Devils sign top pick Adam Larsson to three-year entry level deal; Will he play in NHL this year?

Not since 1991 and Scott Niedermayer have the Devils had a top prospect defenseman come along with as much hope and hype as 2011 top pick Adam Larsson has. Larsson was the top defensive prospect in the draft and when the Oilers, Avalanche, and Panthers all passed on him Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was more than happy to grab him fourth overall. Now they’ll get to see what they’ve really got on their hands as the Devils have signed Larsson to his three-year entry level contract.

The Devils had a bit of a time crunch to get a deal done with Larsson now as if he made it past 5 p.m. ET today, his contract with his Swedish pro team would’ve kicked in meaning the Devils would’ve had to pay out to bring him over. Instead, he signs his three year contract and avoids both costing the Devils extra money and potentially spending one more year in Sweden.

The other unique thing about Larsson’s deal is that it comes without the usual bells and whistles of performance bonuses that you see in draft pick entry level deals. Those bonuses, regardless of what they are, are included as part of the salary cap hit for the player and it helps the Devils out immensely to have Larsson agree to signing without those kickbacks. Larsson’s salary cap hit for the three seasons he sees time in the NHL will be $925,000. Larsson’s agent J.P. Barry says the deal is unique for a top ten pick.

“Everything is maximum except obviously he doesn’t have individual ‘A’ bonuses,” Barry said.

Barry said he’s never previously had a top 10 pick not have an individual bonus package as part of his entry-level contract.

“We’ve had several players in the top 10 and we’ve always had bonuses packages and even into the top 20 in many instances,” Barry said. “That’s the way the system is designed. At the same time, Lou has never given individual bonuses at any time. Obviously, the difference here is he’s never really had a top pick (since the entry-level cap system was put in place).”

 

Larsson joins a Devils team that’s in need of a solid, puck moving defenseman that can play great at both ends of the ice. Fortunately for New Jersey, Larsson fits the bill to be one of those players and they might need him to be that right away. Taking a look at the Devils defense for the upcoming season, one thing they’re severely lacking in is high-end talent.

New Jersey has Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, and Henrik Tallinder penciled in as their top three defensemen. With guys like Colin White, Mark Fayne, Jay Leach, and a still hurting Bryce Salvador filling out the roster for now that’s a very blue collar and not overly gifted set of players.

With the sort of game Larsson can bring to the ice, the Devils can get that solid two-way play they’ve been missing since Scott Niedermayer left town. While Larsson didn’t put up big offensive numbers, he’s got the skills to do well there as a pro and Hockey’s Future believes he’ll be a top pair defenseman in the NHL. While Larsson likes to look up to Nicklas Lidstrom (what Swedish defenseman doesn’t?) if he can make fans in New Jersey start thinking of Niedermayer, he’ll be a favorite there for a long time to come. For now, he’ll have to prove himself in training camp to see if he can earn a spot on the team.

While the Devils don’t have a head coach yet, if there’s anything we’ve learned during Lamoriello’s years running the Devils it’s that nothing is given, everything is earned. If Larsson can earn his spot in the NHL right out of camp, it’s doubtful he’ll be giving it up any time soon.

Should Zach Hyman’s goal on Petr Mrazek have counted?

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There may or may not have been a controversial call in Sunday’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the score tied at zero in the first period, Zach Hyman appeared to have opened the scoring for the Leafs, but the goal was waved off because Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek‘s mask came off.

As you can tell from the video below, Auston Matthews‘ shot catches Mrazek in the mask. Right before Hyman buries the buck into the net, Mrazek shakes his mask off because a strap snapped out of place. It’s definitely not an easy call to make in the moment.

Take a look for yourself:

Here’s what rule 9.6 of the NHL rulebook says about these kind of plays:

When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team’s end zone face-off spots.

When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game. 

It’s clear that Mrazek removed his helmet intentionally, but he only did so because at least one of the straps snapped off. Also, the referee could have blown the play dead because he assumed that one of the two Red Wings in the slot would take control of the puck. Instead, both Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi whiffed on it.

But according to the rule, the play can only be stopped if the opposing team doesn’t have an immediate or impending scoring opportunity. Was Hyman’s chance an immediate or impending scoring opportunity? It sure looks like it, but that’s at the official’s discretion.

There’s a bit of a grey zone with this rule, so it’s hard to say if the referee applied the rule correctly or not.

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

Connor McDavid spoils Nathan MacKinnon’s return

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Sunday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche was supposed to be all about Nathan MacKinnon‘s return to the lineup, but Connor McDavid had other ideas.

The Oilers might be struggling, but McDavid had some individual success this month. On Sunday, the Oilers captain picked up his second hat trick of the month in Edmonton’s 4-2 win over Colorado.

In eight games this month, the 21-year-old has accumulated an impressive 11 goals.

Here’s his first tally of the game:

McDavid finished the game with a plus-3 rating, five shots on goal and a huge save in 19:52 of ice time. That’s right, a huge save. With the Avs leading 1-0 in the first period, McDavid prevented the opposition from going up by two.

His second tally tied the game at two, while his hat-trick goal was scored into an empty-net.

According to NHL Public Relations, He’s the first Oiler to score three hat tricks in a season since Petr Klima in 1990-91.

Meanwhile, MacKinnon returned the lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. He had a minus-2 rating, four shots on goal and one hit in 22:20 of ice time. Only Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen had more ice time among Avalanche forward.

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

American women try to sharpen aim for semifinal vs. Finland

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Shooting the puck is not an issue for the Americans. Finding the back of the net is, especially considering how many shots they are taking at the Olympics.

The United States has outshot each opponent in each of their first three games with a combined margin of 137-60. Yet they have just nine goals to show for all that work. Their offense withered in a opening 3-1 win over Finland. It’s not for lack of trying: Knight tied for the team-high with six shots in a win over the Russians and had four in the loss to Canada.

”Any good shooter knows that you’ve just got to take shots and some are going to go in, some aren’t going to go in,” Knight said. ”So hopefully the pucks start bouncing in the direction we want them to go.”

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson leads the Americans with three points after setting an Olympic record for the fastest back-to-back goals by a man or woman by scoring in 6 seconds in a 5-0 win over the Russians.

Stauber reunited Lamoureux-Davidson on the same line with her sister, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, just before these Olympics, and the twins have combined for five points in three games on a line with Kelly Pannek. Lamoureux-Davidson said they simply need to bury their chances.

”We had a lot of shots on net and a lot of opportunities, some loose pucks on the net in scrums, a few inches off in a lot of them, so we’ve just got to find a way to get those goals,” she said.

With the United States winning the last four world championships and seven of the last eight , the easy and usual assumption is the Americans would square off against Canada for the gold medal the Canadians have won each of the past four Olympics . But the United States lost to Sweden in 2006 and took home bronze from Turin.

The Americans are 7-0 against Finland (Sunday, Feb. 18, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in the Olympics and have won 22 games in international competition with one overtime loss and one tie. But Finland beat Canada in pool play at the world championships last spring and has worked to take advantage of this opportunity.

”It’s sort of a one-game tournament now,” Knight said. ”We’ve got to win to advance to where we want to be. Can’t take Finland lightly. Every game is 50/50 going in, so just trying to sway the odds in our favor during the time of play.”

Stauber said he has tinkered less with the game plan based on their familiarity with the Finns, the world’s third-ranked team last year. Combined with how they’ve been shooting the puck, that’s why the Americans are focused on converting within 15 feet of the net.

Easier said than done with opponents working to clog up the middle to keep the United States from doing just that.

”Now we’ve got to execute and get the puck across the goal line,” Stauber said.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Devante Smith-Pelly addresses fans’ racial taunts

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Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly met with the media on Sunday afternoon and discussed the incident that took place in Chicago on Saturday night when four Blackhawks fans were ejected from the game for directing racist taunts at him while he sat in the penalty box.

Smith-Pelly was penalized late in the third period following a fight and could be seen getting visibly frustrated with the fans sitting next to the glass.

“I was just in the box, just heard some chanting, some racially charged chanting I guess you could say,” said Smith-Pelly when explaining what he heard. “You could tell by my reaction I got pretty upset. It was a little different from the night before in Minnesota when that guy was just joking around I guess, he didn’t really cross the line. What was said this time around crossed the line, you could tell by my reaction.”

It was reported that the fans were chanting “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black.

Smith-Pelly said on Sunday that it was that one word being directed at him.

It’s pretty obvious what that means,” he said. “It’s not really a secret. It’s just one word, that’s all it takes. Whether it’s that word or any other word. We got the idea, or I got the idea, I am sure they got the idea too. Just one word, I guess that’s really all it takes.”

“It’s disgusting, I don’t even really know,” he continued. “It’s sad that it’s 2018 and we’re still talking about the same thing over and over. It’s sad that athletes like myself, 30, 40 years ago were standing in the same spot saying the same thing. You would think there would be some sort of change or progression, but we’re still working toward it I guess and we’re going to keep working toward it.”

Smith-Pelly said a similar taunt was directed at him when he was playing junior hockey in Penticton

“It happened one other time when I was younger,” said Smith-Pelly. “I had the same reaction back then. I didn’t really tell anyone about it, I guess I just kind of brushed it off. But we’re at a time now where we can’t brush it under the rug. You have to start calling people out, making sure people see other people’s true colors. I guess I’m trying to get the conversation started and show whoever these people are their true colors.”

You can watch Smith-Pelly’s entire media session here.

The NHL and the Capitals organizations both released statements regarding the issue on Sunday.

First, from the Capitals.

“The Washington Capitals are extremely disappointed by the intolerant behavior extended toward Devante Smith-Pelly by a select group of fans during Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. The Capitals organization strives to be inclusive and has zero tolerance concerning any form of racism. Such behavior is unacceptable and has no place in hockey or society. As such, it is crucial to confront such appalling conduct, and the Capitals extend their appreciation to the Blackhawks organization and United Center security for swiftly removing the fans from the game.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement. February, it is worth pointing out, is “hockey is for everyone” month around the NHL.

“Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said Bettman in the statement.

“The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.