Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski meet the media in Columbus

At long last, the kingpins of the new look Blue Jackets have announced their presence in Columbus. On Wednesday, James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter smiled for the cameras, accepted new threads from GM Scott Howson, and played their own personal version of Meet the Press. Their arrival in Ohio is to symbolize a new era in Blue Jackets hockey—an era where the hockey team will do what it takes to be competitive in the Central Division.  More importantly, the two newcomers are expected to help Columbus annually contend for a playoff spot. At the end of the day, that’s what these deals are all about.

If nothing else, these moves were Howson’s Hail Mary: they better work or he’ll be looking for a new job.

Howson addressed the media and immediately explained why the organization was so excited to bring in Jeff Carter and what it will mean to the franchise:

“When we looked at our roster at the end of the year and analyzed where we were and what we needed to do, we had two main priorities: Try and acquire a top center and improve our defense. Now, top centers are not easily available. I think before we acquired Jeff, in the last decade or so, only two had been ever traded – and that’s Joe Thornton and Brad Richards. We had been working on trying to acquire Jeff for a long time. The talks went in fits and starts, and they got very serious on June 1. And finally when Paul was ready to pull the trigger we were only too happy to be there and meet the price and acquire Jeff.

If you look at all the top teams in the NHL, all the true contenders, they’re strong down the middle, whether it’s Vancouver, Philadelphia, Chicago – they’re all really good down the middle and we feel now with Jeff, with Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, and Sammy Pahlsson, Derek MacKenzie, and with Ryan Johansen coming, we have a chance to be very strong down the middle.”

It’s no secret that Carter was upset about being traded by the Flyers a day before the NHL Draft. He remained silent for days after the trade refusing to give as much as a quote to the media. The reality was that he was less upset about the destination than he was about the trade in general. He was told by the Flyers management that he wouldn’t be traded; when he was moved it was a shock to the young sniper. When he finally spoke to the media, it was explained that he was devastated by the way Philadelphia handled the situation—not that he was traded to Columbus.

Carter spoke about his feelings about being traded after signing a long-term deal in Philly:

“When it all went down, I was in shock. There were a lot of emotions going. I took some time to kind of sit back and think of everything before I came out and talked. I didn’t want to come right out and say something that I might regret down the road. But, you know, with Scott (Howson) and Scott Arniel and Rick coming in and talking to me, you know, when they left my house that day I was really, really excited. We talked about the future of the team, the direction, and the city, and all that. And from the moment they left I was real excited.”

There’s no doubt that Carter is the kind of player that the Blue Jackets have been looking to land for a long time. He’s a top-line center with elite offensive skills and has shown the ability to play a strong two-way game. Actually, he’s exactly the type of player all 30 teams in the league would love to have (make that 29). Ever since the trade was announced, Blue Jackets fans have been dreaming about how the Carter/Nash duo could fill the nets next year. Come to think of it, fans outside of Columbus have been wondering the same thing—when was the last time fans outside Columbus wondered about the Blue Jackets for any reason?

The press conference wasn’t Carter’s alone. The team also took the opportunity to introduce their prized free agent signing in defenseman James Wisniewski. The 27-year-old former 5th round draft pick was fifth in the league in scoring (for defensemen) with 51 points. He has 21 points while playing the first half of the season with the Islanders; then stepped up his game with 7 goals and 30 points in 43 games for the Montreal Canadiens. The offensive production last season were careers highs across the board and catapulted him into the discussion among star defensemen. Aside from the offensive numbers, GM Howson was excited about the “sandpaper” that he’d bring to Columbus’ defensive corps. Again, the Jackets acquired a player who will play both sides of the puck.

Part of the reason that he may have not received the full recognition is because he’s bounced around over the last few seasons. Starting with a midseason trade in 2009, Wisniewski has played with the Blackhawks, Ducks, Islanders, Canadiens, and now the Blue Jackets. Coming into the offseason, he’d played on three consecutive one-year deals that helped keep him motivated. He addressed the fear that he’d get comfortable after scoring his big payday after a series of one-year deals:

“I’m the kind of guy, I want to earn the contract. I feel even more pressure this year than I did going into my free agent year – and that’s one of the biggest years of your life. For those critics who say I’m a No. 4 at best, I’m going to prove them wrong.”

But Wisniewski wasn’t done there. He doesn’t play on just collecting a paycheck for the next six years either:

“I don’t want to lose every day. That makes life miserable. With Rick Nash being who he is and Jeff Carter being a top center — those guys don’t come along too often. I look forward to getting this started.”

One thing is for sure—he certainly talks a good game. Elliotte Friedman has his take on Wisniewski and his ability to handle the added pressure that comes with a $33 million contract:

“Like many of us, his greatest strength is his greatest weakness. He is supremely confident. Wisniewski will not feel the pressure of being paid like a No. 1 defenceman, because he thinks of himself as one. That’s important, but gets him into trouble sometimes.”

The next step for Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski will be to translate all of this enthusiasm into some wins. The new faces will undoubtedly help the team on the ice—but this is a team that has desperately needed some help. As has been mentioned ad nauseum, the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs once and they’re still looking for their very first playoff victory in franchise history. Both of the newcomers are used to making the playoffs and they’ll hope to keep the trend going in their new home.

Scott Howson will hope they can keep the trend continuing as well.

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”