Steve Yzerman, Mike Babcock

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Canada’s chances at Olympic gold, the big ice, no Giroux, and more!

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Every Wednesday (except for the last two weeks), we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so now that all 12 of the Olympic rosters have been announced, who do you like to win gold in Sochi? I’m going completely off the board and picking Canada. I just don’t think Norway has enough depth. (Sorry Norway, truth hurts.) I do, however, think there are two things that could keep Canada from defending its title. First is goaltending, i.e. either Roberto Luongo or Carey Price don’t get the job done, or another country’s goalie catches fires, a la Dominik Hasek in Nagano. Second is what I like to call hockey being hockey. A bounce here, a bounce there. These aren’t seven-game series where there’s time for luck to even out. Put it this way — let’s say Canada has an 80 percent to win each game once it gets to the quarterfinals. (And I think that’s overly high, by the way.) Now do the math — 80 percent times 80 percent times 80 percent equals a 51 percent chance of winning all three and taking gold. You’re lost, aren’t you.

Mike Halford: Not totally lost, just trying to figure out how I ended up with Canada’s gold-medal chances at 512,000 percent. Anyway, I do get what you’re saying — one crazy play and, BOOM, tournament over. Remember Belarus over Sweden in ’02? I don’t know the odds of a 70-foot shot caroming off the goalie’s head and going in for the game-winning goal, but I assume they’re pretty low. Speaking of Sweden, the Tre Kronor are the only team close to having Canada’s “depth of talent” on defense and down the middle. I may even pick them to win gold, with goaltending being the deciding factor. I love Henrik Lundqvist in this kind of one-and-done tourney. Certainly more than I love Luongo or Price.

JB: Um, have you watched Lundqvist play this year? Something’s not right there. Otherwise I agree the Swedes have a good chance at gold, if it’s not Canada. After those two countries, I like the Americans next, then I guess the Russians. Though I might actually put the Finns and their goaltending ahead of the Russians and their star forwards. We talked about this before; I still can’t get past all the non-NHLers on Russia’s roster. Maybe I’m under-estimating the quality of the KHL? Maybe Brandon Bochenski, currently fourth in scoring in that league, is actually really good? Maybe Kyle Wilson and Nigel Dawes are really good too? All I know is it’s going to be fascinating to see how the hosts do. I think their story will be by far the most compelling to follow, win or lose. This is THE tournament for Russian stars like Alex Ovechkin. And something tells me Vladimir Putin isn’t the type to accept an excuse along the lines of, “Well, we were a bit thin on the blue line.”

source:  MH: I kinda hope Putin plays a role in the tournament, somehow. International hockey has really missed the political angle since the Cold War ended. I mean, would it be too much to ask for the FSB (successor to the KGB) to bug the Canadian dressing room? Not sure what they’d find out — “Mr. Putin, we’ve learned the Canadians intend to work hard, support the puck, and play a solid 200-foot game” — but I’d appreciate the extra effort. Anyway, let’s change the subject (before we get in trouble), because I want to talk about the snubs. Specifically, Claude Giroux. Bad enough for Flyers fans that he got left off, but then Team Canada selects Chris Kunitz? As you so eloquently put it on Twitter, that was like the apocalypse for the PHT comments section. So, question: Do you blame Canada for snubbing Giroux? For as good as he was in December, he coasted through the first two months and, lest we forget, blew off the summer orientation camp. You don’t just blow off Hockey Canada and think it’s going to forget about it. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, CLAUDE GIROUX?

JB: OK, first of all, I despise the word “snub” when it comes to situations like this. It’s not a “snub” that Giroux was left off the team. It was a decision. Will Canada regret it? Maybe, if they have trouble scoring. But I don’t think they will; I think they’ve got more than enough firepower on their roster. And while I’m at it, unlike a lot of people, I actually think the big ice could help them. I get North Americans aren’t used to it and they’re going to have to make some adjustments, but how can it be a bad thing when wizards like Sidney Crosby and John Tavares have more time and space to make plays? Don’t they always say the key to shutting down dangerous players is to take away their time and space? Similarly, I can’t wait to see Duncan Keith skating with the puck out of his own end and creating opportunities through the neutral zone. Ditto for PK Subban, if Mike Babcock uses him. This Canadian team has a ton of speed. It’s different than the previous editions that tried and failed to play the bruising, in-your-face NHL game on the big ice. This isn’t Adam Foote’s Team Canada.

MH: You know what I despise? People complaining about the use of words like “snub.” Maybe it’s not super accurate, but it’s a good word. Short and effective. Sort of like Martin St. Louis. And yes I mention him for a reason, because it’s pretty clear these are uncomfortable times in Tampa Bay after Steve Yzerman omitted (happy? I didn’t say snub) him from Team Canada. Not to be outdone, Jack Johnson is apparently choked at Todd Richards for getting left off Team USA. Make no mistake, these things can fracture relationships. Just ask Pat Quinn, who essentially torched his with Curtis Joseph by benching him in Salt Lake. This might explain why Yzerman looked so rattled during the Canadian roster announcement — it was the second time he had to tell St. Louis he wasn’t going to the Olympics.

source: Getty ImagesJB: Yeah, Johnson’s quote was sure something. “Anything that’s said now is empty and meaningless. When I needed the belief and trust, I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get it when it counted from numerous people…The team’s picked. I sat there and watched it on TV along with everybody else. That’s how I heard. From TV.” I’ll concede that Johnson shouldn’t have learned the news from TV (though at least it was NBC), but that being said, Richards’ job with USA Hockey isn’t to pump Johnson’s tires. It’s to help the country win a gold medal. Frankly, I feel a lot more sorry for St. Louis, who’s 38 and nearing the end of his career. This was probably his last chance to participate in a best-on-best international tourney. He played in the 2006 Olympics, but that was a disaster for Canada. I don’t blame him for being devastated he won’t get a shot at redemption. Especially when he got beat out by a guy like Chris Kunitz. I mean, come on.

MH: That’s some nice trolling.

Penguins, Sharks discuss bumpy road to Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) It wasn’t supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn’t supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they’d become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL’s biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn’t makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

“I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things,” Crosby said. “I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point.”

It’s a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL’s most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose’s window for success hadn’t shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

“I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did,” Thornton said. “I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are.”

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby’s tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

FRESH FACES: When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick‘s backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn’t give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

“HBK” IS H-O-T: Pittsburgh’s best line during the playoffs isn’t the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

POWERFUL SHARKS: San Jose’s brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

OLD MEN AND THE C(UP): Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

“When I say ‘Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say ‘I was 2-years-old,'” Zubrus said.

Top prospects Tkachuk, Mitchell power London to 2016 Memorial Cup

RED DEER, AB - MAY 29:  JJ Piccinich #84 of the London Knights (OHL) collides with Jean-Christophe Beaudin #16 of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) during the Memorial Cup Final on May 29, 2016 at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The London Knights feature a line full of players with interesting NHL futures, and all three of those forwards came up big on Sunday.

Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak combined forces to pull London to a 3-2 overtime win against the Rouyn-Naranda Huskies, winning the 2016 Memorial Cup.

Things looked pretty shaky for London; its winning streak looked like it was in danger with Rouyn-Naranda taking a late 2-1 lead. The Knights failed on what seemed like a golden 5-on-3 opportunity, but they didn’t let that deter them.

Tkachuk scored two goals, Dvorak generated a goal and an assist and Marner was named tournament MVP as the Knights’ 17th consecutive win wrapped up the Memorial Cup for that special group.

Tkachuk (a high-end prospect for the upcoming draft) and Marner (the fourth pick to Toronto back in 2015) are the bigger names, but Dvorak – the 58th pick back in 2014 – came up big, too.

Yes, Thornton and Marleau have been dreaming of a run like this

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 07:  Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after Patrick Marleau (not pictured) scored the game winning goal against Kevin Bieksa #3 (L) and the Vancouver Canucks in overtime of Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 7, 2013 in San Jose, California. The Sharks defeated the Canucks 4-3 to sweep the series 4 games to 0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After seeing them suffer some ignominious playoff defeats, plenty of people are happy for Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton as they enter their first Stanley Cup Final.

The two veteran San Jose Sharks forwards aren’t playing coy about it, either; they’ve been picturing such scenarios for ages.

Both Thornton and Marleau seemingly uttered the same things as Game 1 approaches against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

“This is everything I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time,” Marleau said.

It’s hard to believe that we are months removed from a time when it seemed like one or both of these longtime Sharks were in the thick of seemingly legitimate trade rumors. Marleau, in particular, sounded like he might be on the verge of moving on.

Instead, they’re as deep in the postseason as they have ever been and Thornton is talking about his beard.

Life is good.

Joel Ward believes NHL should retire No. 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 15:  NHL ambassador Willie O'Ree talks with the Capital City Crew and the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association during a clinic, Hockey is for Everyone, sponsored by the NHL and the Carolina Hurricanes at the Cary Ice House on May 15, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina.   (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images for NHL)
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Sometimes players wear a jersey number as a tribute to a childhood favorite. Sometimes it’s merely to mark their birth year and other times it’s merely what was handed to them.

For Joel Ward, his 42 has a lot of meaning, and it brings to mind black athletes who were pioneers in their respective sports.

Yes, indeed, Ward wears No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. As the San Jose Sharks forward told ESPN, he’d love it if the NHL discussed retiring No. 22 in honor of its first black hockey player, Willie O’Ree.

“I definitely think Willie should be recognized for sure,” Ward said. “The league obviously does that with task force but I do think that Willie should definitely be a big part of the league for sure for what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today. I definitely think Willie should be a big part of this.”

Sounds like a great idea, one that would echo the MLB doing the same with Robinson’s No. 42.

For more, check out that great ESPN story.