James O'Brien

Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings

Poll: Can Detroit make it 25 straight playoff runs?

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Many Detroit Red Wings fans roll their eyes whenever someone wonders if “this will be the year” their playoff streak ends, but isn’t that the nature of the beast?

It’s a pretty nice problem for a sports fan to have, at least.

While the situation got dicey at times, the Red Wings made it to the playoffs for a staggering 24th straight season in 2014-15. It’s true that they were bounced in the first round, yet the Tampa Bay Lightning struggled to dispatch them in seven games.

The “will they miss it this time?” question seems especially relevant this time around, however, as Mike Babcock’s decade-long run of excellence is now over. New head coach Jeff Blashill has some huge shoes to fill, even with some intriguing additions in Mike Green and Brad Richards.

So, what do you think? Will the Red Wings pull off 25 straight trips to the postseason?

NHL unveils ‘historic’ digital media rights deal with MLBAM

Beyond Sport United 2015
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In a way, baseball will power the way hockey fans consume a ton of digital NHL-related media going forward.

More specifically, MLBAM will be doing the heavy lifting, as the NHL announced a “historic” six-year deal with the service, which also apparently powers streaming services for companies ranging from ESPN to the WWE and CBS.

The short version: MLBAM will operate NHL.com and its team sites, the NHL Network, Game Center Live and Center Ice. It will “fully launch” in the first month of 2016.

Here’s a little more information from the press release:

The deal awards MLBAM rights to distribute live out-of-market games, including through the NHL GameCenter LIVE and NHL Center Ice subscription services in the United States and certain international markets. MLBAM will operate NHL.com, including the League’s seven native language sites, and Club websites. MLBAM will operate NHL apps and be available to develop apps for the Clubs. The NHL and MLBAM will partner on the design and development of new digital products and platforms. The NHL and its Clubs retain editorial control across all platforms. The Emmy-Award winning MLB Network will provide studio space and production resources for the NHL Network for distribution in the United States and certain international markets.

There are some interesting side notes to this announcement, including a benefit that may be seen on the ice rather than on a screen.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman provides more details (including some bits that should hearten fans as far as GIFs and highlights go), including a little more on the financial aspects of the agreement:

The annual breakdown: a $100M rights fee to the NHL, $20M in savings from the league not having to invest in the capital resources/expertise it would take to go on its own, and $80M in equity in MLBAM’s technology business.

Please note that the league didn’t confirm such numbers:

Even if certain details may remain behind the scenes, the bottom line is that it could be a nice change for the league and fans alike.

Click here for the full NHL release with available official details, but in summary, the league’s digital side received a significant boost from a service that’s widely considered the best of its kind. Ideally, the complaints people occasionally voice about services such as Game Center’s stream delays will be a thing of the past.

Red Wings’ biggest question: goaltending

howardmrazekgetty
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Jimmy Howard is getting paid like he’s the Detroit Red Wings’ starting goalie, but by no means is that role guaranteed for him.

There’s a solid chance that the Red Wings will enjoy good-to-great goaltending in 2015-16, yet there’s enough uncertainty surrounding the duo – will it be Howard, Petr Mrazek or a platoon scenario? – that the position stands as a question mark.

With about a $5.3 million cap hit that runs through 2018-19, the Red Wings likely hope that Howard can at least play well and often enough to drive up his trade value.

The 31-year-old boasts a respectable career save percentage of .916, yet the last two seasons have been marred by inconsistency and injuries. In both years, he played a bit more than 50 games, managed a so-so .910 save percentage and aroused some doubts along the way.

Meanwhile, it seemed like Mrazek jumped in line a bit, especially when he snared the No. 1 duty during Detroit’s tight first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 25-year-old put up great numbers in the regular season and postseason, prompting GM Ken Holland to declare open competition after players cleared out their lockers back in May:

“My message to those guys today was professional sports is about competition and the competition begins again in September,” Holland said, according to NHL.com.

“If you didn’t like the way the season ended, then get in the gym and do the work and be ready to be better next season. If you liked the way it finished, then get in the gym and make sure things keep going your way.”

Again, this situation could in fact be pretty lucrative for the Red Wings, as both goalies have shown flashes of brilliance. Still, it’s at least something to ponder as training camp approaches.

Devils hire former coach (Noel) and GM (Savard) as pro scouts

Claude Noel
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The New Jersey Devils beefed up their professional scouting department on Tuesday, as they announced the additions of Claude Noel and Andre Savard.

Savard and Noel join Bob Hoffmeyer in that specific scouting department for the Devils.

The two hirings really bolster the Devils’ staff from an experience perspective.

Savard, 61 spent time as an assistant coach, scout and even as a GM, as he held that position from Nov. 2000 through 2002-03 with the Montreal Canadiens. He remained as an assistant GM to Bob Gainey for a few more years before working with Devils GM Ray Shero in Pittsburgh.

Noel (pictured) may be more immediately recognizable to many fans, as he’s not very far removed from a head coaching gig with the Winnipeg Jets. The 59-year-old served in that role from 2011-12 to 2013-14 before spending part of last year with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.

Gus Katsaros of McKeen’s Hockey praised the moves as ways for the Devils to collect information that may not otherwise be available:

Obviously, Lou Lamoriello’s exit still leaves a crater behind in the Devils’ front office, but tweaks like these can help to fill some of that void.

In a way, this is like an NFL team grabbing a former head coach to work as a positions coach. Grabbing a few people who may seem a little “overqualified” for certain gigs could end up being pretty lucrative.

Caps GM provides positive injury updates for Backstrom, Orpik

Colorado Avalanche v Washington Capitals
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For all the exciting additions made this offseason, the Washington Capitals still must cross their fingers about a few injury situations.

Most obviously, they need Nicklas Backstrom’s hip surgery rehab to go well.

While it doesn’t sound like Capitals GM Brian MacLellan is guaranteeing that the outstanding playmaker will be available at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, his update was still positive, as the Washington Post reports.

“I think he’s progressing well,” MacLellan said during a Monday conference call. “I heard he started skating recently, so that’s a good sign.”

(Note: there’s no guarantee that Backstrom won’t be ready by the season-opener, either.)

Backstrom’s situation is still a work in progress, but it sounds like things are going especially well for hard-hitting defenseman Brooks Orpik. MacLellan noted that Orpik previously “managed” a wrist injury, finally decided to undergo surgery on it, and is expected to be “100 percent healthy” to start 2015-16.

There are quite a few reasons for Capitals fans to be optimistic about next season, and positive health news should only brighten those outlooks. Plenty can change in the next few months, yet it sounds like the word is so far, so good.