Jason Brough

Video: Weber defends Hardest Shot title with 108.1 mph blast

NASHVILLE — Hometown favorite Shea Weber successfully defended his Hardest Shot title in today’s NHL All-Star Skills Competition.

Weber’s second attempt hit 108.1 mph on the radar gun. He won last year’s event in Columbus with a slightly higher speed of 108.5 mph.

The Predators captain was convinced to try “one more time” by the Bridgestone Arena crowd, but his third attempt failed to break Zdeno Chara‘s record of 108.8 mph.

John Scott took on Steven Stamkos in one of the head-to-head matches. The former topped out at a respectable 95.9 mph, but Stamkos won the match with a 103.9 mph blast.

With a million bucks on the line, will the players actually try in the All-Star Game?

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NASHVILLE — The problem with last year’s All-Star Game in Columbus is that the players didn’t really care who won, and it showed.

That’s kind of a blunt way of putting it, but for those who watched it — and that’s another story — it was pretty clear that the effort level was lacking. Defense wasn’t merely optional in the 17-12 affair; it was completely missing.

So the NHL changed the format. No more five-on-five for 60 minutes; this year, it’ll be a 3-on-3 tournament pitting the four divisions against each other.

And to help convince the players to, you know…try…the winning team will split a million bucks.

Will it work?

“You always play a little harder with something on the line,” said Ducks forward Corey Perry.

“We don’t need [the money], really, it’s just something we can play for,” said Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. “I think the fans are really going to enjoy it. I think, even as a player, we’re all going to enjoy it.”

It remains to be seen how much more effort the players will give. Nobody expects them to hit. Nobody expects them to lay out to block shots.

Just try a little bit harder than last year, and act like the final score matters a tiny bit.

That’s not too much to ask.

Related: Dylan Larkin is looking forward to 3-on-3 All-Star Game

 

Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

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NASHVILLE — There’s a theory that some people have about NHL expansion, and it goes something like this:

Las Vegas is a slam dunk. Sin City will get a team sometime in the near future. But Quebec City, the other formal candidate in the current process, is a different story. For reasons related to the Canadian dollar and alignment, the NHL would rather expand to Seattle. And so the league is stalling, waiting to see if Seattle can gets it arena act together, before it makes a decision on Quebec City.

That’s the theory anyway.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman rejected it today.

At a press conference, Bettman was asked if hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, whose memorandum of understanding to build an arena in downtown Seattle doesn’t expire until November of 2017, had become an “impediment” to the city’s chances of getting an NHL team.

“I wouldn’t characterize him that way,” said Bettman. “It is what it is. As things stand right now, there’s no prospect in the foreseeable future of a new arena in greater Seattle. It is what it is. And, frankly, right now we’re focused on Quebec City and Las Vegas, so that’s not even on our radar screen.”

But can Bettman understand why the league has been accused of slow-playing the process?

After all, it was Bettman who said the other day that “the Seattle market would be intriguing for the NHL at some point,” and it was Bettman who said that Hansen was “more focused” on the NBA than the NHL, and that “while there are people (Victor Coleman?) interested in trying to get some things off the ground with [Hansen], perhaps his agenda was dominating those discussions.”

Which is to say, if nothing arena-wise can get done in Seattle until Hansen’s MOU expires in November of 2017, kicking the can down the road could make perfect sense for the NHL.

“I assure you one has nothing to do with the other,” Bettman insisted. “We’re going through this expansion process and, frankly, if at this point somebody wanted to give us an application right now, we wouldn’t take it.”

The commissioner reiterated that no timeline exists for making a decision on Las Vegas and Quebec City, and that the league may expand by two teams, one team, or no teams at all.

A blessing in disguise? Perry believes Ducks’ early-season struggles could pay off in playoffs

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf, left,  celebrates his winning goal with teammate Corey Perry (10) as Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) and defenseman Torey Krug (47) react in the overtime period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Thursday, March 26, 2015. The Ducks won 3-2. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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NASHVILLE — Corey Perry still can’t explain how the Anaheim Ducks’ offense went so cold.

“I wish I had an answer for you,” he said today. “I’ve been asked this question a lot. I still don’t have an answer.”

Maybe it was just bad luck?

“Possibly,” he allowed. “You can say bad luck, you can use all the excuses in the world. It just wasn’t getting the job done.”

It sure wasn’t. The Ducks went 1-7-2 to start the season. They were shut out five times in those 10 October games. It was pretty shocking stuff. So, when things didn’t get much better in November, they turned to defense. Three times in December they won by a score of 1-0. Twice by 2-1.

Though the goals have finally started to come in January, Perry believes that the Ducks’ early struggles could pay off when the games really start to count — in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely going to help us,” he said. “The way we’ve been playing lately, to get our wins we have to keep the team we’re playing to two goals or less. If you can do that in this league, you’re going to have a lot of chances to get wins.”

Case in point, when the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, the four games they won were by scores of 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, and 2-0.

“We’ve been asked a couple of times to see if we can win games 1-0, 2-1,” said Perry. “It’s definitely what the playoffs are all about.”

Byfuglien leaving contract up to agent, but has ‘no problem’ with Winnipeg

Dustin Byfuglien
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NASHVILLE — Dustin Byfuglien has “no problem” with Winnipeg.

For all those worried Jets fans out there, it wasn’t the most reassuring thing the big defenseman could have said. But hey, it could’ve been worse, right?

Byfuglien, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent. Whether he’s still a Jet next season remains to be seen. Heck, whether he’s still a Jet after the Feb. 29 trade deadline remains to be seen.

What does he want to happen?

“I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” he told reporters today. “I don’t mind Winnipeg at all. It’s close to home for me. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to be able to play by home. [There are] so many good things that I like about Winnipeg. I can do my outdoor stuff that I love to do. I have no problem being up there.”

Byfuglien grew up in Roseau, Minnesota, just south of the Manitoba border, closer to Winnipeg than Minneapolis. He’s big into hunting and fishing.

“Usually every day off I sneak out to the lake or out to the woods,” he said. “My wife lets me. She knows I enjoy that. It helps me not focus so much on hockey, give my brain a rest. Just relax, go out there, and enjoy the peace and quiet. … It’s not a big factor in everything. It’ll all be there when I retire. It just helps to calm things down.”

Despite all the attention his contract status has received in the media, the 30-year-old said it hasn’t affected him too much.

“I think my wife’s got more emotional about it than I have,” he said.

“I just told my agent, ‘Don’t talk to be me about it. When things get close, let me know and we’ll have a quick chat about it.’ He’s got a job to do. I’ve got a job to do.”