Nedved’s ‘strange’ life takes him to Sochi

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SOCHI, Russia — Petr Nedved never expected to be back at the Winter Olympics. Not 20 years after his first and only other Games, where he represented a different country no less. But then, Nedved hasn’t exactly lived a typical life. Perhaps he shouldn’t have counted it out.

“My life has been a strange journey,” Nedved conceded, somewhat jokingly, on Friday. The 42-year-old, now with a graying beard, has traveled to Sochi to play for the Czech Republic, undoubtedly to the surprise of many North American hockey fans who thought he’d long since hung up the skates.

The last time Nedved appeared in an NHL uniform was 2007, as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Since then, he’s been playing – and playing rather well, mind you – in the top Czech league. The last six seasons he’s been piling up points for his hometown club in Liberec.

As for that “strange” life of his? Maybe a better word for it is adventurous.

Let’s start in 1989, when it was still communist Czechoslovakia and Nedved was only 17. During a trip to Calgary for a midget tournament, he snuck away from his team, went to the police, and defected to Canada. His parents said they had no knowledge of his plans.

Following a prolific junior season with the Seattle Thunderbirds, he was drafted second overall by the Vancouver Canucks. He would go on to play 982 NHL games for seven different teams. He would win a silver medal representing Canada in the 1994 Winter Olympics. He would even marry, and separate from, a supermodel, Veronika Varekova.

No wonder then that Nedved was in a reflective mood following practice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, where he held court with a group of reporters, some of whom had covered him all the way throughout his NHL career.

“I knew that you guys didn’t think I was still playing,” he joked. “Here I am.”

He recalled the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, where his Canadian team ended up eliminating the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. He remembered the “mixed feeling” he had while his teammates were celebrating the win over his former compatriots. He lamented losing the gold-medal game to Sweden in a shootout.

Two decades later – as if it wasn’t improbable enough that he’d be back at the Olympics – one of his teammates will be his old friend, Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr, 41, was drafted fifth overall, three spots after Nedved, also in 1990. The pair played together in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We have the same sense of humor,” said Nedved, “so we don’t even have to say anything and we’re laughing.”

Perhaps they’ll share a laugh over the fact one of Nedved’s teammates back in Liberec is 16 years old.

Why is he still playing with kids less than half his age?

“I love the game,” he said. “I love the competition. I still have the drive.”

These Games will be his swansong, however.

“This is it for me,” he said. “This is the last season of my career. It’s time.”

How much of an impact Nedved will have against the top players in the world remains to be seen. He knows he’s not a young man anymore. Not young for Olympic hockey, anyway.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play every game,” he said.

But former NHL defenseman and current teammate Tomas Kaberle thinks Nedved can still be a difference-maker.

“Sometimes he needs only one shot, and he’ll put it in,” said Kaberle. “Sometimes one chance in a hockey game makes a big difference.”

The Czech Republic open its Olympic tournament Wednesday versus Sweden.

McPhee says Golden Knights ‘accomplished a lot of things’ in first draft

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No team was busier at the NHL draft this weekend than the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Armed with 13 draft picks thanks to their dealings in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights began the process of building the real future of their team. It started on Friday night when they kept all three of their first-round selections and used them to select a pair of centers along with a puck-moving defenseman. They continued the process on Saturday with the remainder of their picks.

A quick look at the selections indicates McPhee tried to begin by building his roster down the middle by selecting six centers, two defensemen and a pair of goalies.

“We accomplished a lot of things in this draft,” McPhee said, via Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review Journal. “We got some skill, we got some size and we got some goaltending.”

Their entire draft haul ended up as follows

1 (6) — Cody Glass, center

1 (13) — Nick Suzuki, center

1 (15) — Erik Brannstrom, defense

2 (34) — Nicolas Hague, defense

2 (31) — Jake Leschyshyn, center

3 (65) — Jonas Rondbjerg, right wing

4 (96) — Maksim Zhukov, goalie

5 (127) — Lucas Elvenes, center/right wing

5 (142) — Jonathan Dugan, left wing

6 (158) — Nick Campoli, center

6 (161) — Jiri Patera, goalie

7 (189) — Ben Jones, center

Along with those picks, they also traded one of their second-round picks (No. 45 overall) to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for prospect Keegan Kolesar, a 6-2, 223-point forward that is ready to make the jump to pro hockey after averaging a point-per-game the past two seasons in the Western Hockey League.

Size did seem to be a common trend with their picks as eight of their selections were listed as 6′ or taller, including Hague, a 6-5, 207-pound defenseman.

While the inaugural Golden Knights roster will be made up primarily of players taken in the expansion draft this past week, most of them will not be with the team for more than a year or two as the organization begins to take shape.

Some of them probably will not even begin the season on the team as McPhee continues to wheel and deal.

This weekend is where the real building of the organization started.

Treliving: Flames paid price in Hamonic deal, but ‘you can never have enough top d-men’

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Two years ago, Brad Treliving acquired Dougie Hamilton at the draft. On Saturday, he picked up Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders.

Those are two moves that have significantly helped the Flames build a formidable top-four defense in the Western Conference, and it’s already been suggested it could be in the conversation with Nashville’s group that includes Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Yes, the Flames paid a price — first and second-round picks in next year’s NHL Draft and a second-round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft.

But after making the playoffs this season and then making a recent trade with Arizona to acquire goalie Mike Smith, the Flames seem to feel they’re in their window to win now. Today’s move further solidifies that notion.

“You’ve got to give to get,” said Treliving, the Flames general manager, of the Hamonic deal. “You hate paying the price. But we looked at a lot of things: We looked at the makeup of our team, where he fits. He’s a right shot. We think he fits in real good with our team.

“I like the looks of our top-four. He moves pucks. He’s a character kid. He’s got some bite to him.”

The Flames now have their top four defensemen locked into contracts through at least 2020, which was one of the important factors in acquiring Hamonic, according to Treliving. Mark Giordano, who turns 34 in October, is signed through 2022 and Hamilton is signed through 2021.

Treliving lauded the puck-moving ability of Giordano, Hamilton and T.J. Brodie — who combined for 31 goals and 125 points, led by Hamilton’s 13-goal, 50-point campaign. But, he said, the move to acquire Hamonic brings added toughness and versatility into the group.

“He checks a lot of boxes for us,” he said. “I think you build up through the middle. This, to me, solidifies our defense. I like our center ice position. There’s depth there and we’ll keep tweaking at it, but I like the looks of that defense.”

As a result of injuries, Hamonic played in only 49 games last season.

With the way Hamonic plays, Treliving admitted there may be greater risk for injury, but the Flames don’t have any concerns about that heading into next season.

The Flames also have some young, up-and-coming defensemen in their system, most notably 20-year-old prospect Oliver Kylington, who fell to 60th overall in 2015, even though there was talk he could be a first-round pick.

“I think we’ve got some young kids coming. It allows them to progress and develop at their own timeline,” said Treliving. “But you can never have enough defensemen. You can never have enough top defensemen.”

Snow open to trading picks, prospects to improve roster now

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CHICAGO — Garth Snow may not be done dealing.

After trading defenseman Travis Hamonic to Calgary, the New York Islanders’ general manager said the return from the Flames could be used as “currency” to bolster the roster.

The Isles received a first-round pick in 2018 and a second-round pick in 2018, plus other considerations, for Hamonic.

“I don’t envision anything happening here in the next two days, though that could always change,” said Snow. “We feel we have a good hockey team. We have a team that’s built for now and for the future. I mean, you look at our prospects and the draft picks, we also have the ability to use some of those assets to bring in a player that can improve our club in the near term.”

Snow has reportedly had his eye on Colorado forward Matt Duchene, but so far has been unable to make a deal with the Avalanche.

As for trading Hamonic, Snow said it was made more palatable by the “great depth” the Isles have got on the back end.

That said, it was a tough, emotional decision.

“I think the world of him, on and off the ice,” Snow said of Hamonic. “Just a first-class player and first-class person.”

Snow would not divulge if the move was related to Hamonic’s trade request from 2015.

“I think he’s in a good place to play for his family, and the Islanders got a solid return,” said Snow. “I think it’s a win-win for both teams.”

Report: Rangers to hire Lindy Ruff as an assistant coach

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More coaching news on Saturday.

Lindy Ruff’s time with the Dallas Stars ended in April following a disappointing regular season, but it appears he’s found another coaching gig in the NHL.

It is, however, a different role than what he’s been used to for the past 20 years.

Per Larry Brooks of the New York Post, a deal has not been done yet, however, Ruff will join the Rangers as an assistant coach on Alain Vigneault’s staff. He’ll reportedly replace Jeff Beukeboom and will be in charge of New York’s defense.

Ruff certainly brings experience, with 1,165 games coached in the NHL. He’s been a head coach since 1997 when he joined the Buffalo Sabres, and hasn’t been an assistant since a four-year tenure with the Florida Panthers from 1993 to 1997.

The Rangers’ defense has undergone notable changes this offseason, with Dan Girardi getting bought out of his six-year, $33 million contract. With about $20 million now in cap space, New York may not be done making moves to their blue line this offseason.

The Rangers made a blockbuster trade with the Coyotes on Friday, sending Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for the seventh overall pick and 21-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.