Russia's Viktor Tikhonov, left, and Enver Lisin celebrate the team's second goal scored by Lisin during the EHT Karjala Tournament match against Sweden in Helsinki, Finland, Saturday Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Lehtikuva, Jussi Nukari) FINLAND OUT

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Who are these guys?

2 Comments

The Winter Olympics are a chance to showcase the best hockey talent the world has to offer. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll see stacked lines duels against superb defensemen and elite goaltenders.

But it’s not just a series of NHL All-Star Games with medals on the line — given it’s an international event, the Olympic talent pool extends beyond North America’s top league. In fact, there will be be plenty players with little to no NHL experience playing significant roles.

With that in mind, we’ve handpicked a few worth learning about before the puck drops:

Viktor Tikhonov (Russia) — Odds are the name sounds familiar even if you can’t quite place it. Tikhonov was named after his grandfather, best known for coaching the Soviet Union to three gold medals (the final in 1992 was with the short-lived Unified Team).

The younger Tikhonov is a 25-year-old winger that grew up in California, holds dual American and Russian citizenship, and was taken in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes. He had eight goals and 16 points in 61 games with the Coyotes in 2008-09, but he split the next season between the AHL and KHL and eventually settled on European hockey in 2011-12.

Over the last three campaigns with SKA St. Petersburg, he has scored 46 goals and 88 points in 129 contests. He’s someone that has established himself beyond his family name, but that doesn’t mean his history isn’t important to him.

“It’s kind of funny to think about it, but the last time Russia won was 22 years ago, when (my grandfather) was the coach,” Tikhonov told the San Jose Mercury News. “Maybe it’ll come full circle and we can go from Tikhonov to Tikhonov. That would be kind of cool.”

Reto Suri (Switzerland) — Suri has spent his entire professional career in the Swiss league, but that nearly changed over the summer. After a strong 2012-13 campaign with Zug, the skilled forward helped lead Switzerland to a silver medal in the 2013 World Championships and tied Nino Niederreiter with a team-high five goals.

Along the way, Suri netted two shootout goals in a 3-2 upset over Canada in the round robin phase. You can watch his second marker below (skip to 1:47):

It was the first time Switzerland had ever won a medal in the tournament and not long after that, reports began to surface that Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was trying to sign him. Suri couldn’t head to the NHL, though, because the Swiss Federation lacked a transfer agreement with the NHL and vetoed the proposal.

The Lightning are still very interested in Suri, likely because he continues to shine in the Swiss league. He’s notched a career-high 36 points to tie for eighth place in the National A League scoring race.

Jori Lehtera (Finland) — Lehtera’s never played in the NHL, but certainly had the option to. The St. Louis Blues took him in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft but, after a seven-game taste of the AHL during the 2008-09 campaign, he went back to Europe and hasn’t looked back.

Lehtera led Finland’s SM-liiga in 2009-10 with 69 points and earned the league’s MVP award. The following campaign, he decided to take his talents to the KHL where he has quickly established himself as one of the league’s top players.

This year, the 26-year-old forward is tied with Ilya Kovalchuk for ninth place in the league’s scoring race (40 points).

His success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Blues, but they haven’t been able to lure him over.

“At the end of the day he does not want to play in the NHL,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said in June. “We offered him a one-way, seven-figure deal. Can’t force guys to want to play in the NHL.”

It’s worth adding that Lehtera is capable of playing up the middle, which makes him a very valuable commodity for Finland after they lost centers Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula.

Ivan Baranka (Slovakia) — Baranka was selected in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers and in his third season as a pro in North America, he got his big chance.

The Rangers summoned him and he made his NHL debut on Nov. 21 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He made the most of his 12:44 minutes of ice time by setting up the game-winning goal by Colton Orr in the 2-1 victory.

And he never played in the NHL again.

Following that campaign, he decided to take his talents to the KHL where he has emerged as one of that league’s top defenseman. He’s a physical blueliner, but also contributes offensively. Playing for the Omsk Avangard this season, he’s tied for 20th place among defensemen with 18 points in 47 games.

He was part of Slovakia’s 2010 Olympic team, which finished a surprising fourth. He didn’t play a big role in that tournament, but he was a major factor on the 2012 World Championships team that earned a stunning 4-3 victory over Team Canada in the Quarterfinals. Slovakia went on to win the silver medal in that competition.

With Lubomir Visnovsky sidelined, Slovakia has just four NHL defenseman on their roster. They’ll be counting on Baranka to once again stand up to the NHL’s elite.

Bruins make short work of Coreau one game after he out-duels Price

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 1:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings holds his head after a Toronto Maple Leafs goal during the third period of the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at BMO Field on January 1, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Sports almost always have a “What have you done for me lately” feel to them, but the ups and downs can be especially cruel to an NHL goalie. The margin between a great performance and an early night on the bench can often be quite small.

Take journeyman goalie Jared Coreau of the Detroit Red Wings for example.

The 25-year-old generated three wins and two shutouts in his past four games. That most recent shutout came as he out-dueled Carey Price in a 1-0 win for the Red Wings. Sure, he only needed to stop 18 shots, but he won a staring contest with Carey Price.

Now, on Wednesday, Coreau couldn’t even get through the first period against the Boston Bruins.

Coreau allowed three goals on eight shots and was pulled after 8:50 of game time, giving way to Petr Mrazek.

Now, not all of this is on Coreau. Boston just keeps hammering away, and they finally got to Mrazek late in the first period. Even so, it was a tough go for Coreau, and a reminder of just how tough that gig can be.

McKenzie: Blues, Shattenkirk are open-minded about discussing a trade

Leave a comment

Earlier today, PHT discussed that something seems “off” about the St. Louis Blues. Might they slip enough to justify trading high-scoring (but pending UFA) defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk?

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie covered a variety of interesting issues on “NHL Live” on Wednesday, including the feeling that both Shattenkirk and his team seem more “open minded” about considering a trade.

Since Dec. 11, the Blues have gone 7-8-1, giving them a 23-17-5 record overall. That’s not disastrous by any means, but St. Louis has grown to expect robust regular seasons (and dreams of bigger playoff successes), so somewhat middling results might make them more willing to move an expiring contract.

If the slippage continues, McKenzie reasons that the Blues would become that much more willing to listen to offers.

Circumstances also might make Shattenkirk a little more interested in a deal, too.

While McKenzie notes that Shattenkirk rejected the idea of signing a contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, possibly spurning a move, the blueliner would be more amenable to a “trial run” this season. That could mean with the Oilers or another team – maybe a Canadian one? – that could use a puck-mover.

Does that mean that a trade is on the verge of happening? No, not necessarily, but it does hint that the team and player would at least consider a wider array of possibilities.

In other words, feel free to dream up all sorts of imaginary trade scenarios. Oh, and what the full video for more.

More from McKenzie on “NHL Live”

The murky situation for the New York Islanders.

Is Paul Maurice on the hot seat for the Winnipeg Jets?

Finally, discussing the possibility of a Shane Doan trade:

Isles GM Garth Snow on coaching search, Tavares and who calls the shots

Leave a comment

During Wednesday’s edition of “NHL Live,” NBCSN’s Liam McHugh asked New York Islanders GM Garth Snow many of the key questions surrounding the organization following the firing of head coach Jack Capuano.

It’s interesting stuff, even if Snow managed to play coy on some of the bigger questions … or, to use his phrasing, “remain quiet” and keep much of the process “behind the scenes.”

Snow cited the team’s mediocre record in explaining his decision to fire Capuano (but also recent breakthroughs to praise Capuano and explain that the Islanders are surrounding John Tavares with the kind of talent that will make him want to re-sign with the organization). To some extent, some of the most interesting parts of the interview came in what Snow didn’t say, as he gives the impression that he’ll need to run his decisions by the team’s ownership group.

Let’s run through a few of the issues Snow addresses, though you should watch the video either way:

Gallant

He mostly avoided that issue, hence keeping things “behind the scenes.”

Interim head coach Doug Weight

“Doug Weight’s our head coach. “He’s had a tremendous career as a player and behind our bench the last several seasons … he has a familiarity with players and the players have familiarity with him.”

Tavares

Snow didn’t provide anything new here, emphasizing that Tavares loves playing in front of their fans and other common points.

Who makes the decisions?

McHugh pressed Snow on whether or not he has the final say on a coaching hire and other issues. Snow didn’t really specify, insisting that “the days of dictatorship are gone.” It sounds like ownership will have plenty of say in big decisions.

***

The Islanders play their first game with Weight as interim coach on Thursday, as they take on a team in a different form of upheaval in the Dallas Stars. The table’s set for the Islanders to at least save some face; they finish the month of January with six straight home games.

Now, the longer-term future, including Snow’s own job security? That’s anyone’s guess, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie discussed here.

Video: McKenzie on the unclear future for Gallant, Weight and the Islanders

1 Comment

NHL insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN’s NHL Live on Wednesday for a really interesting session on the New York Islanders. If you want some fascinating tidbits, the video above is full of great insight … but you might be just as confused as ever about the direction of the franchise.

(Probably because the Islanders give off the impression that they’re confused, too.)

Let’s break down some of the more intriguing material:

  • In one eyebrow-raising point, McKenzie said that the Islanders may have gone one step further than asking for the Florida Panthers’ permission to speak with Gerard Gallant. The Isles might have even done so weeks before they fired Jack Capuano. Wow.
  • Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that Gallant will be their future head coach. McKenzie deems that a “long shot” for now and notes that nothing is imminent.
  • Instead, “what you see is what you get,” which means that Doug Weight may serve as interim head coach for a healthy chunk of time. The situation seems in flux overall.

Weight seems fine with whatever, as ESPN reports.

“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” Weight said.

  • Maybe most importantly, McKenzie said that more sweeping changes could come to the Islanders organization this summer. One could imply that GM Garth Snow is in a vulnerable spot, something PHT discussed after Capuano’s firing.
  • Also, Gallant could be in the running for the coaching gig in Las Vegas.

So, yeah, that video above this post’s headline is absolutely worth watching. The NHL Live crew also provides some insight about the Islanders’ struggles and future direction, so check it out.

… And stay tuned. More twists and turns could be coming in this story.