Kessel: ‘I haven’t even thought about’ extension with Leafs

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One year from now, Phil Kessel will be an unrestricted free agent.

But to hear him talk about it, the situation is the furthest thing from his mind.

“I haven’t even thought about it yet,” he said on Wednesday, as per TSN. “I’ve still got another year here and we’ll see what happens.”

In February, Kessel made waves via his agent, Wade Arnott, who said the 25-year-old would like to finish his career in Toronto.

“Phil (Kessel) is still a really young man,” Arnott told the SportsNet Fan590. “He really enjoys living in Toronto and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“This young man lives and breathes hockey. He was very excited to come here four years ago. I think if you asked Phil today, he’d love to finish his career here in Toronto.”

Kessel enjoyed a solid 2013 campaign, arguably his finest with the Leafs.

He led the team in scoring with 52 points in 48 games — his first-ever season averaging more than one point per game — and scored six points in Toronto’s opening-round playoff loss to the Bruins.

In light of that, it’ll be extremely interesting to see what his next deal looks like.

Kessel’s five-year, $27 million deal expires at the end of 2013-14, one that carries an average annual cap hit of $5.4 million.

While it makes him the club’s highest-paid forward next season, it’s in the future where things get dicey: Toronto has $19.5 million committed annually to David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul until 2018.

Compounding matters is the fact the club’s second-leading scorer last season, Nazem Kadri, is also in line for a new deal.

His entry-level contract has expired — one that netted him $1.72 million per year — and he’ll be in line for a raise given how well he played last year (44 points in 48 games), his first as a full-fledged member of the Leafs.

“Nothing yet, but I know we’re still talking,” Kadri said about contract negotiations. “As long as there’s progression, that’s the important thing.”

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.