Thrasher fans must ask, where is the justice in this? Are we not deserving [of] the same devotion and loyalty as other troubled franchises? This very question, I think, is the lynchpin of the entire episode. I think it comes down to, will the league give up the market?

“If yes, we lose the team. If not, then there is an opportunity for transition to new ownership who will, I believe, excite the current fan base and hopefully re-energize the local hockey community.”

Blair is probably right when he says that, on a surface level, there seems to be a lack of commitment to keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta. It’s important to note that perception isn’t always reality in these cases; the league might just seem like it doesn’t care quite as much about avoiding the Thrashers’ relocation.

While that planned $25 million payment from the City of Glendale essentially puts the Coyotes’ countdown on “pause,” the Thrashers situation is on fast-forward. We’ll keep you updated whether the Atlanta Spirit group is forced to stick with the team for longer than expected, a new local ownership group keeps the team in Atlanta or True North brings them to Winnipeg.

*As you may know, the Atlanta Flames fled Georgia to become the Calgary Flames.

No Kane, no problem for Panarin in Columbus

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After the trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Brandon Saad back to Chicago, many wondered if Panarin could produce at a high level without Patrick Kane. In hindsight, maybe there should have been just as many worries about how much Kane would lose in Panarin’s absence.*

Panarin, 26, really forced his strong debut season with the Blue Jackets during his last game. He generated a hat trick and an assist as the Blue Jackets won their ninth game in a row by beating the Rangers, giving him 15 points during that span.

To give you an idea of how hot Panarin has been, only Mikko Rantanen has more points (16) during the last nine games, while “The Bread Man” matches Nathan MacKinnon‘s 15 points. Panarin brings quite the streak into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers, who have a ton on the line.

Overall, you can dice up Panarin’s 68 points in 74 games in some interesting ways. More directly, he’s currently tied with Jamie Benn and Patrik Laine for 25th place in points, just two behind Kane. Panarin scored 77 points as a rookie and 74 last season, so he’s clearly not wholly dependent upon number 88.

It also sounds like Panarin is presenting a positive influence on the Blue Jackets, who boast some interesting young scorers who could really push them to a higher level if they pan out.

Oliver Bjorkstrand stands as one of the most intriguing examples. He’s a guy who’s had a knack for scoring at other levels, yet it remains to be seen if he can be a difference-maker in the NHL. The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline recently reported (sub required) that Panarin’s providing a strong example to Bjorkstrand, in particular.

“The Bread Man” stands to Bjorkstrand as a player who can get it done despite modest size.

“He’s obviously really talented, has a ton of skill. But it’s his work ethic, how hard he is on pucks,” Bjorkstrand said. “He wins almost every battle he’s in, a lot of times against guys that are a lot bigger than him. But he has the determination to come away with the puck.”

The numbers seem to back up that “strong on the puck” talk.

Panarin’s possession stats have actually improved with the Blue Jackets, with his numbers standing out even more relative to his teammates. While John Tortorella is still rolling him out in advantageous situations (65.2 percent of his shifts begin in the offensive zone), that’s a big drop from his 78.8 percent mark in Chicago.

So, in a way, Panarin is proving himself to be possibly even more valuable with Columbus, as he’s less of a specialist and more of a balanced driver of play.

Panarin is a few strides short of Hart Trophy talk, but he’s done about as much as anyone could reasonably ask to prove that he’s a legitimate top-line talent, and a key ingredient to a team that could be very dangerous in the playoffs.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

* – Much like before Panarin’s arrival, Kane is still a lethal scorer with 70 points in 74 games this season.

Still, he reached the apex of his career making magic with Panarin, as he collected 106 points in 2015-16 (a career-high) and 89 in 2016-17. Those rank as his two strongest regular seasons, with only 2009-10’s 88 points in the same range. Otherwise, his next highest point total was 73 points, although he’s on track to eclipse that this season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Capitals at Red Wings; Golden Knights at Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Thursday night. In the early game, the Detroit Red Wings host the Washington Capitals at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The Capitals have an opportunity to put a little distance between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Washington is two points ahead of the Pens with a game in a hand, so a win tonight would put them four points clear of second.

The Caps got some good news, as Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body) made the trip to Detroit. Kuznetsov suffered an upper-body injury against the Isles last week. Even though he’s traveling, it’s unclear if he’ll actually suit up tonight.

Since losing back-to-back games in Anaheim and Los Angeles, the Capitals have rattled off five victories in their last six contests. That includes a win in San Jose, a win over the Jets, a pair of wins over the Islanders and a victory over Dallas.

As for the Red Wings, they’ll look to play spoiler again. They’re 5-4 overtime win over the Flyers on Tuesday night allowed to snap their 10-game losing skid. Before Tuesday’s game, you had to go all the way back to Feb. 25 to find Detroit’s last victory. Yeah, it took them long enough.

Even though they aren’t in the playoff picture, there’s no denying the win felt good for the struggling Wings.

“We talked about it as a team after the last game, certainly frustration was starting to boil over,” coach Jeff Blashill said after the win over Philly, per the Detroit News. “Our guys came out and played great. The third period wasn’t good enough, but we played great for two periods (and) to finish was critical.

“You don’t want to come in here and talk about another loss. It was critical (to win).”

Blashill’s team currently find themselves in 26th place with 65 points. A few more losses down the stretch and they’ll be able to improve their NHL Entry Draft lottery odds.

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights at 10:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The Golden Knights are still at least eight points clear of any other team in the Pacific Division, but there’s no denying that their play has dipped. Of course, that was to be expected. Not because they’re an expansion team, but because every team in the league takes a dip at a certain point over an 82-game season.

In fairness to Vegas, they have won back-to-back games over Calgary and Vancouver, but injuries have been problematic for them of late. Now, it looks like they’ll have to deal with another injury, as Marc-Andre Fleury. As you’ll probably remember, they faced a pretty tough test earlier in the season when Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk were all hurt.

Head coach Gerard Gallant was pretty on Wednesday when he was asked about Fleury’s status.

“I’m not getting into specifics about what he’s doing, but he’s not going to come today,” Gallant said, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He could join us tomorrow or in the very near future.

“He’s not coming on our plane today. He could be there tomorrow. He could be there the next day. I’m not sure.”

Since then, they recalled Dansk from the minors. So don’t expect to see Fleury in San Jose.

The Sharks are eight points behind Vegas for that top seed in the division. Both teams have played 73 games, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to catch the expansion side with only nine games remaining. Winning tonight would obviously make that a little more possible.

Since dropping a 2-0 home decision to the Caps, the Sharks have rattled off five straight wins.

“You always find out what the group’s made of when they’re pushed up against the wall,” head coach Pete DeBoer said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “We were in a group, a couple weeks ago, of five or six teams that were all pretty much in the same spot and we’ve found a way to separate ourselves.”

San Jose has certainly separated themselves from the pack, as they’re three points ahead of Anaheim (third place) with a game a hand.

It’ll be interesting to see how they handle themselves against the number two team in the conference.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for ‘Hawks and Quenneville to split?

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

Erik Karlsson and his wife, Melinda, issued a statement on Wednesday after they lost their unborn child earlier in the week. “At this extremely difficult time, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we do know one day we’ll get there.” (Ottawa Citizen)

• It’s been a tough year for the Blackhawks, so is it time for the team and Joel Quenneville to part ways? (Chicago Sun-Times)

• The Golden Knights have battled goalie injuries earlier this season and they’ll have to do that again because Marc-Andre Fleury is hurt again. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• Do we put too much emphasis on a potential Hart Trophy winner being on a team that makes the playoffs? argues that Connor McDavid deserves to be in the MVP race. (Faceoff Circle)

• Speaking of the Hart Trophy, Nathan MacKinnon is one of the favorites to win the award, but Mikko Rantanen might hurt his chances of taking it home. (Mile High Hockey)

• A Journal of Neurotrauma study showed that 64 percent of the 309 players that went through the NHL’s concussion protocol between 2008-09 and 2016-17 didn’t play in the league three full seasons later. (

• Since the Ian Cole trade happened, the Penguins penalty kill has been in trouble. (

• Minnesota Twins pitcher Phil Hughes is crazy about the Tampa Bay Lightning. Believe it or not, former Bolt Ryan Malone is the reason he became such a huge fan. (Tampa Times)

• The Washington Capitals need to make sure Evgeny Kuznetsov is healthy for the start of the playoffs. Without him, their depth at center takes a significant hit. (Fan Rag Sports)

• The Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star will meet in the Clarkson Cup final. The Victory Press has a full preview of the series. (The Victory Press)

• Team USA’s Monique Lamoureux-Morando has been hired to be an analyst on NHL Network. (Grand Forks Herald)

Steven Stamkos was fined $5,000 for tripping Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly on Tuesday night. (

• The South Korean hockey team admits that they miss playing on the same team as North Koreans. The South Koreans are currently playing in a tournament and they have a few injuries to deal with. (NBC Olympics)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues. By the way, Ryan Donato scored again.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Schwartz the hero, Gibson blanks Flames, Bruins clinch

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Players of the Night:

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: The Blues needed a win on Wednesday. They’ll need a few more still if they’re to push for the playoffs, but Schwartz scored a third-period equalizer and then the overtime winner 30 seconds into the extra frame to keep pace with the Anaheim Ducks (who won) for the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson posted his third shutout in his past seven starts — and fourth of the season — saving all 29 shots that came his way in a 4-0 triumph of the Calgary Flames.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin continued his pursuit of the Hart Trophy, netting a goal and adding an assist for his 41st goal (three back of Alex Ovechkin) and 91st point (three back of Nikita Kucherov).

Highlights of the Night:

Sidney Crosby did a thing – a very nice thing:

Jaden Schwartz, end-to-end to end the game:


Factoids of the Night:


Penguins 5, Canadiens 3

Coyotes 4, Buffalo 1

Blues 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

Ducks 4, Flames 0

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck