Anze Kopitar

PHT Morning Skate: Shall we begin?

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Game 1: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings (8:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

Tonight, for the first time in his career, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will play in the Stanley Cup Final. The 32-year-old goaltender, who 14 years ago was wondering if he made a mistake heading over to North America in the first place, has never been closer to cementing the legacy he’s built through years of elite play.

He’ll be countered by former teammate Marian Gaborik, who was taken in the same 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Unlike Lundqvist, Gaborik was always highly regarded, but the 32-year-old has forward battled injuries throughout his career and has been traded off twice in the last two years. His stock had fallen so much by the March 5 trade deadline, that Columbus couldn’t even get a first round pick or top prospect from the Kings even after agreeing to retain half of his remaining cap hit.

Just three months later, Gaborik has established himself as perhaps the greatest threat Lundqvist will face. Like the Rangers netminder, tonight will be his first game in the Stanley Cup Final.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This series will be defined by the personal stories of those who have worked their entire lives in the hope of creating opportunities like this one. From forward Brad Richards, who might be playing with in his last games with the Rangers as the nature of his contract still makes him a potential compliance buyout candidate, to his old Tampa Bay teammate Martin St. Louis, who has rejoined him a decade after they led the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship.

Los Angeles won it all in 2012 and with largely the same cast, so there are fewer stories about guys seeking to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time or get that chance again after a long drought, but they have a more ambitious purpose.

The Kings have been to at least the Western Conference Final in three straight years and they’ll have largely the same team back for 2014-15. Drew Doughty is just 24 years old and has already played in 71 playoff games. There’s the potential for him to win multiple championships with the Kings before he retires based on the path this team is going.

In other words, they’re one of the few teams that can compete for that dynasty title that has alluded hockey teams in the salary cap era.

In the days since the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, PHT along with the rest of the hockey world has been breaking down this series from every angle imaginable. Doing so is interesting, engaging, and enriches the fan experience, but at the end of the day, half of the people that skate in this series will come up short, head back to their locker room, wonder if they that was their last good shot, and then get to work towards proving that it wasn’t.

And the rest of them will lift the Stanley Cup.

Twitter has field day with Oilers’ dead-eyed mascot

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The Edmonton Oilers started a Photoshopping frenzy on Monday by unleashing their bizarre, dead-eyed mascot “Hunter” onto the Internet.

Give the team credit; the road to this mascot was paved with good intentions. Apparently thousands of Edmonton-area students aided in choosing “Hunter,” who is a tribute to the team’s original owner.

Here’s the introductory Tweet itself. Feel free to insert your own screaming noises.

Let’s bypass the Oilers’ more mundane release for a “bio” written in character by the, erm, “Canadian lynx” itself. Here’s a choice bit:

Like my lynx family and friends, I only come out at night to hunt, and on one of those nights I actually came across a bunch of kids playing hockey on an outdoor rink. One look at the game and I was hooked. The speed, the skill, the fun! I began climbing up the banks of the River Valley every night during the winter, catching shinny games with everyone wearing their Edmonton Oilers jerseys, both old and new! It didn’t take me long to become a hard core Oilers fan.

O…K.

Honestly, there are a lot of elements to unpack here. We almost don’tĀ need people to bat this one around on social media, but then again, Hunter inspires references from “Too Many Cooks” to “Thundercats” and more.

Let’s gather some of the best bits.

Futility references

Hey, did you hear that the Oilers struggle to compete? The Internet sure did.

They sure did.

Pop culture references

More than one Thundercats reference.

Warning, if you’ve never watched “Too Many Cooks,” you might not want to go down that rabbit hole. (Either that, or you’ll feel like you REALLY missed out … there’s not a lot of room in between.)

Creepiness

Sensibly enough, most people hit the highest notes about how specifically terrifying that mascot is. Some of these mix in pop culture references too, but still:

All in all, it was quite a good time, right?

/Plans on sleeping with every light on.

Report: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe celebrates his first period goal against Team USA during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Update:Ā Yikes, the Los Angeles Kings announced that Marian Gaborik will be sidelined for eight weeks with a foot injury, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott.

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Some bad news for Team Europe and the Los Angeles Kings — Marian Gaborik, who was seen this morning on crutches, is reportedly out of the World Cup of Hockey final and may miss the beginning of the NHL campaign as well.

The news, first reported by Sportsnet, comes after Gaborik played 17:58 in Europe’s shock semifinal win over Sweden, scoring his team’s opening goal.

Gaborik took a puck to the foot during the second period, yet managed to finish the game.

The veteran Slovak had enjoyed a good tournament prior to getting hurt, scoring a pair of goals while getting healthy doses of ice time, including nearly 19 in a win over the Czechs in the group stage.

With Gaborik out, Mikkel Boedker will (presumably) make his tournament debut. Boedker has been a healthy scratch for the Europeans thus far, though it’s possible he could continue to sit if head coach Ralph Krueger elects to dress seven defensemen — Luca Sbisa would get the call — rather than plug in another forward.

As for the ramifications for L.A… well, this could be tough. Gaborik, signed through 2021 at $4.875M per, only scored 12 goals and 22 points in 54 games last season — missing extensive time with a lingering knee injury — and the Kings were hopeful he was in line for a bounce-back campaign, especially given how good he looked at the World Cup.

Sportsnet reports Gaborik is headed back to Los Angeles today.

‘Never say never,’ but Krueger’s commitment is to Southampton, not to making an NHL return

Southampton v Bayer Leverkusen - Pre Season Friendly
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Ralph Krueger spent one lockout-shortened season in charge of the Edmonton Oilers, before he was unceremoniously fired (via Skype) to make way for the hiring of Dallas Eakins.

But Krueger’s success at the World Cup, leading Team Europe into the best-of-three final against Team Canada, has a lot of people wondering if he might one day make an NHL return.

Krueger’s current full-time job is a big one — he’s chairman of Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League.

Suffice to say, it’s not a job oneĀ just leaves for anything.

“I came in here committed completely to Southampton Football Club and the future of that organization in my role,” Krueger said Sunday. “You can never say never, but at the moment I’m very proud to be back in hockey at this level and to be competing. We are just having so much fun in our room, the coaches, the players, the whole group is enjoying it, and I am, too. But my real life is my commitment to Southampton Football Club at the moment.”

Kreuger repeatedĀ his “never say never” line today, so it sounds like he’s at least open to the possibility. However,Ā he insisted that he didn’t take the World Cup job with the goal of getting another job in hockey.

Related: Southampton smokes West Ham in London

Byfuglien ‘didn’t enjoy’ his World Cup experience

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of Team USA answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It’s getting harder and harder to find positives in the aftermath of Team USA’s poor performance at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Monday, Winnipeg d-man Dustin Byfuglien weighed in on his time at the tourney, telling Sportsnet it wasn’t much fun.

“The experience and everything that went on, it is what it is,” Byfuglien said. “You know, I didn’t enjoy it.”

That revelation is hardly a surprise. Head coach John Tortorella made Byfuglien a healthy scratch for the tournament opener against Europe — a dismal 3-0 loss — then played Big Buff just 10:50 in a 4-2 defeat to Canada.

Byfuglien did get a healthy chunk of ice time in America’s final game — 21:18 in a loss to the Czechs — but by that point, the damage was done.

It was clear early on the Byfuglien experiment had its problems.

Named to the U.S. national team for the first time in his career, he was platooned between forward and defense in the exhibition games leading up to the tournament, even though he’d previously stated he much prefers playing defense.

“It’s definitely not my favorite spot,” Byfuglien said after playing up front in a pre-tourney win over Finland. “It’s just something they wanted to try and that was it.”

Not long after the Finland game, Big Buff was out of the lineup. And Tortorella’s reasoning behind the move wasn’t very clear.

“As we went through our lineup and the situations that we may get involved with — power play, penalty killing and all that — we felt this was our lineup to start the tournament,” he explained.

The lack of explanation only further confused the issue. Parking Byfuglien was a bizarre decision to begin with, especially in light of America’s offensive woes at the tournament — a versatile weapon on the power play, Byfuglien was the highest-scoring U.S. defenseman in the NHL last season.

In the end, this situation only underscores the problems that plagued Team USA throughout the tourney. Roster and lineup decisions constantly came under scrutiny and, in the end, nobody had anything positive to say about the end result.

But at least there was one good memory…