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.

Sabres have a strong group of forwards — even without Jimmy Vesey

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Jimmy Vesey #19 of the Harvard Crimson skates against Steve Santini #6 of the Boston College Eagles during the second period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament consolation game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

The prolonged Jimmy Vesey saga has been over for almost a week now.

After weeks of hearing about which teams were interested and where he may end up and all the star power used to help make the case of those interested teams, Vesey chose the New York Rangers — in case you missed it.

The Buffalo Sabres were unable to get Vesey under contract, despite acquiring his negotiating rights from the Nashville Predators, the team that originally drafted Vesey four years ago. The Sabres used their star, Jack Eichel, as a recruiting tool in this case. A number of teams used the same tactic with their big-name players.

For the Sabres, the move has been called a risk. It’s been called a gamble. It didn’t pay out, which happens. All that it cost general manager Tim Murray was a third-round pick in this year’s draft and the Sabres had four of those. Why not spare one to get, at least for several weeks before Vesey became a free agent, the exclusive negotiating rights to a young player they clearly coveted?

From the Buffalo Hockey Beat:

Still, it’s a gamble Murray’s clearly comfortable with. According to the Sabres’ metric, teams only draft players like Vesey in the third round 7 percent of the time. Nashville drafted Vesey in the third round, 66th overall, in 2012.

“To me, he’s got top-six potential,” Murray said during a pre-draft news conference inside the First Niagara Center. “If we do get him signed, we’re not going to tell you he’s in our top six, but that’s his potential, that’s his pro rating for us. He’s a complete forward. He’s big and strong. He can shoot the puck but he can also make plays. He’s got a great hockey IQ.”

Despite not getting Vesey — it seemed his intentions all along were to go to free agency after his college career ended — the Sabres still have a strong cast of forwards.

(It was reported that had Vesey signed in Buffalo, the Sabres would’ve been more willing to trade Evander Kane, who has been sued by a 21-year-old Buffalo woman after she said Kane seriously injured her in the hotel room.)

Having Eichel, the second overall pick in 2015, certainly builds that promise. Their aspirations of becoming a playoff team next season aren’t far-fetched, especially after locking up Kyle Okposo when the free agent market officially opened last month. In that case, the Sabres committed a total of $42 million over seven years to gain an established scoring forward.

They have Ryan O'Reilly.

Sam Reinhart had a good first season. Alexander Nylander was taken eighth overall and the Sabres have high hopes for him.

In 2015, Murray was eventually able to take solace in the fact that, despite not getting the No. 1 overall pick and Connor McDavid, he was able to select Eichel at No. 2.

The Sabres boast a promising group of forwards, even if that doesn’t include Jimmy Vesey. He’s played exactly zero NHL games. But he did score at nearly a goal-per-game in his senior year with Harvard, with 58 points in 37 games and definitely had potential to add to Buffalo’s talent level up front.

It certainly didn’t hurt the Sabres to pay the price they did in trying to sign him, in trying to see if Vesey could be a fit. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a chance.

A healthy Robin Lehner in net would boost Sabres playoff hopes

Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner deflects a Montreal Canadiens' shot off his glove during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

It seemed Robin Lehner‘s 2015-16 season was defined by two things.

— A) A skirmish involving him and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. And judging by the replays, Lehner, the Buffalo Sabres goalie, was more than willing to have a go.

— B) A high-ankle sprain — a far more pressing issue than getting into a scrum and grabbing an opposing player — suffered in the first game of last season with his new team.

The ankle issue, which included a setback before he was able to finally return to the lineup, reached a pinnacle when the Sabres announced Lehner had undergone surgery and was done for the season.

By that time, Lehner had appeared in 21 games for the Sabres. He posted a 5-9-5 record and a .924 save percentage, eight points above his career average. Beyond that, his first season in Buffalo can be difficult to evaluate because an injury cut into three months, before he was shut down for good.

The Sabres paid a hefty price to bring the now 25-year-old Lehner to their team, which makes his health and his subsequent performance so important to their success, especially as they look to get beyond the rebuilding stage.

Last summer, Sabres GM Tim Murray sent a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators to get Lehner — as well as veteran David Legwand — and bring in a goalie that could be the No. 1.

The Sabres have done a nice job of building their defense and top-six group of forwards, especially with the addition of Kyle Okposo in free agency and the acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly a year ago.

It helps, too, when a No. 2 overall pick can turn into Jack Eichel, and Okposo could play on a line with either Eichel or O’Reilly. Sam Reinhart had a strong first full season in Buffalo, breaking the 20-goal mark. And Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall pick this year, could perhaps make the jump to the NHL with a strong showing in the pre-season.

They didn’t make the playoffs last season, but improved dramatically on their point total, from 54 in 2014-15 to 81 in 2015-16. Their coach, Dan Bylsma, is setting the bar high for next season.

In goal, however, is where there are question marks.

The Sabres, right now, have Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Jason Kasdorf on their roster. Chad Johnson has moved on, signing in Calgary earlier this summer.

Nilsson and Kasdorf have combined for 53 games of NHL experience. One of those games belongs to Kasdorf, who signed a two-year, two-way deal with Buffalo in July.

Given their situation in goal, the Sabres need Lehner to stay healthy. Ideally, given the price they paid, the Sabres would love elite goaltending to be what defines Lehner’s upcoming season.

Las Vegas NHL team hires former Habs scout Karpan as director of player personnel

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 13:  George McPhee speaks after being introduced as the general manager of the Las Vegas NHL franchise during a news conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Another day, another hire for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.

On Tuesday, the team named Vaughn Karpan as its new director of player personnel. He most recently held the title of director of professional scouting with the Montreal Canadiens.

Karpan joined the Habs in 2005, after spending 13 years with the Coyotes franchise, including five years as director of amateur scouting.

This latest move comes after the Vegas franchise named Murray Craven as a senior vice president.

Craven had been an advisor to owner Bill Foley during the process of getting an NHL team in Las Vegas and hiring a general manager.

From the Associated Press:

Craven will be responsible for establishing the club’s top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League, developing the practice facility in Summerlin, Nevada, building up facilities at T-Mobile Arena and overseeing projects at the request of general manager George McPhee.

Oh yeah, the Vegas franchise still doesn’t have a team name yet.

Related:

Vegas team hires Hockey Canada’s Donskov as director of hockey operations

Update: Vegas expansion team could still go with ‘hawks’

Senators, Ceci agree to two-year, $5.6M contract

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 6: Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 6, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion predicted 11 days ago that a new contract with defenseman Cody Ceci would get done “within the next few weeks.”

His timeline proved to be quite accurate.

On Tuesday, the Senators announced they had re-signed the 22-year-old Ceci, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal, worth a total value of $5.6 million.

The breakdown of the deal from the Senators states Ceci will receive $2.25 million in the first year of his new contract and $3.35 million in the second.

As per General Fanager, Ceci is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of this deal, which means the Senators would have to match the salary Ceci made in the final season of the contract in their next qualifying offer to him two years from now.

It’s also a raise from the $1.369 million average annual value he was making with his entry-level contract. It was previously reported that the Senators offered Ceci both long and short-term deals.

The Senators put out a teaser of the news on Twitter, minutes before the announcement.

Ceci is from Ottawa, where he also played his junior hockey, and a first-round pick of the Senators in 2012.

In his second full season with the Senators, he posted a new single-season career high in goals with 10 and points with 26.