Columnist believes Oilers should lock up RNH, Schultz early

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In a salary cap age, the difference between being a deep team vs. a top-heavy squad often comes down to signing players at discount rates before they blossom.*

With that notion in mind, the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples argues that the Edmonton Oilers should lock up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry long-term right now instead of waiting for their current deals to expire next summer.

Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz and Petry are all restricted free agents next summer. They all had just OK seasons in 2013, if you go by the traditional NHL statistics like points and goals plus-minus. Their value and salary expectations will likely be higher next summer.

How much more will Nugent-Hopkins cost if he puts up a point a game, if Schultz gets 55 or 60 points, and if Petry thrives against tough competition in a two-way role?

Staples estimates that Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz might draw eight-year, $42 million deals while Petry could fetch $24 million over six.

There’s no doubt that the Oilers would be rolling the dice by signing young players without much of a sample size, but as Tuukka Rask showed with the Boston Bruins, a promising young talent can make a team pay big time in a “show me” season.

* – The Los Angeles Kings reaping cheap years from Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick stands as a great example, although both players are finally approaching big paydays.

Big brother Granato prepared for role as US Olympic coach

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Growing up as the oldest of six children, Tony Granato always seemed to be in charge.

If that meant telling brothers Don and Robby to help their younger siblings put on their shoes or find their jackets, that’s what he did.

A decade or so later, those same qualities stood out on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team – even though defenseman Eric Weinrich and 15 other players were older than Granato.

”I really looked up to Tony as a real leader and someone you could aspire to,” Weinrich said. ”He was really a mature guy for the group that we had. I always kind of thought of him as an older player than he really was. He always seemed like one of those guys that would be a good captain.”

Decades later, the 53-year-old big brother finds himself in that role again on the biggest stage in international hockey.

Granato will coach an unheralded men’s hockey team without NHL players at the Olympics in South Korea next month. Hand-picked by general manager, friend and 1988 Olympic teammate Jim Johannson, who died unexpectedly on the eve of the games, Granato has spent more than 30 years building to this moment.

”I’ve been there as a fan, I’ve been there as a player, I’ve been there as an assistant coach,” Granato said . ”There’s no greater sporting event. There’s no greater place for an athlete to be.”

Brother Don said Tony’s ”spirit is what the Olympic spirit is,” something that began as a teenager in the wake of the 1980 ”Miracle On Ice” team winning the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York. The four hockey-playing Granato children got white and blue jerseys of 1980 heroes Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig and wore them during spirited games in their suburban Chicago basement that always pitted Tony and Cammi against Don and Robby.

The 1980 victory helped the Granato kids realize they could aspire to make the NHL. After being drafted in the sixth round in 1982 by the New York Rangers, Tony played at the University of Wisconsin and representing the U.S. at two world junior tournaments, three world championships and the 1988 Calgary Games.

With full knowledge that he and his teammates were supposed to replicate the 1980 success, Granato was tied for second with eight points and still looks back on that experience with pride even though the U.S. went 2-3 and didn’t reach the medal round.

”I thought we had a tremendous team. We just didn’t get the results,” Granato said. ”We had two phenomenal games: one against Russia and one against the Czechs that we lost heartbreaking games that we could’ve easily won and put ourselves in medal contention. It didn’t go our way, but it was a tremendous honor to be part of that team. I’ve got nothing but great memories about it.”

Eleven years into his NHL career, Granato’s big-brother mentality was on full display in the form of telephone support for sister Cammi as she prepared for Nagano in 1998, the first Olympics with women’s hockey.

”It would be a five-minute conversation, but he was just checking in to make sure I was good, how are the games, how am I feeling – kind of a pep talk,” said Cammi Granato, who in 2010 became one of the first two women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. ”Of course I listened to everything he had to tell me.”

Granato put up 535 points in 852 games with the Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks during a proud pro career, but he wasn’t selected to play for the U.S. in 1998, the first Olympics featuring NHL players. He traveled to Japan anyway to watch Cammi. When he had to return to North America to resume the season, he was the first person she called to celebrate with after winning the gold medal.

Four years later, when Canada beat the U.S. in the women’s final in Salt Lake City, Cammi saw Tony and his children immediately when she got off the bus following the loss.

”His kids, my nieces and nephews, when I got off the bus were right there and I was pretty devastated,” Cammi said. ”Tony was the next one in line to just grab me and I just remember breaking down with him. He’s always been there for me.”

Since then, Granato has coached with the Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and is in his second season at Wisconsin, his alma mater. Influenced along the way by Stanley Cup winning-coaches Joel Quenneville, Dan Bylsma and Mike Babcock, he returned to the Olympics as an assistant on Bylsma’s U.S. staff in Sochi in 2014.

Over one summer camp and two weeks in Russia, Granato made a significant impact on players. James van Riemsdyk called him ”cerebral” and T.J. Oshie instantly saw how much he cared about the players and USA Hockey.

”He was a really good guy and cared about players and cared about winning,” added Justin Faulk. ”That goes a long way.”

Even though being the bad guy sometimes comes with the territory of being coach, Granato is widely considered by former players to be an excellent communicator. Don got to see that up close as one of his assistants last year at Wisconsin.

”He is exceptional at trying to put himself in the player’s shoes,” Don said. ”He really will communicate differently to different people.”

Granato will be tested on that in South Korea with a 25-man roster that includes 17 players from European professional leagues, four from the college ranks, three from the American Hockey League and semi-retired 38-year-old captain Brian Gionta, many of whom already know him from the Deutschland Cup in November. Gionta described Granato’s coaching style as motivational and full of passion for the game.

Enthusiasm has never been lacking for Granato, who insists he’s not trying to match Cammi’s gold medal for family bragging rights.

”Our expectations of ourselves are to compete for a medal,” Granato said. ”There’s no NHL players going to be able to play in it. But I think it’s even more exciting because the opportunity that these athletes are going to get will be the biggest stage that they’ve ever been on in their lives.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

PHT Morning Skate: Subban on ‘The Daily Show’; Jim Johannson’s impact on USA Hockey

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the ‘Hawks and Bolts.

• Now that he’s feeling healthy again, Marc Savard has officially retired and would like to find work as a coach. (NHLPA)

• The best line in hockey? You’ll find it in Boston. (Bruins Daily)

• Jim Johannson helped shape USA Hockey in a big way. (ESPN)

• It sounds like the Mighty Ducks franchise could be making a comeback as a TV show. (Hollywood Reporter)

• Korea’s women’s hockey coach, Sarah Murray, says she has complete control of how ice time will be handed out on the unified squad. (NBC Olympics)

• Marie-Philip Poulin has been named captain of Team Canada’s Women’s Hockey Team for the upcoming Olympics. (Hockey Canada)

• At this time of year, there are always players’ names that come up in trade rumors. Spector’s Hockey looks at which of those guys won’t be dealt before the trade deadline. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Predators defenseman P.K. Subban will be making an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”. (Tennessean)

• The Golden Knights blue liners have certainly chipped in offensively this season. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Is Aleksander Barkov still underappreciated in his own market? (The Rat Trick)

Scott Darling‘s play is becoming a bit of an issue for the Carolina Hurricanes. (Cardiac Cane)

• Now that Mirco Mueller is healthy, it’ll be interesting to see if he can regain the form he had before he suffered his injury. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• The Caps are having trouble limiting their opponent’s high-danger scoring chances this season (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck