Alex Ovechkin

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Olympic odds, Russia’s defense, King Henrik’s new deal, Fire Cappy? and more

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I just got Bovada’s latest odds to win Olympic gold. Here’s how they look:

Canada 2/1
Russia 9/4
Sweden 5/1
USA 11/2
Czech Republic 10/1
Finland 12/1
Switzerland 25/1
Slovakia 33/1
Norway 200/1
Latvia 400/1
Austria 900/1
Slovenia 900/1

No huge surprises, though it’s interesting that Russia was the favorite in July, and now Canada is. Personally I’d drop Russia even further down, below Sweden and USA. I know Russia’s got a ridiculously talented group of forwards, but I just can’t get past the candidates on defense, of whom a player by the name of Eugene Ryasensky is apparently one. I suppose it’s possible they could gain an advantage playing at home in Sochi. On the other hand, I could just as easily see them choking under the pressure, as a very unhappy, and possibly shirtless, Vladimir Putin watches on.

Mike Halford: Yeah, that defense. And it’s not like they’ll be able to hide their bottom guys. The Olympics is a bit different than the NHL. “Canada’s fourth line hops over the boards for a rare shift…let’s see what Matt Duchene, Patrick Marleau and Corey Perry can do.” The thing with Russia is you can get caught up playing fantasy hockey with its forwards and, in turn, overlook its glaring roster flaws. Like, yes, Russia could ice a top line of Malkin-Datsyuk-Ovechkin…which it would need, because Anton Volchenkov is anchoring (quite literally) the D. That’s why I really like the Swedes’ chances. They have three of the NHL’s top-10 defenseman scorers — Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson and Kronwall — plus the likes of Brodin, Edler, Hedman, Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Ericsson. I’d argue only Canada has superior blue-line depth, and even then it’s close. But enough about the favorites. One country always seems to surprise at the Olympics — Slovakia in ’10, Belarus in ’02, and I seem to remember the United States playing well in ’80 — so, who’s your dark-horse pick? Are we all overlooking Slovenia, Jason? ARE WE?

JB: I think a lot of people would answer Switzlerland to this question, so I won’t. No disrespect to the Swiss, who won silver at the 2013 Worlds and nearly beat Canada in 2010. They’re like the international version of the 2003 Minnesota Wild. I just don’t want to pick the same dark horse everyone else is picking. For that reason, I think I’ll go with Austria. Not to win a medal, but I could see them pulling an upset and reaching the quarterfinals. Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner are pretty talented players, and I assume their goalies have all the necessary equipment — glove, blocker, chest protector, etc. Oh, and let’s not forget that Austria won gold at the 1927 European championships. So this is a team with a history of success at big tournaments.

source: APMH: How they beat Belgium that year, I’ll never know. I see you mentioned Grabner and Vanek, so congrats are in order — you wrote about the Islanders without questioning Jack Capuano’s job security. Why do you hate Jack Capuano so much, Jason? Is it his hair? His wardrobe? His charming Rhode Island accent? I just don’t get why you’re constantly writing about his potential firing. Is it because New York has lost seven straight and sits last in the Metropolitan Division, seven points back of a playoff spot? Oh, wait, I get it now. I guess I just feel bad for Capuano, who lest we forget isn’t far removed from helping the Isles snap a five-season playoff drought, for which he finished fifth in the Jack Adams voting. I fail to see how this year’s flawed team — terrible goaltending, no Streit/Visnovsky, etc. — lands at his feet, but I guess that’s the business. Garth Snow might have immense loyalty to Cappy but, as the old saying goes, you can’t fire the players, you can only trade them to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek.

JB: You make it sound like I’ve been pushing for his firing. Not true. I feel for the guy, too. I’m simply wondering where Snow’s breaking point exists. It took a 10-game winless streak for Scott Gordon to get canned in 2010, and the Isles could easily get to that point with their upcoming road trip through St. Louis, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, and Phoenix. I agree, the team has flaws — significant ones, and those fall on management and ownership — but that doesn’t mean Capuano should escape responsibility. Otherwise, why not just prop up a mannequin, or one of those water-drinking toy birds, behind the bench and call it coach? Actually, I wonder if the Isles might consider that. If there’s one NHL team that loves to save a buck, it’s the Isles. And I bet the water-drinking bird would work cheap, unless it has a really good agent. Anyway, maybe it’ll be good for the Isles to get out on the road, even if it’s to play five of the top teams in the league. At least there won’t be any “Fire Cappy” or “Snow Must Go” chants for a little while.

MH: Funny you mention the financial limitations the Islanders face, because they were only accentuated by their hated rivals, the Rangers, who just dropped nearly $60 million to retain Henrik Lundqvist. That’s a lot of scratch, but I guess when you’re negotiating with the NHL’s most consistent goalie over the last eight years, you gotta pay that man his money. The goalie market is blowing my mind a little bit right now. Lundqvist, Rask, Rinne, Quick and Luongo are all on mega-deals, to the point where the contracts for Price, Smith and Howard — which are all six years and worth at least $31 million — seem conservative. At this point, I don’t know whether a guy like Ryan Miller is in a good position or a bad one. He could capitalize on the “good goalies get paid” trend, but where? So many teams have locked into their guys, it’s not like he’s going to have his choice of places to play. Same goes for other pending UFA goalies like Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak and Tim Thomas.

source: Getty ImagesJB: The Rangers were always going to pay Lundqvist. He’s arguably the best goalie in the world, and you don’t let a player like that walk away. Especially if you’re one of the league’s financial powerhouses. And especially when he’s so handsome. Wait, what? But you’re right, the goalie market is fascinating. For GMs, it’s a question of paying for certainty with a proven veteran, or rolling the dice on a youngster or reclamation project. Personally I’d be wary of giving a goalie a lengthy contract. Look at what happened in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo. Look at Pekka Rinne’s health issues. Not to mention, so much of goaltending is mental, and a goalie’s mind can be a fragile thing. They’re a bit like golfers and NFL kickers in that way — one day they look amazing, the next you wonder if they can tie their shoes. Yet having said all that, if a team doesn’t get good goaltending, it’s pretty much finished, so I fully understand the desire to get the good ones locked up. Do you get the feeling I’d be a very indecisive general manager?

MH: Yes, but I don’t think you have to worry about it.

Video: McKenzie on the unclear future for Gallant, Weight and the Islanders

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NHL insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN’s NHL Live on Wednesday for a really interesting session on the New York Islanders. If you want some fascinating tidbits, the video above is full of great insight … but you might be just as confused as ever about the direction of the franchise.

(Probably because the Islanders give off the impression that they’re confused, too.)

Let’s break down some of the more intriguing material:

  • In one eyebrow-raising point, McKenzie said that the Islanders may have gone one step further than asking for the Florida Panthers’ permission to speak with Gerard Gallant. The Isles might have even do so weeks before they fired Jack Capuano. Wow.
  • Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that Gallant will be their future head coach. McKenzie deems that a “long shot” for now and notes that nothing is imminent.
  • Instead, “what you see is what you get,” which means that Doug Weight may serve as interim head coach for a healthy chunk of time. The situation seems in flux overall.

Weight seems fine with whatever, as ESPN reports.

“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” Weight said.

  • Maybe most importantly, McKenzie said that more sweeping changes could come to the Islanders organization this summer. One could imply that GM Garth Snow’s just isn’t set in stone, something PHT discussed after Capuano’s firing.
  • Also, Gallant could be in the running for the coaching gig in Las Vegas.

So, yeah, that video above this post’s headline is absolutely worth watching. The NHL Live crew also provides some insight about the Islanders’ struggles and future direction, so check it out.

… And stay tuned. More twists and turns could be coming in this story.

Red Wings hope to continue the climb back to playoff contention vs. Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins is upended by Luke Glendening #41 of the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The odds are against them right now, but the Detroit Red Wings hope to continue the climb back into the thick of the East’s playoff bubble against one team already situated in playoff position in the Boston Bruins. It should make for a spirited edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry (8 pm ET on NBCSN, online or the NBC Sports app).

At the moment, the Red Wings are closer to the bottom of the East (two points ahead of the last-place Islanders, one ahead of Buffalo) than the last wild card spot (Ottawa has a six-point edge and five teams rank ahead of Detroit right now).

On the other hand, Detroit won’t let its record-breaking playoff run end without a fight. The Red Wings are currently on a two-game winning streak, so there could be some optimism on their end.

Meanwhile, the Bruins rank second in the Atlantic, but they still need to protect their spot. Ottawa and Toronto aren’t far behind the Bruins, and both of those teams have five games in hand on Boston.

In other words, Detroit’s climb could benefit from Boston’s fall, so we’ll see what happens tonight.

Click here for the livestream link. Tonight’s doubleheader also includes the latest round of the San Jose Sharks – Los Angeles Kings rivalry.

Rather than whining, Capitals take ‘shut up and play’ approach with refs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 18:  John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals pleads his case with referee Brad Meier after teammate Brooks Orpik #44 is down after a hit in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Shut up and play has been a mantra lately for the Washington Capitals.

Too often early in the season players would harp on officials for missing a penalty or getting a call wrong. So coach Barry Trotz and veteran leaders made a concerted effort to tone down on the yapping.

Even though the Capitals have taken their fair share of penalties, their bench has been quieter during an 11-game point streak and that’s not a coincidence.

“You don’t want to be known as the whiny team that the refs don’t want to go by the bench because they’re always going to get whined at from the players,” right winger Justin Williams said. “You don’t want to have that reputation.”

Trying to nip that reputation before it gets out of control, players talked inside the locker room about officials being human beings. No one likes to get yelled or screamed at while doing their job, so show a little respect and maybe it’ll get returned in kind.

Trotz and most around hockey will readily acknowledge just how difficult officiating an NHL game can be and compliment referees and linesmen for getting more calls right than wrong. He’ll often apologize to referees later for yelling at them if they saw something he didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s always thrilled about officiating. Captain Alex Ovechkin expressed his displeasure about a couple of missed calls in their 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Monday, including a high hit from the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist on T.J. Oshie in the second period and a trip by Sidney Crosby on him in overtime.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. “Everybody have emotions. If it’s 100 percent call and nobody make a whistle and don’t make a call, of course everyone going to be mad and sad about it. But I think the captains and the coaches, we can talk to the referees, so that’s what we should try to do.”

Trotz, Ovechkin and alternate captains Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom have the job of communicating with officials. Keeping the off-the-cuff yapping to a minimum has been part of Washington’s recent success.

Given the Capitals’ recent dominance at 5-on-5, not taking a reactionary penalty allows them to take advantage of their depth and wear opponents down. They’re pretty good when they’re not in the penalty box.

“I think controlling our emotions and having the right people talk all the time and focus on the right things can keep us more grounded, more on detail,” Trotz said. “I just think that’s how we’re going to handle it.”

Orpik said cutting back on mouthing off to officials can help players sharpen their focus on controllable aspects of the game. Oh, and they have long memories.

“If you yell and scream at them all game long, they might not give you the benefit of the doubt at the end of the game or the next game they have you they might say, `Oh we got Washington again,’ and before they even get to the game they’re sick of us,” Orpik said.

Perhaps sick of their own penchant for taking penalties, the Capitals don’t want to put undue stress on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and the players tasked with killing them off. Williams said the coaching staff and older players had to set the tone for how everyone else should treat referees and linesmen.

Most of the time that means just being quiet.

“Yelling at the refs, although spontaneously it may feel like the right thing to do, it never changes the call – never, ever – as much as you whine and moan about it,” Williams said. “I think you get more respect from the referees that way when you show them the respect, as well.”

NOTES: D John Carlson missed practice Wednesday with a lower-body injury and is considered doubtful to play Thursday in St. Louis, which would be his second consecutive game out of the lineup. Trotz said the team would consider recalling a defenseman on Thursday morning but isn’t worried about going to St. Louis and Dallas with only 12 forwards “because we have airplanes.”

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

Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

“We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.