James O'Brien

Slater Koekkoek; Dion Phaneuf

Looking to make the leap: Slater Koekkoek

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Depending upon how you define “making the leap,” plenty of Tampa Bay Lightning youngsters could qualify for this post.

That’s part of what makes the group GM Steve Yzerman assembled so scary: there are a ton of quality prime-age players who broke through recently or may break through soon.

Even beyond the very-young Triplets, you have Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevskiy expecting bigger things, possibly as soon as 2015-16.

There are plenty of almost-there guys who can make the jump, too, from Adam Erne to Anthony DeAngelo.

Here’s a vote for Slater Koekkoek.

As the 10th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old seems like he’s primed for an arrival sooner rather than later.

He got his feet wet at the NHL level, playing in three games with the Bolts in 2014-15. While his AHL numbers won’t blow you away, the Lightning have every reason to give Koekkoek a chance to prove himself, as the likes of Nesterov, Andrej Sustr and even Matt Carle seemed to move in and out of Jon Cooper’s doghouse during the playoffs.

Speaking of Carle, he seemed impressed with the young blueliner’s skill when he debuted in April, as the Tampa Tribune reports.

“He skates really well, skated with the puck a lot and created a couple of chances on his own,” Carle said. “He was jumping up in plays. But I don’t think I played well enough to help him out. I kind of hung him out to dry on a couple of odd-man rushes. But he’s a talented kid who can skate well.”

Adding more mobility to a defense corps that includes Victor Hedman? That could leave Lightning fans leaping for joy.

It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos
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The Tampa Bay Lightning fell two wins short of the summit. At least they boast the sort of young legs that can hoist them back to similar heights, though, right?

Jonathan Toews was impressed with the push-back from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, even if he delivered that message in the form of a backhanded compliment. Negative types would say 2014-15 was a year of almost – nearly winning the division, coming that close to a Cup win – but most would agree that last year a big success.

The question is: will the Lightning look back at that run as the time they learned how to win the big game?

Time hasn’t always been kind to teams who fall in Stanley Cup Final rounds, although the Lightning have the makings of a team that could be here to say, perhaps running parallel to the Penguins (who lost in 2008 before winning it all in 2009).

Most obviously, the Lightning have the same coach and the same core players.

Off-season recap

Of course, one can look at that bounty of prime-age assets and think that the Lightning can make this last for ages.

Unless you’re a huge Brenden Morrow fan, the main cast members from the 2014-15 Bolts are returning for the sequel. The biggest changes are expected to be from internal growth: Jonathan Drouin may take a bigger role, Andrei Vasilevskiy could push Ben Bishop for starts and others hope to become full-time NHL players.

The biggest consideration comes when you ponder contracts that end after 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Most obviously, Steven Stamkos is in the last year of his contract, a fact that will likely make for distracting headlines.

One piece of “The Triplets” – Nikita Kucherov – will be an RFA after 2015-16. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will carry that same RFA status after 2017-18, and one would expect big upgrades from their matching $3.33 million cap hits. Even the goalie duo of Bishop and Vasilevskiy only hold two-year deals.

A quiet summer makes sense for the Lightning, yet it’s a bit foreboding, as many would prefer to see “Stamkos signs seven-year mega-deal” in this slot. Yzerman still has time to swing deals like those both before, during and after 2015-16, but looming cap challenges are the elephant in the room.

That’s a bummer for the future, yet the Lightning seem well-stocked for the shorter term.

PHT Morning Skate: Canucks skate back to uniform nostalgia, too

2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic - Ottawa Senators v Vancouver Canucks
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Honestly, NHL Twitter accounts doing a #NHLMovieNight was a little annoying at times on Thursday as people watched “D2: The Mighty Ducks,” but it did prompt an adorable dog moment that should brighten your day:

Speaking of nostalgia for things from the 90’s, the Vancouver Canucks will embrace one of their most popular old duds, at least for one night:

Check out the letter Andrew Ference sent out after he was snubbed by Central Scouting. It still took him until the eighth round (208th overall in 1997) to get drafted, though.

Ranking all 30 NHL teams by their off-season moves. (Sportsnet)

Why Mike Green could fit in really well with the Detroit Red Wings. (Eye on Hockey)

The Nashville Predators continue to tweak their brand. (Predators)

Doan isn’t in a rush to retire

Ian Wals, Shane Doan
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Brace yourself if you’re opposing the Arizona Coyotes: it doesn’t sound like Shane Doan is pondering retirement just yet.

Yes, the hard-hitting captain of the Coyotes does turn 39 in October.

He’s also an “old” 39; Doan has a whopping 1,394 regular season games* and 55 postseason contests under his belt. That’s a lot for any player, especially one who emphasizes such a physical style of play.

While it’s probably worth noting that he’s saying these things during the low-impact month of August, it’s still interesting that Doan told Fox Sports Arizona that he might want to play even after his contract expires after the 2015-16 season.

“I always want to approach it that way until I know I’m done,” Doan said. “I’d like to have a good year. If I feel I can still help the team and they still want me, we can go from there.”

Doan seems fairly happy about Arizona’s off-season, too. He believes that they’re going “back to that old pack mentality” that suited them well a few years ago.

One would assume that signs of progress would make Doan want to play quite a bit longer for the Coyotes … assuming that the feeling is mutual.

* – In case you’re wondering, Doan currently is tied with Stan Mikita at 35th place all-time with 1,394 games played. If he managed to appear in all 82 contests in 2015-16, he’d end that campaign ranked 20th overall.

Richards, NHLPA seem to have a good case against the Kings

Los Angeles Kings v New York Rangers
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From the viewpoint of at least one legal expert, it sounds like the NHLPA may have some success with its grievance filed against the Los Angeles Kings for terminating Mike Richards’ contract.

To remind you of the situation, the Kings seemed primed to buy out Richards, yet they instead terminated his deal while citing a “material breach” of his contract related to a border incident. As of this time, it doesn’t appear as though any charged surfaced from the reported incident. The NHLPA finally filed a grievance on Richards’ behalf a few days ago.

So, do the 30-year-old forward and the players’ union have a case? It sure sounds like, especially if Forbes’ Eric Macramalla is correct in his assessment.

The full explanation is worth your time, but the short version from Macramalla is that it comes down to how this terminated contract ignores the process laid about by the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse And Behavioral Program Policy.

The most severe discipline called for under the Drug Policy for repeated rehab failures is a one year suspension without pay with reinstatement at the discretion of the league. We do not know all the circumstances surrounding Richards. The starting point, however, is the Drug Policy and its prescribed treatment protocols.

The Drug Policy does not call for the termination of a player contract in the event of an arrest or conviction related to drugs. It calls for a lot less.

Macramalla points out something that’s sneakily the most important detail, though: it sounds like the situation will get a fair arbitrator.

The grievance will not be heard by Gary Bettman or Roger Goodell for that matter. This goes to an impartial arbitrator with extensive labor law experience.

That’s pretty huge, to be honest.

He also breaks down a recent history of grievances regarding terminated contracts in other sports, concluding that those situations often end up in a player’s favor.

Again, check out the Forbes piece if you’re even slightly interested in the situation, as there is a lot of great information.

One way or another, it should be a fascinating situation to watch, and an important decision regarding guaranteed contracts and the league’s drug policy.