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‘Furry’ rumors: Rescheduled event leads some to think 2012 NHL Entry Draft will be in Pittsburgh

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While we like to think that a sports arenas’ one and only goal is to house our favorite teams, those venues also make their money by attracting all kinds of other performers. Sometimes that calls for scheduling conflicts – one could see that situation most obviously when many were concerned that the Chicago Bulls’ playoff run would clash with the galactic extravaganza that was Oprah’s finale.

Thanks to their post-lockout rejuvenation, the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t oblivious to such situations. A Yanni concert forced some scheduling difficulties during their 2009 playoff series with the Washington Capitals, something that generated meme-fuel around the Internet.

While the latest situation is still in the “pure gossip” stage, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News unearthed some rather,um, “Furry” evidence that the 2012 NHL Entry Draft might take place at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

While NHL mascots don’t usually attend the draft, Anthrocon, ironically, is for people who enjoy dressing up in mascot-style costumes, emulating animals. Anthrocon has already announced that their annual convention in Pittsburgh has been moved up a week thanks to amicable negotiations with the city. (The move is also reflected on the convention center’s website.)

A post on the Anthrocon website states the group was approached by the city with the scheduling request due to a “very rare opportunity to host an event that they have been wanting to host for many years.”

When contacted by the The Hockey News, a representative from the NHL said in an email: “We have nothing to report on the 2012 Draft other than Pittsburgh was a bid market.”

If you aren’t a regular viewer of the HBO show “Entourage,” you might not know what a “Furry” is. Let’s just say it’s a niche … activity that – you know what, I’ll give you the description from Anthrocon themselves and allow you to put the pieces together.

Anthropomorphic or “humanized” animals have been with us since the dawn of civilization. From the gods of ancient Egypt to the advertising icons of the modern day, people of every culture have created fanciful creatures simply by imbuing animals with human traits. Only within the last two decades has anthropomorphic or “Furry” fandom been recognized as a distinct fan-base in its own right. Fans are found in all corners of the world, and come from all races and ages and creeds. We are bound together across the most daunting barriers by our mutual admiration for these beasts of myth and legend who, by simple reflection, give us a better window into ourselves.

Hey, to each his or her own – as long as you don’t hurt each other. Heck, when it comes to hockey, that last part is obviously negotiable. (Note: this isn’t to say that anyone who attends that convention will do anything more than dress up as an animal, by the way. Let’s just move on.)

Anyway, the event being rescheduled doesn’t guarantee anything other than the fact that some dedicated people will have one less week to put together their costumes. It might be some time before the NHL announces the official location of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, whether it’s in Pittsburgh or not. We’ll pass along updates, especially when they’re a bit less fuzzy.

(H/T to George Malik.)

Stamkos close to game shape, but return might be weeks or months away

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Steve Stamkos began to practice again on Tuesday and he was back out there on Wednesday and Thursday, which some might interpret as him being close to returning. It seems premature to say that definitively.

“It could be weeks. It could be months,” Stamkos said of his timetable, per ESPN. “That’s the tough part.”

The problem isn’t getting back into game shape after undergoing vascular surgery in early April. He feels he’s already close to reaching that objective. The issue is that Stamkos is on blood thinners, which prevents him from taking any contact. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be on blood thinners.

For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent the same surgery and was out for two months and the original timetable provided on April 4 for Stamkos was one-to-three months. So based on that, it sounds like it would be surprising if he returned anytime soon.

Bergeron, Kesler, Kopitar named Selke finalists

Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron celebrates after scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Will Patrice Bergeron join Bob Gainey as the only players to have ever won the Selke Trophy four times?

That’s a distinct possibility after the Bruins center was named as a finalist along with Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar.

The Selke Trophy honors the league’s top defensive forward and for three of the last four years, that distinction has gone to Bergeron. However, Kesler and Kopitar have been popular with the voters of this award as well.

Kopitar has finished second in the voting in each of the previous two campaigns while Kesler won back in 2011, though he finished outside of the top-five in each of the last three years prior to the 2015-16 campaign.

Among the trio, Kesler excelled this season on the draw with a 58.5% success rate, which was good for second in the league among forwards who took at least 200 faceoffs. Bergeron was up there too, winning 57.1% of his draws while Kopitar posted a 53.5%. Meanwhile, Bergeron ranked seventh in the NHL with 67 takeaways compared to Kesler’s 39 and Kopitar’s 43. Where Kopitar stood out was in plus/minus as he finished second in the league at plus-34. Kesler was plus-five and Bergeron was plus-12.

Kopitar similarly led the trio with a 57.4% Corsi For versus Bergeron’s 55.9% and Kesler’s 52.9%.

Capitals get Orpik back for series opener

Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Washington. The Capitals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed half of Washington’s first round series, but he’s back in time for the opener against his former team.

Orpik last played on April 18 and was regarded as questionable going into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh. He’s expected to be paired with John Carlson throughout the contest.

Washington’s other projected pairings are Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen as well as Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.

Orpik was limited to 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season, but when he did play he averaged 19:48 minutes per contest. He also recorded 125 hits and 102 blocked shots despite missing half the season. The 35-year-old blueliner got his start with Pittsburgh and played in 703 regular season contests with them and an additional 92 postseason contests. This is his second season with Washington.

Wild GM Fletcher undecided on Vanek buyout, but notes ‘our cap situation is much better this year’

Minnesota Wild left wing Thomas Vanek controls the puck during NHL hockey training camp in St. Paul, Minn., Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Thomas Vanek hopes he’s not bought out, but his rough 2015-16 campaign has made that a possibility.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher certainly isn’t ruling it out, but at the same time he also presented an assessment for Vanek that was in a way more of a mixed than negative review.

“I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team,” Fletcher said, per the StarTribune. “He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year.”

That last point is particularly relevant given that a buyout essentially boils down to missing out on the chance of Vanek bouncing back in exchange for some short-term cap relief. To put figures on it, buying out Vanek would save Minnesota $5 million in cap space for the 2016-17 campaign, but then it will cost Minnesota $2.5 million in 2017-18, per General Fanager.

With Vanek in the books, the Wild are projected to consume $63.8 million in cap space next season and that figure doesn’t including pending restricted free agents Jason Zucker, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Matt Dumba, or Darcy Kuemper. If the 2016-17 ceiling is $74 million, as has been previously suggested, then it seems reasonable to believe that Minnesota can lock up its RFAs, keep Vanek, and still have some flexibility left over to engage in other changes over the summer. Although obviously gaining an extra $5 million would make it easier for them to make more sizable moves.

“I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options,” Fletcher said.

The plan is for Fletcher to take a couple weeks before deciding on what to do with Vanek.

Related: No Chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM