NHL schedule humor: Coyotes take on Jets in home opener

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The Jets are flying south to Phoenix. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

You know someone in the league’s scheduling office has to have a sense of humor to arrange that kind of matchup for the home opener. The old Jets vs. the new Jets faceoff while the old Jets fight to stay in their new town. Did you catch all that?

In a way, the rivalry isn’t what it would have been at this time last season. For years, there were a portion of Winnipeggers who relentlessly hammered fans in Phoenix because they didn’t think they deserved an NHL team. Reading comments on Coyotes articles was a virtual how-to course for people learning how to troll effectively on the internet. There was plenty of hate to go around.

But things are a little calmer now. Since Winnipeg got an NHL team, the trolls aren’t as active these days. It probably has something to do with the fact that those pesky fans finally have a team of their own to follow. In Phoenix, the ownership problems aren’t any closer to being settled. No owner, no owner in sight, and the City of Glendale paying the bills. But here’s the difference: without Winnipeg chomping at the bit for a team, there’s less tension surrounding the Coyotes as they look for a new owner.

Still, these two teams have the potential to be rivals right out of the box. Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun expects an interesting dynamic in the stands on Saturday night:

“The mood at the Jobing.com Arena, Saturday, should be an interesting mix of Phoenix fans eager to heap derision on the Jets, and by extension, the people of Winnipeg, who almost stole their team last spring, and Winnipeggers taking advantage of an easy chance to see the Jets in a building that’s almost never full.”

On the ice, the Coyotes finished their season opening three-game road trip with a 1-1-1 record. They’re looking to build on Thursday night’s impressive 5-2 victory in Nashville as they play 9 of their next 12 games at home. For a team that hopes to make it back to the playoffs for the third straight season, every point matters in the tough Western Conference.

For Coyotes captain Shane Doan, facing off against the Jets will be an odd turn of events. He was originally drafted by the Jets in 1995 and has never been traded throughout his entire career. Yet, on Saturday, he’ll be playing against the Jets. It’s an oddity that isn’t lost on the Coyotes veteran who is looking for his 300th goal on Saturday:

“It’s a unique situation in the fact that it’s Winnipeg. Our team and our organization is connected to them and that makes it pretty special. They gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL and I will always be grateful for the incredible opportunity to play there.

“Being from Western Canada, it meant so much for me. It’s pretty unique to have a chance to play against them. I signed every contract, never asked to be traded and have never been traded. Now I’m playing against the team that drafted me. But it’s different now, they’ve got a whole different organization. A great group of guys that are in there, the management and you hear such rave reviews about it and it’s exciting for the city I’m sure.”

It’ll be the Jets job to make sure Doan doesn’t feel too much at home with the Winnipeggers in attendance. Winnipeg is 0-2 in the early going and new incarnation of the team is still looking for its first win. If they could get it against Phoenix, it would make it that much sweeter for fans in Winnipeg.

And that much more bitter for fans in Phoenix.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.

Report: Former NHL referee Devorski to stop by Jets camp

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There is heightened focus on penalties right now and the Winnipeg Jets have taken the step of bringing former NHL referee Paul Devorski to training camp for help.

The league is cracking down on slashes and faceoff infractions right now, although according to Sportsnet, Devorski’s influence at Jets camp will go beyond just those two calls.

From Sportsnet:

The retired NHL referee will be at training camp on Friday where he will officiate the team during battle drills to give Jets players a better sense of how to stay within the rules.

NHL teams reaching out to the league to consult on officiating is not new, but having a referee work on-ice with a team is a less common step.

Currently many NHL teams are consulting with the league over more hot-button issues like slashing and faceoff violations, but the Jets focus with Devorski will be on past issues.

Around the league, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the number of penalties called, especially early on, and if so, the possible impact that will have on the games once the regular season gets going next month.

Per Michael Traikos of the National Post, there had been 91 slashing penalties called through 19 exhibition games in which real-time statistics were kept prior to Wednesday’s slate of games.

“It definitely changes how you have to defend. Those reactionary slashes of the stick, taps to the hands, are so ingrained in a defenceman,” Eric Gryba told Sportsnet. “If they stay as rigid on the rules as they are right now… the whole makeup, landscape of the D-corps is going to change, from top to bottom. Everyone is going to have to be a better skater to defend.”

The new tweak on faceoffs has also garnered some critics. Like Brad MarchandHe isn’t a fan.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand told CSNNE earlier this week.

“Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

While the Jets are seeking the knowledge of a seasoned official to help them stay out of the penalty box beyond slashing and faceoff violations, it seems the entire league is in for quite a learning experience over these next few weeks.