Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: On the sky-high price of top-4 defensemen

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks about Charlie McAvoy, Colin White, and Clayton Keller — three American players who really impressed him at the World Juniors.

— Sportsnet’s Mark Spector writes about the sky-high price of defensemen in the wake of the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade between the Oilers and Devils. It’s required reading for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an up-and-coming team that could really use another top-4 blue-liner to join Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner. Would the Leafs be willing to put William Nylander on the market? Because they’re not trading Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, and James van Riemsdyk may not get them what they need. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin surpassed the 1,000-point mark last night. It was a fantastic accomplishment, one that only 83 players had done before him. But we all know the big knock on Ovechkin. He’s never won a Stanley Cup. Heck, he’s never even been past the second round of the playoffs. Hence, this piece by SI’s Alex Prewitt: “Those close to Ovechkin will swear that individual marks occupy increasingly less of his attention these days. He’s 31 years old now, averaging the least time on ice (18:21) of his career by more than one full minute, because coach Barry Trotz wants him fresh for when it matters.” (Sports Illustrated)

— As the Dallas Stars continue to scuffle along, GM Jim Nill can’t help but think it would be nice to have Valeri Nichushkin in the lineup. “With all the injuries, it would have been great to have him here. He would have played a lot of minutes. Big, strong – it would have been great to have him. But he made a decision to go back (to the KHL) and I can’t control that.” (Star-Telegram)

— A list of players who did not deserve to be named to the All-Star Game, starting with Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban. Writes list-maker Michael Traikos: “He’s not the best player on the Predators this year. He might not even be their best defenseman. With seven goals, 17 points and a minus-11 rating, he’s certainly not having an all-star season.” Traikos then takes out the carving knife for John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Frans Nielsen, and five others. (National Post)

— Pierre LeBrun’s series on the expansion draft continues with a look at the Nashville Predators. “While the vast majority of clubs will opt for the 7-3-1 format (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie), I think there’s a strong likelihood that the Predators will go with the 8-1 format (eight skaters and a goalie) despite the fact that it allows for two fewer players to be protected. It’s worth it for a team like Nashville that’s so deep on defense. And, in this case, it would allow the Predators to protect defensemen Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

The Wild’s owner is thrilled with their success, but realistic about their Cup chances

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When the Minnesota Wild only lasted one round of the 2016 playoffs, they looked to many observers like a team on the decline.

And when GM Chuck Fletcher hired Bruce Boudreau to be the head coach, it looked to those same observers like a last-gasp effort to get an aging core over the hump.

Well, it’s only been half a season under Boudreau, but the Wild’s 25-9-5 record does not suggest decline. In fact, Minnesota is on pace for 116 points, which would blow away its 87-point total of last season.

As for that aging core? It’s sure looking a lot younger these days. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker are all on pace to set career highs in points. Heck, even the future core looks more promising, as evidenced by the performances of Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin at the World Juniors.

For owner Craig Leipold, it’s all been a joy to watch.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that, in the past, have played well, but, in our opinion, hadn’t played to their potential,” Leipold told the Star Tribune on Sunday. “And now we’re seeing it. They’re difference-makers. We’re in a window right now where our experienced players and our young players are all starting to play at the peak of their performance.”

Leipold also loves the job Boudreau has done, and he thinks the addition of Eric Staal was a savvy way to capitalize on a player who had a ton to prove.

That being said, Leipold isn’t sure the Wild have what it takes to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

“I don’t know, they could surprise me,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet. We’ve got some guys coming up who within a couple of years of being in this league can start to make a difference in the weakness that we have, which is the size of our players — although we’re better than we were last year.”

Leipold is only being realistic. The Wild have definitely overachieved in the first half of the season. They’ve had a red-hot Devan Dubnyk between the pipes, and every puck they shoot seems to go in. On top of that, most of their key players have been healthy for all 39 games.

But even if their luck runs out a little in the second half, they’ve put themselves in solid position to make the playoffs for a fifth straight time. It would take a gigantic collapse to miss the postseason, and after how their season ended last year, it’s hard to imagine how things could be going much better.

Related: Boudreau doesn’t believe superstars are needed to win

Laine will not travel with Jets, who were ‘horse-(bleep)’ last night

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Patrik Laine has already missed two games with a concussion, and he’s about to miss a few more.

According to TSN’s Sara Orlesky, Winnipeg’s rookie scoring sensation will not travel with the Jets on their three-game road trip that starts tomorrow in Arizona. Laine was hurt this past weekend when he took a big hit from Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe.

The Jets also play Saturday in Los Angeles and Monday in San Jose. And if they’d like their road trip to be a success, they’ll need to be a lot better than they were last night at MTS Centre, where they got thumped, 7-4, by the Canadiens.

“I didn’t like the way we played the whole entire night,” said a visibly angry head coach, Paul Maurice, whose team is only one point back of a wild-card spot but has played more games than most of its competition.

“We were horse-(bleep) from the start, from the drop of that first puck right to the very end of it.”

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Ogrean to retire as USA Hockey’s executive director

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USA Hockey announced today that Dave Ogrean will retire as its executive director on August 1, 2017.

From the press release:

A national search for a new executive director will begin immediately.

Ogrean has served as executive director of USA Hockey since August 1, 2005, and also held the position from 1993-99. He began his professional career with the organization as its director of public relations from 1978-80.

“We’ve had someone in Dave Ogrean who has helped establish USA Hockey as truly one of the preeminent national governing bodies in America during his time as executive director,” said the organization’s president, Jim Smith.

“After initially discussing an extension of his contract last fall, he came to me in late November and shared that he felt the better time to pass the baton would be sooner rather than later, affording his successor the opportunity to fill the senior staff vacancies that will occur in the near future due to retirements.”

Ogrean signed a four-year contract extension in 2013. He’ll retire with the future looking extremely bright for hockey in the United States.

In June, Auston Matthews was drafted first overall.

The year before, Jack Eichel went second overall.

Meanwhile, Patrick Kane is the reigning Hart Trophy recipient, and the United States is the reigning gold-medal winner at the World Juniors.

There have been disappointments, to be sure, like this summer’s World Cup, where the Americans went winless and failed to advance to the knockout stage.

But the United States is now an undisputed hockey power. Only Canada produces more NHLers, and the gap is closing.

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There will be changes to the Isles’ lineup, ‘no doubt about that’

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Expect to see some changes to the Islanders’ lineup when they play tomorrow at Florida.

Isles coach Jack Capuano was none too pleased with a number of his players during last night’s 2-1 loss to the Panthers in Brooklyn.

“There are guys that will be out of the lineup next game, no doubt about that,” Capuano said, per the New York Post. “It’s the accountability of the coaching staff to do what they have to do.”

Of note, veteran winger Jason Chimera logged just 9:45 of ice time and didn’t register a shot.

Shane Prince didn’t have a great game either. The 24-year-old winger hasn’t registered a shot in his past two games.

Capuano didn’t name names, but there were clearly others who didn’t make the grade. The coach was especially upset with the second period, which saw the Isles outshot, 16-6, and outscored, 1-0.

“We had some guys who should’ve stayed in the room,” said Capuano, per Newsday.

Anthony Beauvillier and Stephen Gionta were the healthy forward scratches last night. One or both of them could be inserted tomorrow.

Read more: Isles place Travis Hamonic on IR, recall Scott Mayfield

It remains to be seen if the Isles will, at some point this season, look to AHL Bridgeport for reinforcements. Youngsters Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle are both down there, though neither has put up eye-popping numbers. Ho-Sang has three goals and 13 assists in 29 games. Dal Colle has eight goals and seven assists in 33 games.

Related: Isles sign Gionta