Why we should lighten up on Alex Ovechkin, Dustin Penner and Dustin Byfuglien about their weight

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Not too long ago, hockey wasn’t necessarily high on the list of sports that required hard-bodied combatants. That’s not to say that the NHL stars were all George Costanzas on skates, but when you look back at a young Mario Lemieux’s viewpoint on off-season training (not getting fries with his club sandwich starting on August 1), it’s clear that times have changed.

Part of it’s probably due to sheer hockey-free boredom, but there have been four notable issues when it comes to players and their weight. We’ve already addressed how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be allowed to play at whatever level is comfortable for him, even if it means playing at a sprite-like size. But what about the players who might not exactly fit into the bronze statue-type mold?

Three players have made waves (sometimes literally we imagine, when they jump into swimming pools) for getting Super-sized this summer, whether those assumptions are fair or not. First it was Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who appeared to have a beer gut in a photo that didn’t exactly catch him at a flattering angle. Secondly, Los Angeles Kings whipping boy Dustin Penner became the source of niche mockery when an embarrassing photo of his bare beer belly surfaced. Finally, Dustin Byfuglien became a meme magnet after his already troubling arrest revealed that he weighed in at a whopping 286 lbs.

When teams hand out millions to hockey players, they want them to look like statuesque humans and/or underwear models. Yet deep down, if general managers really want to win, they should merely focus on how a player’s weight affects their on-ice play. If the book “Moneyball” teaches us anything, it’s that results should matter more than perceptions even though that doesn’t always happen. Let’s take a look at each case to see why the players’ teams should (and shouldn’t) be worried.

source: APWhy Washington shouldn’t be too worried about Ovi

The general consensus was Ovechkin’s belly was more about generating laughs than genuine concern that the Russian star wouldn’t be in shape to begin the 2011-12 season. The most important factor to remember is time: that unflattering photo surfaced in July, giving him plenty of time to work off whatever belly he might have developed during the off-season.

My only concern is that his long-term contract might make him fat and happy (more figuratively than literally). After all, it might be tougher to push that tire up a hill if you know you’re going to make almost $10 million in salary alone for the next decade or so either way.

Luckily, Ovechkin seems like he’s driven to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington, so everyone can be excused for having a little fun while ignoring their own bellies in the mirror when it comes to Ovi’s food baby.

source: Getty ImagesFacing reality with Penner

Greg Thomson made an astute – and hilarious – comparison between that Penner photo and “The Bare Midriff” episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Here’s the thing, though: Penner’s gut will be obstructed when he’s going to work, unlike Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s wardrobe-challenged secretary. Much like Byfuglien, Penner has always been a big guy, so it’s reasonable to wonder if he has had a bit of a gut even during the highest points of his career (like when he won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks).

Ultimately, the Kings can look the other way when the four-time 20+ goal scorer takes his shirt off because he should have every motivation to play at the weight that works for him since he’s in a contract year. Los Angeles should get what they can out of Penner in this situation, even if they need to dangle a bucket of gravy instead of a carrot in front of the power forward to get him going.

source: APWorrying a bit about not-so-Byfuglien

Big Byfuglien’s weight worries might be the most troubling of the three.

For one thing, his troubles emerged closer to training camp than Penner or Ovechkin. Much like Ovechkin, Byfuglien has his financial future secure for quite some time, so the worry is that the Winnipeg Jets might get burned by a small window of focus for an unusual specimen who developed a reputation for inconsistency in Chicago. Deadspin also posits the possibility that Byfuglien might even need a little help with his partying ways.

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Overall, I don’t think teams should freak out about their players weight, although training camp is a good time to give them a push in the right direction. While Byfuglien’s situation is a little troubling, the overall takeaway is that we can all have our fun and feel a little better about our physiques when seeing these players in a more human light, but it’s unlikely that these issues will mean much during the 2011-12 season.

BREAKING: Isles acquire Eberle from Edmonton for Strome

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Everyone knew this was going to be a massive offseason for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

And Snow has now responded in kind.

Per TSN, the Isles are on the verge of acquiring Jordan Eberle from Edmonton. No word yet on what’s headed to New York in return. Sportsnet has confirmed the move, saying all involved parties are being informed of the move.

Update: Ryan Strome headed to Edmonton in exchange, per Darren Dreger.

The move comes after weeks of speculation about Eberle’s future with the Oilers. He had a solid regular season in Edmonton, with 20 goals and 51 points through 82 games, but struggled mightily in the postseason. He went scoreless through 13 games, finishing with just two points while watching his ice time dwindle to 14:32 per night.

Eberle is still a quality offensive talent, though, and should be thrilled about the prospect of playing with Isles captain John Tavares. Tavares, in turn, will undoubtedly be pleased with Snow’s bold move to bring in additional scoring up front, which could go a long way towards signing an extension with the Isles.

It’s safe to assume Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will feel some heat for this deal. While he did get out from under Eberle’s contract — $6 million annually for each of the next two years — Strome is coming off a disappointing year, and was exposed by the Isles at last night’s expansion draft.

That said, Chiarelli does have bigger fish to fry. Connor McDavid is eligible to sign an extension this summer, as is Leon Draisaitl.

Needless to say, those contracts are going to be expensive.

Losing Neal to Vegas was a ‘pretty big price to pay’ for Predators

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The Vegas Golden Knights named their team on Wednesday, and it was no surprise that James Neal was among their selections in the expansion draft.

Why not? Since entering the league in 2008, Neal has scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine seasons, hitting the 40-goal mark in 2011-12 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But after coming up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup this spring, Neal was left unprotected by the Predators.

Predators general manager David Poile had reportedly been in talks with Vegas GM George McPhee, but a deal couldn’t be achieved.

“With how well we played in the playoffs, I’d certainly like to bring everybody back, but the prices [to make a deal with Vegas] were very high,” Poile told the Predators website.

“[McPhee] was looking for younger players or high draft picks, and at the end of the day, I just felt that we had to do what the Expansion Draft was set out to do and that was to lose a player. In this case, we lost James Neal and that’s a pretty big price to pay.”

Neal has one more year left on his six-year contract that has an annual cap hit of $5 million, before he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Nashville has about $22.7 million in cap space, per CapFriendly, but five pending restricted free agents — Austin Watson, Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg and most notably Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — in need of contracts. In Arvidsson’s case, he’s due for a significant raise from the $640,000 he made in NHL salary last season, in which he scored 31 goals and 61 points.

“James had a much bigger contract and he only had one year left before he was an unrestricted free agent. We didn’t have any negotiations, but there was no guarantees that we would be able to keep him. It really was a business decision. It was as simple as that,” Poile the Tennessean.

Caps re-sign Christian Djoos, who could get his NHL shot next season

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The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract.

It’s a two-way deal in 2017-18, and a one-way deal the following season.

Djoos, 22, is expected to push for an NHL spot next season, along with Madison Bowey and possibly Tyler Lewington.

That’s because Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, both unrestricted free agents, aren’t expected to re-sign with Washington.

On top of that, the Caps lost d-man Nate Schmidt in yesterday’s expansion draft.

Djoos, a seventh-round pick in 2012, had 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games for AHL Hershey this past season.

It was his second full season in the AHL.

Bettman says NHL will call more slashes next season

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Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL will look to enforce slashing penalties more next season.

Following the league’s board of governors meeting, Bettman said pointless slashes to players’ hands will be called more. Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau were among the players to miss time last season with hand injuries from slashes.

Related PHT coverage:

Gaudreau (finger) out six weeks, Treliving says Staal slash the culprit

— Flames made ‘mountain out of a molehill’ over Gaudreau slash

— Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby slash

— Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash