Anze Kopitar

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Do Austria, Norway, Latvia and Slovenia have a chance?

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You know about the powerhouses of international hockey, the countries that will likely be battling for gold.

But what about the other guys? Y’know, countries many are chalking up as an automatic victories. Do Austria, Latvia, Norway or Slovenia have a chance to win a medal in Sochi?

To be blunt, probably not. But let’s take a look at what they have going for them — maybe there’s a Team USA in 1980 or Belarus in 2002 in the bunch.

Austria

Led by New York Islanders forward Thomas Vanek — the captain of the team — and Islanders teammate Michael Grabner as the two big guns offensively. Joining them is Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl (and his brother Thomas) as well as former NHLers Thomas Pock and Andreas Nodl, a late addition to the team.

Austria is in Group B with Canada, Finland, and Norway, and Vanek is realistic about what it’ll take to manufacture an upset over the first two in the preliminary stage.

“It’s tough,” he said, per NHL.com. “I don’t want to put any pressure on our goaltending, but it comes down to goaltending. I think anytime you can have a goalie that’s hot and can give you 50, 55 saves, maybe you can get a few odd-man rushes and capitalize on them.

“That’s why you play the game. It’s a one-game shot.”

Norway

New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is the only NHL player on the roster, meaning the Norwegians — fan favorites from the ’10 Vancouver Olympics — will have yet another uphill battle in Sochi. Aside from having to deal with Canada and Finland in Group B, Norway won’t have decorated international veteran Tore Vikingstad to help lead the way, as he retired in 2013.

Norway will have to keep opponents off the board, and it does have some quality blueliners to aid in that cause. Ex-Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jonas Holos and Ole-Kristian Tollefson — who played for Detroit, Columbus and Philadelphia — stand out as leaders on defense.

Latvia

Latvia and their wild fans will storm into Sochi looking to surprise in Group C. The team is led by Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan and features a roster filled with faces new and old. Among the old guys is former Sharks and Avalanche defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh — at 41, he’s the elder statesman and a guy Nolan credits for getting Latvia into the Olympics.

Ozolinsh is joined on defense by former Flyer Oskars Bartulis, former Jet Arturs Kulda, and current NCAA Bowling Green prospect Ralfs Freibergs. The Latvians also have a semi-familiar group up front with Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, ex-Ottawa/Boston shootout specialist Kaspars Daugavins and former Lightning forward Martins Karsums.

Latvia is looking up the pecking order at group mates Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but boasts the most talent of the four minnows mentioned here. Nolan figures if they play hard enough and get some bounces, the Latvians could surprise.

“We took Finland to overtime at the world championships last year,” he said, per NorthJersey.com. “We’re a hardworking team. And now they’re starting to believe. And that’s a deadly combination once in a while.”

Slovenia

The Slovenians are a Kopitar family affair. The team is led by Kings superstar Anze and his father, Matjaz, is the coach. Somehow Anze’s brother Gasper didn’t make the team… which could make the Kopitar family Christmas a little awkward.

As for the rest of the team, you might know former Red Wings prospect Jan Mursak and you’ll get to know a handful of guys with fun names, like the Rodman brothers (David and Marcel), Rok Ticar, Ales Music, and Ziga Pance. They’re all forwards, so for entertainment sake let’s hope they can score in bunches.

As for the outlook? Well, simply qualifying for the Olympics was a huge victory for Slovenia. From the New York Times:

Slovenia, known for Alpine skiers and ski jumpers, has a pool of hockey talent that is shallower than a puddle. A country of roughly two million, it has seven rinks and 148 registered senior men’s players.

“Out of those 148 players, you can maybe pick out 40 players good enough to compete at a high level,” Anze Kopitar said in a recent interview at the Kings’ practice complex.

“And 40 is actually stretching it, so it is a miracle, I think, what we’ve done to be in the Olympics.”

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.

 

Wild prospect suspended after hallway fight on Saturday

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The AHL announced today that Iowa Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel has been suspended six games as “a consequence of his actions in a game at Chicago on Feb. 25.”

As you can see in the video, Gabriel had an on-ice and off-ice fight with Wolves defenseman Vince Dunn on Saturday.

The video shows that it was Gabriel who approached Dunn in the hallway, and it was Gabriel who initiated the altercation.

In the end, it was also Gabriel who got the worst of the skirmish, with a six-game suspension to boot.

From the press release:

Gabriel was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 28.1 (supplementary discipline). He has already served one game of the suspension; he will also miss Iowa’s games Saturday (Mar. 4) at Rockford; Mar.10 and Mar. 11 at Texas; Mar. 17 at Milwaukee; and Mar. 18 vs. Milwaukee.

Habs acquire Jordie Benn from Stars

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 04:  Jordie Benn #24 of the Dallas Stars during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 4, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadians have acquired defenseman Jordie Benn from the Dallas Stars in return for d-man Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

The Habs had been shopping the 26-year-old Pateryn. He has one goal and five assists in 24 games this season. He’s signed through next season for a cap hit of $800,000.

In Benn, the Canadiens get a 29-year-old defensive defenseman who’s signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $1.1 million.

Benn, of course, is also the brother of Stars captain Jamie Benn.

Trade: Sens acquire Burrows from Canucks

Alex Burrows
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Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said he wanted GM Pierre Dorion to be aggressive in the club’s pursuit of a playoff spot.

So on Monday, Ottawa started making moves, acquiring veteran forward Alex Burrows in a trade with the Canucks.

Vancouver’s News1130 reports that Burrows agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the move and, what’s more, has agreed to a two-year extension. (TSN has also reported the extension).

In exchange, prospect Jonathan Dahlen is on his way to Vancouver. Dahlen was Ottawa’s second-round pick (42nd overall) at last year’s draft, and is currently playing with Timra of the Swedish League. He sits sixth in Allsvenskan (Swedish second division) scoring this year, with 42 points in 44 games.

“Jonathan is a very skilled player with natural goal scoring instincts,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “He’s had a terrific season playing in Sweden and was a big part of Sweden’s offence at the World Juniors. His offensive upside combined with his willingness to go to difficult areas of the ice will make him a valuable player for our organization moving forward.”

Burrows, 35, is in the last of a four-year, $18 million deal with a $4.5M average annual cap hit. He’s enjoyed a decent bounce-back campaign in Vancouver, with nine goals and 20 points through 55 games. That nearly matches his totals from a disappointing ’15-16 season, when he went 9G-13A-22PTS over 79 contests.

A four-time 20-goal scorer, Burrows is no longer the effective, grating presence he once was, but can still provide energy and has enough versatility to play up and down the Ottawa lineup. What’s more, he has a truckload of postseason experience, notching 34 points in 70 career contests.

Burrows was also one of Vancouver’s top producers during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final run, with nine goals and 17 points in 25 games.

The move signals the end of an era for the Canucks — Burrows, an undrafted free agent that worked his way up from the ECHL, has spent his entire 12-year NHL career in Vancouver, appearing in over 800 regular-season contests.

He was also responsible for scoring one of the most memorable goals in franchise history.