Author: James O'Brien

Evgeni Malkin, James Neal

Malkin did not see the Neal trade coming


However Evgeni Malkin feels about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to trade James Neal, it sounds like he didn’t have a say in it.

In fact, he was just as surprised as the rest of the hockey world when the Pens sent his best friend to Nashville for a package that included Patric Hornqvist. The 28-year-old told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “I was surprised my buddy Nealer was traded.”

“They did not talk to me (about the trade),” Malkin said. “I read about it in the paper. Nealer texted me the whole summer that he didn’t know what was going on or why he was traded. But it’s a new GM. It’s his job. He never asked me.”

Obviously, GM Jim Rutherford is in no way required to run a trade by players, even ones as crucial and talented as Malkin. That said, if Neal resumes his work as one of the leading power forwards in the NHL while Hornqvist struggles and the Penguins sputter, hindsight will not smile upon Rutherford’s bold move. The mixed reaction for Malkin likely won’t help matters, either.

After all, Malkin won his lone Hart Trophy running roughshod over the NHL alongside Neal in 2011-12, scoring 50 goals and 109 points in 75 games. Combine that production with their personal connection and it’s understandable that “Geno” was displeased with the swap.

On the bright side, Malkin’s first impression with new head coach Mike Johnston seems far more positive. The Penguins star said he was surprised that Johnston visited him in Russia, and it certainly sounds like it was a deft move.

Really, if a player can only enjoy strong communication with a head coach or a general manager, being closer with the bench boss is likely the best choice, right? Maybe?

Related: Despite feeling good, Malkin’s a toss-up for the Penguins’ season-opener

Lupul says Leafs are no longer a ‘three-line team’

St. Louis Blues v Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s no secret that Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul isn’t a fan of the type of stats that his team is now embracing, whether you call them “advanced” or “fancy.” His comments to the Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle still emphasize the changes the Buds are making, even if there’s an undercurrent of resistance running through some of the quotes.

Lupul said that no one’s really throwing Corsi and Fenwick around on a day-to-day basis, yet the points of emphasis argue that the culture is changing, semantics or not.

“We’ve talked a lot about puck possession,” Lupul said. “That’s the one thing we’re going to try and change. Not to turn over pucks. And there’s been a change in [that] we’re going to try and hold onto the puck in our end as well.

“Obviously you want to do that in the opposition’s end. But in our end, it’s not that old mentality of the defenceman gets it, and it’s just get it out of your end. Off the glass and out of the zone. We’re going to try and possess the puck in our own zone and exit as a unit and go with speed.”

(If you hearing weeping, it might actually be the joyful sobbing of long-frustrated, stat-leaning Maple Leafs fans. Just act natural.)

The 31-year-old also spotlighted another potential area of improvement: trotting out better depth players.

That’s promising, but one wonders if key members of the organization might waver if there aren’t big overnight changes.

Frankly, it’s not exactly a guarded secret that NHL teams are waking up to the importance of puck possession, suiting up as many useful players as possible and reducing the amount of times they needlessly dump the puck. It’s debatable if the Maple Leafs boast the kind of players who can drive play even if head coach Randy Carlyle bows to altered organizational pressures.

Lupul’s own numbers are up and down in that area, although the expanded emphasis on a variety of contextual factors – such as noting his rather high amount of defensive zone starts last season – implies that a guy like Lupul (and maybe a team like Toronto) can turn the corner.

If nothing else, the Maple Leafs remain an expensive and fascinating “lab experiment” for many of these stats-based arguments, even if guys like Lupul probably just roll their eyes when they overhear such slap-fights.

‘Not our party’ – Sharks plan to skip Kings’ banner ceremony

Todd McLellan

When you give up a 3-0 series lead against hated rivals, you’re bound to hear about it over and over again.

The San Jose Sharks are pretty much certain to absorb questions and barbs about their first-round collapse against the Los Angeles Kings well beyond the point of sickness. There is one painful ritual the Sharks will opt to skip, however; San Jose will stay in the visitors locker room while the Kings raise their 2014 Stanley Cup banner, according to the Mercury News’ David Pollak.

“It’s not our party, it’s theirs,” Head coach Todd McLellan said.

That’s … probably for the best.

That said, while cameras won’t capture their awkward on-ice reactions to a ceremony that will likely pour salt in still-fresh wounds, San Jose won’t be able to avoid memories of a series that slipped away. depicts what’s likely to be a repetitive stream of recollections regarding the Sharks’ agonizing defeat and the very awkward offseason that followed:

Wednesday won’t be the last time the Sharks are reminded of what happened, as the NHL has firmly recognized that their rivalry with Los Angeles is one of the best going right now. A behind-the-scenes reality show will lead into the Sharks-Kings outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21, and all five meetings between the clubs will be broadcast nationally in the United States.

Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press conference last Thursday that the Sharks and Kings meeting on opening night in front of a national audience was no accident.

Naturally, the Sharks are putting a “make the best of it” spin on the situation, and it’s not as if there’s zero precedent to a team bouncing back from such a crushing failure. The Boston Bruins memorably bounced back from coughing up a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia in 2010 to win the 2011 Stanley Cup.

It’s obviously easier said than done, but it sounds like the Sharks are eager to prove that the Kings didn’t break their spirits.

“You just have to go out and prove it,” Logan Couture told “There’s nothing you can sit here and say. Your actions speak louder than words and we just have to go out and prove people wrong.”

Here’s some more from Joe Pavelski:

Quick Hits: Heatley, Franson among notable IR placements

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings

PHT already made note of some significant (and smaller) IR moves on Tuesday, but in a quest to graciously save you some clicks, here’s a collection of some of the other injured reserve placements of note. Some could be a pretty big deal, too.

(Note: this is a good spot to mention other IR assignments in the comments section if there are any important omissions.)

(Note: Rotoworld’s a helpful resource for injury updates small and large. If you ever need a quick look at league-wide injuries, this page is a great resource.)

Scrivens or Fasth? Oilers keep goalie battle open

Mikkel Boedker, Ben Scrivens

The Edmonton Oilers dealt with a dizzying goaltending carousel last season, so one might understand if the organization decided to lean toward stability in 2014-15. It doesn’t sound like they’re eager to hand the top gig to one guy just yet, though.

With the Oilers’ season-opener rapidly approaching on Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reports that Ben Scrivens (pictured) and Viktor Fasth remain in the dark regarding who will get the nod.

It sounds like head coach Dallas Eakins wouldn’t be perturbed if that level of discomfort runs through this coming campaign.

“I hope we have a split and each plays 41 games,” Eakins said.

Stability vs. competition

Naturally, both goaltender said that they’d like to play against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, and in general. There aren’t many goalies who would refuse starts, aside from the occasional alleged Jaroslav Halak anomaly.

Here’s the thing: it’s not outrageous to wonder if a lack of security and an abundance of competition might actually benefit a goalie (or at least the team employing that netminder). More and more NHL teams seem to suffer with goalies whose long-term deals look ugly in hindsight (most obviously Rick DiPietro and Roberto Luongo, most recently with guys like Cam Ward). The most amusing single stat in favor of the spirit of competition comes from the 2013 Stanley Cup Final: all four goalies were in contract years in that series.

A glance at both goalies

Beyond those more abstract thoughts, the Oilers employ two goalies who could feasibly go in either direction, as each guy has limited resumes that feature flashes of brilliance.

Scrivens, 28, set a new career-high with 40 games played last season, putting up nice numbers in very different situations between his time with the Los Angeles Kings and 21 games with Edmonton (a 9-11-0 record but a solid .916 save percentage with the Oilers). Scrivens only has 72 games of NHL experience, but with a career .917 save percentage, it’s reasonable to hope for solid work. Also, AHL success only means so much, yet it’s obviously more promising to see a guy succeed at other levels, and Scrivens fits that bill.

Despite being 32, Fasth is actually the less NHL-proven of the two.

On the bright side, he was pretty dazzling in his debut campaign with the Anaheim Ducks, going 15-6-2 with four shutouts and a .921 save percentage in 2012-13. Last season was a nightmare, however, as injuries and the Ducks’ wealth of goalie options made for a tough season for the Swede. After five rough games with the Ducks, he was traded to Edmonton and looked pretty good (3-3-1, .914 save percentage) in limited work with Edmonton.

Still, Fasth only has 37 NHL games on his resume, as he surfaced on scouts’ radars with some strong international play in taking an unusual path to the big time.


Ultimately, the Oilers may very well possess two starting-caliber goalies … or zero. Scrivens and Fasth have accomplished nice things in their limited opportunities, but the bottom line is that they’ve appeared in 102 regular season games combined.

Much like with Fasth’s former team in Anaheim, open competition may actually end being beneficial. Eakins might grow tired of asking these questions on a game-by-game basis, however.