tkachuk coyotes

Phoenix to honor Keith Tkachuk tonight

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December has been a pretty good month for Keith Tkachuk.

Two weeks ago, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Tonight, he’ll enter the Phoenix Coyotes Ring of Honor prior to the start of the Coyotes-Blues game.

“It’s been an incredible couple of weeks,” Tkachuk told NHL.com. “It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Arizona, and the memories just come flooding back. Great teams. Great teammates and friends. Great fans. It was a great time in my life.”

Tkachuk played a key role of putting the Coyotes on the map in Arizona — he still scoffs at the notion that Phoenix isn’t a hockey town — though the rest of his “Massachusetts Mafia” cohorts played a part. In their first season in Phoenix, Boston natives Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Bob Corkum and Craig Janney had a great time on the ice (Tkachuk and Roenick combined for 81 goals) and an even better time off it:

[It was a ] pack of young Coyotes who enjoyed playing horrible golf, smoking fine cigars and partaking in nearby Scottsdale’s vibrant nightlife.

They also enjoyed taking their act on the road and wouldn’t let a silly thing like coach Jim Schoenfeld’s curfew get in the way. Roenick remembered one December road trip to Florida in 1997 where a tired crew needed their captain to bail them out.

“We had a game the next night but that didn’t stop Keith, Bobby Corkum, C.J. and I from sneaking out to hit South Beach.” he said. “We finally crawled in about 4 a.m. and we were all in pretty rough shape. I felt like I was skating in the sand. I couldn’t move, and the rest of our gang was a mess too.

“But Walt (Tkachuk) was everywhere. He had a hat trick and we won 3-2. He won the game himself.”

After the game, Tkachuk sauntered onto the team bus, went past Schoenfeld with a big smile, and after walking down the aisle singing his trademark song after a road win, “Closing Time” by Semisonic, he announced. “OK boys, I did my part. The rest of the road trip is up to you.”

If that anecdote doesn’t highlight Tkachuk’s intestinal fortitude, this piece from the Globe and Mail does. Entitled “A sport with teeth”, it talks about what Tkachuk calls “by far the worst injury” he’s ever had — a puck to the face that shattered his upper jaw.

The puck hit Keith Tkachuk just below his nose, shattering his upper jaw and crushing the bone so badly, four teeth simply dropped out of his mouth.

Tkachuk’s surgery this week involved a transplant of bone from his hip to restore his upper jaw. If that process is successful, false teeth will be implanted when the area is healed.

“You just don’t realize,” Tkachuk said. “It’s by far the worst injury I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

He sat out only three games, returning to the ice after 10 days with six front teeth missing.

Tough dude. No wonder the Coyotes are putting him in the Ring of Honor.

Colton Orr — one of the last enforcers — has retired

Florida Panthers' George Parros (22) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr (28) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Monday, Feb. 18, 2013.  (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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After 477 games, 12 goals, 12 assists and — most notably — 1,186 penalty minutes, Colton Orr has retired from the NHL.

“I feel privileged to have played for a decade in the NHL and to have had the support of four great organizations in Boston, New York, Toronto and Calgary,” Orr, 34, said, via the NHLPA. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play with great teammates and against great players, many of whom have become great friends.”

Undrafted out of the WHL, Orr was a prototypical enforcer, the kind that few teams carry anymore. In 2009-10, he fought 23 times in 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, piling up 239 PIMs in the process. That was the most he ever fought in a single NHL season. But he dropped the gloves 36 times for the Providence Bruins in 2003-04 and 33 times in 2004-05, per hockeyfights.com

In the NHL, Orr had a couple of infamous bouts with fellow tough guy George Parros — one that ended with Orr going face-first into the ice and suffering a season-ending concussion, another with Parros getting knocked out and leaving on a stretcher.

“I look forward now to the next chapter of my life which I could not be happier to share with the two loves of my life — my wife Sabrina and daughter, Charlotte,” Orr said. “They are the two consistently bright lights in my life who have made the darker parts of my journey a very bright part of a very fulfilling career.”

Related: ‘The game has changed’

No chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM

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Reflecting on a year in which pundits saw mostly regression and a lack of team cohesion, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher took to the podium on Thursday to reflect on what he called a “disappointing” campaign.

Among the key takeaways:

There’s no chemistry issue on our team.

Not surprising Fletcher had to go here.

In mid-February, the club was forced to fire head coach Mike Yeo amid rumblings the players had tuned him out — which, not coincidentally, came amid a horrific losing streak.

There were also major, season-long issues with veteran players like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, both of whom woefully underachieved.

Vanek, in particular, was a healthy scratch under Yeo and interim bench boss John Torchetti. The 32-year-old’s effort level repeatedly came into question, and now buyout rumors loom.

Elsewhere, team leaders Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were embroiled in controversy when, following his dismissal, Yeo took issue with the two working with skills coach Adam Oates during the season.

The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo noted that Oates showed up at a Wild morning skate in January, so he asked Yeo about it:

When you say things never felt right, did this start with the Adam Oates stuff? “Yeah. I thought we dealt with it. We talked with Zach, and we had no issues with it after that. And talked with some players, and … Whether it’s something like that, whether it’s the trade rumors, whatever it is, when there’s things that might cause a little unrest, they kind of sit there and they hang out. When things are going well, they’re forgotten and pushed to the side. But when things don’t go well, quite often they come back.”

Did it bother you that Oates came to the Buffalo morning skate? That was at the start of the tailspin? “I’m not going to even comment on it. But I would say, that I would not do the same thing.”

Yeo went on to add he felt there was a divide in the Wild locker room.

“It just felt like there were almost two groups,” he explained. “There were younger guys and there were the older guys. It wasn’t just a group.”

He’s definitely a very serious candidate for the head coach position.”

That was Fletcher on Torchetti, who’s currently holding the interim tag. The Wild GM praised Torchetti for being “able to push and pull this team into a playoff position,” but stopped short of promoting him to full-fledged head coach.

Why?

Well, the Wild weren’t that good under Torchetti.

They went 15-11-1 during the regular season and bowed out to Dallas in six playoff games. Granted, they showed some fight and spirit at times, and a few players definitely played better under Torch than Yeo (Erik Haula was exhibit 1a).

But there were also some alarming moments of apathy and poor play, like a late-season drubbing in Winnipeg which led goalie Devan Dubnyk to remark, “we’re going to get throttled if we’re going to play like this.”

This is probably why Fletcher fielded so many questions about his team’s character and chemistry on Thursday.

He’s done almost everything within his power as a GM with this group — big trades, coaching changes, free agent splashes — yet with the club is still potentially headed in the wrong direction.

That’s why it was time to start questioning the group.

Related: Wild owner says Fletcher’s not on the hot seat

Report: No deal between Coyotes and Stars’ Jackson

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When the Arizona Coyotes fired Don Maloney earlier this month, Les Jackson’s name was immediately raised as a potential candidate to become the new general manager.

Jackson is the highly regarded assistant GM in Dallas. He’s been with the Stars dating back to their days in Minnesota.

And, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Jackson will remain with the Stars.

If Jackson is indeed out of the picture, the favorite to replace Maloney becomes Coyotes assistant GM John Chayka, the 26-year-old who specializes in analytics.

The Coyotes have promised that a new GM will be hired “well before” the draft in late June.

Related: What’s up with the Coyotes’ arena situation?

What’s going on with the Avs and NCAA standout Butcher?

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 07:  Will Butcher #4 of the Denver Pioneers celebrates his goal with teamamtes on the bench in the third period against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks during semifinals of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at Amalie Arena on April 7, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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There’s plenty to like about University of Denver junior Will Butcher.

He was one of the top defenseman scorers in the country this season, with 32 points in 39 games, and was named a Second-Team (West) All-American.

He’s good good bloodlines, the son of ex-NHL blueliner Garth Butcher.

What’s more, Butcher — Colorado’s fifth-round pick in 2013 — is regarded as one of the organization’s top prospects, per ESPN.

So how to explain this, from the Denver Post?

Butcher will remain at DU for his senior season. He might be more likely to have his rights traded or become a free agent in 2017 than sign with the Avalanche.

Just have to sit back and see how this one plays out, but the 5-foot-10 Butcher is certainly an excellent NCAA defenseman.

The concern about players going back to school for their senior campaigns is that, once they’ve finished, they’re eligible to go to unrestricted free agency.

(Like what happened between the Nashville Predators and Jimmy Vesey.)

In the same article — titled “Avalanche signs one All-American but might pass on the second” — the Post said there would be more on the Butcher story in Sunday’s paper, while posting this tweet from College Hockey News:

It’s probably worth noting Butcher, now 21, was from one of the last draft classes of the Rick Pracey era. Pracey, Colorado’s longtime scouting chief that was turfed in 2014, didn’t exactly go out on the greatest of terms.

Colorado’s first-round pick in ’14, Connor Bleackley, was widely panned before getting dealt to Arizona in the Mikkel Boedker trade. The other piece of the Boedker trade — Kyle Wood, taken in the same year as Bleackley — was sent packing in part because the Avs had yet to sign him to an ELC.

At the Frozen Four, Butcher discussed his status with the Avs in a Q&A with Hockey’s Futures. He said the proximity between DU and the NHL club made it easy for the Avs to monitor him, and that he was in frequent contact with player development consultant Brett Clark.

When asked about where he saw himself slotting in with the Avs, Butcher had this to say:

“I think the Avs have got some deep prospects on their blueline, so there’s definitely going to be some competition there. But I haven’t really focused on that because I’m just focused on the Frozen Four right now.”