Brad Richards to make decision on Saturday, Calgary Flames in the mix?

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From the “where the heck did this come from” file, there are reports that the Calgary Flames have made a late push to lure Brad Richards to Alberta. Even though they weren’t one of the teams to make an in-person pitch to Richards, reports tell us that the Flames extended a 9-year deal worth $64 million. For the first time, we have an idea of the money and terms that teams are throwing at the prize of this year’s free agent class.

We knew it could get out of control, but $7.1 million per season will undoubtedly put some of them out of the running. The Tampa Bay Lightning said they were out of the running and the Buffalo Sabres decided not to make their scheduled pitch to Richards after they landed Ville Leino from the Flyers. Richards said he’s narrowed it down to 4 or 5 teams—which is better than the 30 teams that were in the mix at the beginning of today. Straight from the source, Tony Ambrogio (freelance reporter for SportsNet) learned that this won’t turn into an Ilya Kovalchuk situation like last year:

“Brad Richards says he “really didn’t expect it to turn into this” as far as all the interest.”No need to drag it” past tomorrow.”

New York Rangers: Going into the day, the New York Rangers were the favorite to procure Richards’ services at the end of the fiasco. Between the Rangers need for a top-flight center, a major media market, cap space, and Richards past relationship with John Tortorella, it seemed like everything was in place. TSN reported throughout the morning that Richards planned on talking to the Rangers at the end of the process to give them a chance to match any other offers out there. By the end of the day, there’s no reason to think they aren’t still in the mix.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs were the first team to meet with Richards at the Newport Sports Management building in Mississauga, ON. Maple Leafs executive Dave Nonis made the pitch with GM Brian Burke visiting troops overseas on Canada Day. The meeting reportedly lasted about 45 minutes. The Leafs would love to bring in Richards to be their #1 center feeding pucks to sniper Phil Kessel for 82 games next season. With deep pockets and plenty of cap space, the Leafs were expected to extend one of the most lucrative deals.

Los Angeles Kings: After a rough start at Newport Sports Management, the Kings brought out all the stops to lure Richards to the West Coast. They brought an entourage of representatives including CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (Kings parent company) Tim Leiweke, GM Dean Lombardi, three coaches, a director of scouting, and even their VP of communications. The center piece of their pitch was a video presentation that featured southern Californian stars such as Kobe Bryant and Jerry Bruckheimer. Afterwards, Leiweke said he was proud of the pitch:

“This is the best effort I’ve ever seen, in chasing a player for the Kings. That’s for sure. They were very impressed with the video, and I’m hoping one day we will share the video. We had a lot of people help us and a lot of people speak on our behalf. Some of the people who spoke on our behalf shocked Brad and his agents, and they will shock our fans a little bit, the help that we got here. So this was a good L.A. effort. L.A. showed well here, and I’m proud of the job we did. We’ll see what happens, but certainly, regardless of what happens, it’s nice to be held in this regard now. We’re one of the big boys, and that’s certainly how they looked at it today.”

Philadelphia Flyers: Say what you want about the Flyers recent moves—at least they’ve been interesting. After signing Jaromir Jagr, it was widely assumed that the Flyers were out of the Richards sweepstakes because they were out of cap space. One call to Dale Tallon, one Kris Versteeg trade, and one conference call to Brad Richards and that logic was turned on its head. Nick Kypreos reported that the Flyers made a “solid pitch to Brad Richards that may make them frontrunners.” Scott Burnside doesn’t think the Flyers are in the Final Four, but stranger things have happened.

Calgary Flames: The last team that we heard enter the fray was the Calgary Flames. Even though they didn’t make their presentation in person, they reportedly threw around serious money that deserved serious attention. New Flames GM Jay Feaster has a relationship with Richards from their days in Tampa Bay and captain Jarome Iginla reportedly called Richards in hopes of wooing the free agent.

How will Bruins handle loss of Charlie McAvoy?

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Monday brought rough news for the red-hot Boston Bruins: sensational rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy will miss at least two weeks after undergoing a procedure to treat an abnormal heartbeat.

As you can see in the video above, Keith Jones and Anson Carter discussed McAvoy’s absence, believing that the Bruins will be able to handle it reasonably well.

Tuesday represents the first test, as the B’s take on the New Jersey Devils in a game that’s currently in progress. It’s unclear how much it has to do with McAvoy not being in the lineup, but early on Boston is struggling on defense.

Via Left Wing Lock, it looks like Brandon Carlo slides into the top pairing with Zdeno Chara, while the other pairings look like this:

Chara — Carlo

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Now, Bruce Cassidy deserves credit for taking Claude Julien’s move to a more modern system in 2016-17 to a new level this season, and players like Krug and Carlo boast some promise.

That said, McAvoy’s beyond-his-age impact might be slipping under the radar. So far this season, only Chara (23:26 per game) is averaging more ice time than McAvoy (22:48), with Krug coming in at a distant third of 20:01. McAvoy’s possession stats have, honestly, been pretty brilliant.

While McAvoy undoubtedly benefits from the presence of Chara and what Jones (persuasively) argues is the best offensive line in hockey in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, other blueliners haven’t been this brilliant even while receiving such a plum gig. Via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that McAvoy has been a beast in transition and in denying opponents entry into his zone:

In other words, McAvoy is off the charts for a 20-year-old by most measures, including a healthy 25 points in 45 games this season. If the Calder Trophy was friendlier to defensemen, he’d probably be getting more hype as one of the best rookies in the NHL.

You don’t have to use “for a rookie” or “for a 20-year-old” qualifiers with McAvoy, though. He’s an important piece by any measure.

Even if McAvoy’s numbers are quite inflated – again, plausible with Chara still being really good – the Bruins could feel the sting from a depth standpoint. Guys who maybe should be in street clothes instead get foisted into the lineup. Someone better suited for a mid-level role might be asked to do too much.

McAvoy is expected, at least initially, to only miss two weeks, which would mean missing somewhere between 5-7 games the way Boston’s schedule falls. Of course, this is a heart-related procedure we’re talking about, so the Bruins need to proceed with caution if the young skater experiences setbacks.

If it’s only two weeks, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal; it might just give the Bruins a chance to realize just how pivotal he’s been in their rise from a team fighting for its playoff life to something more.

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

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings

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PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek

Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott Laughton — Tyrell Goulbourne

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

[Flyers look to push win streak to four games against Red Wings]

Detroit Red Wings

Andreas AthanasiouDylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi

Anthony ManthaHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Tomas TatarFrans NielsenMartin Frk

David BoothLuke GlendeningLuke Witkowski

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonXavier Ouellet

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

NHL wants Seattle, but is the Emerald City a hockeytown?

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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By Tim Booth (AP Sports Writer)

KENT, Wash. (AP) — They showed up on a Tuesday night in early January to enjoy the 2-for-1 beers and hot dogs, the free parking, the $15 tickets a few rows off the ice and the chance to chant ”Portland sucks,” for three hours.

Some of the more than 5,000 people in attendance wore the jerseys of the Islanders, Sharks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Canucks, Golden Knights and of course, the hometown Seattle Thunderbirds of the junior-level Western Hockey League. Someday it may be the Sasquatch, Totems or Sockeyes or whatever a potential future NHL franchise in Seattle ends up adopting as its nickname.

This scene plays out regularly inside the ShoWare Center, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Seattle. Junior hockey in Seattle has a storied history. Hockey’s history in the Emerald City dates back more than a century to when the Seattle Metropolitans hoisted the 1917 Stanley Cup.

All indications are that the NHL and Seattle are on the verge of a marriage sometime in 2018. The arrival of an NHL franchise – likely in 2020 or 2021 depending on construction of a remodeled Seattle Center arena – will fill a void in the gloomy months of the sports calendar and drop the NHL into the biggest market in the country without a winter sports team.

But can a booming Seattle eventually become a hockeytown?

”It’s the last place in the United States in my opinion to catch on to hockey,” said former Philadelphia Flyers general manager and current Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell.

”Everyone assumes that because we’re close to Canada we’re into hockey and that’s not the case,” Farwell continued. ”There is no reason this can’t be a good hockey town and I think there is a lot of pluses.”

The first test of Seattle’s willingness to embrace the NHL will arrive in the coming months when the prospective NHL ownership group begins a season-ticket drive, the same way the league tested Las Vegas.

But finding a foothold in Seattle will be an examination of how starved fans are for another team. Basketball is embedded in the DNA of the region thanks to 41 years of the SuperSonics until 2008 and a lengthy history of producing NBA talent. When the rain of the fall and winter drive young athletes inside, they grab a basketball and head for the nearest gym to play pickup games.

Basketball courts and coffee shops seem to be on every corner, but ice rinks are scarce.

”The chance to participate and stay involved and play the game needs ice rinks and that’s all it would take,” Farwell said. ”There’s no reason this couldn’t be grown to be a good hockey city and center and stuff but it’s not automatic and it’s not just going to happen.”

Any NHL team in Seattle would find a completely different landscape than a decade ago when the Sonics and NBA moved to Oklahoma City and the city lost its winter sports outlet.

Seattle’s skyline is filled with as many construction cranes as snowcapped peaks in the surrounding mountains. Amazon has taken over an entire section of the city, joined nearby by satellite offices of Google and Facebook. The amount of wealth now in the Seattle market is part of the reason Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke has regularly called Seattle ”a brilliant marketplace” and one of the most enticing expansion opportunities in pro sports history.

Seattle has become a city of transplants due to the booming local economy. A hockey franchise would provide those newcomers a team to rally around, much like what happened when the Sounders of the MLS arrived in 2009.

But it’s a different sports marketplace than a decade ago, when ticket sales and television revenues were driving franchise success. The globalization of sports due to technology has become a challenge for all leagues, said Jennifer Hoffman of the College of Education at the University of Washington.

”I think the question about our population is what sports are they interested in? And that’s going to be a challenge for all of our franchises, our big franchises and our smaller ones,” Hoffman said. ”It’s not a Seattle phenomenon but we’re a good case for this point in history where digital transition is really occurring and it’s really hard to know who your fans are and where they are.”

John Barr believes there are plenty of potential hockey fans in the Seattle market. A Bay Area transplant, Barr has become the voice of hockey fans with his NHLtoSeattle.com website and social accounts. Barr got hooked on the sport while attending San Jose games when the Sharks arrived the Bay Area. He’s regularly makes trips to Boston, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville and Las Vegas for games.

”The Seahawks run this town and I think a lion share of people obviously want the Sonics back,” Barr said. ”I totally understand the hierarchy there, but I just think this is a great opportunity for the area to have the NHL and have a winter sport.”

Season tickets are just one of several significant obstacles. Arena construction won’t begin until later this year with an ambitious goal of completion in late 2020. There are also transportation issues near the arena site.

And the franchise needs to be awarded in the first place. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn’t even entertain discussion about Seattle recently.

”The application has not yet been filed so any speculation about Seattle is, at this point, a little premature,” Bettman said.

In the corner of his office, Thunderbirds Vice President Colin Campbell has a photo of Wayne Gretzky in the foreground with Campbell behind the glass. He grew up in Edmonton and was a Zamboni driver for the Oilers in his younger years. Now he ponders the future of hockey in Seattle with the NHL on the horizon.

”It always amazed me when I first got here that people didn’t even know there was a hockey team in town. Well, that’s still the case,” said Campbell, who moved to Seattle in 1995. ”It’s still out there, and yet we’re doing very well in this building and everything is going good. But it’s a big market, it’s a tough market to reach … so with an NHL team coming in and working together it will create new opportunities to grow.”

Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi bouncing back strong from AHL demotion

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It wasn’t the easiest start to a career, but Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers has used an AHL demotion to take hold of a regular NHL spot this season.

The No. 4 overall pick from the 2016 draft played 28 games last season in Edmonton before being sent down to Bakersfield for the rest of the year. It was the right move by general manager Peter Chiarelli, even though it should have happened earlier than it did, especially when you look at just how much his ice time had been declining.

Fast forward to training camp this past September and the 19-year-old Puljujarvi still needed some more seasoning in the AHL. Head coach Todd McLellan said at the time they expected him to be one of their nine-best forwards and weren’t willing to keep him up with the big club to be stuck on the fourth line.

“We didn’t feel like he won that position and therefore we wanted to get him to Bakersfield and have him start the season there and get him working on his game,” McLellan said after camp.

Puljujarvi got a second chance in November when injuries forced an opening on the Oilers’ right side. “He’s not going to be our savior,” McLellan said. “Everybody else has to contribute and help him feel comfortable.”

Had it not been for injuries, it was anyone’s guess when Puljujarvi would have received another shot. He wasn’t exactly lighting it up in the AHL with a goal and five points in 10 games. The call up was basically a test. We need a body on the right wing. Show us what you got. The answer so far has been a passing grade: nine goals and 14 points in 30 games.

Using his size — 6’4, 211 lbs. — Puljujarvi has positioned himself in and around the net more compared to last season and it’s reflected in where most of his 80 shots have come from, as HockeyViz.com shows. He’s also shooting more and is currently second in the league in shots per 60 at even strength (11.77), per Natural Stat Trick, up from 7.27 a season ago.

The production has resulted in more ice time, which is up three minutes from last season. As a young player, it’s common for the points to dry up and have that drought affect your play, but that hasn’t been the case for Puljujarvi, something the coaching staff has noticed.

“He’s played well. He’s played confident,” said McLellan earlier this week. “The big test for him is that he went dry for five, six, seven, eight games without anything. Was he going to regress and lose his confidence? I thought he looked very confident the other day so that tells me he’s continuing his growth and he’s able to fight off those negative demons, if you will. As a result, he gets a little bit more time on the power play and we’re trying to position him where he can use his shot somewhat. He’s really starting to understand the systematic part of it and he’s been fun to be around the last little bit because he’s believing in himself and everyone else is believing in him.”

On and off the ice, Puljujarvi has shown an infectious personality as he works on his English. The hanging tongue when he skates? “That’s my thing, I don’t know why I do it.” Videobombing Connor McDavid while eating pizza? “That’s one time!”

Then there was the one afternoon during Edmonton’s bye week where Puljujarvi hit up a local outdoor rink and ended up playing some shinny with a couple of stunned young fans, leaving them with some photos, a signed stick and plenty of memories.

“I just wanted to go outside and do something. It’s always fun to skate,” he said.

One thing to take out of an Oilers season that hasn’t had a lot of positives is Puljujarvi’s emergence. He took advantage of an opportunity and it appears as if his days in Bakersfield are behind him for good.

“The sky is as tall as he wants it to be,” said Connor McDavid. “He’s big, skates well, is confident, has a great shot. But I think it all goes back to his size. He’s 6-4, still young, trying to (grow) into his body. He’ll be that solid-on-his feet, good puck-battle guy. Good in front of the net. The sky’s the limit for him.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.