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.

Inconsistency is the only consistent thing about the Canadiens

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The 2017-18 edition of the Montreal Canadiens has been underwhelming at best. The only thing that’s been consistent about them is their lack of consistency.

On some nights, they look like a team that should have no problem making the playoffs. Other times, they look like a squad that should be picking in the top five of next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Through 31 games, they own a 13-14-4 record, but how they got there is the most interesting part.

Let’s forget the fact that five of those wins have come against the Sabres (three times) and Red Wings (twice). Hey, in the NHL, a win is a win. But the Canadiens have rarely not been on some kind of positive or negative streak this season.

After opening the season with an overtime win in Buffalo, Montreal went on to lose seven games in a row. They ended that skid at home against Florida, followed that up with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings and then went on to win five of their next contests.

That hot run came to an end with a 3-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild. In fairness to the Canadiens, they didn’t have Carey Price, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin in that game. But after beating Buffalo in their next game, they went on to lose five in a row to Columbus, Arizona, Toronto (they were obliterated 6-0 in that one), Dallas, and Nashville before snapping the skid against (you guessed it) the Sabres.

The game against Buffalo was the night Carey Price returned to the lineup. Price’s return sparked the Canadiens and they went on to win their next four games over Columbus, Ottawa and they beat Detroit twice, including a 10-1 drubbing at the Bell Centre.

After the blowout win over the Wings, a lot of people thought they had turned the corner. Instead, they followed up the win over Detroit with home losses to St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton. Saturday’s loss to the Oilers was beyond embarrassing, as they were totally dominated in front of their fans.

“Well, if I knew, I certainly would’ve done something about (the Canadiens’ streaky play),” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to the Oilers. “It is frustrating. We had a good stretch there, but this week has been a tough week for us. At the end of the day, you have to be better than you were tonight.”

There’s a number of reasons for Montreal’s lack of consistency. They’ve dealt with injuries to key players like Drouin, Price, Weber, David Schlemko and Artturi Lehkonen, but every team goes through that.

Their goaltending was brutal early on, and that certainly didn’t help during their tough start to the year. Also, the fact that 5-on-5 scoring doesn’t come easy to them is another reason why they don’t produce with any regularity. They’re also lacking some mobility on defense, which isn’t exactly ideal for today’s NHL.

And, of course, the fact that their two streakiest scorers have been “off” more than they’ve been “on” has really hurt them. Both Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk haven’t scored nearly enough. Pacioretty has eight goals in 31 games, while Galchenyuk has seven goals in 31 contests. Both have scored 30-plus goals in recent reasons.

The one thing going for the Canadiens is that the third spot in the Atlantic Division is up for grabs. Yes, the Bruins currently have four games in hand on Montreal and a two-point lead in the standings, but those old rivals will be going head-to-head three times in just over a week during the month of January.

As ugly as the season has been at times, the Habs still in it.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL ON NBCSN: Lightning, Blues square off in battle of NHL’s best

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Wednesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

The Lightning and Blue have consistently been two of the best teams in the NHL since opening night.

A healthy Tampa side has scored at will with a league-best 110 goals through 29 games and the Blues have been powered by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and the now-injured Jordan Schwartz. Both teams have the fire power, but they also have played some very stingy defense, thanks to goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jake Allen.

The Blues enter Tuesday night’s game banged up and missing Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, who was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, so depth will be tested. Schenn’s production may also be affected as Schwartz has assisted on half of his 16 goals. And as Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic pointed out this morning, St. Louis averaged 3 goals per game with Schwartz and 2.36 goals when he wasn’t in the lineup.

[WATCH LIGHTNING-BLUES LIVE ON NBCSN]

Tampa hits the road following an undefeated four-game homestand. Their last road trip away from Amalie Arena ended with a 1-3-0 record and only seven total goals scored. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper won’t have last change to get his preferred matchups on the ice, so will he find himself splitting up Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at times to spread out the offensive threat?

“We’ve done what we had to at home,” Cooper said via the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we have to do it on the road, and it’s much tougher with all the travel we have to do, especially where we are here. So, we have to learn from what we did on the road before, what we have to do to prepare, but this is a good way to jump-start that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson hits ‘reset button’ after healthy scratch

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The reset button has been hit and Cam Atkinson will return to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.

Atkinson, who has six goals and nine points in 25 games this season, was made a healthy scratch on Saturday, three weeks after signing a seven-year, $40.25 million extension. John Tortorella’s decision to sit the forward who scored 35 goals last season wasn’t a hard one for the head coach, mainly because the player forced the issue.

“This isn’t to kick a player,” Tortorella said on Monday. “Cam Atkinson is a very important player, and especially for this coach. He’s in every situation, and that’s what I think of him as a player.”

It wasn’t an easy past couple of days for Atkinson. An embarrassing scratch not long after inking a big extension wasn’t an ideal way to show off his worth to the franchise. But on Sunday he received a text from Martin St. Louis, an off-season Connecticut golf buddy and someone who knows pretty well how Tortorella operates. For more than a half hour the former Tampa Bay Lightning star reminded the 28-year-old that he’s a good player and that the franchise has an incredible amount of confidence in him, as displayed by the contract they just handed him.

[Blue Jackets bet big on Cam Atkinson]

Since Saturday’s scratch, Atkinson had stayed on the ice after skates working on his shot and getting extra touches with the puck to try and restore his confidence. There was time spent watching video, too. And just as important, there was plenty of communication with Tortorella.

“It’s one of those things where once you go down that dark alley, one thing leads to another and it’s hard to get out of it,” Atkinson said. “It’s not so much pointing the fingers, but sometimes you tend to blame your teammates or linemates and that’s something you can’t do. It’s something I’ve tried not to do… Being a healthy scratch was probably the best thing for me.”

There’s more than one Blue Jackets player struggling at the moment, which Tortorella admits is a failure on his part to find a way to get them going again. To the head coach, scratching a player isn’t a form of punishment, it’s a way to help.

Atkinson has hit the 20-goal mark in each of the last four seasons, so it’s not like he’s a lost cause or being crushed under the weight of his extension. Now, after a night in the press box, he knows he needs to respond.

“Obviously, you never want to be a healthy scratch, but it gives you a chance to reassess and hit the reset button, realize where you are at that point in time in the season and what you need to do to get better,” Atkinson said.

“It’s a wake-up call. I take full responsibility. I know I need to be way better, and I will be.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Cooper’s reinvention; Pietrangelo on IR

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• How Jon Cooper helped reinvent himself and bring the Tampa Bay Lightning back to elite status. [Tampa Bay Times]

• Days after losing Jaden Schwartz for six weeks, the St. Louis Blues placed Alex Pietrangelo on injured reserved with a lower-body injury. The good news is that he’s expected back by early next week. [Blues]

• Six skaters on Russia’s Sochi Olympic women’s hockey team — including its captain and leading points scorer — were banned from the Olympics for life by the IOC. [NBC Olympics]

Drew Doughty on the Los Angeles Kings doubters: “Yeah, you know, obviously, people are still going to doubt us. There’s always going to be people who don’t believe in the success we’re having, but we’re not too worried about those other people.” [LA Daily Times]

• The New York Islanders unveiled their plans to develop land by Belmont Park race track, which includes an 18,000-seat arena. Bidding against MLS side NYCFC, it’s unknown when the winner will be announced. [Islanders Insight]

• How the returns of Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg will affect the rest of the Anaheim Ducks’ lineup. [OC Register]

• Don’t trade Erik Karlsson. No, really. Just don’t do it. [Silver Seven Sens]

• Canada’s World Junior entry got a big boost on Monday when the Montreal Canadiens announced they will be loaning the defenseman to the national team. [Canadiens]

• What to make of these Columbus Blue Jackets? [The Cannon]

• The New Jersey Devils have made the most out of having some very hard practices. [NJ.com]

• So you wanna rebuild the Chicago Blackhawks? Well, about that… [Second City Hockey]

• It’s not been the greatest season in Philadelphia, but Sean Couturier is certainly shining. [TSN]

• What do the Dallas Stars need to do to find more success on the road? [Defending Big D]

• Are smelling salts actually dangerous for players? [The Star]

• Would a transatlantic hockey league be a successful one? [British Ice Hockey]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.