Jason Brough

Gary Bettman, Bill Foley
AP

Report: NHL picks Vegas for expansion

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The Associated Press, citing a “person with direct knowledge of the NHL’s decision,” is reporting that the league has picked Las Vegas for an expansion team.

From the Associated Press:

The person spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because details have not been released by the league ahead of its Board of Governors meeting on June 22. Quebec City was also considered for expansion.

A second person who had been briefed on the decision said Las Vegas was a “done deal” following the recommendation of the NHL’s executive committee. 

The 2017-18 season would be the earliest the league would expand.

Assuming the report is accurate, this is the avenue most expected the NHL to choose — expand to Las Vegas, hold off for now on Quebec City.

As mentioned, the Board of Governors is set to meet June 22 in Las Vegas, before the NHL Awards. That’s when commissioner Gary Bettman has said to expect the official word on expansion.

Related: Bill Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas

UFA of the Day: Jason Demers

Jason Demers, Justin St. Pierre
AP
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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Jason Demers

He’s not the flashiest player, but he’s probably the best right-shot defenseman that could hit the market, and that means he’s going to get paid.

Demers, 27, had seven goals and 16 assists in 62 games for the Stars in 2015-16. He logged 20:52 of ice time per contest, spending time on both the power play and penalty kill.

Dallas GM Jim Nill has three UFA d-men to decide on: Demers, Alex Goligoski, and Kris Russell. And with right shots John Klingberg and Stephen Johns under club control, Demers could be deemed expendable. (There’s been speculation that Goligoski will be the one Nill pushes to re-sign.)

If Demers does test the market, his list of potential suitors could be a long one. The Panthers just cleared a bunch of cap space, and they’ll need to replace Erik Gudbranson after trading him to Vancouver. The Oilers badly need more capable defensemen, and their coach, Todd McLellan, knows Demers from their time together in San Jose.

Demers could end up being a consolation prize of sorts for teams that are unable to land a right-shot d-man in a trade. Kevin Shattenkirk, Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen, and Jacob Trouba have all heard their names comes up in rumors, but it remains to be seen if any of them will actually be moved.

Other pending UFA d-men that shoot right include Luke Schenn, Ben Lovejoy, and Roman Polak. And if the Penguins don’t qualify Justin Schultz, him too.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

Penguins are 8/1 favorites to win Cup next year

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There’s been no repeat Stanley Cup winner during the salary-cap era, and none in almost two decades, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are the favorites to win the next Cup at online bookmaker Bovada.

The Pens are at 8/1. They’re closely followed by the Blackhawks and Capitals, each at 10/1. This year’s other finalist, the Sharks, are at 14/1.

The longest shots in 2016-17 are the Sabres and Maple Leafs, each at 66/1.

Here’s the full list:

Pittsburgh Penguins 8/1
Chicago Blackhawks 10/1
Washington Capitals 10/1
St. Louis Blues 12/1
Los Angeles Kings 14/1
San Jose Sharks 14/1
Tampa Bay Lightning 14/1
Anaheim Ducks 16/1
Dallas Stars 16/1
Detroit Red Wings 18/1
Minnesota Wild 18/1
Nashville Predators 18/1
New York Rangers 18/1
Montreal Canadiens 20/1
New York Islanders 20/1
Boston Bruins 25/1
Florida Panthers 25/1
Philadelphia Flyers 25/1
Colorado Avalanche 33/1
Calgary Flames 40/1
Edmonton Oilers 40/1
Ottawa Senators 40/1
Arizona Coyotes 50/1
Carolina Hurricanes 50/1
Columbus Blue Jackets 50/1
New Jersey Devils 50/1
Vancouver Canucks 50/1
Winnipeg Jets 50/1
Buffalo Sabres 66/1
Toronto Maple Leafs 66/1

The Penguins played great defense their own way

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SAN JOSE — For all the talk about the Penguins’ balanced scoring and how Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin didn’t have to do it all anymore, it was their ability to keep the puck out of their own net that head coach Mike Sullivan spoke about after winning the Stanley Cup.

“As I’ve said to them all along, I know our team is going to score goals,” said Sullivan. “In order to win championships, you got to keep it out of your net. You have to become a team that is stingy defensively. Everybody has to buy in to that idea for us to get to where we want to go. To their credit, they did, down to a man.”

Pittsburgh finished the playoffs with a 16-8 record, and a 2.29 goals-against average. In six games against the Sharks, the Pens never allowed more than 26 shots, and that included two games that went to overtime. That sure made Matt Murray‘s job a lot easier in goal. The rookie was solid in all four of his wins during the Final, but he didn’t have to stand on his head.

And by the way, the Penguins didn’t play heavy defensive hockey, the kind the Kings used to win a couple of Cups. The Pens used their main asset — their speed — to keep the big, powerful Sharks at bay.

“Their speed, the pressure they put on with their speed,” said San Jose coach Pete DeBoer. “It’s not just their speed, they have good sticks, too. They force you into quicker decisions.”

Let that be a lesson — you don’t need to be big to play good defense. But you need to play it somehow, however you can, because good defense wins Cups.

Goals against of past seven Stanley Cup champs
2015-16 Penguins (6th, 2.43)
2014-15 Blackhawks (2nd, 2.27)
2013-14 Kings (1st, 2.05)
2012-13 Blackhawks (1st, 2.02)
2011-12 Kings (2nd, 2.07)
2010-11 Bruins (2nd, 2.30)
2009-10 Blackhawks (6th, 2.48)

From frustration to appreciation, it all came together for the Pittsburgh Penguins

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SAN JOSE — You don’t win the Stanley Cup without going through a little adversity along the way. There’s always a low point in the season, when things just aren’t clicking and everyone’s wondering what’s wrong. It’s never a smooth ride to the top.

Teams say this all the time when they capture hockey’s ultimate prize.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins, boy, did they take the whole adversity thing to the extreme in 2015-16. The Pens didn’t just have a tough stretch early on. They didn’t just have a few kinks to work out. The Pens, let’s face it, were a downright mess.

Recall back in November following a 4-0 loss to New Jersey when Evgeni Malkin told reporters, “We’re not playing right. We’re not working hard. It’s tough right now. We’re mad at each other.”

Soon after that came a report, quickly denied, that captain Sidney Crosby had had a falling out with owner Mario Lemieux.

And soon after that head coach Mike Johnston was fired, replaced by Mike Sullivan.

The Pens proceeded to lose four in a row under Sullivan. They couldn’t score. All that talent and they couldn’t put the puck in the net.

A mess.

Then, slowly but surely, things started to turn. A few fresh tactics. A handful of new players. One good thing after another, it all kept coming together, and the Penguins started to roll.

Pittsburgh’s season culminated Sunday at SAP Center with nothing less than a Cup celebration.

“I don’t think you could expect it,” said defenseman Ian Cole. “When we were at that point in December when we had hit maybe our low point of the season, there was a lot of frustration built up, there was a lot of guys were extremely frustrated with how they were playing, how the team was playing.”

Sidney Crosby was the most notable of the slow starters. The captain had just 19 points in 28 games before the coaching change. He ended up hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

“Obviously after a coaching change, I think everyone takes that personal, puts the responsibility on their shoulders to be better,” said Crosby. “I think individually and as a group we had high expectations, we knew we needed to be better. I thought we just slowly got better and better.”

The owner credited Sullivan for the revival.

“When he came in, he changed the way we played the game,” said Lemieux. “We played a fast game, we played on our toes. It really changed the way we approached the game as well.”

The general manager agreed.

“Sully made an immediate connection with the players,” said Jim Rutherford. “He just has a special way about him, about the way he communicates. The players bought into it, they liked the style he played and then it just gained momentum from there.”

While Cole found it hard to pinpoint one major factor in the turnaround — “I don’t think you can say one thing specifically” — it was impossible not to think of Sullivan when he spoke.

“I think the tactics we had were fantastic, I think the ability to stick to the game plan, to not get away from it, to continue to play the full 60 minutes, I think was unparalleled for our team,” said Cole. “The ability to answer if things don’t go your way was unbelievable, the ability to block out all the noise, all the stuff that people were saying about our team and just play. It was something that was very special, very unique to this team.”

For Sullivan, it was simply a matter of finding the right style, then getting everyone to buy in.

“The one thing we tried to do was create an identity and establish an identity,” he said. “I thought as the head coach, it was my responsibility to direct that. So we look at our personnel. When we looked at the type of players we have, our core guys, we think we’ve got players that want to play fast.”

And play fast they did. In the end, it was the Penguins’ speed that nobody could stop. Not just skating fast, though certainly they had a few speedsters. But more moving-the-puck fast, from one end of the ice to the other. And when the other team had it, swarm. Get that puck back. Then go attack again.

In a word, they were relentless.

“Their speed, the pressure they put on with their speed,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. “It’s not just their speed, they have good sticks, too. They force you into quicker decisions. They really challenge your execution. We hadn’t seen pressure and sticks like that through the first three rounds. I think our execution was an issue because of that.”

It’s been a long seven years since the Penguins last won the Cup. The time between titles saw a lot of disappointment, a lot of frustration. And because of that, a lot of change.

“With the core we have, you think everyone’s going to stay together, the team’s not going to change,” said Crosby. “But it does. That’s kind of the reality of playing hockey. There’s turnover, things change, guys move on, different coaches. There’s so much change. So many different things need to happen. You need to have some luck along the way.”

And when it all comes together?

“I think you just appreciate it,” he said. “You appreciate how hard it is to win it.”