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Phaneuf, Senators react to bizarre night and rare mid-game trade

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PITTSBURGH — On the ice and on the scoreboard it was just another night at the office for the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as they were on the wrong end of a 6-3 decision in Pittsburgh.

It was what was happening off the ice during their latest loss that made things a little more bizarre and, quite honestly, a little more interesting. That was when the Senators were in the process of completing the rare mid-game trade by sending defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forward Nate Thompson to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forwards Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore.

From an Ottawa perspective a lot of it was about moving salary, while also signaling the beginning of what will likely be a pre-deadline firesale in the middle of what has been a bitterly disappointing season that comes on the heels of last year’s shocking run to the Eastern Conference Final.

[Trade: Senators send Dion Phaneuf to the Kings]

It was easy to tell something was up in the second period when Phaneuf suddenly stopped getting ice time and word started to leak out that something was up. Things really got bizarre when Phil Kessel, one of Phaneuf’s long-time teammates with the Toronto Maple Leafs, told Penguins television analyst Bob Errey (who was positioned between the benches for the game) that Phaneuf was on his way to Los Angeles during the game.

After the game Phaneuf and the Senators all reacted to the trade.

“I want to thank the Ottawa Senators organization for my time with them,” Phaneuf said after the game. “That is first and foremost, I have nothing but great things to say about the city of Ottawa, about the organization, about my time here. It’s disappointing when you do get moved, but with saying that I am very excited about where I am going, to the team I am going to, and about being a Los Angeles King. I am honored to be going there, I am excited about the team they have, where they are in the standings, I am going to go there and do the best I can to help their team.”

Phaneuf joined the Senators in the middle of the 2015-16 season in a trade with the Maple Leafs and spent parts of three seasons with the team, including their playoff run a year ago.

“I will always remember the run we went on,” said Phaneuf. “As a player that is what you play for. You want to have that success, you want to go on those runs. Now I am going to a team that has won, to a team that has had a lot of success. I am very, very excited to be going where I am going. It is a lot to take in right now, standing here there are a lot of different emotions, but I am excited about where I am going. It is an exciting time for me to think about being a Los Angeles King.”

Phaneuf said he was not told immediately that a trade was close to being completed, but that he knew something was going on when he stopped getting ice time.

He said he was finally told between the second and third periods.

“Guys were kind of wondering why he wasn’t playing in the second period so we kind of knew something was up,” said Senators forward Mark Stone. “Unfortunately when your team struggles you lose teammates and changes get made. It’s obviously a tough day for a lot of the guys in this room. I had a real close relationship with Dion.”

Senators coach Guy Boucher said he did not address the trade in the locker room and instead tried to the focus on the task at hand — trying to get a win.

“Everybody knew what was happening, there was no need to address it,” said Boucher. “It’s a business, it’s a tough part of the business. We’re talking about two players I really enjoyed having around, two character people that brought a lot of positive things to us, two players that I really respect. Two guys I have been far in the playoffs with, [Thompson] with Tampa going to the Conference Final there, then same with Dion last year. You develop relationships with people. I really wish those individuals the very, very best. They are tremendous individuals that deserve the best. I thank them for everything they have done, they were tremendous to work with.”

Phaneuf’s teammates seemed to share that sentiment.

“It’s an unfortunate part of the business,” said Senators captain Erik Karlsson, whose future with the team is also in question as the team continues to lose and his long-term contract situation looms.

“He’s a good friend of mine, a good friend of everyone on this team and someone that did really well for us. He is someone we would have liked to have kept if the circumstances would have been different. That is the unfortunate and sad part of the situation we are in, things like this are going to happen.”

Karlsson also talked about how much Phaneuf helped him in his brief time with the team.

“He was great for me coming here from Toronto,” Karlsson said. “He helped me out a lot, not only on the ice but stuff around the locker room, with the guys, with the media. He took a load off my back and I am going to miss that, most importantly I am going to miss him as a friend.”

If there is anyone that can relate to what Phaneuf’s night was like it would have to be Senators forward Matt Duchene.

Duchene’s time with the Colorado Avalanche came to an end earlier this season when he was traded early in the first period of a game.

“I don’t know how much time was left,” said Duchene when asked when he found out about the trade. “I found out right before we went out for the third. It’s very strange. I know what it’s like obviously, for me it was maybe a little crazier, getting trade a minute into the game then I kind of sat there for a while. I know for him it is probably a crazy whirlwind right now but they [Phaneuf and Thompson] are going to help Los Angeles a lot.”

What makes the night even more interesting for Phaneuf is that he doesn’t even have to go anywhere to meet his new team.

The Kings, after losing 7-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, are on their way to Pittsburgh for a game on Thursday night where Phaneuf will join them.

“It is a different situation,” said Phaneuf. “I am not flying anywhere right now to meet them. My gear is staying here, and I am too.”

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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.

Penguins will be without Malkin, Hagelin for Game 1 vs. Capitals

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins open their second-round series against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night they will be doing so without two of their top forwards.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced on Wednesday that even though both players skated on their own before practice, neither player will be available for the series opener. It is possible that Malkin will be ready for Game 2, but Hagelin will not even travel with the team to Washington.

Malkin was injured in Game 5 of the Penguins’ opening round series against the Philadelphia Flyers when he was involved in a collision with Jakub Voracek. He returned to the game but did not play in the team’s Game 6 series-clinching win.

It was in that game that Hagelin was injured when he was hit by Flyers forward Claude Giroux.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Even with the two injuries the Penguins were still able to score six goals over the final 25 minutes of regulation, including four from Jake Guentzel, to leave Philadelphia with an 8-5 win, winning the series in six games.

Still, this is not a great way for the Penguins to be starting the second round against a better team. One of the big advantages the Penguins have had over the Capitals in the past two years has been their depth as the second-and third-lines did a lot of the damage in each series. Without Malkin and Hagelin, even if it is just for one or two games, they lose a lot of that advantage.

In Malkin’s absence on Sunday the Penguins elevated Riley Sheahan to the second line so they could keep the Derick Brassard, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary line together. That line has been excellent for them since it was put together.

Based on their practice lines from Wednesday that seems to be the way the Penguins will be approaching Game 1 as Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated on the second line next to Phil Kessel, while the Brassard-Rust-Sheary line remained together. Sidney Crosby will continue to center the top line between Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist, while Zach Aston-Reese, Carter Rowney, and Tom Kuhnhackl made up the fourth line.

Related: NHL announces second round opening games.

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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.

Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

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The Boston Bruins will make one change to their lineup heading into Game 7 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

Danton Heinen, who was a healthy scratch in Game 6, will be back in the lineup, while Tommy Wingels, who’s played in three of the six games during the series, will watch from the press box again on Wednesday. On paper, this doesn’t seem to be a significant change, but head coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t just making changes for the sake of making changes.

Neither player has made an offensive impact in the series. Wingels has no points and a plus-1 rating in three games, while Heinen has no points and a minus-1 rating in five contests. Even though neither player has popped up on the scoresheet, there’s a significant gap when it comes to their advanced stats. Heinen has a CF% of 49.49, which doesn’t jump off the page, but when you compare it to Wingels’ CF% (39.34), you realize that there’s a significant difference. To further point the arrow in Heinen’s direction, the 22-year-old has zone starts in the offensive zone just 37.5 percent of the time compared to 47.62 percent for Wingels.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

So, in terms of offense, neither player has really contributed, but it appears to be pretty clear that the odds are on Heinen’s side when it comes to the way they’ve played this postseason.

If we take a look at the standard numbers during the regular season, it’s obvious that Heinen was the more productive player. The rookie had 16 goals and 47 points in 77 games, which is far from terrible for his first year in the NHL. Wingels, 30, had nine goals and 18 points in 75 games with the ‘Hawks and Bruins.

Getting an extra night off during the series could help Heinen find his game. And based on his comments after Tuesday’s practice, it sounds like the coaching staff made their instructions clear. Heinen mentioned that he needs to be more assertive, stronger on the puck and he needs to win puck battles so that he can have the puck on his stick a little more often.

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.

Amid bevy of head shots, NHL attempts to explain rationale

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Drew Doughty watched other playoff games this season and couldn’t believe that George Parros, the NHL’s discipline czar, had suspended him for a head shot.

”I saw four hits last night that deserved more than that,” the Los Angeles Kings defenseman said.

Doughty’s one-game suspension was the first of several in the first round for a hit to the head of an opponent. Toronto’s Nazem Kadri got three games and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey and Nashville’s Ryan Hartman got one game each. Washington’s Tom Wilson and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov were among those who got off without significant punishment.

The criticism, from Columbus to Colorado and from New Jersey to Los Angeles, was loud enough that the NHL’s department of player safety put out a video last week explaining its reasoning for suspending Doughty and Hartman but not Kucherov or Predators center Ryan Johansen.

”The illegal check to the head rule is often misunderstood or misstated,” the league said in the video. ”Illegal checks to the head and legal full body hits often look similar at first glance because the difference between legal and illegal can be a matter of inches in a sport that moves fast.”

Discontent over the goalie interference rule has been grabbing headlines for weeks, but the head shot discussion carries far more serious implications for a league still grappling with how best to protect its players. What’s acceptable has evolved from the early days of hockey through Scott Stevens’ then-legal crushing blow on Eric Lindros in 2000 to today, where checks to the head are parsed frame-by-frame to determine if a line was crossed. The NHL, too, is still facing a federal class-action concussion lawsuit filed by former players alleging it failed to warn them about the health risks associated with head injuries.

Meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insisted there was nothing new about the subject. Asked about player safety, Bettman said Parros is off to good start in the former enforcer’s first season as vice president of player safety. He said he is proud of player safety’s transparency in the form of videos detailing the reasons for suspending a player.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

”Sometimes we get accused of splitting hairs, but that’s exactly what they have to do,” Bettman said. ”I think he’s reached the appropriate conclusion when it’s been a hockey play that doesn’t transcend the rules and I think he’s been appropriately punitive in cases where it warranted it. There’s never going to be a shortage of critics of what they do.”

Doughty, a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, said he hit Vegas forward William Carrier‘s shoulder first before his head in Game 1. Kings coach John Stevens added: ”As long as I’m on the earth, I’m going to agree to disagree with that decision.”

The league video emphasized that an illegal check to the head concerns a player’s head being the main point of contact, not the first point of contact. Based on experience, the league said, a player’s head snapping back on these kinds of hits indicates significant head contact.

Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake, who worked under Brendan Shanahan in the department of player safety from 2010-2013, said it’s a tough job while at the same time reiterating the organization was unhappy with the suspension of Doughty. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was upset forward Josh Anderson was ejected from Game 1 against Washington for boarding Michal Kempny and called a hit to the head of Alexander Wennberg from Washington’s Tom Wilson that got only a minor penalty ”dangerous.”

Wilson was not given a hearing or suspended. Wennberg missed Games 2, 3 and 4 and the hit was not included in the NHL’s explanation video.

Columbus coach John Tortorella didn’t want to weigh in on the lack of punishment for Wilson, a common refrain across the NHL because nothing can be done after the fact. For a more specific reason, Bettman doesn’t weigh in on suspensions because any appeals go to him. He does look at suspension videos before they are issued.

”I watch as a fan to make sure they make sense,” Bettman said. ”I want to make sure the videos we send out are clear.”

”I think player safety as a whole has done an extraordinarily good job of changing the culture,” Bettman said.” We have players not making certain types of hits anymore. We have players who are more accountable for their conduct and understand it and I believe that they’ve been consistent.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, and Sports Deputy Editor for Newsgathering Howie Rumberg in New York contributed.

PHT Morning Skate: Is Tavares to Avs realistic?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Bruce Cassidy has a few important lineup decisions to make heading into Game 7 against the Leafs tonight. Does Danton Heinen come back into the lineup? Should Ryan Donato suit up? (Boston.com)

• It’s no secret that the Canadiens are lacking quality bodies on defense. Winning this weekend’s draft lottery and drafting Rasmus Dahlin would fix a lot of problems. (Sportsnet)

• It was a tough year for Braden Holtby, but he managed to come through at the most crucial time of the season. (Washington Post)

• Bill Peters opting out of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes was a good thing for his former team because they badly needed a change behind the bench. (Cardiac Cane)

Leo Komarov is healthy, but it seems unlikely that Mike Babcock will play him in Game 7 against the Bruins tonight. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Two Denver Post writers debate whether or not it’s realistic to think that John Tavares could end up in Colorado. (Denver Post)

Shea Theodore has played some good hockey for the Golden Knights this postseason, which isn’t surprising when you look at his body of work in last year’s playoffs. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe is going to be honored by the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation. They’ll be retiring his number ahead of a game against Switzerland. (The Province)

• College basketball has a problem with their “one-and-done” rule. To fix it, they should take a page out of the NHL’s book when it comes to college prospects. (Raleigh News & Observer)

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.