JonasHillerSwitzerland

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Can Switzerland still sneak up?

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How long can someone be an underdog?

We’re about to find out.

Switzerland heads to Winter Olympics pegged by many as the tournament darkhorse, a squad capable of pulling upsets and possibly getting into medal contention. There’s just one problem: Switzerland might actually be too good to sneak up on anyone anymore.

“Things have changed quite a bit,” Vancouver defenseman Raphael Diaz said, per NHL.com. “I’m in the NHL and my country has more NHLers now, and I really think Switzerland is recognized as a better team.

“I’m sure other countries notice that and they prepare harder, so I’m not sure we can surprise them.”

As Diaz mentioned, Switzerland’s firmly established itself both in North American and abroad. Eleven Swiss players have appeared in NHL games this season — three fewer than Slovakia, for comparison’s sake — and that group includes veteran defenseman Mark Streit, Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller and Minnesota forward Nino Niederreiter, the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history (fifth overall, 2010).

Internationally, Switzerland has been coming on strong as of late.

The Swiss won silver at the 2013 World Hockey Championships, medaling for the first time since 1953. They recorded wins over the Czech Republic (twice), Canada and the U.S. before falling to Sweden in the gold medal match, and this was no pushover tournament — Henrik Sedin and Paul Stastny made the all-star team, while Steve Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk led the Canadian and Russian teams in scoring.

For Canucks defenseman Yannick Weber — who missed the Worlds to injury, but will be playing in Sochi — the result was historic.

“It was phenomenal for Swiss hockey,” he said, per The Province. “It’s not the Olympics and people here [North America] don’t take it as seriously, but it’s still a good tournament and some of the best players are there.

“We’ve had some success in the past, beating one of the big teams once in a while, but going to that final and pretty much dominating every opponent, it helped Swiss hockey have confidence.”

The problem for Switzerland, though, is that it no longer holds minnow status. Opponents are aware of how good the Swiss have been in international competition, especially on the Olympic stage. In Vancouver four years ago, Switzerland took the Canadians to a shootout and lost a pair of hard-fought, two-goal games to the Americans.

Opponents have also likely done homework on how to beat Hiller, arguably Switzerland’s most important player.

The Anaheim goalie, enjoying a banner campaign in which he was a star of the month in December and star of the week in January, will likely carry Switzerland in these Olympics. He memorably posted 43 saves in the shootout loss Canada four years ago that stood as one of the tourney’s best performances, and his stellar play this year (25-9-4, 2.34 GAA, .917 save percentage, four shutouts) is key, because he’ll need to keep slamming the door in Sochi.

The Swiss don’t have a ton of offense — Niederreiter (11 goals, 29 points) and New Jersey’s Damien Brunner (nine goals, 17 points) will carry the load — and generally tend to play in low-scoring affairs, taking a conservative approach while frequently clogging the neutral zone.

Hiller’s aware of how vital a role he’s going to play.

“Our players can play with anybody in the world, and goaltending can always win a game,” he said, per the Globe and Mail. “Sometimes goaltending can equal out a lot of other things that a bigger team might have going for it.

“We need our best game out of everybody to have a chance to compete with the big teams, and hope that they don’t play their best. But if you have that game and the other team doesn’t, who knows?”

Mumps hit Wild as Parise, Pominville will not play vs. Kings

ST PAUL, MN - MAY 5: Johnny Oduya #27 of the Chicago Blackhawks falls onto the puck as Jason Pominville #29 and Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild attempt to get the puck during the first period in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 5, 2015 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Add the Minnesota Wild to the unsettling pattern of teams affected by mumps this season.

In their case, two significant players will at least miss Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings (on NBCSN, by the way): Zach Parise and Jason Pominville have been sidelined with that condition.

It’s not clear how much time they might miss nor is it clear if anyone else on the team is dealing with symptoms. Here’s a release via the Wild:

Members of the organization that have symptoms are being tested immediately and placed in isolation for a five-day period. Team doctors recently provided players and staff an MMR vaccination and the organization will continue to work closely with the NHL, NHLPA and the Minnesota Department of Health to help prevent further infection. 

Uh oh.

Martin Hanzal and Ryan White are set to make their debuts tonight. Their presence could be especially welcome if this becomes a more widespread issue for Minnesota. (You may remember the Wild dealing with an outbreak in 2014, too.)

Tyler Graovac and Jordan Schroeder are expected to be in Minnesota’s lineup tonight, according to the Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo. Russo indicates that assistant coach Scott Stevens may also be dealing with mumps.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild (featuring Hanzal)

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The beauty of the Los Angeles Kings’ goalie situation is that they can now roll with two experienced, respected goalies. It makes it tougher to tell if Ben Bishop will make his Kings debut tonight or at a later date, however.

(Update: Quick starts on Monday.)

While that fun bonus nugget is in doubt for Los Angeles, it sure looks like Martin Hanzal and Ryan White will play for the Minnesota Wild for the first time. That’s especially welcome, as it sounds like Jason Pominville and Zach Parise might miss tonight’s game.

… Hopefully not with the mumps (update: Yes, sadly that’s the case … ):

Uh oh. If Bishop plays, he might look a little out of place, even from a purely aesthetic standpoint.

Hey, sometimes it’s a work in progress to get used to trades.

Whether it’s Bishop or Quick vs. Hanzal and a possibly under-the-weather Wild team, Monday’s game should be interesting. Check it out on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Canucks GM says he isn’t done after trading ‘heart and soul’ guy Burrows

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: Jim Benning of the Vancouver Canucks attends round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As well-received as the move has been in many quarters, it’s clear that the Vancouver Canucks didn’t take trading Alex Burrows lightly. Even so, it sounds like the Canucks are prepared to make more moves if other opportunities arise.

“I’m not done for the day,” GM Jim Benning said. “I have some calls to make and if deals make sense for us, we’re going to do them.”

Well, isn’t that interesting.

Benning didn’t provide any hints on who might be dangled in possible trade situations, possibly because there’s a considerable array of possibilities. Do you try to move a bigger, longer deal like Alexander Edler‘s or (gasp) one/both of the Sedins? Maybe something lower impact like a pending free agent?

Could Jannik Hansen be the next to go?

It’s tough to imagine Vancouver finding a taker for Ryan Miller‘s significant cap hit, but then again …

Either way, it’s clear that the Canucks understand the gravity of moving a fixture of better days like Burrows; Benning describes Monday as a “tough day” in which they moved a player who was the “heart and soul of this franchise.”

Perhaps more tough (but necessary) decisions will come?

Conditional trades ‘in vogue’ in the NHL

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Patrick Eaves #18 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL trade deadline can make for some conflicting interests come playoff time.

No one outside Minnesota is cheering harder for the Wild than the Arizona Coyotes because they get a second-round pick if Martin Hanzal helps Minnesota reach the third round. The Tampa Bay Lightning would love nothing more than Ben Bishop leading the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup Final.

Conditional trades based on a team’s playoff success, and a player’s part in it, are all the rage right now in the NHL.

Already, four pre-deadline deals include draft picks contingent on how far a team goes in the playoffs. There were 13 such trades combined at the past four deadlines.

“It’s in vogue,” Florida Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon said. “It’s a creative way of doing things. If you have success, you don’t mind paying more. If you’re successful and go deeper, you don’t mind giving up an extra asset or more of an asset.”

Trades conditional on playoff success sometimes happen in the NFL, like when the Minnesota Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but they’re virtually nonexistent in other North American professional sports leagues outside of protected picks in the NBA. They’ve become commonplace in the NHL, in part because they’ve worked out swimmingly a few times.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won it all in 2015, they didn’t mind sending an extra second-round pick to the Flyers for Kimmo Timonen for reaching the Cup Final and the defenseman playing in at least half their games. A year earlier, the Kings gave the Columbus Blue Jackets an extra third-round pick to complete a trade for Marian Gaborik after the winger helped them win their second title in three seasons.

The Kings could give up as high as a second-round pick if Bishop wins them the Cup this season but wouldn’t surrender much of anything if they miss the playoffs. GM Dean Lombardi, who also made the 2014 Gaborik trade, called it a “common sense” way of getting a deal done.

“If I was making a deal here or something and (someone) says, `I’m giving five first-rounders and you’ll win the Cup,’ you’ll do it,” Lombardi said. “You don’t mind paying if your team has success.”

The same is true of the Anaheim Ducks, who would give the Dallas Stars a first-round pick instead of a second for Patrick Eaves if they reach the Western Conference final and the winger plays 50 percent or more of their games. After some haggling, Dallas GM Jim Nill said that was the final piece of getting the trade done.

The idea of contenders gambling on themselves makes all the sense in the world. But trade deadline sellers also like the concept.

The Coyotes were looking to get the best deal for Hanzal , so they bet on him contributing to the Wild’s success.

“We believe strongly that with Martin, Minnesota has a chance to do some things that could be pretty special, and we want to share in some of that upside,” Arizona GM John Chayka said. “We share in the risk, we share in the upside. It’s just a creative way to try and bridge the gap and get a deal done.”

Lombardi would love to make salaries and salary-cap hits contingent on playoff success because if a team goes further it’s also making more money along the way. But the league doesn’t allow that.

Maybe that’s for the best because these kinds of trades make things complicated. Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee, who sent a conditional pick to Florida in 1998 for Esa Tikkanen the year his Washington Capitals made the Cup Final, pointed out that those trades freeze a lot of potential draft picks that could be pieces of other trades.

“The difficulty in doing that is it ties up a lot of picks,” McPhee said. “If they’re encumbered you can’t use them.”

That hasn’t stopped the trend, though, with teams hedging their bets and playing it safe.

“You give yourself a little bit of a protection, too, if you don’t quite go as far as you think you will,” Tallon said.