Yakupov’s dad: Nail won’t return to Sarnia


The latest chapter of the Nail Yakupov comes courtesy his father, Rail Yakupov.

(Yes, Nail’s dad is named Rail.)

According to Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov, the senior Yakupov says his son won’t return to OHL Sarnia — the club currently holding his rights — essentially ignoring a contract that’s at the crux of a transfer card controversy between the IIHF, Hockey Canada and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.

The senior Yakupov’s quotes appeared in Gazeta.ru, a Russian online newspaper covering politics and business.

Here’s more, from Chesnokov:

Yesterday, Yahoo!’s Sunaya Sapurji reported that Yakupov is still under contract to Sarnia, which is why Hockey Canada didn’t sign his ITC to play for KHL club Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.

Despite not having an eligible transfer card, Yakupov played two games for Neftekhimik anyway — a move that resulted in his temporary suspension and a fine for the RIHF.

The bad blood now appears to be between the Yakupov camp and Sarnia, though there could be a third party involved. In an interview with Sport-Express, Rail Yakupov said that “someone’s trying to make money” out of the contract fiasco and alluded to “our Russian-speaking acquaintances from North America.”

Once again, the saga continues…

NHL Playoff Push: Big bubble battles

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On a busy Thursday in the NHL, there’s at least one big matchup in both the East and West. While there are cases where playoff teams merely need to take care of business against lottery fodder, the most fun could come in tests of might with considerable stakes.

Western Conference

The most intriguing contest could be Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, a battle between the West’s two wild card teams.

As you can see, the Avalanche currently hold the first wild-card spot, and they’re only two points behind the Wild for the Central’s third seed. The Kings could leap over the Ducks for the Pacific third seed, as Anaheim only holds one point over Los Angeles.

The San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights in another interesting contest, which airs on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET as part of a doubleheader. Here’s the stream link.

San Jose faces low odds in catching Vegas for the Pacific crown, but the Sharks are hot enough that a win tonight could strengthen such a drive. If nothing else, they hope to improve their chances of holding onto the second seed.

With Auston Matthews likely to return tonight, the Maple Leafs visiting the Predators should be a lot of fun, even if the two teams seem fairly locked into their spots in respective playoff races.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Eastern Conference

Alongside Kings – Avs, Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets is the other big game of the day.

With two games in hand on the Devils and three on the Flyers/Blue Jackets, Florida could really climb the ranks. They do face a road-heavy haul, however, and that includes one of the toughest tests of that run tonight, when they face the red-hot Blue Jackets. Artemi Panarin is one of the driving forces of a squad riding a nine-game winning streak, and making the Metro races congested in the process.

If Columbus wins, they would really push the idle Penguins and even the Capitals, who hope to maintain or increase their lead for the Metro title as they face the Red Wings in Detroit. You can watch those teams, and maybe see Alex Ovechkin increase his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, in an NBCSN game. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, while you can also catch the stream here.

There are also two “take care of business” games. The Lightning could really fatten their Atlantic title edge by beating the Islanders, while the Flyers hope to increase their margin of error over the Panthers/Blue Jackets if they can win against the Rangers.

The rest of the night features games between teams who are either eliminated from the playoffs or hurtling toward that fate.

If the playoffs started today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

Noteworthy games

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rocket Richard race: Jets’ Patrik Laine to miss time with bruised foot

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The Winnipeg Jets received some good news about Patrik Laine on Thursday. After leaving Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Kings after blocking an Alec Martinez shot, the 19-year-old Finnish sniper could miss only between four and 14 days, according to head coach Paul Maurice.

“There’s nothing broken and he’s got a bruise,” he said. “When he gets his foot in the boot and feels comfortable, he’ll be back playing.”

That Laine isn’t expected to miss any time once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next month is great news for the Jets, who are pretty much locked into that No. 2 seed in the Central Division. What’s a shame is that this injury could derail his chances at the Rocket Richard Trophy.

With nine games to go in the regular season, Laine is one goal back (44-43) of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who have also played 73 games. The Jets forward began a scoring surge in the middle of February that’s resulted in 18 goals in his last 16 games, vaulting him up the list of the NHL’s top goal scorers and right on the heels of Ovechkin.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Maurice emphasized that they’re going to take their time in letting Laine heal. He’s not only a huge threat at even strength but also on a third-ranked power play (23.3 percent) that has seen him score 19 times with the extra man. No use rushing him back until he’s 100 percent ready to go and can continue to be dangerous once the playoffs begin.

“We don’t know how quick these things drain. It’s not really about pain tolerance. We’ll give it a few days,” he said. “We want him to be able to skate, we want him to be able to play and in the situation that we’re in, we don’t want him hobbling around the ice. We want him to be able to move pretty comfortably, so we’ll take as much time as we need until we get to that point. I just can’t give you the day.”

With files from Scott Billeck


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stoneman Douglas hockey team now aiming for national title

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The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hockey team begin their quest for a national title on Friday afternoon at the USA Hockey High School Nationals in Plymouth, Minnesota.

In February, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus, the team went out and won the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament, earning their place at nationals.

The Eagles get started Friday afternoon where they’ll play three round-robin games against teams from Colorado, Minnesota and Indiana, with the top two from their division advancing to the quarterfinals.

The team flew to Plymouth in style, thanks to the Florida Panthers, who arranged for a charter flight to take them to Minnesota. It was another gesture from the NHL club who earlier this month invited the Eagles to practice at BB&T Center and spend some time with the players in the locker room. They also got to hang out with the Stanley Cup.

The hockey community rallied around the Stoneman Douglas kids in the wake of the tragedy. In the Panthers’ first home game after the Feb. 14 shooting, goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has children in the Parkland school system, delivered an emotional pre-game speech to the crowd. A few days later, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who attended the school for two years, met with the team after a game. Craig Anderson, a Parkland resident, invited them to be his guests last week when the Ottawa Senators were in town.

In the days following the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas players discussed whether they should continue their season. They met and decided to keep playing to honor of the fallen 17.

“I don’t think anyone had in mind that they didn’t want to go,” said freshman Adam Hauptman via Red Line Editorial. “Every kid felt pretty much the same. It was either going to be that everyone said yes or no. Everyone wanted to get out and bring something back to celebrate with.”

Before they played in the state title game last month, there was a moment when the players realized there were 17 of them on the roster. And when they won the championship, they decided to take their medals back to Stoneman Douglas High School and place them around each of the 17 memorials.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Win or lose this weekend, the Stoneman Douglas team has made their community proud and helped in a healing process that will go on for some time.

“That tournament wasn’t for us, it was all for them,” said senior forward Joey Zenobi in a TSN Original released this week. “That’s what we had to play for — for our school, for our community, for the victims, for the families, for everyone.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

No Kane, no problem for Panarin in Columbus


After the trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Brandon Saad back to Chicago, many wondered if Panarin could produce at a high level without Patrick Kane. In hindsight, maybe there should have been just as many worries about how much Kane would lose in Panarin’s absence.*

Panarin, 26, really forced his strong debut season with the Blue Jackets during his last game. He generated a hat trick and an assist as the Blue Jackets won their ninth game in a row by beating the Rangers, giving him 15 points during that span.

To give you an idea of how hot Panarin has been, only Mikko Rantanen has more points (16) during the last nine games, while “The Bread Man” matches Nathan MacKinnon‘s 15 points. Panarin brings quite the streak into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers, who have a ton on the line.

Overall, you can dice up Panarin’s 68 points in 74 games in some interesting ways. More directly, he’s currently tied with Jamie Benn and Patrik Laine for 25th place in points, just two behind Kane. Panarin scored 77 points as a rookie and 74 last season, so he’s clearly not wholly dependent upon number 88.

It also sounds like Panarin is presenting a positive influence on the Blue Jackets, who boast some interesting young scorers who could really push them to a higher level if they pan out.

Oliver Bjorkstrand stands as one of the most intriguing examples. He’s a guy who’s had a knack for scoring at other levels, yet it remains to be seen if he can be a difference-maker in the NHL. The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline recently reported (sub required) that Panarin’s providing a strong example to Bjorkstrand, in particular.

“The Bread Man” stands to Bjorkstrand as a player who can get it done despite modest size.

“He’s obviously really talented, has a ton of skill. But it’s his work ethic, how hard he is on pucks,” Bjorkstrand said. “He wins almost every battle he’s in, a lot of times against guys that are a lot bigger than him. But he has the determination to come away with the puck.”

The numbers seem to back up that “strong on the puck” talk.

Panarin’s possession stats have actually improved with the Blue Jackets, with his numbers standing out even more relative to his teammates. While John Tortorella is still rolling him out in advantageous situations (65.2 percent of his shifts begin in the offensive zone), that’s a big drop from his 78.8 percent mark in Chicago.

So, in a way, Panarin is proving himself to be possibly even more valuable with Columbus, as he’s less of a specialist and more of a balanced driver of play.

Panarin is a few strides short of Hart Trophy talk, but he’s done about as much as anyone could reasonably ask to prove that he’s a legitimate top-line talent, and a key ingredient to a team that could be very dangerous in the playoffs.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

* – Much like before Panarin’s arrival, Kane is still a lethal scorer with 70 points in 74 games this season.

Still, he reached the apex of his career making magic with Panarin, as he collected 106 points in 2015-16 (a career-high) and 89 in 2016-17. Those rank as his two strongest regular seasons, with only 2009-10’s 88 points in the same range. Otherwise, his next highest point total was 73 points, although he’s on track to eclipse that this season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.