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Houston and Las Vegas rank among Business Journal’s top markets for an NHL team

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In the grand scheme of things, the NHL’s landing back in Winnipeg has been a smashing success so far. That being said, there are more than a few people who are skeptical about the Jets’ long-term future for the simple fact that they play in a small market. Optimists counter that the passion level is high enough that a limited market won’t doom the revamp.

Of course, the ex-Atlanta Thrashers weren’t the only team in danger of relocating, which generates plenty of discussion about which markets might be the next one(s) to receive an NHL team. The most common duo are usually two Canadian markets: Hamilton, Ontario and Quebec City. Once you get down to the United States markets, Kansas City and Seattle have been hot topics lately, whether that attention is justified or not.

American markets score well in one study of potential NHL markets

The Business Journals’ On Numbers tried to tackle the question of which markets are ideal for an NHL team based on the total personal income of a given market’s population. Riverside-San Bernardino (California) ranked number one while Houston, Bridgeport-Stamford (Connecticut), Las Vegas, Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Providence, Austin, Hartford, Sacramento and Richmond rounded out the top 10. There were 22 markets that met the Biz Journal’s benchmark total personal income base of $37.6 billion, with Atlanta* (11th place), San Antonio (14th), Portland (19) and Seattle (20) being among the most interesting markets.. The biggest shocker might be the inclusion of Honolulu, Hawaii at the 15 spot.

Meanwhile, Quebec City came in at 31 and Hamilton, Ontario earned a 33rd place ranking, with both markets earning a “borderline” label and a score of 80 on the study’s capacity index (the top 22 all hit 100).

source: Getty ImagesPros and cons of the study

There are obvious flaws to this study since it fails to measure a market’s history with the sport (I’m having trouble picturing hula dancers at a hockey game), the availability of an NHL-ready arena, the probability of finding reliable local ownership and the general hunger for hockey.

That being said, there are some positives to take away from the study, as well. The economic situations of cities in and around Hartford make the dreams of a Whalers rebirth seem reasonable. Houston looks like strange place for the NHL in some ways – especially since the team would face opposition from the professional teams that have already been established – but they obviously have some history with hockey in the form of the Aeros. There are many who believe that the NHL might bring the first major professional sports team to Las Vegas, although there are obvious risks when it comes to gambling and basing a franchise in Sin City in general. Seattle and Portland could be nice fits from a geographic standpoint, with Seattle being especially interesting since an NHL team might be able to heal some of the wounds caused by the heartbreaking loss of the NBA’s Sonics.

The Biz Journals might call Quebec City “borderline,” but they’re obviously one of the first markets in line for a relocated/new team (if they can get a new arena built). The bottom line is that they’re a promising market for an NHL rebirth for reasons that go beyond income.

Either way, the list is an interesting read, even if the methodology looks at just one piece of the puzzle (albeit a big one). Feel free to discuss which markets might make the most sense for relocation or expansion (yikes) in the comments.

* – Say what you will about Atlanta, Thrashers fans blame mismanagement by the Atlanta Spirit as the primary cause for the team’s demise. One cannot help but wonder if the NHL might give the Georgia market a third try in, say, 20-30 years if a reliable owner surfaces.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel has nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. Some have said he’s playing the best of his hockey of his career.

Yet when Team USA announced its final World Cup roster on Friday, Kessel wasn’t on it. Four forwards — David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky — were added instead.

“Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Kessel said Sunday. “But it is what it is. I think I’ve had a pretty good playoffs, I’ve always done pretty well for (Team USA) in all the tournaments I’ve played in for them. But we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t be disappointed.”

Two years ago, Kessel led the Americans in the Olympics with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was named the best forward in the tournament. Callahan, in comparison, had no goals and one assist in six games.

Of course, Callahan has a history with World Cup head coach John Tortorella. So does Dubinsky. And let’s face it, when you think of the kind of player that epitomizes Tortorella-coached teams, it’s not Kessel, it’s blue-collar workers like Callahan and Dubinsky.

Still, to not choose a guy who’s a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate?

“I’m surprised he was left off Team USA,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said today, before head coach Mike Sullivan praised Kessel for his competitiveness and for improving his play away from the puck and along the boards.

At any rate, Kessel didn’t sound like getting left off the World Cup squad was bothering him too much. One day from playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, he’s pretty happy with where he’s at right now.

“I’ve never really been on a team that’s felt like this,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, to be honest. I’m so excited to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and play with these guys.”

Pominville: ‘Name one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year’

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 18:  Jason Pominville #29 of the Minnesota Wild skates during an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 18, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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Jason Pominville couldn’t have envisioned a worse start to his season.

Pominville picked up four assists in his first three games of 2015-16, but he didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 28 (22 games). The 33-year-old finished the year with 11 goals and 36 points in 75 games. Those are clearly disappointing numbers for a player who comes with a cap hit of $5.6 million per season.

“Last year it was just the start I had,” Pominville said during a Q & A with the Star Tribune. “I’m not even too worried about the rest of it. You get off to the start I had, and name me one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year. It’s tough to get behind the 8-ball. You lose confidence, you’re trying to find your play and get back to where you’ve had success, but you get away from it because you’re trying to overdo things or overthinking. I just need to get off to a better start, and my points will be where they normally would be.”

It’ll be intersting to see if the Wild give Pominville the opportunity to have a bounce-back season. A high cap hit combined with poor production could also lead to him finding himself elsewhere in 2016-17.

Wild beat reporter Michael Russo mentioned that Pominville could be bought out this summer, but that would be expensive. If Minnesota buys out the veteran, they’d have $877,777 of dead money on the cap next year, but a significantly higher amount after that.

Here’s what the full buyout would look like (via General Fanager):

Pominville

A $4.627,777 cap hit in 2017-18 is definitely steep.

The Wild could also decide to keep Pominville around and see if he can rebound from last year’s disaster. After all, he’s one year removed from an 18-goal, 54-point season and two years removed from a 30/30 season.

Fleury: Now’s not the time to think about future in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on from the bench in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — The last time the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury was the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder.

Now, seven years later, the Pens are back — but Fleury’s in a greatly reduced role. He’s backing up 22-year-old Matt Murray, which has cast doubt on Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh.

It’s a situation he acknowledged at today’s Stanley Cup media availability, but one he didn’t exactly want to dive into.

“Not yet,” Fleury said, when asked if he’s thinking about what might happen next year. “It’s not time. It’s time to win it, it’s time to chase the Cup, and that’s all that matters.”

Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh has been a hot topic this postseason. Pens GM Jim Rutherford was asked about it during the Eastern Conference Final, and offered up an emphatic defense of his longtime No. 1 netminder.

From the NHL:

Q: What about the young players?

Rutherford: “They speak for themselves. Those two goalies – you can never have enough good goalies. The Penguins have three good ones now. I feel bad for Fleury. He’s such a great team guy and we’re fortunate that he is. He’s handled this situation like a pro. First class. He’s ready to go when called on.”

Q: Does this mean he’s history with the organization?

Rutherford: “Absolutely not.”

That absolute hasn’t kept pundits from pointing out that Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh is far from certain.

First, there’s the fact the No. 1 gig may not just be Murray’s now, but also moving forward — meaning Fleury, who turns 32 in November, would be a backup making $5.75 million annually through 2019. An expensive backup, sure, but also a good backup. Fleury’s had at least 30 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .920 save percentage over each of the last two seasons, and was an All-Star in 2015.

That’s the kind of goalie a few teams could use.

One of them, as has been speculated over the last few months, is the proposed Las Vegas expansion club. While the announcement has yet to be made official, all signs — including discussions of expansion draft format at the most recent GM meetings — have led to assumptions Vegas will be a go.

With that said, consider this bit from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.

Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.

As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season.

It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.

Now, keep in mind the Penguins do love Fleury, and still think he’s quality goalie. That’s partly why Fleury received the chance to reclaim his starting gig in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, when head coach Mike Sullivan parked Murray after yanking him in Game 4.

But Fleury wasn’t great — allowing four goals on 25 shots — and Murray stepped back in like he hadn’t missed a beat, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

As such, it sees as though it would take a pretty dramatic turn of events for Fleury to regain the net. Because of that, he spent most of Sunday focusing on the “we,” not the “I.”

“To me, it’s about the team — it’s not about me or the way I play. I can’t be selfish about it,” he said. “I’ve been playing here a long time and I really love this city, and I’d really love for them to have another championship here.

“It’s a lot bigger than me, you know?”

Pittsburgh Med: Bonino ‘fine,’ Letang MIA and Daley not ruling out a return

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 5: Phil Kessel #81 and Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate a third period goal against the Ottawa Senators scored by Carl Hagelin (not shown) at Canadian Tire Centre on April 5, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Here are your Penguins health updates prior to Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final:

Nick Bonino: The center of the HBK line — he’s the B between Carl Hagelin and Phil KesselBonino didn’t skate yesterday and didn’t practice today, but will be “fine” for the series opener, per head coach Mike Sullivan.

Bonino was shaken up during Pittsburgh’s Game 7 win over the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, with what looked to be a lower-body injury (possibly a leg ailment, due to blocking a shot).

Bonino has been terrific this postseason, with 15 points in 18 games.

Kris Letang: This one is a little more unclear. Letang didn’t practice on Sunday and, like Bonino, didn’t meet with reporters during Stanley Cup media day afterward.

Sullivan didn’t address Letang’s absence during his availability. So nobody’s quite sure what’s going on.

Letang logged his usual massive ice time in the series clincher against the Bolts — 28:13 — and there was no indication he was dealing with any injury.

Trevor Daley: Interesting development from Daley during media availability. He said his timetable for return from a broken ankle in Game 4 (May 20) of the Tampa Bay series was 4-8 weeks, and wouldn’t completely rule out a return in this Stanley Cup Final.

Now, do keep in mind Sullivan already said Daley’s season was done, and Daley acknowledged that’s probably true.

“I do feel sorry for myself,” the veteran blueliner said. “I try to control what I can control. This — I can’t control this situation. So I’m going to have to try and make the best of it.

“I’ll be around, but I don’t know about being involved. They ain’t gonna keep me away, though. I’m going to be around for this.”