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Joe Thornton challenged Ryan Kesler to a fight during opening faceoff of Game 1

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During the 2009 playoffs, I was lucky enough to watch Game 6 of the Anaheim Ducks-San Jose Sharks first round series with Battle of California‘s Earl Sleek. It didn’t take long for that game to provide a lasting memory, either. In a truly rare sight, Joe Thornton started a fight with Ryan Getzlaf right after the puck was dropped for the first time.

The Ducks ended up winning 4-1 to close out the Sharks in that series, but it was still pretty stunning to watch two big-name (and over-sized) centers drop the gloves like that. Maybe it was an expression of Thornton’s frustrations from a hard-luck series, but it showed (to me at least) that he wasn’t just gliding through defeat.

While that moment remains a statistical anomaly, it seems like Thornton might just enjoy starting big games with a little tussle. You may have noticed that Thornton was thrown out of the faceoff circle to start his team’s Game 1 match against the Vancouver Canucks. Apparently Thornton wasn’t kicked out of the circle for typical infractions alone; the large center admitted that he challenged Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler to fight during that opening draw.

Unlike Getzlaf, Kesler decided not to fight Thornton, though.*

“Why not?” Thornton said Tuesday, confirming he made the invitation to Kesler. “Let’s fight. Let’s start the series off with a bang.”

The Sharks ended up losing 3-2 in Game 1, but Thornton was able to start off the game pretty well nonetheless. As you may remember, he jumped on an atrocious Roberto Luongo pass to make it 1-0 early in the first period. Sure, it wasn’t enough to win the game, but Jumbo Joe was clearly keyed in to start off that contest.

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During his days with the Boston Bruins, Thornton was a player who entered the penalty box almost as often as he lit up the scoreboard. It’s possible that the Sharks asked him to tone things down a bit, with the simple logic that they’d rather have their best player on the ice rather than in the box.

In previous years, much of the frustration with Thornton’s (mostly overblown) playoff struggles probably came from his body language and perceived lack of assertiveness. I think a lot of his improved play stems from some lucky bounces (just look at that goal video), but there’s a sense that he’s imposing his will much more. This story adds another layer to that building perception.

So it’s clear Thornton is getting excited for the playoffs, especially to start games. Yet the question remains: will Thornton and the Sharks show that same fight to close out the Canucks in future games?

* To be fair to Kesler, Thornton is much larger than him. Thornton and Getzlaf are much more comparable, size-wise.

Report: Wheat Kings’ McCrimmon likely to be named Las Vegas assistant GM

Brandon Wheat Kings v Kelowna Rockets
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The Las Vegas NHL franchise has been in search of an assistant general manager, and that search may be nearing an end.

According to a report from Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show on TSN 1260, Brandon Wheat Kings owner, GM and coach Kelly McCrimmon is likely to be named assistant GM in Las Vegas.

The report was backed up on Friday from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Last summer, McCrimmon turned down a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs front office.

It was reported last week that Vegas general manager George McPhee had asked the Washington Capitals for permission to speak with that team’s assistant GM Ross Mahoney.

Canucks’ Rodin says he’s ‘not 100 percent but getting close’ after freak knee injury

EURO HOCKEY TOUR SWE-CZE
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Anton Rodin will be among a lengthy list of right wingers looking to compete for a roster spot with the Vancouver Canucks for next season.

Originally selected by the Canucks in 2009, and after having gone back to play professionally in Sweden, where he began to light it up offensively, Rodin signed with Vancouver for one year, and one way at $950,000. He’s listed as a right winger, but has a left shot and could perhaps help the Canucks find some scoring, which was a major problem for them during a dreadful 2015-16 campaign.

General manager Jim Benning, in speaking with The Province newspaper, has already compared Rodin’s style to that of Canucks’ forward Sven Baertschi.

However, he’s still working back from a knee injury that interrupted his 2015-16 season, in which he had 37 points in 33 games for Brynas.

From Sportsnet:

Over the past couple of seasons Rodin found a new level in the SHL and was particularly dominant this season. Wearing a captain’s “C” on his sweater, Rodin was leading the league in scoring by a wide margin before sustaining a gruesome knee ligament tear during a mid-January practice.

That injury sidelined Rodin for the balance of Brynas’ season, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from winning the Guldhjälmen – quite literally “the gold helmet” – which is an MVP award voted on by SHL players, similar to the NHL’s Ted Lindsay Award.

As per News 1130 Sports in Vancouver on Friday, the 25-year-old Rodin will arrive in town next week to have his knee checked out.

Avalanche, Tyson Barrie have arbitration hearing, could still reach a deal before ruling

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 08:  Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center on October 8, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Wild defeated the Avalanche 5-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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So far, scheduled arbitration hearings around the NHL have been avoided — until Friday.

The Colorado Avalanche and defenseman Tyson Barrie went ahead with the player-elected arbitration hearing on Friday, however, the two sides can still reach a new deal before a decision from arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier must be provided within 48 hours of the hearing.

Here is what was separating the two sides heading into the hearing, as per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet:

Last season, the 25-year-old Barrie, who brings an offensive style to Colorado’s blue line, tied his single-season career high in goals with 13. He also had 49 points, which is four shy of his single-season career high from 2014-15.

He also just wrapped up his two-year deal, which came with an average annual value of $2.6 million.

Given his numbers and the position he plays, Barrie is in for a substantial raise. Exactly what dollar figure that comes to has yet to be determined.

From the Denver Post:

The arbitration hearing could get bruising, with the Barrie camp citing his offensive numbers and arguing that as a terrific skater and puckhandler, he is among the top offensive defensemen in the league; but with the Avalanche countering that as an undersized defenseman, he has deficiencies in the Colorado end.

The Avalanche have the option of walking away from the arbitrator’s ruling, but that could make Barrie, a right-shot blue liner, an unrestricted free agent.

Barrie has also been the subject of trade speculation, but Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has already said the Avs are not trading Barrie.

“I’d like to do a long-term deal with Tyson. If that doesn’t work out, it’s expected he’ll go to arbitration,” Sakic told the Denver Post last month. “Either way, he’ll be here.”

Related: Barrie’s agent says no lingering issues with Avs from O’Reilly situation

NHL to arbitrate co-owner’s case against Predators

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 11:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettmann attends Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bridgestone Arena on April 11, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A judge has ruled against a co-owner of the Nashville Predators in his bid to keep his lawsuit against the franchise in a Tennessee court and allowed the case to go back to the NHL for arbitration.

According to online court records, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle issued her ruling Friday after hearing arguments July 20. But her ruling dismissing David Freeman’s request for a stay of arbitration had not been posted as of Friday afternoon. At least parts of the order likely will be sealed or redacted.

The Tennessean first reported the ruling.

The former Predators chairman and Commodore Trust sued Predators Holdings LLC and current team chairman Tom Cigarran on June 23 seeking $250 million in damages for his original 48 percent stake in the team being diluted.

Related: Predators’ messy legal battle may go to arbitration with NHL