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Islanders arena mess update: Bettman again shoots down Nassau talk

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The NHL held a Friday press conference to hype up the 2018 Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, but the most interesting comments had little to do with an outdoor game.

(Although Jack Eichel watching the first-ever Winter Classic at age 11 is enlightening, and for most of us, a punch in our aging guts.)

While contract talks regarding Eichel came up – he again stated that playing out his contract year is no big deal – the other intriguing subject was not related to the Rangers or Sabres. Newsday’s Steve Zipay and Jim Baumbach report that, once again, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that he doesn’t think Nassau Coliseum would make sense for the New York Islanders, even as merely a temporary venue.

“Ultimately, whether or not the Islanders want to consider that and bring it to the league or something, you’ve had to ask them about it,” Bettman said. “But my gut reaction is it’s not a viable option.”

Before we try to dig through some of the dizzying aspects of the Islanders’ current situation, note that Bettman said that this is his gut reaction. He didn’t mark the situation downright as impossible altogether. Perhaps there would be room for convincing, though it sounds like it would be an uphill battle.

Even with that slightly optimistic aside in mind, it’s worth noting that it takes a lot of wind out of sails for Bettman to seem disinterested in the idea of merely having a few games at Nassau, as Baumbach also highlights. Such a thought makes Bettman’s latest comments that much more troubling than what he said back in April.

It’s no secret that the Islanders’ shaky arena situation is making a contract extension more difficult to work out with John Tavares. How many star players want to be a part of a team that resembles a struggling college student bouncing among friends’ couches?

As with many ownership and arena situations, things can be tricky. Getting a few positive breaks doesn’t necessarily guarantee that all will work out, especially with the scary timeline of Tavares only having one season remaining on his current contract.

Some dates to remember

It wasn’t all about killing hope for the Islanders fans back in April, as Bettman gave a tentative thumbs up to two possibilities: an arena on land near Belmont Park or one next to Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

The array of possible deadlines and hiccups can be confusing, but a few dates stand out as of today.

For one thing, a Belmont proposal would need to happen soon, as Sept. 28 could be an informative date in the process.

Zipay and Baumbach’s Newsday report notes that the state doesn’t have a timeline for a decision, and a Jan. 30 date that might sound far-off today could come frighteningly soon for the Islanders:

If either the Islanders or Barclays Center want to opt out of their 25-year license agreement, they are contractually obligated to do so by Jan. 30. That means that the Islanders may not know their longterm future when that deadline arrives.

In an ideal scenario where the Islanders get an arena plan in full motion, they’d likely still need to spend a significant chunk of time playing somewhere else as that arena is built. More realistic situations could call for increased certainty well into 2018.

With that in mind, two other key dates could be the 2017-18 trade deadline (usually late February/early March) and the summer of 2018, when Tavares’ current contract expires.

If they don’t know where they’re playing by the trade deadline, would that prompt them to avoid losing Tavares for nothing? Would they be able to move enough in the right direction to buy time in one way or another?

***

The Islanders’ arena situation is becoming winding and frustrating enough to feel in some ways like the Coyotes’ seemingly eternal issues. The added wrinkle for the Islanders is the threat of it scaring away Tavares.

This story is by no means over, but Bettman’s comments once again make it seem like the big events won’t take place on Long Island.

Check out that Newsday story for more details on this confusing and rather nerve-wracking situation.

Ducks’ duo of Getzlaf and Perry could reportedly be reunited

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The Anaheim Ducks appear to be putting the band back together.

With three preseason games remaining for head coach Randy Carlyle to nail down different line combinations ahead of the beginning of the regular season, reports out of Anaheim suggest he may be reuniting a duo that has had success in the past.

From the Orange County Register:

And there appears to be the reunion of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as linemates after the two largely played apart from each other last season. Perry did finish up with Getzlaf in the playoffs after Patrick Eaves went down to injury.

The combination of Perry and Getzlaf has over the years, been able to dominate the opposition at times, using both their size — Perry is apparently the smaller of the two, listed at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds — and skill to help drive the Ducks offensively.

That doesn’t mean they haven’t been subject to separation in the past, just like any other line around the league at one point or another. That included last season, as the pair went through an offensive slump.

Last season, the now 32-year-old Perry scored only 19 goals, which, if you exclude the 2013 lockout-shortened season, is the third lowest total for his entire career, and the lowest since 2006-07. Perry and Getzlaf were once again united during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Ducks looked to jump-start the former while he endured a down year in the scoring department.

“It’s a line I’m comfortable with,” Perry told the L.A. Times at the time of Carlyle’s playoff decision. “We played a lot of the year together and we had some good success in past years as well.”

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.

The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

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When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Jets’ Wheeler: ‘It just felt right to take a stance’

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Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was one of the few NHL players to make some sort of an unprompted statement in response to President Donald Trump’s weekend comments regarding NFL players and their protests during the National Anthem.

During a speech in Alabama on Friday the President urged NFL owners to fire players that “disrespect” the flag by taking a knee during the National Anthem.

On Saturday, Wheeler was critical of the President’s comments in a series of Tweets.

On Monday, Wheeler was asked about why he spoke out and ended up talking for several minutes on the subject.

“I think crossing over into the sports world it hits home a little more,” said Wheeler, via the Jets’ website. “I think a lot of people, similar to my wife and I, it has been kind of a slow boil. The rhetoric over and over, he has just kind of gone a little too far too many times. It just felt right to kind of take a stance.

“There have been a lot of players who have felt a certain way, one way or the other, when you start coming into their territory a little bit. Some of the language that he used referencing NFL players, I think that was kind of the last straw for a lot of guys, whichever way they feel about it to voice their opinion.”

Wheeler was later asked if he would support a teammate if they decided to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler. “I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

His entire media session is available via the Jets.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he supported Wheeler’s Tweets while adding that Wheeler is “one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

During NFL games on Sunday pretty much every team took part in some sort of a protest during the National Anthem, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans who remained in the locker room prior to their games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, announced that they will be accepting their invitation to visit the White House just one day after the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced they would not be attending.