Phil Kessel

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Phil Kessel doesn’t really care about scoring title: ‘I have two Cups’

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the possibility of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel potentially winning the NHL scoring title this season.

Since then Nikita Kucherov has kind of distanced himself a little bit in the race and has re-opened an eight-point lead over the rest of the pack, as well as a 10-point lead over Kessel.

On Friday, Kessel was asked about winning the scoring title and if he’s following the race between his teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid, and Claude Giroux.

He gave a pretty honest — and awesome — answer.

“I got two Cups,” said Kessel, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Doesn’t really matter.”

That pretty much settles that, doesn’t it?

[Related: Phil Kessel Joins Exclusive Hot Dog Hockey Card Club, Thanks To Upper Deck]

As of Friday Kessel is tied with Crosby, Malkin, McDavid and Giroux, all of whom have 66 points.

Stamkos is third in the league with 67 points, one point back of Gaudreau with 68 points.

All of them are chasing Kucherov’s 76 points.

The scoring title wasn’t the only thing that prompted Kessel to reference the Penguins’ past two Stanley Cup wins. With the team that traded him to Pittsburgh — the Toronto Maple Leafs — in town for a game on Saturday night Kessel was asked if he still gets fired up to face his former team, to which he responded (via @PensInsideScoop): “I don’t really care anymore. It’s my third year and we’ve won twice. It’s in the past.”

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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.

Phil Kessel joins exclusive hot dog hockey card club, thanks to Upper Deck (Photo)

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Upper Deck released its Series 2 set of hockey cards this week and included is a insert set featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and their days with the Stanley Cup from this past summer. Among the 12 cards, which includes Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux, is a very unique photo for the card of Phil Kessel, two-time Stanley Cup champion.

In August, when it was Kessel’s day, he spent part of it at a golf course with friends and family, which included him posing with hot dogs inside the Cup’s bowl. You might recall a silly and later debunked story from the Toronto Sun in 2015 that said Kessel would grab a daily dog from a certain vendor near his condo in the city. It even inspired a tattoo!

Clearly, Phil got wind of the story and decided to dunk on Steve Simmons, to the delight of many.

Kessel now has something in common with long-time NHL netminder Olaf Kolzig, who was captured on a 1995-96 Pinnacle card about to down a hot dog with his name spelled out in mustard.

Kolzig told the Washington Post in 1996 that he never did eat that hot dog and the idea came about when he asked card photographers what’s the weirdest hockey card they ever made. Then “the guy handed me a hot dog with my name written in mustard on it.”

We relish the thought that this could start a trend in the hobby.

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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.

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

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Flyers worth watching

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Philadelphia Flyers did something that should have been nearly impossible a season ago by winning 10 games in a row and then somehow missing the playoffs. How does that even happen?

This season they are trying to reverse that performance.

After losing 10 games in a row earlier this season the Flyers now find themselves in a pretty good position to make the playoffs.

After their win in Vegas on Sunday night (only the fourth team to win a game in Vegas in regulation this season) the Flyers find themselves in third place in the Metropolitan Division, just one point behind the second place Penguins and five points behind the first place Washington Capitals. They also have a five-point cushion over the pack of non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

Since that 10-game losing streak came to an end the Flyers are 20-8-2 in the 30 games that have followed. That is a 115-point pace over 82 games.

How many teams have a better record over that stretch? Two. The Boston Bruins and the Vegas Golden Knights.

They have three of the top-17 point producers in the NHL in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier (Giroux and Voracek are both in the top-seven), a great power forward in Wayne Simmonds, and some really intriguing young talent in Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nolan Patrick. They just need to get a little more out of Brian Elliott to really be on to something.

They have been on the rise in our power rankings in recent weeks and check in this week just outside of the top-10.

Here is the rest of the list.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The Lightning have been the top team in the NHL from almost day one. Great group of forwards. One of the top defenseman in the NHL. A front-line starting goalie. Now try to imagine them with Ryan McDonagh on their blue line on top of all of that. It could happen.

2. Boston Bruins — Tuukka Rask went nearly two months between losses in regulation. With him playing like an elite goalie once again the Bruins look like they are going to be a force. Patrice Bergeron is having another wonderful season. Is he an MVP candidate? Maybe he should be. History is not kind to his chances though.

3. Vegas Golden Knights — The more I watch the Golden Knights the more I think they have a legitimate shot to win the Western Conference. Fast. Skilled up front. Good goaltending. They have a lot going for them.

4. Nashville Predators — How much will Mike Fisher be able to provide? Expectations should be kept within reason, but their center depth is ridiculous. That was their biggest undoing in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. Should not be a problem this year.

The Strong Contenders

5. Winnipeg Jets — The fact they kept winning as much as they did without Mark Scheifele in the lineup is a great example as to how deep this team has become.

6. Washington Capitals — Are they as good as their record? Tough to say because they give up a ton of shots and their possession numbers are not great, but Braden Holtby is a game-changer. So is that Alex Ovechkin guy.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — Their big three up front with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel is still on a roll right now. Also starting to get on a little bit of  a roll lately? Matt Murray. If he gets going again for this team, watch out.

8. Dallas Stars — Okay, maybe I undersold the Stars a bit in last week’s power rankings. Let’s try to correct that this week.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs — Their defense stinks, but they have a ridiculous group of forwards that can score with anybody in the NHL and a goalie that is playing really, really, really well. They have a tough path through the playoffs, but it is still an exciting team. They have also won eight of their past 10 games entering play on Monday.

10. St. Louis Blues — They do not seem to get a lot of love but they have a really good record, one of the best players in the world in Vladimir Tarasenko, and have won eight of their past 12 games.

Close To Contenders

11. Philadelphia Flyers — At least they are never boring. They have been one of the best teams in the league over the past two months.

12. Los Angeles Kings — I really don’t know what to make of this team. They enter the week on the outside of the playoff picture … but they are also two points away from being in second place in the Pacific Division. They also have the fourth best goal differential in the Western Conference and are still tough to score against and control possession.

The Middle Of The Pack

13. San Jose Sharks — After a slow start to the season Brent Burns is once again one of the top scoring defenders in the NHL. They are going to need him to carry the offense with Joe Thornton sidelined.

14. Minnesota Wild — This is where things start to get a little bit messy in the West. A bunch of teams all thrown together, only separated by a handful of points. The Wild with a healthy Zach Parise and Nino Neiderreiter could be an intriguing team out of that group.

15. Calgary Flames — They better hope Mike Smith‘s injury is not serious. He has been really good this season and they can not afford to lose him.

16. New Jersey Devils — They are trending in the wrong direction. Fortunately they built themselves a nice cushion early in the season, but that cushion is getting smaller and smaller with each loss.

17. Anaheim Ducks — I keep thinking a healthy Ducks team could make a big move but it hasn’t really happened yet. Losses in four of their past six have not helped.

18. Carolina Hurricanes — They keep hanging around and are not going away. They open the week in a playoff spot and have a pretty good shot to end that postseason drought.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets — Really disappointing team right now. I thought the addition of Artemi Panarin was going to be a game-changer for them. He has been great, but the rest of the offense has gone in the tank lately. Now they are in a fight just to make the playoffs.

20. New York Islanders — They are dangerously close to wasting what has been a great offense and great seasons from John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Mat Barzal. The latter is having one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in the NHL in years.

21. Colorado Avalanche — After winning 10 in a row the Avalanche have now dropped six of their past nine. Losing Nathan MacKinnon has hurt a ton.

22. New York Rangers — They pretty much admitted they are going to be sellers and trade off anyone they can. They are still “in it” but once they start dealing players like Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, and perhaps even Ryan McDonagh or Mats Zuccarello, it is hard to see them being in it for much longer.

Buy A Lottery Ticket

23. Florida Panthers — They had a nice winning streak to make things a little interesting, but it was probably too little, too late.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — After losing to the Minnesota Wild in regulation the Blackhawks sit 10 points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them. That might have been it for the Blackhawks this season. Corey Crawford might be back soon but he can not save this season.

25. Detroit Red Wings — Having a 5-2 lead with six minutes to play and then losing by giving up four goals on a five-minute power play might have been one of the low points of the season.

26. Montreal Canadiens — The Canadiens current players are probably tired of hearing about P.K. Subban, but that’s too bad. Historically dumb trades that set a franchise back always get remembered and talked about.

27. Vancouver Canucks — They dominated the Dallas Stars to end what had been a pretty miserable four-game road trip. So they at least have that going for them.

28. Ottawa Senators — They did win four of their past six games but … this team is still not very good. Neither is the entire situation with the team. Like the Rangers they recently hinted that a rebuild is on the way.

29. Edmonton Oilers — There was a four-game stretch here recently where Connor McDavid scored seven goals and recorded 10 points. The Edmonton Oilers won only one of those games. That pretty much sums up what this team is right now. Connor McDavid then a bunch of guys just occupying the roster.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel was the only thing this team really had going for it right now. Now he is injured with a high ankle sprain.

31. Arizona Coyotes — It is not a matter of effort, it is simply a lack of talent. A ridiculously young team with too many holes to compete.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: U.S. rallies, Canada dominates in Olympic women’s hockey

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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.

• United States rallies, defeats Finland 3-1 in women’s hockey in PyeongChang. (NBC Olympics)

• Desbiens, Canada shut out Olympic Athletes from Russia (NBC Olympics)

• Meghan Duggan: ‘We’re on a mission’ (NBC Olympics)

• Could the Winter Olympics be the start for Chris Chelios’ coaching career? (Yahoo Sports)

• Team Canada needs to envoke the spirit of Gerard Gallant (Greatest Hockey Legends)

• Chris Kelly living out a dream once too big to fathom (Toronto Star)

• Pierre Dorion’s plan to get Ottawa good again is about to begin (Ottawa Sun)

• Steve Yzerman doesn’t believe that overpaying for players at the trade deadline will lead to a Cup. (Tampa Bay Times)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

• It’s hard to be bad with an Art Ross contender (Oilers Nation)

• PHT’s Adam Gretz asks the question: Is Phil Kessel getting enough credit for the season he’s having? (FanRag)

• Meet Jay-Sharrers, the NHL’s first black official (Sportsnet)

• Blackhawks raising season ticket prices by 4 percent amid losing season (Second City Hockey)

• What will be is what will be for the Islanders at the trade deadline (The Sports Daily)

Brian Boyle‘s mother inspired by cancer-surviving son (NHL.com)

• Tiger Williams charged with sexual assault during military flight (CBC.ca)

• Notable absence of present stars among NHL’s all-time scoring leaders (Spector’s Hockey)