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Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

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Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

MORE on the trade here

Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

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When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?

Canadiens shutting Shea Weber down indefinitely

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Just one game into a seven-game road trip, the Canadiens announced on Monday that Shea Weber has returned to Montreal and will be shut down for further evaluation. At this point there is no timetable for his return to the lineup, but it seems that he will be sidelined for at least the foreseeable future.

According to coach Claude Julien, Weber is dealing with a nagging foot injury that had previously kept him out of the lineup for six games last month.

Weber was able to return to the lineup on Dec. 2 but the injury has not completely healed.

“Shea has a nagging foot injury,” Julien said on Monday, via the Canadiens’ website. It had improved to the point that he was ready to return, but then it got worse and we had to send him back to Montreal. We’ll keep him off the ice until we figure out what’s going on.

“It’s a long season, and it’s the type of injury that he couldn’t continue playing with. We’ll manage it properly over the next couple of days and weeks.”

In 26 games this season Weber has six goals and 16 assists for the Canadiens.

The Canadiens are desperate for points and are now going to be without their top defenseman. Entering play on Monday the Canadiens are three points back of the Boston Bruins for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, but have played three additional games. They also find themselves seven points back of the New York Islanders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

It also has to be a concern for the Canadiens to have a 32-year-old defenseman that is still signed for eight more years at nearly $8 million per season that has this sort of nagging injury that keeps sidelining him.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

This might be Alex Ovechkin’s most impressive goal scoring season yet

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It is the middle of December and Alex Ovechkin is in a familiar spot at the top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard.

After scoring in each of the Capitals’ past two games, he finds himself tied with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot with 23 goals.

He is trying to win what would be his seventh goal scoring crown (something only Bobby Hull has done) and is on pace to top the 50-goal mark for the eighth time.

Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine each) have more.

Even for Ovechkin, a player that has made a habit out of scoring 50 goals and winning goal scoring crowns, it is a standout performance for two big reasons.

The first being that he is rebounding from what was (by Ovechkin’s standards) a “down” year in 2016-17 when he finished with the second lowest goal output of his career (33) and the lowest even-strength goal performance (16). Remember the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons when his goal-scoring slumped to a more human level and everyone freaked out that he was done as an elite player or goal-scorer? Same thing kind of happened a season ago, even if to a lesser extent. He rebounded then, and he is rebounding now.

The second is that he is defying age and not only besting the rest of the league when it comes to scoring goals, but also father time.

So far this season Ovechkin has already topped his even-strength goal total from a season ago (17 as of Monday) and is on a pace to score 55 goals.

[Is Alex Ovechkin clutch?]

The second number is the big one because if he is able to maintain that pace (do you want to bet against him maintaining it? I don’t) it would be a pretty historic performance for no other reason than the fact almost nobody scores goals at this level at this age.

Ovechkin turned 32 years old just before the start of the 2017-18 season and is still the most dominant goal scorer in the league.

This is almost unheard of in an era of the NHL.

A few things to consider, just for historical context here

• Only four players in league history have scored at least 50 goals in a season in their age 32 season or older. John Bucyk (51) did it during the 1970-71 season at age 35. Bobby Hull (51) did it during the 1971-72 season at age 33. Phil Esposito (61)  did it during the 1974-75 season at age 32. Jaromir Jagr (54) did it during the 2005-06 season at age 33. That is it. Esposito is the only one to score at least 55.

• Going back to the start of the league (1917-18) the average age of the NHL’s goal-scoring leaders in each season is 26.1. That number lines up with when players typically hit their peak performance as goal scorers (usuallybetween the ages of 22 and 26). Ovechkin is currently on a pace to do it (or at least share it) at age 32.

• If he is able to win the goal-scoring crown this season he would be just the eighth player in league history to lead the league (or share the lead) in goal scoring at age 32 or older. Only one of them has done it in the post-Original Six era. The other six: Cy Denney did it at age 32 during the 1923-24 season. Bill Cook did it at ages 35 and 36 during the 1931-32 and 1932-33 seasons. Maurice Richard did it at ages 32 and 33 during the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons. Gordie Howe did it at age 34 during the 1962-63 season. Esposito did it during the 1974-75 season.

• Aside from potentially leading the league at an age when most players do not accomplish that, let’s also not lose sight of the fact he is currently on pace for the third best goal scoring season of his career. Let’s just, for comparisons sake, look at the top-10 goal scorers in league history and how old they were during the top-three goal-scoring seasons in their careers.

Wayne Gretzky: 21, 23, 24
Gordie Howe: 24, 23, 28
Jaromir Jagr: 23, 33, 28
Brett Hull: 26, 25, 27
Marcell Dione: 27, 29, 31
Phil Esposito: 28, 31, 29
Mike Gartner: 25, 31, 21
Mark Messier: 21, 22, 35
Steve Yzerman: 23, 24, 27
Mario Lemieux: 23, 22, 27

There are only five seasons out of that group where one of them was over the age of 30, and only two (Jaromir Jagr at 33 and Mark Messier at 35) where they were over the age of 32.

Obviously a lot of this for this season is based on projections.

He would not only have to remain healthy (something that has not been an issue for him in his career) but also maintain his current pace to make the history he is chasing here. Obviously we can not project injuries, but as long as he stays healthy this season there is no reason to believe that he can not maintain the pace he is currently on. His shots per game numbers have increased by more than a full shot per game versus a year ago. His shooting percentage has rebounded a little. He is scoring more regularly during even-strength play. Put it all together and you have one of the NHL’s all-time greatest goal-scorers putting together one of his most impressive seasons yet.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Szabados backstops Canada’s women to 2-1 OT win vs U.S.

The Canadian Press via AP
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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Goaltender Shannon Szabados says the 2-1 overtime win Sunday against the United States ranks high on her list.

The 31-year-old made 34 saves in her hometown for the national women’s hockey team. Jennifer Wakefield scored the winner on a loose puck in the crease with 27 seconds remaining in overtime.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored a power-play goal with 2:45 remaining in the first period. Hilary Knight tied it for the U.S. with 5:58 left in the second on an assist from Kendall Coyne.

Szabados was the goalie for Olympic gold-medal victories against the U.S. in 2010 and 2014. She held Canada in the game on Sunday when her team was outshot 25-10 over the second and third periods.

”This is probably for sure in my top five,” said Szabados, who estimated she had about 300 friends and family in the stands. ”I feel like I’ve played in some pretty big games. This was pretty incredible.”

Maddie Rooney had 24 saves in the loss at the Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, where the announced attendance was just short of a sellout at 17,468. It’s also shy of the record for a women’s hockey game set in Ottawa at 18,023 in 2013.

”We’re a highly skilled team and we need to make sure that we go out and play fast,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber, whose team was outshot 5-2 in the first period. ”The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February.”

Canada wrapped up their six-game exhibition series with a 5-1 record against the Americans. The rivals won’t meet again until their pool game Feb. 15 at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

”These are great games for us to tune up against each other,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. ”Obviously, it’s the best competition playing against them, we feel.”

How much the results in the pre-Olympic series will matter in February is debatable. Canada lost four in a row to the U.S. in exhibitions before earning gold in overtime at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada opens defense of its gold on Feb. 11 against Russia, which recently had six players banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping violations and had its sixth-place result in 2014 stripped.

The Americans won the inaugural women’s hockey event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Canadians have won four straight gold medals since then, with the U.S teams finishing with three silver and a bronze.

The 23-player U.S. roster will be announced on Jan. 1.

Fight Video: Austrian League players drop the gloves before intermission interview

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Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A pair of Canadian players playing in the Austrian league dropped the gloves on Sunday. Okay, that’s not the crazy part. The timing of the fight is what makes this moment unique.

Right before the start of an intermission interview with Zagreb Medvescak’s Tom Zanoski, Chris DeSousa of Bolzano HC decided to crash the party.

Both players delivered a few shoves before the situation escalated in the hallway of the rink they were playing in. Eventually, players, staff and security intervened.

Both players received game-misconducts for the incident, while six other players received two-minute roughing penalties.

Stick-tap Aivis Kalnins

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.