Mike Halford

Stamkos won’t deny it — contract situation’s ‘in your head, for sure’


NASHVILLE — Steve Stamkos knew the questions about his contract situation were coming.

So rather than dance around them, he attacked ’em straight on.

“You’re human — it’s in your head, for sure,” Stamkos said during Friday’s All-Star Media Day. “You try not to let it affect your play on the ice. You come to the rink and I’ve said, it’s kind of like your safe zone. And the guys understand. There are guys that have been through this before, and I think as a team we’ve had a few distractions in the past couple of years that we haven’t really let affect us.

“Again, it’s easier said than done. Everybody’s human.”

As has been documented throughout this season, Stamkos is still without a contract and, with every passing day, gets that much closer to unrestricted free agency. At 25, the former 60-goal scorer would be the biggest and most ballyhooed UFA since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter went to market in 2012 — decisions that proved financially beneficial for both, as they inked matching 13-year, $98 million deals with the Wild.

Many observers figured there would be clarity in the Stamkos contract situation by now, but all we’ve seen are reports and rumors. The latest was from Sportsnet, which claimed Tampa Bay made an eight-year, $68 million deal offer an $8.5M average annual cap hit.

Stamkos wouldn’t comment on that report but, on Friday, did discuss negotiations.

“There’s really no timeline or date,” he explained. “It’s gone on this long, you never know what to expect — and if you were to ask me that question at the beginning of the season, I’d have the same answer.

“You’re pretty involved, you know what’s going on. I wouldn’t say [the updates] are something that is daily, but there’s definitely communication — and when there is communication, you’re involved in it.

The conversation then turned to Anze Kopitar‘s new deal in Los Angeles.

Kopitar and Stamkos have, inevitably, been linked throughout the season as elite-level players in contract years. But while Stamkos’ situation remains unresolved, Kopitar’s is signed, sealed and delivered — in the form of a monster eight-year, $80 million extension that made him one of just three $10M cap hits in the NHL, along with Chicago’s dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Stamkos was asked if he paid any extra attention to the Kopitar negotiations.

“You’re aware of it, but I wouldn’t say I was monitoring it,” he said. “You’re aware of what goes on around the league. That one gets a little more play for me, because you get asked about it in comparison.

“I wouldn’t say I was sitting on my phone, updating it, waiting for him to sign an extension. But when anyone signs in the league, you’re aware of it.”

He’s got a point. Given how long Stamkos’ situation dragged out, when he signs, everyone will be very aware.

‘Canes compare Faulk to Duncan Keith, talk up Norris potential

Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm
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It’s been a pretty good campaign for Justin Faulk.

He’s an All-Star for the second year in a row, on the strength of 33 points through 51 games — seventh-most among NHL defensemen — and a whopping 12 power-play goals, which has him tied for second in the league with Jamie Benn.

Only Chicago’s Patrick Kane, with 14, has scored more.

And we mentioned Kane here because, leading up to this weekend’s All-Star gala in Nashville, one of Faulk’s Carolina teammates compared him to a pair of Kane’s running mates.

From the Raleigh News & Observer:

Kris Versteeg compares Faulk to two of his former teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, veteran defensemen who have been a big part of Stanley Cup championships in Chicago.

“They were really good when they were young, but when they got to 25, 26, 27 was when you could really see what they were as players,” Vertseeg said. “Faulker is still a couple of years away from us seeing what he can really do. But he’s very mature for a young guy.”

And more, from head coach Bill Peters:

Peters said Faulk could be in the Norris Trophy conversation as the league’s best defenseman by season’s end, and in future seasons.

“He’s going in the right direction but there’s work to be done, right?” Peters said. “He’s still 23 years old and he’s got a real good upside and good future. The offensive instincts and the offensive play kind of fits his game, so that comes natural to him.”

As both Peters and Versteeg pointed out, Faulk is probably a couple of years from hitting his full potential. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember he’s still just 23 years old; he was the youngest player named to Team USA for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and, of all the defensemen taken at the 2010 draft, only Anaheim’s Cam Fowler has played in more games.

But it’s hard to deny his offensive talent translates into a high ceiling. And should he hit that ceiling, he’ll be a bargain — don’t forget that, in March of 2014, the ‘Canes re-signed Faulk to a six-year, $29 million extension, one that carries a tidy $4.83M average annual cap hit.

Kings play-by-play man Miller to have heart surgery, take leave

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14:  Los Angeles Kings play-by-play television announcer Bob Miller addresses the fans as General Manager Dean Lombardi (bottom right) and Assistant to the General Manager Jack Ferreira (bottom left) look on during the rally in Staples Center after the Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Victory Parade on June 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles Kings television broadcaster Bob Miller is taking a medical leave of absence to undergo heart bypass surgery.

The Kings made the announcement Wednesday before their home game against Colorado.

The 77-year-old Miller has been the Kings’ play-by-play voice since 1973. He received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000, and the hockey press box at Staples Center is named in his honor.

Miller’s surgery date and return timeline haven’t been decided yet, Kings executive Luc Robitaille says.

Miller says he’ll return to the booth as soon as his health allows.

Radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson will replace Miller in the television booth alongside Jim Fox, the former Kings player and Miller’s partner since 1990.

Video: Zibanejad, Helm, Soderberg star in Goals of the Week

The first two tallies in the latest installment of Goals of the Week were about the setup as much as the finish.

But not that third one, though. Carl Soderberg‘s individual effort against Dallas was nasty.


Less than three years later, ’13 draft having major implications on NHL

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  (L-R) Number three over all Jonathan Drouin of Tampa Bay Lightning, number one over all Nathan Mackinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and number two over all Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers pose during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The second-guessing came immediately after the Colorado Avalanche picked center Nathan MacKinnon first and the Florida Panthers selected center Aleksander Barkov second in the 2013 draft. Blue-chip defenseman Seth Jones was considered the top prospect by many scouts, and winger Jonathan Drouin was coming off a 100-point season in juniors.

Less than three years later, those decisions are still reverberating around the NHL.

MacKinnon is in line for a big contract like the $35.4 million, six-year deal Barkov signed with the Panthers on Tuesday. The Nashville Predators traded Jones earlier this month. And Drouin? He was suspended by the Tampa Bay Lightning after failing to show up for a minor-league game and he has demanded a trade from the defending Eastern Conference champion.

“The draft, as we all know, is an imperfect process, science whatever you want to call it,” Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “Let’s see how this plays out.”

So far, things have played out well for the Avalanche and Panthers with MacKinnon and Barkov. MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2013-14 as Colorado made the playoffs, and his 140 career points are the most in the talented draft class that also included Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan and Carolina Hurricanes center Elias Lindholm.

MacKinnon has turned into the kind of player Avalanche executives Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy expected. He said in November that he’d like a long-term contract – and the Avalanche have shown a tendency to lock up their cornerstone players with those kinds of deals.

So have the Panthers, who are betting that the 20-year-old Barkov keeps improving. Barkov will count $5.9 million against their salary cap through 2022.

“When you put a commitment like this on a young man like this, there are only a few people that can handle this, and Sasha’s unbelievable on and off the ice,” general manager Dale Tallon said. “I’ve never seen a young man at his age be so committed on and off the ice. He’s first on the ice, last off the ice. First in the gym, last out of the gym. Everything that we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it tenfold.”

The Panthers’ gamble to take Barkov over Drouin and Jones has paid off, and they lead the Atlantic Division going into the All-Star break. Still, Tallon didn’t want to proclaim that the Panthers won the 2013 draft.

“There’s a lot of great players in that draft,” Tallon said. “We got the player we needed at that time. So no, I don’t look at it like that. I’m just very happy that he was there and we got him.”

The Predators would’ve been happy to get him, too. In search of a No. 1 center, they targeted MacKinnon or Barkov and never expected Jones to fall to the fourth pick for them.

“We were elated that day that he fell in our lap,” Nashville GM David Poile said earlier this month after trading Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Ryan Johansen. “The goal for us, the hope for us was that we were going to get Barkov or MacKinnon, which would’ve been great and would’ve taken us in a different direction.”

All four teams at the top of the 2013 draft went in drastically different directions. The Lightning have enjoyed the most team success since, going to the Stanley Cup final last year with Drouin in and out of the lineup.

When Drouin was not a regular early this season, he asked Tampa Bay for a trade and that request became public Jan. 3 when he was sent to the American Hockey League. Last week, the Lightning suspended Drouin for failing to report to an AHL game and the situation seems irreconcilable.

“It is clearly in both sides best interest that the Tampa Bay Lightning trade Jonathan as there is no reason for Jonathan to continue with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization in any capacity,” agent Allan Walsh said in a statement.

Yzerman said last week he would trade Drouin only when it was right for the Lightning. And the stalemate aside, Yzerman doesn’t suddenly believe Drouin was a bust as a No. 3 pick.

“There is not an exact progression for every single player,” Yzerman said. “If he becomes a very good hockey player, all will be forgotten, I assume.”

AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.