Johnny Boychuk

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NHL All-Star Media Day notebook: Karlsson, Tavares on futures; Klingberg’s Karlsson connection

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TAMPA — After dropping one of the season’s most memorable quotes in November, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is now trying to worry about the present day not jump ahead to the summer of 2019 when he could be an unrestricted free agent.

His quote of “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” raised many eyebrows around and the league and had various fanbases creating hypothetical trade scenarios should the Senators decide they can’t afford to keep him.

During NHL All-Star Media Day on Saturday, the Senators captain said he’ll wait until this coming summer before beginning to think about his future.

“Whenever I have to make a decision on what I need to do with my future and when we have to make those discussions, we will,” Karlsson said. “As of right now, it’s not something that I’m focusing on or worrying about. I’m just worrying about trying to get us out of the slump were in and trying to find a solution to the problems we do have.

“Whenever the summer comes around, I think the discussions are going to heat up a little bit more, and that’s when I’ll probably sit back and reflect on the things I want in my career. I’m sure Ottawa’s going to give me their perspective of things as well, and then were going to move on from there.”

Tavares talks future

In other superstar contract news, John Tavares reiterated his stance that he would like to stay with the New York Islanders. The 27-year-old forward is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and clarity around the team’s future with a new arena project by Belmont Park had many believing that an extension was imminent. That hasn’t been the case just yet.

“I’ve always stated that I’ve really enjoyed being there,” Tavares said. “I haven’t thought about anything but mostly focusing on this season and taking my time and being patient. When the time is right, I’ll make my decision. Anything that we’ve talked about I prefer to keep it internally between me and the organization. Talks are always open and they’ve been great so far. I’m not going to get into specific details.

“The way I look at is anything that affects my daily life, whether it’s at the rink or not at the rink, will go into my decision. Obviously you want to play for a team that’s doing everything it can to win, and the Islanders are certainly doing that. You can see a lot of the potential and the young talent we have, as well as guys who’ve been there for a while, like Josh [Bailey], Anders [Lee], Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the veteran guys we have. We’ve got a solid foundation there.”

Bloomberg reported on Friday that Tavares and his Islanders teammates may be returning to their old home for 12 games next season at Nassau Coliseum as the Belmont Park project is built with an eye to open in time for the the 2020-21 or 2021-22 NHL season.

Why Mike Smith landed in Calgary

The Calgary Flames wanted to go in a different direction after a year with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson didn’t work out. At the same time, Mike Smith was looking for a chance to move away from Arizona after six seasons and have a chance to win.

So just before NHL teams had to submit their expansion draft protected lists, the Coyotes sent Smith to the Flames for a package that included defensive prospect Brandon Hickey.

After spending time in Dallas and Tampa splitting goaltending duties or acting as backup, Smith became a full-fledged No. 1 with the Coyotes. His very first year was a successful one as he helped the team to the Western Conference Final. But after that it was downhill and the team failed to reach the postseason as issues around the club continued. He was ready to move on.

“Great people that I played with and teammates and training staff and all that. My three were born there so,” Smith said. “My time in Arizona was great for my career, but I think I was at the point, too, where I was really wanting a chance to be on a good team, a team that’s up and coming but has the core group to win now, and I think that was an important decision. Having Calgary on my list, there was a good chance that I’d end up there and it’s been a good transition so far.”

It wasn’t a tough decision for Smith to decide to waive his no-trade clause. The options were limited but the Flames are further along than the Coyotes and it was a situation he wanted to be a part of.

“There’s only so many spots for a goalie, right? So you can narrow that down pretty well on who needs goalies, who has one,” he said. “It makes your list pretty self-explanatory to say the least. There wasn’t too much thought process that went into it. I knew the teams that kind of were in need of a goalie and Calgary was one of them. Obviously, I’m thrilled to be a Flame.”

John Klingberg’s Karlsson connection

Coming up through the Frolunda system in Gothenburg, Sweden, Klingberg was able to watch a lot of a very young Erik Karlsson. The Senators captain was playing junior hockey a few years ahead of the Dallas Stars defenseman. Karlsson was a must-watch player and someone Klingberg looked up as a fellow blue liner.

“That was great for me because at that time I just switched to D and he was that offensive player in juniors that everyone wanted to be like,” Klingberg said. “I had the privilege to see him play a lot of junior hockey in Frolunda where I grew up. That was great for me.”

Get the goalies involved

The Skills Competition showcases the top talents of the league’s best players, but for goalies, their job is basically to be a prop and stop shots. Yeah, there’s been those few times — goalie race, Four Line Challenge — where they’ve actually been the focus of a specific event. But they’re just as eager to get involved.

“I wouldn’t mind shooting at the targets, seeing how my hands are,” said Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck. “It would be fun to be a little more involved, but we’re goalies. Our skills get in the way of things.”

Mike Smith, who provided one of the highlights from last year’s Skills Competition for sinking a full-length shot through a small hole during the Four Line Challenge, is keen on the idea, but a little hesitant.

“I wouldn’t want to skate,” he said. “I would want to stand still. I think Accuracy would be the one.”

When I asked him if he’d want something like the Four Line Challenge brought back, he simply said, “I couldn’t do that again.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are celebrating their 25th season, and the city of Tampa will host the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. The League’s midseason showcase will take place at AMALIE Arena and will include the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) and 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Injuries could be issue for Islanders’ defense

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Life has generally been smiling on the New York Islanders lately.

On the ice, Mathew Barzal continues to rise as a star, including last night’s overtime-winner. The Isles also won a bid to build a new arena at Belmont Park. Correct or not, both developments make people optimistic about John Tavares sticking around beyond this season, the most important development of them all.

Not every headline is a happy one, though.

The Isles’ defense could be in for some serious challenges going forward, as two important blueliners could be sidelined for some time with injuries.

For one thing, around the holiday break, it was revealed that Calvin de Haan might need to undergo surgery, threatening to end his season. Today brought another unfortunate development, as the Islanders announced that Johnny Boychuk is considered week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

The Islanders recalled the other Sebastian Aho (139th pick in 2017), a blueliner who’s been quite impressive with 20 points in 29 AHL games so far this season.

That’s the good part: getting a young defenseman an opportunity. It’s tough to spin it too positively beyond that, unless you’re merely not sold on Boychuk and/or de Haan. So far, Boychuk ranks second among Islanders skaters in ice time (20:40) while de Haan comes in fourth (18:44).

To be fair, the two defensemen haven’t been setting the world on fire with those minutes in recent games, so maybe the drop-off won’t actually be so bad for the Islanders.

Still, in a brutally competitive Metropolitan Division, they don’t have a ton of room to stumble.

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.

Stricter faceoff rules have put some defensemen in an ‘unnatural’ position

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Well, this is awkward.

Stricter rule enforcement in the National Hockey League has led to more defensemen taking draws this season and, well, it has been a challenge – even for some of the best players in the world.

“It’s a little bit unnatural,” Arizona Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn said. “It’s not something you see all the time. You see a D-man go in there, you’re probably not going to win too many of them.”

Such is life for NHL defensemen these days, thrown into the faceoff circle to do something they never figured was in their job description. Like position players taking the mound to pitch in a Major League Baseball game or NFL running backs having to throw a pass, defensemen aren’t accustomed to taking faceoffs and almost never work on it in practice. But this season, defensemen are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory much more often as officials order forwards out of the circle for failing to follow the protocol .

Faceoffs are one of the most tactical elements in hockey, a chess match played out over a couple of seconds between players who have spent much of their lives perfecting their craft to win possession of the puck. Blindingly fast work with sticks and leverage are key. It’s no place for bigger defensemen with their longer sticks, most of whom are far more comfortable handling the puck once it’s won back to them.

Eleven different defensemen have taken a faceoff so far this season and 64 since 3-on-3 overtime was instituted in 2015-16. No matter how many times it happens or how awkward, it’s on the highlight reel and becomes the subject of ribbing from teammates.

“They’re going to give you a hard time because they know it’s not something you do all the time,” Calgary Flames defenseman Michael Stone said. “If you do win one, it’s pure excitement, I think, from everybody.”

Defensemen have been involved in 92 faceoffs over the past two-plus seasons and have won only about a third of them. Maybe a few of the unlikely victories have come from being underestimated.

“It’s funny that when you get a D-man in, a lot of times those centermen relax and the D-men are all-in,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who grew up playing defense. “There’s a lot of cheers that go on when a defenseman goes in there and wins a draw.”

Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning is 6-foot-6 and a Norris Trophy finalist as one of the best defensemen in the league. He recently was pressed into faceoff duty on a penalty kill in overtime. No pressure, right?

Hedman put his stick down, beat Columbus center Nick Foligno and is now a perfect 1 for 1. He was stunned.

“The guys were probably as shocked as I was that I actually won it,” Hedman said. “I could probably not do it again. I guess my timing was perfect in that moment.”

Call it perfect timing, call it luck or call it whatever you want. New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is 3 for 4 in his career but still remembers losing his first faceoff and getting mad about it.

Of course, Boychuk has put “zero” practice time into it and has a simple, albeit ugly, strategy.

“You just tie up,” Boychuk said. “Try to tie up, at least, and smack it to the wall. Tell the person that you’re going to try to shoot it to.”

Or maybe just lose it intentionally, suggested Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so everyone on your team knows where the puck is going. Because, c’mon, this is probably not going to end well.

“Centermen are so good at faceoffs now, you’re probably going to lose it anyway,” Gardiner said. “You’re kind of just going in there and hoping for the best.”

Hedman is no faceoff specialist like Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews. And defensemen face another twist of pressure in addition to trying to a) win the draw and b) avoid taking a faceoff violation penalty trying to do something they aren’t good at:

“For a defenseman, if you lose it you’ve just got to make sure you get into your position right away and make sure you focus on playing D,” Hedman said. “Just make sure that you don’t lose it too clean that they get a scoring opportunity right away. You just try and do as good a job as you possibly can and try and win it obviously, but it’s pretty tough.”

In 19 NHL seasons, Islanders coach Doug Weight took thousands of faceoffs. But he hadn’t thought much about asking defensemen to practice faceoffs – until now.

“Later in periods it’s so prevalent getting thrown out now that you want guys that can come in and take a draw,” Weight said. “The only occasion where we’d have a D is if you’re down 4-on-3, 5-on-3. Obviously it’s a huge piece of puck possession.”

Puck possession? Sure, that’d be great, but most defensemen just don’t want to get embarrassed.

After years of practicing against his brother Mark, a forward for the Ottawa Senators, Stone wants to make sure he at least makes things interesting.

“I’m mostly just playing not to get beat clean,” Stone said. “I’m not looking to win a faceoff clean, especially on that kind of a play. You just try not to get beat clean, do whatever you can to kind of push that in the direction of your guys.”

When Washington defenseman John Carlson stepped in recently for a draw in overtime, he had a sterling record: He had won his lone NHL faceoff. But he lost this one an cursed teammates for not letting him practice faceoffs.

Even though Carlson lost his second career faceoff attempt, he scored the game-winning goal to quiet the razzing from his teammates. Hedman won his and wants his faceoff days to be over.

“Hopefully I don’t have to take any more,” he said, “so I stay 100 percent for the rest of my career.”

McAvoy ready to make an impact for Bruins

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Prized Boston Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins last postseason out of necessity. The team was dealing with a rash of injuries on the blue line, and McAvoy, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, just happened to be the next man up. At just 19 years of age and with only minimal pro hockey experience on his resume McAvoy found himself playing playing more than 26 minutes per night in the Stanley Cup Playoffs alongside a future Hall of Famer in Zdeno Chara.

Even though the Bruins’ season came to an end in that first-round matchup against the Ottawa Senators, McAvoy showed them a promising glimpse of their future on defense.

Now he is ready for a full-time role with the team this upcoming season.

He spoke to the Bruins’ website this week about that first NHL experience and what he can learn from that when it comes to making the Bruins’ opening night roster this season.

From Eric Russo of the Bruins website.

“I think that the experience I had last year was an unbelievable opportunity,” said McAvoy, who joined 13 of his teammates for a captain’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday morning.

“That experience was so valuable for myself to get familiar with the organization and the team itself, and I can use that now heading in for the full year, the rookie camp, opening the season, all of those things.

“I’m excited to have a full year and I can definitely use all of those experiences that I had to make sure I’m ready to go.”

McAvoy’s developmemt has to be exciting for the Bruins because their defense, the team’s greatest strength just a few years ago, has taken some significant steps backwards in recent seasons due to trades (Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton) and age (Chara getting older, Dennis Seidenberg moving on).

But there is hope on the horizon with some of the young talent that has been assembled on the back end.

Torey Krug has developed into one of the most productive offensive defensemen in the league, while Brandon Carlo had a really promising rookie season, appearing in every game and playing at a high level for a 20-year-old.

Now McAvoy is ready to join the picture and give the Bruins another young and potential impact player.

The Bruins have a lot of talent up front with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and David Pastrnak (once they get him signed) leading the way, and now they have a pretty strong group of young, offensive minded defensemen that can get the puck to them and help create chances.

Senators are getting a bargain now, but keep an eye on that Erik Karlsson contract situation

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This post is part of Senators Day on PHT…

Erik Karlsson wasn’t playing at nearly 100 per cent during the Stanley Cup playoffs — and he was still by far Ottawa’s best player in their run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not only was he Ottawa’s best player, he was often the best player on the ice between the Senators and their opponents, despite playing through a foot injury. That landed him a vote for the Conn Smythe, despite the fact his club came oh-so-close but ultimately didn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final.

While brilliant in the playoffs, he paid quite a price.

The surgery on his injured left foot took place in the middle of June and requires a four-month recovery. The Senators remain hopeful that their best player will be ready for the beginning of the regular season in October.

While Karlsson gets plenty of accolades for the skill he possesses and his ability to log big minutes during regular season and playoffs — making it look easy at times, too — he may not get enough credit for just how durable he’s been over the last four years.

He had a string of three consecutive seasons in which he played the full 82-game schedule. That streak was interrupted in March at 324 consecutive games played due to his injury suffered right before the playoffs.

As Mark Stone aptly put it at the time: “He’s the best defenceman in the world. If you take him out of your lineup, it’s obviously a huge blow.”

The Senators have a number of key contributors like Craig Anderson in goal and Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman — among others — up front. But the success of this team hinges greatly on Karlsson being in the lineup and healthy enough to play. Even on one healthy foot, he showed he was still capable of carrying Ottawa, but the Senators will gladly take him at 100 per cent health in two months time.

Off the ice, it’s worth mentioning that Karlsson has only two years remaining on his contract before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. At a $6.5 million cap hit, you could argue that for what Karlsson provides them every game — not just the points (71 in 77 games this past season) but being able to play almost 27 minutes per game on average — Ottawa is getting a bargain on that seven-year contract right now.

Karlsson is a premier defenseman at the age of 27, and yet his $7 million salary for next season is at the same level as Jeff Petry, Alex Pietrangelo and Johnny Boychuk, per CapFriendly. For Karlsson, that number does bump up to $7.5 million in the final year of his contract.

That is, of course, going to change with his next deal.

The Senators have benefited greatly from having one of the game’s best players on their blue line. He showed that once again in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s won the Norris Trophy twice and has four nominations in total.

And it won’t be long before the Senators will have to pay accordingly in order to keep Karlsson in Ottawa.