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NHL embraces holiday roster freeze as a popular tradition

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By Stephen Whyno  (AP Hockey Writer)

Greg Millen thought he had an extension from the St. Louis Blues to celebrate at Christmas in 1989.

Instead, he was traded. So there he was, sitting in the living room with his family as a Quebec Nordiques executive brought logo-covered pajamas and gifts for his three young daughters to convince the goaltender to report to his new team.

”It was very close to Christmas when that happened,” Millen said. ”I think I reported right afterward on my own, which was very difficult. It was all during the holidays this was going on. That was a tough one.”

The very next year, on Dec. 21, 1990, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Rob Brown to the Hartford Whalers for Scott Young, and on Dec. 23, 1991, the Los Angeles Kings traded Corey Millen to the New York Rangers for Randy Gilhen.

No deals have been made that close to Christmas in the decades since thanks to an oddity in major North American professional sports: The NHL’s holiday roster freeze, which allows players to breathe easy for more than a week each December. Teams can’t trade, waive or loan players to the minors from Dec. 18 at 11:59 p.m. to Dec. 27 at 12:01 a.m., save for a few injury exceptions.

”It’s kind of a common-sense thing, and I think it’s good for hockey,” Young said. ”What does it turn into if there’s no trade freeze at all? It turns into who’s going to outwork the other guy and make a deal on Christmas morning when his kids are opening up presents? You don’t want it to be like that.”

Players can be traded or waived in the NBA and released in the NFL on Christmas Eve or on the holiday itself. The NBA’s Houston Rockets waived guard Jeremy Lin on Christmas in 2011, the New Orleans Pelicans traded Ish Smith to the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas Eve in 2015 – leading to the release of Tony Wroten – and the Pittsburgh Steelers cut running back Daryl Richardson last year on Christmas Eve.

The NHL’s closest trade to Christmas in recent years came in 2015 when the Montreal Canadiens dealt Ben Scrivens to the Edmonton Oilers for Zack Kassian on Dec. 28 after the freeze ended. Coaching moves are more common. Toronto’s Ron Wilson announced his long-since-signed contract extension on Christmas 2011 and the New Jersey Devils fired Peter DeBoer on Dec. 26, 2014.

The Penguins beat the freeze Tuesday by completing two trades, acquiring Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, but everyone knew it would be quiet on the transaction front beyond that.

”We have a busy schedule for the most part throughout the entire year, so it’s nice to have a couple periods of time there where you know nothing’s going to happen just so you can plan family stuff,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who was traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in February 2011.

The NHL’s holiday roster freeze is spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement and traces its origins to the 1992 strike that was largely about playoff bonuses and free agency. A memorandum of understanding signed in 1993 included reference to a Dec. 19-27 roster freeze for trades and waiver. The wording was put into the CBA in 1995 and it was extended to minor league loans coming out of the 2004-05 lockout.

”It was just something where guys once they could go into the holidays where it wouldn’t disrupt their holidays,” said Young, who’s now the Penguins’ director of player development. ”If we’re in all kinds of trade rumors and we make it to right around Christmas, let us just leave peace of mind where we can relax over the holidays and try to enjoy them.”

The NHL used to play games on Christmas like the NBA, but that stopped after 1971. There are no games from Dec. 24-26 – an extra day off was negotiated in 2013 – and with the physical break comes a mental rest.

”Guys get to spend the time with their family,” said Mathieu Schneider, a longtime defenseman who is now special assistant to the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association. ”You’re with your family, not getting sent up or down to the minors or traded – no threat.”

It can create some roster juggling and a few complications, especially with the salary cap involved, but the holiday freeze is largely regarded as humane.

”It allows people to have a little bit of a normal life,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. ”The last thing you want to be doing is packing up your stuff on Christmas Day and heading to another team. It doesn’t morally feel right. I’m glad they have the freeze, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller – Vinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey
Michael Grabner – Peter Holland – Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalSteven Kampfer

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers]

Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek
Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Taylor LeierScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Startling goalie: Brian Elliott

 

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

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As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

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Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.