PHT lists #WhyImThankful

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Joe Yerdon and James O’Brien, PHT’s two American writers who will be enjoying a day off today, have each come up with a list of five hockey-related things for which they’re thankful. Feel free to add yours in the comments section, and we hope you enjoy the holiday, as well as tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Showdown between the Rangers and Bruins, on NBC at 1 p.m. ET.


1. Legends who keep on keepin’ on: How great is it to see Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr, and Martin Brodeur still playing in 2013-2014? Think about all the accolades, all the goals, all the points, and all the Stanley Cups these guys have won and the fact that they’re into their 40s and still at it. Let’s ignore that it’s likely Brodeur’s final year and definitely Selanne’s last season and just marvel that they’re still top-level players now, 20 years (or more) after it all began.

2. Non-stop jersey debates: You need look no further than Twitter to find out what fans think of different jerseys. Heck, look at any of the posts we’ve done here about a team sporting new duds. People fear change no matter how it’s dressed up. Remember when everyone hated the Dallas Stars’ new look? Now it seems to be considered one of the best in the league that’s not from an Original Six team. No matter what a team does, be it a new third jerseysomething for the Stadium Series or Winter Classic, and even the Olympics — people are going to bark about it.

3. Terrible music in warm-ups: If you’ve ever gotten to a game in time to see the teams warm up, you know you’re about to be assailed with some of the most current music out there. Depending on your tastes, that’s either really good or god-awful. For a guy stuck in the 90s like me, it’s mostly terrible. That won’t stop me from developing musical Stockholm Syndrome though. Take this song for instance – it’s what the Maple Leafs, until recently, warmed up to and I’d heard pumping out of the Bruins room after a win.

What’s the lesson here? No matter how stuck in your ways you might be with tunes, you’ll find a way to like something new (and probably bad).

4. Players doing charity: This seems like a no-brainer thing to be thankful for, but how do you not love this? Whether it’s because I’ve matured or I’ve discovered it’s OK to be human and let good works make you smile, seeing teams visit children’s hospitals and doing other good things in the community just makes you feel good. For example, check out what the Detroit Red Wings did recently at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Is someone cutting onions in here? I need a minute.

5. Players I grew up adoring becoming executives: Listen, it can’t be avoided. We’re all going to get older as time wears on and for all of us that means different things. Being a hockey writer here and at, that means getting to talk to plenty of players, coaches, and team executives. In a lot of those situations it means I’m interviewing people whose jerseys I owned or would stay up to all hours to watch on TV to cheer or jeer. After doing the work you have to do, you have to check yourself and say, “Whoa, I just talked to Patrick Roy/Brendan Shanahan/Steve Yzerman/Cam Neely/Chris Chelios/Jeremy Roenick.” Getting the 13-year-old me to stop yelling at me about how cool that is takes some effort.


1. The continued mystery that is the Toronto Maple Leafs: Coming into the 2013-14 season, it seemed like “traditionalists” and “stats nerds” were having a turf war over the Maple Leafs. One side argues they’re a quality team while the other believes they’re riding a locomotive fueled by luck. Through nearly two months, the case study remains delightfully unsettled. If there’s one consensus, it is that Toronto is fascinating to watch. And hardcore hockey fans should be grateful for it.

2. Roberto Luongo’s Twitter feed: Speaking of reliable entertainment, Luongo’s tweets bring the funny on such a steady basis. One great comic tactic is to pour on the self-deprecation. By making himself the butt of many jokes, he doesn’t come off looking like a jerk when he’s dropping barbs on his buddy Tim Thomas. It’s as effective as a stand-up ending a roast segment by flattering his battered verbal victim.Of course, the most important thing is that his jokes are usually really funny. There are other great feeds out there, but Bobby Lou’s takes the gold medal.

3. Olympic goalie debates: That segues nicely into Olympic roster debates, most precisely about goalies. The notion that netminders can be the great equalizer makes for some spine-tingling debates. Should Luongo be Canada’s guy again? Which of the six choices is the best for the United States? Who’s the best option from Finland’s jaw-dropping goalie factory? Being that Ryan Miller nearly willed a scrappy but over-matched American team to a gold medal in 2010, it’s more interesting to discuss who deserves to start instead of, say, who should barely make the roster.

4. Sidney Crosby’s health: Whether you love him or hate him (or just think he’s OK), the NHL is a more interesting and exhilarating place when Sidney Crosby is off the IR. Unfortunately, it’s felt like Crosby has been the hockey equivalent of a cartoon character with an anvil hovering over its head for the last few years. Whether it be concussions or an errant puck breaking his jaw, injury luck hasn’t been on his side, arguably costing him a Hart Trophy or two in the process. Luckily, he’s still just 26, so hopefully he can stay healthy. Even those who can’t stand him might be surprised when they miss him once he’s gone.

5. Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov, back in the NHL: It feels like bonus time because it was far from guaranteed that either goalie would play in the NHL this season. Thomas is a two-time Vezina winner who was forced to audition for a job with fledgling Florida. The Oilers needed to hit a goaltending glacier before they finally played Bryzgalov’s music. One can only speculate if any of the other 28 teams would have given either one of them a shot.

NHL Playoff Races: Blues end Blue Jackets’ run at 10

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With points at a premium for teams in the NHL’s bubble races, sometimes it’s about digging deep … and maybe getting a bounce or two.

All four division leaders either hold huge or at least comfortable edges over their competitors through Saturday, so let’s focus on teams that are in more urgent battles for positioning, if not spots altogether.

Blues > Blue Jackets

After rattling off 10 consecutive wins, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell short against the St. Louis Blues in a 2-1 regulation decision. St. Louis is on a nice run of its own, as this gutsy win gives them five in a row.

Jake Allen ended up winning a goaltending duel with Sergei Bobrovsky, as Allen turned aside 33 out of 34 shots on goal. Vladimir Tarsenko scored a very “Vladimir Tarasenko” goal as the decisive tally:

Earlier on Saturday, the Avalanche beat the Golden Knights 2-1 via a shootout, so the Avalanche and Blues now hold the West’s wild-card spots. Each team could conceivably creep into the Central’s top three, yet they also don’t have a lot of room ahead of the idle Anaheim Ducks. (Update: Minnesota ended up beating Nashville, widening its lead.)

Third in Central: Wild (defeats Nashville) – 92 points, 74 games, 38 ROW
First WC: Avs – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
Second WC: Blues – 89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW

Update – Third in Pacific:  Ducks – 89 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW
Ninth place: Kings (after loss to Oilers) – 89 points, 76 GP, 39 ROW

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

Gutsy wins by Devils and Panthers

For quite some time, it looked like the Arizona Coyotes might play the spoiler against the Florida Panthers.

Florida entered the third period down 2-0, but Vincent Trocheck helped them rally with two goals, pushing him to 30 on the season. Denis Malgin ended up collecting the game-winner in an eventual 4-2 win for the Panthers, who willed their way to a big win.

The New Jersey Devils probably rank as even more impressive. One night after gutting out an overtime win against the defending champion Penguins, the Devils beat the East-leading, more-rested Lightning by a score of 2-1. Taylor Hall assisted on the game-winner by Kyle Palmieri after scoring in OT on Friday, while Nico Hischier had two goals in as many nights.

Keith Kinkaid was even better closing out back-to-back wins, as he stopped 35 out of 36 shots on goal against the dangerous Lightning.

With the Atlantic top three essentially locked in and the Capitals closing in on the Metropolitan Division crown, take a look at the Metro’s other two spots, the two wild-card holders, and where the Panthers rank after a busy Saturday:

METRO2: Penguins – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
METRO3: CBJ – 89 points, 76 GP, 36 ROW

East WC1: Flyers – 88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW
East WC2: Devils – 86 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW

Ninth: Panthers – 83 points, 73 GP, 35 ROW

With three games in hand on the Blue Jackets and two on the other relevant Metro teams ahead of them, the Panthers are in a strong position to push their way into the postseason if they can keep things going.

Imagine how Florida felt going into the third. They lost their most recent game to Columbus by a humbling score of 4-0, and were down 2-0 with a four-game road trip looming. Saturday could have delivered a punch to the gut; instead, they kept fighting and demanded a big win.

Losing in regulation keeps Columbus from a) at least briefly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage and b) creating a meaningful cushion ahead of the bubble pack. They remain in third in the Metro even after this loss, but this one stings.

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

Why Flames are going out with a whimper


On March 13, Mike Smith blanked the Edmonton Oilers, giving the Calgary Flames at least some hope in making a playoff push.

The Flames haven’t won a game since, dropping five in a row by a soul-crushing cumulative differential of 25-7. Their closest losses were by three goals. Woof.

Calgary now sits at 80 points with only six games remaining, all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. (The second West wild-card team, as of this writing, is the Ducks at 89 points, and they hold a game in hand on the Flames. Woof again.)

Maybe it was already too late for the Flames when Smith shut out the Oil, but this five-game flop really buried any long-shot hopes. Now, Calgary must close out the season and ponder what to change during a summer that will demand serious soul-searching.

Let’s ponder what went wrong.

Bad luck

Losing Smith for a lengthy, crucial stretch for about a month (13 games) struck a brutal blow to a team that sometimes asked him to clean up some significant mistakes.

That said, overall, the Flames pass the sniff test as far as possession metrics go. This team simply hasn’t been able to finish enough chances despite often hogging the puck, to the point that it’s become an uncomfortable refrain for fans and media alike.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s measures, the Flames’ 6.87 shooting percentage at even-strength ranks among the bottom five in the NHL. That’s not an end-all, be-all stat, yet consider that the bottom eight teams look all but assured to miss the playoffs.

They’ve been struggling on special teams, too, as their 16.6 percent success rate ranks fifth-worst in the NHL. Allowing seven shorthanded goals only pours more salt in their wounds. The power play’s been especially miserable lately, only converting one time since Feb. 27 (1-for-37).

Not enough support

On paper, the Flames seem like they should at least be a playoff team, if not a legitimate contender.

Mark Giordano seems like a hot streak and a good squad away from getting more Norris Trophy buzz, while Dougie Hamilton is the type of producer you want in a modern system. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan make for a dynamic duo, while the “3M” line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik hold the puck hostage like few other trios. Smith’s also frequently given the Flames the goaltending they’ve craved for some time.

The problem is that, in the modern NHL, you need your supporting cast to buttress those top players, and that hasn’t worked out often enough for Calgary.

Travis Hamonic‘s had his struggles, making it that much more painful that the Flames gave up such a massive package of picks for the defenseman, including their 2019 first-rounder. T.J. Brodie‘s seen his ups and downs, too.

Such struggles would be easier to stomach if certain forwards panned out. It’s difficult not to pick on Sam Bennett, the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, who is stuck at 26 points in 76 games after failing to score a goal or an assist for the last seven games.

Whether you pin it on Father Time, untimely injuries, or other factors, the Jaromir Jagr experiment was also a bust.


The Flames have done a lot right in building this team.

Aside from Tkachuk (whose rookie deal expires after 2018-19), the Flames have their core members locked up long-term. In the case of someone like Gaudreau, they’re getting a star player at a bargain rate of $6.75M through 2021-22.

Still, Smith is 36, and maybe more alarmingly, Giordano is already 34.

With aging-but-important players like those, you never know when the bottom might fall out and the window really closes. It’s easy to picture Calgary figuring a few things out – do they make trades, a key signing, maybe a coaching change? – and become as deadly on the ice as they are in some of our imaginations.

None of this erases the bitter taste of failure for the team and its fans, though.

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

Fists fly in Winnipeg: Wheeler and Chiarot exchange pleasantries in practice altercation

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WINNIPEG — The gloves came off at Winnipeg Jets practice on Saturday.

A small scuffle that involved a couple of Jets players ensued after a point shot was taken by Blake Wheeler during a drill. That melee turned into fists being tossed between Wheeler and Jets defensemen Ben Chiarot, with Wheeler being sent to the dressing room by coach Paul Maurice after the fight broke up.

“It’s just boys being boys,” said Chiarot, who had a small cut on his nose after practice. “Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”

Wheeler didn’t speak to the media following being sent off. He appeared to be sporting a welt over his left eye and tossed his helmet into the Jets bench before heading down the tunnel.

The Jets own a 10-point stranglehold on the second seed in the Central Division and appear set for their first playoff appearance in three seasons.

Winnipeg notched its 100th point of the season on Friday in a 3-2 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.

Mark Scheifele, who was in the vicinity, said he was just an innocent bystander in the ordeal.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I was just sitting in the slot, I don’t know if I had anything (to do with it.)”

Paul Maurice watched the fracas from center ice but didn’t say anything until Wheeler’s glove’s game off, at which point he yelled for the pair to stop.

“You’d like a few more of those during the year if you could,” Maurice said after practice.

When pressed as to why, Maurice spoke of keeping the intensity level high throughout the season.

“Our theory in how we practice is really short, as fast as we can, a full-contact sport,” Maurice said. “In the games, somebody gets an elbow up, somebody gets a piece of someone that happens and occasionally in practice that’s going to happen. It’s all good.”

Jets forward Adam Lowry said players were already moved on to the joking phase following the altercation.

“They might be mad at each other for 10 minutes, but you don’t expect a grudge to be held too long,” Lowry said. “I’m sure (by Sunday), they’ll be laughing about it.”

Asked if there would be any repercussions for either player, Maurice shared a joke.

“There will be no family meeting tomorrow,” he said. 

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

Flying under the radar: Kyle Connor’s rookie season has been quietly impressive

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Tucked away behind Blake Wheeler’s career season, Patrik Laine’s 43 goals and Connor Hellebuyck’s Vezina-type season is Kyle Connor’s impressive rookie campaign.

I’d be open to suggestions, but you’d be hard-pressed to show me another rookie having a more impressive season than Connor is that is also seemingly flying under the radar in the National Hockey League.

Up until about week ago, no one outside of Winnipeg was talking about the former Hobey Baker runner-up. And there’s a good reason for that given that Laine was doing things that, historically, no teenager had ever done.

“Everything goes under the radar when you play for Winnipeg,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler this past Tuesday. “He’s been one of the huge X-factors for our team. Him stepping into our lineup and contributing at the rate he’s contributed at, it’s a huge reason why we sit where we are today. He was a got that you had high hopes for coming into the year, but obviously a little bit of a question mark. You didn’t really know what you were going to get. He’s taken the opportunity that he’s got this year and done a great job.”

Connor, like he has all season, just carried on working in the shadows of others. Piling up the goals until there was no choice but to take notice at what he’s doing.

Connor’s 28 goals are just one goal back of Brock Boeser for the rookie goal-scoring lead, something that Connor should surpass before the end of the season given his recent success in that department. He’s second the Jets with five game-winners.

“It’s nice to have the coach have confidence in you,” Connor said. “To be able to go out there and try to make something happen and get a chance for game-winnernner.”

Connor is picking up 1.8 primary points per 60 minutes played and his goals-per-60 is sitting at 1.3.

He also has a little streak going for himself, with two overtime goals in the Jets past two games, becoming the second rookie ever to accomplish the quirky feat.

And he’s done so by using his speed to create space for himself in open ice.

There’s not much of a case to be made for Connor and the Calder — that belongs to Mathew Barzal. But Connor should be in the conversation, if only for the recognition of what he’s done.

Unlike the Barzals, the Boesers and the Kellers and the Gourdes, Connor didn’t begin the season with the big club. Instead, the 21-year-old former Michigan Wolverine didn’t make the grade for the opening day roster out of training camp. He was just mediocre. And with a team oozing with offensive talent, mediocre wasn’t going to cut it.

Connor, banished to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, played four games for the Jets farmhand, collecting three goals and five points, before his stay across the hall at Bell MTS Place came to an abrupt end.

Injuries to Adam Lowry, Matt Hendricks and Mathieu Perreault meant the Jets needed some reinforcements, so Winnipeg recalled Connor on Oct. 16.

He hasn’t looked back since.

Connor’s recalled came with a period spent playing with Bryan Little and Laine before he was promoted to the top line.

It hadn’t worked out with Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers on the top unit, and moving other pieces meant a cascading effect and a lot of line juggling. If Connor could fill in the void, the Jets could concentrate on getting their other three lines right.

So there was a chance and a challenge: prove he can keep up with the relentless pace of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and you’ll stay right where you’re at.

Connor obliged.

Outside of a few hiccups — dropping down to the third and fourth lines at times — Connor has become an important piece on Winnipeg’s top line — a shifty player with a knack for finding enough space in front to get a quality scoring opportunity.

“He’s awesome. He’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on,” Jets forward Mark Scheifele said after Connor’s game-winner on Friday. “He goes to the right spots. He battles hard in the corner, he goes to the right areas, he goes to the dirty areas. He does everything so well and obviously, his knack for scoring is top notch. He’s been really fun to play with this season. It’s exciting to see him grow like that.”

Connor has exploded for six goals in his past eight games, but it’s perhaps what he learned in an eight-game drought prior that’s played an important role in what he’s been doing lately.

“So, he’s played a lot of good games, but the game in Carolina, he doesn’t score, plays exceptionally well and I think he was really working hard all that stretch, he had that little block there where he wasn’t scoring,” Maurice said on Friday. “He seems to me that he’s relaxed a little bit when the puck is on his stick. Confidence for any player is such an important thing and can’t be given to anybody, you get one and then all the sudden you get that good feeling and then you attach that good feeling to some really good play. He’d been playing very, very well and not scoring, so he wasn’t very far off it and a little bit of confidence and away he goes.”

The only real pressure on Connor is what he puts on himself in Winnipeg. There’s enough heavy lifting happening, so Connor has had the freedom of figuring out his game and what works.

“Well, you can never be too comfortable in this league,” Connor said. “Something I learned through this year is you’ve got to bring it every day. You’ve got to prove yourself. I think I’m getting more confident every game I play but I don’t think I’m too comfortable. You come to the rink and you’ve got to prove yourself.”

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