Paul Holmgren

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Holmgren’s can-do attitude, remembering the Cow Palace, those Callahan trade rumors, and more!

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Every Wednesday 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 I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little down lately. Just listening to all these general managers saying how hard it’s going to be to make trades before the deadline, it’s really discouraging to hear. I mean, trades and trade speculation is what keeps PHT in business. In terms of importance, it’s right up there with suspension videos and the latest updates on Brooks Laich’s groin. Oh well, at least we still have Paul Holmgren. I liked what he had to say this week: “There are ways we can deal with the salary cap and get around things, if we need to. There will be deals to be made.” That’s the type of can-do attitude we need more of. None of this Mike Gillis pessimism: “It’s tough to find anything but lateral moves and changing the deck chairs.”

Mike Halford: The way the Canucks have looked lately, I’m pretty sure putting a deck chair on the power play would be an upgrade. I too am worried about it being a “dead”-line. (See what I did there? Writing!) Of all the playoff hopefuls, only a few have significant cap space. Most of them are so close to the ceiling they’re licking plaster. I love Holmgren’s “SLRY CAPZ?” attitude. This year, more than ever, GMs are going to need to come up with creative ways to make moves. Putting someone on LTIR with a hangnail? Let’s try it. Suggesting 27 is a good age to retire? It’s an idea. Probably not a good one, but then I’m not a general manager.

JB: At the very least, if it’s a slow deadline, GMs will be coming out of their boots trying to hit home runs in the offseason. All that pent-up frustration combined with another round of compliance buyouts and a rising salary cap? I only hope Holmgren’s still around to partake in the bonanza. If the Flyers miss the playoffs, I’m not sure he will be. And yes, I said the exact same thing about George McPhee last week. By the end of the season, I’ll have checked off every GM in the league and will have a “told you so” post written and ready to publish for each firing. Anyway, say what you will about some of the moves Holmgren’s made as GM — I really didn’t care for that Steve Mason contract, for example — but he’s been a boon for the blogging business.

source:  MH: Which is really all that matters. OK, change of subject: did you see the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls ceased operations? I only bring it up because the Bulls played in my favorite ex-NHL rink — the Cow Palace. Looking back, I almost can’t believe the Sharks called that place home for the first two years of their existence. A livestock pavilion. That held fewer than 12,000 people. And opened during World War II. I will say this, though — the Cow Palace has the kind of history you just don’t get from today’s fancy, newfangled arenas. The Cow Palace lived, man. From Wikipedia: “During a November 20, 1973 concert by The Who, their drummer Keith Moon, passed out from an overdose of horse tranquilizers.” How many current NHL arenas can say they’ve had a horse-tranq OD? The answer is zero. Well, maybe the Saddledome, but only because of all the horses.

JB: It makes me feel old to think of all the rinks that were still in existence when I first started watching hockey. Boston Garden. Chicago Stadium. Maple Leaf Gardens. The Forum. The Aud. St. Louis Arena. Winnipeg Arena. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Oh wait, that one’s still around. Do you remember when the Lightning played in Tropicana Field? Or, as it was known then, the Thunderdome. Which is just fantastic. We don’t need another hero! We don’t need to know the way home! All we want is life beyond…the Thunderdome. Again, I’m not young. I didn’t even need to Google those lyrics. But seriously, that must’ve been a nice intimate setting to take in a game. In 1993, a record crowd of 27,227 watched the Lightning and Panthers play. Little did they know, by the year 2020, over 50 percent of NHL games would be held in baseball stadiums.

MH: I miss the oddities of the old rinks. Like the stairs that players had to climb to get to the Chicago Stadium ice. And the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in Winnipeg. So much nostalgia. Someday, Islanders fans will look back fondly on the asbestos that used to fill their lungs. Moving on: have you seen these Ryan Callahan trade rumors? Not sure what to make of ’em. I feel like the Rangers would be crazy to deal their captain while in a playoff position, but when you look at the big picture…one, the guy is a human band-aid. Always hurt. Two, he turns 29 in March and is no doubt looking for a significant raise. Maybe there’s just no room to keep him.

JB:  Look, if you’re Glen Sather (here, put on this fedora), you at least have to find out what you could get for the guy, otherwise you’re not doing your job. But I’d be surprised if Slats trades him, even if he doesn’t sign him before the deadline. It’s one thing for a non-playoff team to let a player like Callahan walk for nothing. It’s different when you’re 12-5-1 in your last 18 games and could make a deep run this spring. Don’t laugh. If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would play the Flyers in the first round. Winnable, right? If they won that, they’d probably play the Penguins. And we’ve all seen what can happen to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Meltdown city.

MH: That brings up a good debate: Who has the most pressure to win the Stanley Cup this season? For me, it’s gotta be the Pens — I don’t wanna say they’re in Peyton Manning territory with the “multiple amazing regular seasons, but only one championship” narrative, but it’s pretty startling how little postseason success the Pens have had since winning it all in ’09. Case in point? Here is a list of the teams Pittsburgh has defeated in the last four playoff years: Senators, Islanders. That is all. And when the Pens lose? Whether it’s by collapsing defensively (allowing 30 goals in six games against the Flyers) or drying up offensively (two goals in a four-game sweep versus Boston), they lose badly.

source: Getty ImagesJB: For me, it’s a tie between the Blues and Sharks, with maybe a slight edge to St. Louis. Neither franchise has won the Cup in its history and both have the teams to get it done this year. The reason I might give a slight edge to St. Louis is its proximity to Chicago, home of the defending champs. Blues fans are dying for a championship of their own, and if it finally happens this year, there’s a good chance the Blues will have beaten the hated ‘Hawks along the way. And yes, that’s one of the reasons I’ll keep banging the Ryan Miller-to-St. Louis drum. Jaroslav Halak has been playing well lately, but I still think Miller would give them a better chance.

MH: You’re also going to keep banging that drum for website traffic, aren’t you.

JB: Thomas Vanek trade rumors. Dan Girardi trade rumors.

MH: Shea Weber trade rumors. Edmonton Oilers.

JB: Nazem Kadri trade rumors. Jake Gardiner trade rumors.

MH: Go to work, Google News.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.

Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

Bishop’s expiring contract

The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

Win low, worry later

GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

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It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.

Under Pressure: Tyler Johnson

TAMPA, FL - MAY 18:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, Tyler Johnson was such a huge part of the Tampa Bay Lightning, more than a few people believed that he could ease the pain of possibly losing Steven Stamkos to free agency. He tied Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (72 points) and topped all Lightning players with 23 playoff points during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

The 2015-16 regular season was a bumpy one for Johnson … in some ways literally.

Painful year

Health was a major obstacle for Johnson, starting with the hangover from a wrist injury he suffered during Tampa Bay’s magic run.

Even afterward, there were moments of pain. Sometimes it came down to flat-out bad luck:

Other times, there were questionable hits:

It wasn’t until late in the regular season that Johnson seemed to feel himself, as he noted to the Tampa Bay Tribune.

“I feel I’ve got the speed back, got everything I can do,” Johnson said. “I’m actually mentally there, not worried about other things …”

Big commitments

He’ll have some things to worry about in 2016-17.

The Lightning handed out a ton of money this off-season, locking up Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Andrei Vasilevskiy to lengthy deals. They still need to sort out a contract for Nikita Kucherov, a talented forward who rose while Johnson stumbled.

Fair or not, Johnson must prove that he’s a core member of the Lightning

He made a strong argument in his own favor once he was healthy, generating 17 points in 17 playoff games as the Lightning made it to within one game of another Stanley Cup Final appearance despite missing Stamkos.

Still, Johnson faces a fork in the road. Ben Bishop either needs a new deal or (most likely) a trade to a team that will make him “the guy.” Ondrej Palat likely won’t be the easiest player for Tampa Bay to re-sign, either.

Few players could gain or lose more money with one season of play than Tyler Johnson. He can prove that 2015-16 was derailed by bad luck or allow injury concerns to linger.

Millions are on the line, and those personal goals may very well help Johnson drive the Lightning to another deep run.

For all we know, he could also find himself driving out of town.

Bovada gives Canada best odds at 2016 World Cup of Hockey

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  (l-R) Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban #76 of Canada pose with the gold medals won during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s no secret that Canada’s been on a strong run at the international level, and it’s no surprise that they’re considered the favorites heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Seriously, just look at the B Team put together by The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy; even with the strange hook of having to go around the under-23 North American team, that group would be one of the top contenders if it existed.

The real fun is judging how Bovada’s odds fall with the other leading nations. Is Russia given too great a chance considering some recent struggles when facing the best of the best? Did that odd little under-23 team not get enough love?

Here are the odds Bovada released on Monday:

World Cup of Hockey 2016 Champion

Canada                         10/11

Russia                          9/2

Sweden                        5/1

USA                             13/2

Finland                         14/1

North America U23        16/1

Czech Republic             22/1

Team Europe                33/1

Interesting stuff.