Braden Holtby

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Backed by the Pope: Hockey organizations unveil ‘Declaration of Principles’

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NEW YORK (AP) Seventeen hockey organizations teamed up to unveil a “Declaration of Principles” that NHL players hope will boost the game at all levels, particularly among young children and the parents who decide what sports to have them play.

Going beyond the “Hockey is For Everyone” campaign and a partnership with You Can Play that promotes inclusiveness, the league and NHL Players’ Association took the unconventional step to list eight guiding principles for hockey culture. USA Hockey, the International Ice Hockey Federation and others joined in on the initiative, which earned praise from Pope Francis and garnered optimism from top players about the impact it could make.

“Hopefully it makes more kids want to play the game, more parents maybe push their kids into playing hockey or starting it at a young age,” Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said. “The things I’ve learned as a kid just growing up playing – discipline, the love and the passion for the game, commitment – these are all things that you need in life outside of hockey, and that’s what the principles are about.”

At a news conference on Wednesday attended by leaders from all over the sport, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called it an “important day” for hockey. Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, now the league’s vice president of hockey development, spearheaded the process.

The declaration says hockey’s greatest value is in the development of character and life skills, and it also noted there are significant benefits to kids playing multiple sports. Among other things, it said programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families “regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”

Asked to evaluate the initiative, Saint Joseph’s University sports marketing professor Amie Sheridan said she considers it an effort to grow hockey’s footprint and show it’s not a cost-prohibitive sport. Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson said he wanted parents and kids to know that.

“I think hockey these days is a much cheaper sport than what it used to be,” Karlsson said. “I think that that’s something that’s important to get out there – that it doesn’t actually cost you that much if you just want to play for fun.”

Second-hand equipment and ice time aren’t available in some parts of the U.S. like in Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby‘s hometown of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, one reason why hockey struggles to attract young players who could more easily pick up a basketball or a soccer ball.

Data from the National Federation of State High School Associations shows high school boys hockey participation has been largely stagnant over the past four years, though USA Hockey reported an increase of about 6.5 percent among all youth players over that time. USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said “enormous progress” has been made, but this is another effort.

“At a time when sport is under pressure from issues ranging from violence to doping to corruption, it is helpful for an organization to set principles that guide their behavior,” University of Oregon marketing professor T. Bettina Cornwell said. “In terms of marketing, and financial support from sponsors, they want to know what sport stands for and this statement goes some distance in describing a culture that should be appealing to a marketer or sponsor.”

The NHL and its teams have already taken stands on topics of inclusion, including the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars coming out against what they called “discriminatory” state legislation aimed at restricting restrooms for transgender people.

In a letter written to the Archbishop of New York, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the pope was pleased by the initiative and “trusts that this significant gesture will inspire greater appreciation of the pivotal role played by sports and sportsmanship.”

“To be able to hammer these principles – not into the kids, but into the coaches and into the organizations so they bleed it into the kids, that’s what’s going to draw more people into hockey,” New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. It could “draw more parents to say: `You know what, I like what they’re doing over there. Maybe they’re not going to play baseball or football and I’m going to get my kids involved in something that’s really going to mean a lot for them in their life.”‘

 

Scott Darling will be the key to the Hurricanes’ season

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

A few numbers to keep in mind about the Carolina Hurricanes as they prepare to enter the 2017-18 season:

  • Over the past three seasons only one team in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings — has allowed fewer shots on goal per game than the 27.3 allowed by the Hurricanes. An impressive number, especially given how young their defense has been during that stretch.
  • Despite those low shot totals the Hurricanes are only 19th in the NHL in goals against. The are the only team in the top-eight in shots against that finished outside of the top-12 in goals against and the only one that has not made the playoffs at least once. Two of those teams have made the Stanley Cup Final at least once. Four have made the the Conference Finals at least once.

So how is a team that is so good at suppressing shots so bad at preventing goals and winning games?

Goaltending.

They are hoping that newly acquired goalie Scott Darling, getting what will be his first chance at a full-time starting job, will be able to help fix that issue.

Over that same three-year stretch mentioned above, Hurricanes goalies — a revolving door made up of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Anton Khudobin — have not managed a save percentage that placed them higher than 26th in the entire league in any one season. That is a pretty significant problem and it has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the team’s lack of success on the ice. No one position in hockey can impact the fortunes of a team more than a goalie. Carey Price has taken an average Canadiens team and made them a contender. The opposite has been happening in Carolina.

Let’s just look at this past season as an example, when the duo of Ward and Lack finished with a .904 mark, with Ward (playing in 61 of the games) leading the way at .905.

If the Hurricanes had been able to replace Ward’s performance with a league average number (in the .912 range) in his 61 starts the Hurricanes would have allowed 12-14 fewer goals right off the bat. A league average duo across the board would have cut close to 20 goals off the board over 82 games. That is a potentially significant swing and Darling is the newest goalie that will get a chance to make it happen.

Darling spent the past three seasons serving as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago and playing at a level that made him one of the league’s best No. 2 goalies. Among the 58 goalies that have appeared in at least 60 games over the past three seasons Darling’s .923 save percentage has him sixth in the NHL behind only Carey Price, Matt Murray, Antti Raanta (another backup getting a chance to start this season), Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby.

The test for him is whether or not he can maintain that level of play — or anything close to it — when he is counted on to be the No. 1 goalie that gets the top teams every night.

If he can be, the Hurricanes are going to have a great shot to end that eight-year playoff drought given how good their defense already is and how many young, talented forwards they have in their lineup.

If he is not, it will probably be more of the same — a promising young team that just seems to keep falling short in the regular season.

Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

Under Pressure: Barry Trotz

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This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…

When the Capitals hired Barry Trotz three years ago, they said he was “the only coach we coveted,” calling him “an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

And in many ways, Trotz has been an ideal fit. He’s led to the club to consecutive Presidents’ Trophies, racking up 156 wins over the course of three seasons. He won the 2016 Jack Adams as coach of the year. Players have performed exceptionally well on his watch: Braden Holtby won his first-ever Vezina, Alex Ovechkin racked up a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named All-Stars.

Despite all this, Trotz is now coaching for his job. Essentially.

A string of disheartening playoff failures — each more painful than the last — have put him in an uncomfortable and pressure-packed situation. He’s heading into the the last of his four-year deal with no contract certainty beyond.

Yes, it’s true Caps GM Brian MacLellan didn’t make any changes with Trotz or to his coaching staff following the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.

But MacLellan didn’t offer an extension, either.

Brian Burke once likened this scenario to being a lame duck. Trotz refused to see it that way, insisting that he wasn’t worried about the spot he was in.

“No,” he told CSN Mid Atlantic in June, when asked if not having a contract changes his approach at all. “It has 0.0 effect on me, actually. Not at all. I think it might have [had] an effect 10, 12 years ago for me. Not now. It has zero effect.

“I’m not worrying about that at all.”

This is pretty much on par with Trotz’s messaging from the moment Washington crashed out of the playoffs. While his players were visibly dejected and downright hurt during locker clean-out day, the 55-year-old was upbeat.

Defiant, almost.

Trotz talked about how the team’s window wasn’t closed, and how it would eventually “break through that barrier.” He suggested “laughing at the past” could “ease us into the future.”

The assembled media took note of this, which contrasted the vibe of his visibly distraught players. So it was asked — why did he seem more upbeat than his players?

From the Washington Post:

“Put it this way — I haven’t slept in two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught.

“I have to be positive in terms of, ‘do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.

“That angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself. I don’t.”

That Trotz took this approach isn’t surprising. Coaching is a leadership role, and there didn’t seem to be any point to piling onto what was already a fairly miserable day in D.C.

So hey, why not keep that vibe going when it comes to contract uncertainty?

Trotz will likely continue to do so, even in the face of growing pressure. And pressure will continue to grow. Remember, there’s one final and very important dynamic at play — right next to Trotz behind the Washington bench is assistant coach Todd Reirden. The same Todd Reirden who’s thought to be a head-coach-in-waiting, and has been tied to previous openings in Colorado and Florida.

Fun times in Washington. As they always are.

Who will step up and give the Bruins some decent backup goaltending?

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

The past three seasons combined, only one NHL goalie, Washington’s Braden Holtby, has played more minutes and made more saves than Tuukka Rask.

In a related story, the Bruins haven’t had a reliable backup for three years running.

In 2014-15, it was Niklas Svedberg that lost the trust of then-head coach Claude Julien.

The next season, Jonas Gustavsson played well at times, but not well enough overall.

Which brings us to last year, when Anton Khudobin was brought back to Boston, only to end up on waivers by January.

Rask, meanwhile, had to play, and play a lot. He started out in excellent form, but as the minutes piled up, his numbers began to suffer.

It got to the point in late March that Bruce Cassidy, Julien’s mid-season replacement, had to admit that Rask had been “overplayed.”

“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year,” Cassidy said, “and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

Credit to Rask, who wasn’t the reason the B’s fell to Ottawa in the first round. If anything, it was all the injuries to the blue line that hurt the Bruins the most. For his part, Rask finished the playoffs with a .920 save percentage.

But with a decent backup, the B’s might’ve been able to get home-ice advantage in the playoffs. A rested Rask might’ve been even better when the games really mattered.

Next season, the Bruins are likely to start with the same tandem of Rask and Khudobin, the latter of whom still has a year left on his contract.

But if Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban can outplay Khudobin in the preseason, the No. 2 job could easily be taken from the veteran.

Based on his AHL numbers, McIntyre has a decent shot of doing just that. In 30 games for Providence last season, the 24-year-old had an impressive .930 save percentage.

Of course, McIntyre also got into eight NHL games last season, and his save percentage was a ghastly .858. So there’s that to consider as well.

As for Subban, his only two NHL starts have been nightmares, and his AHL numbers have actually fallen since his first two years as a pro. But there’s still a sliver of hope for the 23-year-old. One never knows when a goalie could get hot.

For the Bruins’ sake, it doesn’t really matter which goalie emerges as the backup, as long as one of them does a decent job and keeps 30-year-old Rask fresh.

Recall 2010-11 when it was Rask who played the role of reliable backup, keeping Tim Thomas fresh for his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance in the playoffs.

That’s what the B’s need in 2017-18 — a reliable backup. If they get one, it’ll be the first time they’ve had that in a while.

Combined, Boston’s backups went a miserable 7-11-2 last season.