The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Outrage over hockey violence, Gary Bettman is a happy man, Darryl Sutter is awesome, 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 suppose we should thank the Penguins and Bruins for giving us lots to write about this week. If there’s anything that gets PHT commenters more fired up than dirty plays and suspensions, I’m not sure what it is. Cat nip maybe? Though to be fair, it’s not like the media has been any more measured in its response. Some of the stuff I’ve read, you’d think somebody was attacked with a chainsaw in that game. I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of what happened to Brooks Orpik, or overlook the absurdity of James Neal dropping his knee like a second-rate professional wrestler, but sometimes I feel like the hockey world needs to calm down and get a hold of itself. It’s a physical, emotional game. The players carry sticks and are dressed like gladiators. Things are going to happen out there from time to time. Or maybe I’m being too laissez faire about all this. I’ll give you a moment to look up the definition of that.

Mike Halford: I know what it means. It means you’re a heartless, desensitized monster who doesn’t care about the health and safety of professional athletes. And for what it’s worth, I kind of enjoy being outraged. Throwing around words like “disgraceful” and “sickening” makes me feel like I’m above the sort of behavior we saw in Boston. Sometimes I even wear a top hat while I’m being outraged. I also find it pretty darn funny that a few days prior to slew-footing Orpik, Thornton was waxing poetic about honor and the code. He actually said this: “People could probably criticize that I’m a little too honorable.” Bet that’s less of a problem now! So lemme ask you this, in the wake of Thornton blatantly defiling the code, what’s the point of having one if it flies out the window when things get too “physical” or “emotional”? Now, that said, I fully agree there would be a lot less uproar and hand-wringing if everybody just accepted that until fighting is out of the game, it’s part of the game. Well, it’s part of the game as long as you keep your helmet on. And don’t do it in the final few minutes of a game. You also can’t leave the bench to do it. And you’re not allowed to take on an unwilling combatant… but that last one doesn’t apply to goalies. At least I don’t think it does. Wait, where was I going with this?

JB: As usual, you were going nowhere. But in going nowhere, you actually made a pretty good point. The fighting/violence debate always opens a huge can of worms, because there are so many “but what if” and “but you can’t ignore” counter-arguments just waiting to be made. I suppose one’s willingness to open that can of worms depends how big a problem one thinks the NHL has with safety. I actually believe there’s been good progress made in the past few seasons and that players are learning. At the risk of channeling Gary Bettman, the vast majority of hits don’t result in injuries or suspensions, and the large majority of games don’t stop for players to get stretchered off. Which admittedly isn’t the greatest marketing campaign — “The NHL: where most of our players leave the ice all by themselves!” — but it’s no worse than the time they did that thing with the superheroes.

source:  MH: I almost forgot about the Guardian Project. What a mess that was. Especially when the animators clearly ran out of ideas and started giving characters lame, incongruous super powers. “The Canuck is half-killer whale… but can climb trees…and has a cape…and is, um, a highly motivated self-starter who works well with others…” “Wait, is that from your résumé?” “Look, just send it to the printer.” Not the league’s finest moment. Certainly not as fine as Bettman was feeling Tuesday while talking to reporters after the Board of Governors meetings. Have you ever seen him lord over the media like that? You almost had to respect the guy’s swagger. This was my favorite quote, by the way: “My my, how far we’ve come since the summer, when all the articles and speculation were about all these franchises that were supposedly in trouble, which we never believed were.”

JB: Yeah, that was pretty entertaining. Particularly the way he talked to the assembled reporters like they were children who had no idea how business works. At one point I thought he was going to sit everyone down and read them a story. Since we’re doing favorite quotes, here was mine, on the topic of expansion: “So we went from relocation in your view and distress to now we should be expanding. Everybody needs to slow down. We don’t operate like that. Everything in due course. If, in fact, there’s a due course to pursue.” Classic Bettman. Just covering all the bases. I might actually start using that last part in everyday life. “Sir, are you going to pay for that magazine? You can’t just stand there reading it for free.” “Everything in due course. If, in fact, there’s a due course to pursue.”

MH: And you just keep reading the December issue of Cosmo. Anyway, as much as I enjoyed Bettman’s remedial economics lecture, he’s only my second favorite press-conference connoisseur in the NHL. First place, and by a mile, goes to Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. Did you see the one where he started asking himself questions he thought reporters should be asking, then answering them? I wonder if that approach could catch on. If a coach doesn’t get asked the questions he wants to be asked, he just asks them himself.

JB: I could see old Torts doing that. And then getting in a fight with himself. “Stop coaching, John.” Speaking of whom, I kinda miss old Torts. Apparently new Torts is the media’s best friend in Vancouver. Get a load of what they’re writing about him these days: “He just seems to answer the questions like he’s talking to a buddy on the street.” Like a buddy on the street! Though we’ll see how long that lasts. Once the playoffs start, it wouldn’t surprise me if talking to his buddy on the street ends up looking like this:

Predators first-rounder Tolvanen becomes youngest to score hat trick in KHL

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Talk about making a great first impression.

Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen became the youngest KHL player to score a hat trick while adding an assist in his debut for Jokerit against Dinamo Minsk.

Tolvanen turned 18 in April. It’s ludicrously early, but with a night like this, people are already wondering if the forward was a steal; the Predators nabbed him with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Here’s some footage of his performance:

If that Jokerit debut is any indication, he could have a special season, especially for an 18-year-old in the KHL.

A scouting report from Pension Plan Puppets touted Tolvanen’s shot as the best in the 2017 draft, and they believed he could be one of the big steals. And that was if he ended up landing in the teens, let alone No. 30.

BREAKING: Predators GM David Poile and his staff know what they’re doing.

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.