Hockey Day in America: Lightning sled hockey program sparks national movement

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Happy Hockey Day in America! Be sure to check out PHT throughout the day as we bring you features and previews of all the events, including a nine-hour NHL block of programming across NBC and NBC Sports Network.

An NHL franchise’s most popular mandate is to win the Stanley Cup, but its impact on the community extends far beyond on-ice performance. Teams have a tremendous opportunity to change lives and, with the help of Travis Leigh, the Tampa Bay Lightning have done just that.

Inspired by his hometown Lightning as a teenager, Leigh wanted to take up the sport of hockey, but cerebral palsy hindered his attempts at skating. Ultimately he decided to stay involved in the sport in other ways and when he learned about sled hockey — where players use specialized sleds to move around the ice instead of skates — he joined a team in Sacramento, where he was going to University.

After two years with the California-based club, Leigh — a broadcasting major — approached the Lightning about a possible internship in 2006. While there, he pitched the idea of putting a sled hockey team in Tampa Bay.

“[Lightning Director of Fan Development] David Cole came up to talk to me and was very positive about it,” Leigh said. “It surprised me because I was so used to people saying no.”

From there, Tampa Bay became the first NHL franchise to sponsor a sled hockey club.

The program has since grown and other teams have followed in the Lightning’s footsteps. The United States has established itself as a leader in the sport with its success at the 2010 Winter Paralympics Games, taking home the gold medal without allowing a goal.

USA Hockey has since established the Hockey Sled Classic, a tournament between NHL affiliated teams. For the first tournament, a total of 46 players participated on teams affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

A year later, the Philadelphia Flyers hosted over 100 of the nation’s top sled hockey players for the second annual event.

Thanks to the NHL’s involvement, sled hockey teams have been able to take the game outside. Angie McCoy got to see her 16-year-old son, Daniel, score a hat trick in a sled hockey game as part of the lead up to the 2011 Winter Classic. Sled hockey is also on the agenda for events surrounding the upcoming 2013 Winter Classic in Detroit.

From Leigh’s first meeting with the Lightning to what it is today, sled hockey has flourished in the United States. And given how far the sport has come over these few short years, we could one day look back and see this as the beginning of something even greater.

Report: Markov wants $12 million over two years from Montreal

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At the draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said his club had many roster holes.

Now he knows the cost of filling one.

Per TVA, veteran blueliner Andrei Markov is seeking a two-year, $12 million extension to stick with the club — one that would carry a $6M cap hit, up slightly from the $5.75M he was making on his previous deal.

Markov, an unrestricted free agent, is 38 but coming off a pretty productive year — he scored 36 points in just 62 games played, and averaged 21:50 TOI per night.

His ice time significantly jumped in the playoffs, up to 26:09 in Montreal’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Bergevin has said he’d like to have Markov back, but noted the club has limits. The term of Markov’s reported ask isn’t too unwieldy — it’s a two-year commitment — but the cap hit could be an issue. Remember, Bergevin is also trying to re-sign last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov. Alex Galchenyuk needs a new deal as well.

(Unless he’s traded.)

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

Which brings us back to Markov who, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, is representing himself in negotiations. One has to think that dollar figure will come down, especially if Montreal starts entertaining other options — like Karl Alzner, the former Caps d-man who says he’s interested in playing in Montreal.

Whatever the case, Bergevin is going to have to address this situation soon. There are plenty of moving parts, but rounding out the defense has to be near the top of his priority list. Right now Montreal has just five blueliners under contract: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko.

Alzner wants long-term deal, says he’s interested in Habs

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You can hardly blame Karl Alzner for wanting to cash in July 1.

Not that he’s hard up for money or anything, but the last contract Alzner signed in Washington was a club-friendly deal that paid him $11.2 million over four years. That’s a cap hit of just $2.8 million for a guy that plays top-four minutes against tough competition.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Alzner’s got the opportunity to make much more on the open market.

He wants some security, too.

“I will wait to see my options, but I am only 28 years old and I can tell you that I would like to get a long-term contract,” Alzner told Le Journal de Montréal (translated). “It is always attractive for a player to be able to settle in the same city for a long time. It would be my dream to sign a long-term agreement.”

Alzner added that the Canadiens are an intriguing team that he’d be willing to join. He also said that talks with the Capitals seem to have stalled.

Related: Alzner meets with Vegas, but will test free agency

Brendan Smith still talking to Rangers, ‘trying to make it happen’

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It’s only a few days until July 1 and defenseman Brendan Smith still doesn’t have an extension in place with the New York Rangers.

Not to worry, says his agent. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Smith is going to sign elsewhere.

“No one should read anything into the fact that we don’t have a deal yet,” Anton Thun told the New York Post. “You’re never really close until it’s done, but both sides are trying to make it happen. We’ll have to see.”

Thun told the Post a month ago that Smith, an unrestricted free agent, was “open” to returning to the Rangers.

But there’s also been speculation that the Blueshirts will pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency, which would probably mean less money available for Smith.

It remains to be seen if the Rangers will, indeed, make a big push for Shattenkirk. The addition of Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade may have lessened their urgency in that regard.

“He’s a puck-moving right-handed defenseman that can run the power play and shoot the puck,” GM Jeff Gorton said of DeAngelo, per Sporting News.

Which sounds a lot like Shattenkirk, no?

Smith, 28, was traded to the Rangers from Detroit on Feb. 28.

Sens extend McCormick — two years, $1.3 million

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Looks as though forward Max McCormick has a future in Ottawa.

On Tuesday, the Sens signed McCormick to a two-year extension worth $650,000 annually — and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a one-way deal in the second year.

McCormick, 25, also has a $250,000 guaranteed AHL salary next season.

The deal comes after he set a career high and tied for the AHL Binghamton team lead in goals last year, with 21. McCormick also appeared in seven games for Ottawa — this after playing 20 in ’15-16 — and emerged as a high-energy guy with an edge to his game.

Despite not being overly big (5-foot-11, 188 pounds), McCormick fought seven times for Binghamton last season, and led the team in penalty minutes. The year prior, he scrapped 12 times between the Sens and Baby Sens.

A spot at the NHL level could soon materialize. The Sens have already announced they’re moving on from free agent forward Chris Neil, and the futures of fellow UFAs Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels remain uncertain.