Charlie Coyle

via NHL on NBC

#NHLMediaTour highlights: Doodles, trippy visuals, kids vs. stars

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The NHL Media Tour (or most importantly, #NHLMediaTour) took place this week, and one could conclude that many of the aims were mundane.

… That said, bravo to all of those involved for coming up with dazzling visual displays, moments of hockey players facing kids in adorable ways, and doodles that seemed like they could have come from those kids.

Oh, and there were moments when hockey players were asked to pick up pucks with chopsticks. For, uh, reasons.

If you want to go down the rabbit hole, some of the best stuff can be found at the NHL on NBC Twitter and Instagram feeds, while #NHLMediaTour provides entertainment (though you’ll have to weed through a few weird bits here and there).

For the sake of your browser/scrolling convenience, this is far from a comprehensive collection of the best, funniest, and weirdest bits. Still, there should be a hearty helping of all of those things.

There were some really cool/trippy bits featuring players with team-related backgrounds, but this one of Jamie Benn for the Dallas Stars seems like it would fit in at a pro wrestling event or Pink Floyd laser light show.

USA Today’s Jimmy Hascup deserves a gold star (maybe hastily drawn by a pro athlete?) for asking players to draw their teams’ logos.

You can see the second part in this tweet. Russian Machine Never Breaks graded each bit of artistry.

(Aside: as my high school notebooks would attest, mine wouldn’t approach the Max Domi level.)

From Sidney Crosby to Connor McDavid to Charlie Coyle and beyond, there were some fun interactions between players and kids, sometimes on the ice.

Sid, meet kid. #NHLMediaDay

A post shared by NHL on NBC Sports (@nhlonnbcsports) on

Marc-Andre Fleury took the cake when it came to these clips, and it looks like he did so more than once.

Glorious.

Finally, here’s footage of the chopsticks bit which is remarkably random but admittedly pretty great.

Under Pressure: Brent Burns

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This post is part of Sharks Day on PHT…

Brent Burns‘ path to stardom is almost as wild as his beard and almost as odd as his sense of style.

Odd path for an odd guy

Let’s not forget that there were very reasonable arguments made in favor of forward being his ideal position, even as recently as his early days with the San Jose Sharks.

Burns was traded to the Sharks almost exactly six years ago (June 24, 2011) in a deal that sent Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle to Minnesota. As nice a player as Coyle is, Wild fans could be excused for closing a browser in disgust at the mere mention of that move.

Then again, at that time, Burns’ value was at a low point. He had been limited by injuries, only playing 59 games in 2008-09 and 47 games in 2009-10. His final campaign with Minnesota was healthier (46 points in 80 games), but the results were relatively modest … and really, he didn’t make a huge jump until 2013-14, even if there were signs of the star he’d become.

Tough pace to maintain

That breakthrough was shockingly brilliant, and rare as Burns is.

His totals alone have been spell-binding:

2013-14: 22 goals, 48 points in 69 games
2014-15: 17 goals, 60 points in 82 games
2015-16: 27 goals, 75 points in 82 games
2016-17: 29 goals, 76 points in 82 games, culminating with him winning his first Norris Trophy.

That’s a heck of a story, and chances are, Burns will not be bothered by the idea of being “under pressure.”

Still, there’s reason to be just a touch concerned that a dip – but hopefully not a dive – is coming.

Age, injury risks, other potential obstacles

For one thing, Burns is playing on a level that’s incredibly difficult to sustain in this era. Full-fledged forwards with big minutes struggle to generate 22+ goals in three of four seasons, let alone defensemen.

As you can see, he’s also played all 82 regular-season games for three straight seasons. For a big dude, you wonder if the injury bug might bite.

Especially since Burns is older than some might realize.

Despite managing the rare feat of jumping straight to the NHL at 18, Burns’ development suffered because of those injuries, so it might be surprising for some that he’s already 32.

Burns earned his big contract with this four-year run of outstanding play, but the bottom line is that he’ll face increasing scrutiny as an $8 million man than he did making $5.76M.

Blame game?

If age and injuries don’t ratchet up the intensity, the Sharks lost Marleau and there’s the possibility that Joe Thornton may finally slow down considering the huge mileage he’s accrued as a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player.

This is a generally aging team, and a fairly top-heavy one at that, so things could get hairy if San Jose needs Burns to be a defenseman who flirts with 30 goals and a point-per-game pace.

And, as tough as it is to score at a great clip as a player gets older, there’s at least some concern that people might be more critical of his defensive game.

This isn’t to say that Burns is a bad blueliner. Really, he ranges between good to superb by just about every metric.

Instead, there’s evidence that Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a truly elite guy in his own zone, boosts other Sharks defensemen, as Tyler Dellow argues for The Athletic (subscription required).

Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – teams put guys with bigger paychecks in tougher situations because of said paychecks. It’s understandable, yet it can also make for tougher sledding.

If such a scenario occurs in San Jose and Burns gets (ahem) burned quite often, the knives might be sharper considering his bigger checks. That’s especially true if the Sharks regress, which is a real risk considering their aging roster.

***

Look, the naked truth is that it’s tough to bet against Burns.

There are elements of his game – his size, his shot, a hockey IQ that might sneak up on you thanks to the caveman aesthetic – that are likely to age well.

Even so, expectations can be cruel to a player, particularly one coming off a Norris Trophy win and entering a higher tax bracket.

Looking to make the leap: Joel Eriksson Ek

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This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…

There’s no shortage of talented young prospects in the Wild organization — Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, to name a few.

But in terms of being ready to make the leap, one stands out.

Eriksson Ek, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft, and made his NHL debut last season by scoring seven points in 15 games, while appearing in three postseason contests. That came during a year in which he made the Wild out of training camp, stuck around for a month before being returned to his native Sweden, then came back to Minnesota late in the year, making his Stanley Cup playoff debut in the process.

An exciting year, sure, but one with quite a bit of upheaval.

Now Eriksson Ek’s looking to stick in one place.

That, of course, would be in North America, preferably in Minnesota rather than Iowa. And it sounds like there’s a good chance of that happening, given Eriksson Ek’s performance in ’16-17 alleviated many of the club’s concerns about his game translating to the NHL.

“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said last season, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player.”

It doesn’t seem like playing surface really matters to Eriksson Ek. Consider what he accomplished last year. With SHL club Farjestads, he had 16 points in 26 games, and six in seven playoff contests. With Sweden at the World Juniors, he captained the club and had nine points in seven games. With Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, he had three points in 10 games en route to a gold medal win over Canada.

Yet even after all that success, there’s still an undeniably steep learning curve ahead. Eriksson Ek played limited and sheltered minutes last season, cracking the 12-minute plateau in just three of his 15 games (he was used sparingly in the postseason as well, skating just 22:44 total in the series versus St. Louis).

But that might change, as head coach Bruce Boudreau no longer has a wealth of options down the middle.

Last season, Boudreau didn’t have to throw Eriksson Ek into uncomfortable positions, because he had a host of veteran centers to fill ’em: Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Graovac all logged extensive minutes.

That depth is no longer there. Hanzal signed in Dallas, Haula was taken by Vegas at the expansion draft, and Graovac was traded to Washington.

As such, it certainly seems like Fletcher and company have opened up a spot for Eriksson Ek this fall.

Now we wait to see if grabs it.

Wild salary cap outlook with Granlund, Niederreiter signed

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The Minnesota Wild are a fascinating team to observe, especially after several players received a shot in the arm playing under Bruce Boudreau.

While the team still needs to settle matters with RFA Marcus Foligno, GM Chuck Fletcher navigated the choppy waters of a challenging off-season, dealing with the expansion draft and finding fair compromises with Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

Now that Fletcher avoided arbitration hearings with Niederreiter and Granlund, this seems like a good time to take a wider look at the Wild’s salary structure. In doing so, we’ll see quite the mix of good, bad, and uncertain.

Crossing their fingers

There’s no sense ignoring the twin elephants in the room: matching $7.54 million cap hits for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, which don’t run out until after the 2023-24 season. As of this writing, Suter is 32 and Parise is 33.

The debates regarding Suter’s ultimate value seem like they’ve died down in recent years, likely because he doesn’t get the same Norris hype that he once did. Right now, it seems like he’s in a reasonable spot, especially since his workload is at least trending toward something more reasonable. He averaged 26:55 TOI in 2016-17 after receiving between 28:36 in 2015-16 to a ridiculous 29:25 in 2013-14. In the grand scheme of things, Suter is fine, though Boudreau would be wise to continue to spead the wealth to Minnesota’s other defensemen.

After many years of outstanding work, Parise now stands as arguably an even bigger concern than Suter.

This is a situation where one must consider value, as Parise is still a fine player; injuries are the main reason he didn’t fall in his typical 25-goal range.

Other signs inspire a bit more concern. His per-game point average was just .61 last season compared to his career average of .8. Parise also didn’t shoot as often (2.8 vs. 3.39 for his career) and has been less of a possesion driver in the past two seasons.

Maybe some of those 2016-17 struggles were injury-related, but it’s tougher to ignore such worries when Parise makes so much money, for so long.

Not every costly veteran sets off alarms, though.

Mikko Koivu enjoyed such a resurgence last season that he was a Selke finalist, but that $6.75M still feels less foreboding when you realize it expires after 2017-18. Maybe he’d take a discount to help his long-time team compete?

Strong deals

Chalk up Granlund at $5.75M and Niederreiter at $5.25M to good-to-great deals.

The Wild’s most promising contract likely goes to Devan Dubnyk, however. At $4.33M, Dubnyk’s delivered at-or-near-elite goaltending for Minnesota. At 31, there’s some reason to expect an eventual decline … but that’s some strong value on paper.

Naturally, goalies are an unpredictable lot, but Minnesota’s outlook has come a long way since the end of the Niklas Backstrom era.

Eric Staal‘s brilliant rebound season makes his $3.5M look like a steal, and at 32, there’s a solid chance that it will remain that way for the two years that cover his current deal.

Mysteries

There are some fascinating situations in Minny.

They saved money in sending Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Even so, Ennis has had serious injury issues, making his $4.6M look a bit risky. Then again, what if Boudreau once again revitalizes a flawed talent?

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both eyeball RFA statuses after this season, while Charlie Coyle seems like he could go either way on his $3.2M deal. It also remains to be seen if Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin can take that “next step.”

***

Not that long ago, the Wild seemed to be stuck in limbo.

To the credit of Fletcher, Boudreau, and some emerging talents, things look a lot more promising today. The Wild have about $4.8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, and while Foligno is likely to eat up some of that, there’s at least breathing room there.

It’s not a perfect situation, yet the Wild stand as a reasonably viable contender … though they haven’t yet enjoyed the sort of deep playoff push you’d expect with all of that spending.

After developing players, ‘it’s a bit frustrating’ to possibly lose one in expansion draft

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) There were many years in Minnesota Wild history when assembling a list of their top 10 players would have been a breeze.

That was the biggest challenge this offseason.

The downside to the roster depth the Wild have built has arrived this week in the form of the NHL expansion draft, which will rob them of a valuable player on Wednesday night when the Vegas Golden Knights construct their inaugural team with one player from each of the other 30 clubs.

With defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella at the front of the queue, the Wild stand to lose as much as any team.

“They paid a large expansion fee, and the rules are set up that they’re going to get some tremendous assets out of this process, as they should,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. He added: “It’s actually, I think, a compliment to our organization that we have so many tough decisions.”

Read more:

Wild could lose Dumba, Scandella or Staal in expansion draft

Wild didn’t make a move prior to trade freeze deadline

Fletcher and his top lieutenant, Brent Flahr, quickly realized last summer their vulnerability once the NHL revealed the expansion draft guidelines.

“We did the math very quickly, and we were like, `We’re going to lose a good player,”‘ Fletcher said last week, before the lists were submitted to the league .

The Wild chose the seven forwards (Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker), three defensemen (Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter) and one goalie (Devan Dubnyk) option, rather than the eight skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and one goalie alternative.

That left Martin Hanzal, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart and Ryan White among the unprotected forwards who factored into the postseason lineups and Dumba, Christian Folin and Scandella among the unprotected defensemen. With no-trade clauses in their contracts, veterans Koivu, Parise, Pominville and Suter were mandatory inclusions on the protected list.

“The good news is we can only lose one player. Sometimes at 3 in the morning when I wake up, I remind myself of that: `You can lose only one player. Go back to sleep,”‘ Fletcher said. “But when you’ve drafted and developed a lot of these players, it is a bit frustrating, I’ll admit that.”

The Wild could work out a trade with the Golden Knights to get them to agree not to pick a particular unprotected player, but Vegas general manager George McPhee has made clear he’s in it to win it . Without a first or second-round draft pick this year, the Wild would likely have to part with a player in that scenario, which would mean losing two of them instead of one.

Staal is a first-line center who had 28 goals and 65 points, his highest totals in five years, but at age 32 he’s less attractive. The Wild protected 25-year-old right wing Jason Zucker, a native of Las Vegas, instead.

Dumba, despite a penchant for sloppy and inconsistent play, is just 22 and coming off a career season with 11 goals and 23 assists. He has one of the hardest shots on the team. The 27-year-old Scandella was one of the few bright spots during the first-round loss in the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues.

“I’m pretty confident I know how we’ll look coming out of it,” Fletcher said, “and that’s still a heck of a hockey team.”