Jason Brough

Las Vegas franchise will rely on ‘local residents to be our supporters’

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If the NHL is going to succeed in Las Vegas, it won’t be with half of T-Mobile Arena filled with fans of the visiting team.

“We are going to get our local residents to be our supporters,” the expansion franchise’s owner, Bill Foley, told the Las Vegas Sun. “They are the ones who are going to come to watch us play hockey.”

Foley had previously joked to ESPN, “I don’t want to see everyone in the stands with a Canucks jersey on. I’m not trying to promote the Red Wings.”

Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a strong contingent of opposition fans at a lot of games. Las Vegas is a tourism mecca. Last year, over 40 million visited.

But prior to yesterday’s big announcement, Las Vegas was also the largest market in the United States without a major-league team. In terms of population, its metropolitan area is about the same size of Columbus, a bit bigger than Nashville.

“What hockey will do for Las Vegas is give it an identity that is unto itself, as opposed to the Strip,” said Foley, per Sportsnet. “Because really the local residents aren’t about the Strip.”

The question now is whether the locals are about the NHL.

Report: Blackhawks are ‘seriously kicking tires on Evgeni Malkin’

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates by kissing the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A few weeks ago, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos predicted the Stanley Cup Final would be the last series for Evgeni Malkin in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform.

The prediction got a fair bit of attention at the time, but then everyone’s focus turned to the games. Malkin had a frustrating start against the Sharks, failing to register a point in the first three contests, but he came up big in Game 4 and Pittsburgh went on to win in six.

In the end, it was the Penguins’ ability to deploy Sidney Crosby on one line, Malkin on another, and Phil Kessel on still another that gave their opponents so much trouble. Malkin finished with six goals and 12 assists in 23 playoff games. He didn’t win the Conn Smythe like he did in 2009, but he was a major contributor all the same.

Hence, the disbelief after Newsday’s Steve Zipay tweeted the following today:

So according to what Zipay was hearing, not only might the Penguins trade their Russian superstar with the $9.5 million cap hit, they might trade him to one of the most cap-strapped teams in the NHL?

It all seemed a tad far-fetched.

Enter the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine to calm things down, sort of:

So for now, we’ll leave it at that. Just one of the many crazy possibilities that could happen, but probably won’t. (Unless it does!)

Malkin, 29, is signed through 2021-22. He also has a no-movement clause, according to generalfanager.com.

Lecavalier keeps his promise and announces retirement

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 7:  Vincent Lecavalier #4 of the Tampa Bay Lightning raises the the Stanley Cup over his head in the locker room after the victory over the Calgary Flames in Game seven of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on June 7, 2004 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Flames 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Vincent Lecavalier — after 1,212 NHL games and one Stanley Cup title — has retired.

“As I publicly announced at the time I was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, the 2015/16 season would be my last in the NHL,” the 36-year-old said in a statement. “I recently informed the Kings that I am stepping away from the game and will no longer play professional hockey. It is my desire and intention to retire.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning made Lecavalier the first overall pick in 1998. He won the Cup with them in 2004. He added a Rocket Richard Trophy in 2007 when he led the NHL with 52 goals.

But his production started to wane as he got into his late 20s, to the point he was left off Team Canada’s 2010 Olympic squad. In the summer of 2013, his contract was bought out by the Lightning. He then signed with the Flyers, intending to play for head coach Peter Laviolette, only for Laviolette to be fired three games into the 2013-14 season. It was not a good match between Lecavalier and the new coach, Craig Berube.

The Kings acquired Lecavalier, along with defenseman Luke Schenn, in January. They made the trade with the understanding that Lecavalier would retire this summer so that they would not be stuck with his contract, which prior to its termination ran through 2017-18 for a cap hit of $4.5 million.

“Hockey has provided me so much in my lifetime but requires an incredible commitment,” said Lecavalier. “It is now time for me to devote more time to my family.”

UFA of the Day: Steven Stamkos

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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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…

Steven Stamkos

The prevailing wisdom says you don’t let a player like Stamkos walk away for nothing. He’s a franchise piece, the kind teams intentionally lose to get in the draft.

But the prevailing wisdom sometimes get challenged, and that’s exactly what’s happened here. This has never been a slam-dunk decision for GM Steve Yzerman, for two good reasons:

1. Stamkos isn’t the only excellent, young player on the Bolts. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin. All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next. Tough choices will need to be made somewhere.

2. Stamkos is a great player, obviously. But with all due respect, how great? He had 36 goals in 77 games this year. He had 43 in 82 last year. That’s a lot of goals, but it’s not the 60 he scored in 2011-12. So while he’s only 26, it may be (in fact, it’s likely) that his best scoring years are behind him. Scoring isn’t everything, you say? OK, so does Stamkos play the kind of two-way game that Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar do? No, he probably doesn’t. He’s certainly never been in the running to win the Selke Trophy. That’s why his coach puts him on the wing sometimes.

All of the above is why you hear reports that Yzerman may not be willing to give Stamkos much more than $8.5 million a year, which is a lot of money but a fair bit less than the $10.5 million cap hits that Toews and Patrick Kane boast. (Kopitar’s cap hit is $10 million.)

Make no mistake, the Bolts want Stamkos back. They could even free up some cap space by trading Bishop and going with Andrei Vasilevskiy. But less than two weeks until July 1, if it’s gotten this far, Stamkos may just want to see what’s out there.

The latest from the Tampa Bay Times:

If the Lightning realizes it can’t sign Stamkos, it could try to trade his rights, but would need the captain’s permission as he has a full no-move clause.

But Yzerman said, at this point, he’s only spoken with Stamkos and his agents about signing him, not trading his rights. Yzerman is hoping they’ll have a “clear idea of where we are” prior to this weekend.

“To be honest with you, it’s out of my control,” Yzerman said. “He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I can’t force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn’t want to. If he wants to go to July 1, he has that right.”

As for potential landing spots, if it’s not back in Tampa, there are a bunch:

If the Red Wings can find a taker for Pavel Datsyuk‘s contract…

If the Maple Leafs feel they can be competitive soon…

If the Sabres want to outbid everyone

If the Islanders want to show John Tavares they’re serious about winning, while at the same time insuring against his possible departure…

If the Rangers trade Derek Stepan for youth and/or help on the blue line…

Bottom line: this has been a soap opera for a while now, but the final episode is approaching.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

Holland makes argument to keep Howard

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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How to deal with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk isn’t the only challenge facing Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

There’s also the matter of Jimmy Howard, the team’s 32-year-old goalie with the $5.3 million cap hit for three more years.

Howard, the former number one, went 14-14-5 with a .906 save percentage in 2015-16. For much of the season he was outplayed by young Petr Mrazek, leading many to believe the Wings would try and move the veteran’s contract this summer. Holland admitted recently that he’d “thought about it lots.”

But not so fast.

“Petr Mrazek played about 50 games this year, (and) the wheels came off a little bit in the middle of February,” Holland told The Fan 590 today (audio). “Jimmy Howard really came in and I thought saved our season when our season was on the line. You’ve got to have two goaltenders. … There’s a small group of goaltenders, they’re workhorses, that can play 70 games.”

And according to Holland, Mrazek has yet to prove he can be one of those workhorses.

“It could possibly be detrimental if we put Petr in a situation where we’re just going to throw him out and play 70 games and no matter how you play, we’re going to keep putting you out,” said Holland.

Hence, the argument to keep Howard.

Or, at least, that’s the spin.

The reality may be that Howard’s contract is just too tough to move. Even if the Wings were able to trade him, they’d probably have to eat some of his salary. And who’s to say his replacement would be any better? It’s not like there’s a sure thing in free agency.

Mrazek, by the way, still has to sign a contract. He’s a pending restricted free agent.

“I’ve got to sit and negotiate a deal with Petr Mrazek and his agent,” said Holland. “As we go along here over the next week or 10 days, we’ll see where we go with our goaltending.”

Related: Holland will ‘plot a plan’ to solve goalie situation