Andrew Ladd visits Winnipeg in preparation for free agency

There are a ton of items on the docket for True North and new Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. From possibly putting together a new staff to finally coming up with a name for the team, everyone involved will undoubtedly have their hands full between now and the beginning of the season. But one of the most important efforts will center on their ability to re-sign captain Andrew Ladd.

Ladd is one of the best restricted players in what is shaping up to be a relatively weak free agent class. Any team would love to bring in a guy who can score around 30 goals, play with grit, and bring leadership to their locker room. At 25-years-old, the former #4 overall pick has already won a pair of Stanley Cups and has recently proven to be an extremely valuable player on and off the ice. What proof? Ask someone in Chicago if the Blackhawks missed Ladd’s contributions this season.

Even though he’d be a valuable addition to any NHL team, it would be a huge signing if the Winnipeg franchise was able to keep him in the fold. GM Cheveldayoff knows top line leaders are difficult to find—so he’ll do everything he can to keep the one they have in the mix. For those in Manitoba looking for silver linings, Ladd has given people around the organization hope that he’ll be willing to make the move with the rest of the team.

New Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff explained to the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Ladd planned the trip (to Winnipeg) and came on his own. He wanted to look around. His fiancé was with him and his agent. He took the initiative himself… He’s got a busy summer, but he took the time to check out the market himself. It says a lot about his character.”

Ladd taking the time to personally check out the area is a positive sign for a team that needs to keep him in the fold. As important as he was to the Thrashers last season, Ladd’s situation is much more important than his career high 29 goals and 59 points. The signing would prove to be symbolic for the franchise as well. One of the major concerns for True North is the ability to attract big-name free agents to the Winnipeg market. If they are unable to attract future free agents to the arena, it won’t matter how much money they are willing to spend to bring in newcomers. Then again, millions of dollars has a way of convincing most athletes in the midst of free agency.

Assuming Winnipeg is able to retain Andrew Ladd, it could symbolize a new era in Winnipeg hockey. One of the major problems for the Winnipeg Jets was they were unable to attract the highest quality free agents. A stronger Canadian dollar should help their cause—but the capitol of Manitoba will never be confused for a cosmopolitan metropolis like many of the competing markets in the Northeast. By retaining their captain, the market would immediately prove they are capable of signing desirable free agents.  Ladd’s signing could show that players want to play in Manitoba.

Obviously, the restricted Ladd and the new organization will work to get a deal done—but touring the market on his own is the first positive step for Winnipeg.

Sharks director of player development Larry Robinson won’t return next season

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Larry Robinson will not be back with the San Jose Sharks next season.

A team spokesman confirmed Thursday that Robinson’s contract expires in the summer and that he will not return. Robinson had been with the Sharks for the five seasons, first as an associate coach for two years and then as director of player development the past three.

The Hall of Fame defenseman joined the Sharks in 2012 after coaching the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. He won the Stanley Cup as New Jersey’s head coach in 2000.

Robinson won the Cup six times as a player with the Montreal Canadiens. After mixed results as a head coach, he was considered one of the top assistants in the NHL. He will be 66 next week.

The Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final last season.

PHT Morning Skate: 12 teams will reportedly alter their uniforms next season

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–Adidas will become the official outfitter of the NHL in 2017-18, which means that some teams will make some tweaks to their current jersey. 12 teams are reportedly going to make some type of alteration to their uniform. The Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Oilers, Panthers, Wild, Predators, Devils and Senators are the teams making changes. (Sportsnet)

–NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley was working the Cavaliers-Celtics game in Boston last night, but even he admitted that he’d rather be watching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (The Score)

–The Anaheim Ducks went on a nice run to the third round of the playoffs, but for them to take another step forward, they’ll need someone other than Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler to make more of an impact, per beat reporter Eric Stephens. (OC Register)

–Not many Oilers fans were happy with the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson swap, but Larsson’s play this season some fans forget about Hall, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy. He writes: “One surprise was how well the Oilers scored with Larsson on the ice, the best of any defenceman on the team and behind only the first line forwards. That went a long way to explaining his splendid +21 on the season, this after his +15 the previous campaign with a weak Devils club was largely achieved through stingy defensive outcomes.” (Edmonton Journal)

Chris Kunitz scored two goals, including the game-winning goal in double overtime to send the Pens to their second straight Stanley Cup Final. Check out the highlights from Game 7 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Here’s a pretty interesting stat via PHT’s Adam Gretz regarding Pittsburgh’s playoff success in the Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr era vs. the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin era:

–It’s been a tough year for Craig Anderson and his wife Nicholle, but she Tweeted a nice message after the Senators dropped Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary