Mike Halford

NHL All-Star Winter Park Nashville 2016 - Day 1
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Bettman: Pens franchise ‘in strong hands’ with Lemieux, Burkle

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NASHVILLE — Gary Bettman has no concerns with the state of one of the NHL’s premier franchises.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who in June were announced to be for sale, are “in strong hands” with co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, Bettman said on Saturday in his annual address at NHL All-Star weekend.

“For a variety of reasons, some of them which may be personal, they’re exploring their options, but their support of the franchise has never wavered, and they’ve been great owners,” Bettman explained. “If they choose to make some adjustments, I’m sure they’ll do only what’s in the best interest long term of the franchise.”

That Burkle and Lemieux were “exploring their options” came as major news in a tumultuous time for the Penguins. The offseason prior, the club fired head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero — two of the key architects of the club’s 2009 Stanley Cup win — replacing Shero with Jim Rutherford, and Bylsma with Mike Johnston.

Only one of them remains.

Johnston was dismissed midway through this season in favor of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton bench boss Mike Sullivan. Rutherford has survived, though it hasn’t been easy — the veteran front office executive has come under heavy scrutiny for some of his personnel decisions and, last summer, had to go public and explain that, despite the uncertain ownership situation, Pittsburgh was still “very appealing” for free agents.

MORE: Pens’ owners seeking $750 million for sale of team

The status of the Burkle-Lemieux relationship has also come under scrutiny.

Earlier this month, the pair refuted a report in the New York Post that Lemieux was “miffed” at Burkle for “messing up the sale of” the franchise. The Post, citing three sources, reported that Lemieux “wanted to accept” a recent bid for the Penguins, but that Burkle “turned it aside” in the belief that the franchise was worth more.

Shortly after the report broke, the co-owners issued the following statement:

There is no disagreement between us, and we remain completely aligned in both approach and philosophy.

“We continue to explore all of our strategic options, including a possible sale.

“There is not, and has never been, an established price for the team, and we are still in conversations with potential buyers.”

More Penguins damage control:

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby 

Penguins insist they’re not mad at each other

Here’s who’s competing in what at the ASG Skills Competition

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NASHVILLE — The captains have assembled and decided which players will participate in the six events at Saturday’s NHL All-Stars Skills Competition.

Fastest Skater

EAST: Dylan Larkin, Brandon Saad, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson

WEST: Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, Dustin Byfuglien

Accuracy Shooting

EAST: John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Patrice Bergeron, Evgeni Malkin

WEST: Patrick Kane, Corey Perry, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn

Breakaway Challenge

EAST: Brandon Saad, Evgeny Kuznetsov, P.K. Subban, Cory Schneider

WEST: James Neal, Matt Duchene, Brent Burns, Jonathan Quick

Hardest Shot

EAST: Aaron Ekblad, Steve Stamkos, P.K. Subban, Evgeni Malkin

WEST: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Seguin, John Scott, Shea Weber

Notes…

— The Skills Challenge Relay and NHL Shootout will be manned by a variety of skaters. To see the full list of participants, click here for the West and here for the East.

— Dustin Byfuglien in the fastest skater should be something to behold. Not because he can’t skate — he’s pretty fleet of foot — but because at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he’s one of the biggest players at All-Star Weekend.

— Right now, John Scott is set to participate in the hardest shot contest, and the shootout (which all players participate in.)

— Weber will look to defend his hardest shot title after hitting 108.5 mph on the gun last year in Columbus.

John Scott’s going to enjoy the ride, ‘then go back to the real world’

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NASHVILLE — “Crazy.”

That what John Scott muttered upon walking through throngs of lights, cameras and reporters hovering in front of his podium at NHL All-Star Media Day.

Crazy is a pretty fair assessment.

Scott, the well-traveled journeyman known mostly for his 6-foot-8 frame, pugilistic skills and improbable ASG appearance, was the biggest attraction on Friday, holding court in front of a massive media contingent — just days after playing his fourth game with the St. John’s IceCaps.

Of the American Hockey League.

“I’m going back to Newfoundland!” Scott said, when asked how surreal this All-Star experience has been so far. “It’s definitely strange. You look around the locker room and everybody’s got their NHL logo on their helmets and stuff, and they threw the NHL logo on mine.

“It’s definitely always there, the ‘you’re not in the NHL anymore.’ It’s neat, though. I’m not used to it — all this [media scrum]. So I’m going to enjoy it while I’m here, and then go back to the real world.”

Scott then requested the media stick around, so he could take a picture of them.

If there’s one positive takeaway from what’s largely been a debacle, it’s Scott. He’s genuine. He’s honest. He’ll speak his mind, but not in a way that’s self-serving or indulgent.

Which is great, because he’s funny.

A reporter asked Scott about his controversial trade from Arizona to Montreal, which was rumored to be a mechanism in a larger plan to keep him from playing in the All-Star Game. The deal came under scrutiny for a variety of reasons, which included the fact Scott’s wife is well along in her pregnancy — so one scribe asked Scott what, if anything, the Coyotes did to help him out.

“And the end of the day, I’m a grown man and I can handle things myself,” Scott shot back. “I kinda don’t want their help, you know? It’s just like ‘you traded me, so beat it.’

“I don’t want to suck off your teat anymore.”

And with that, we had our first teat-sucking reference of All-Star weekend.

Scott does have a serious side, however. He showed as much in his recent Players’ Tribune piece, in which he thoughtfully broke down the odd dichotomy at play.

He’s at the All-Star Game as sort of a joke — the result of fans stuffing an online ballot box — but really, he ain’t no joke. Jokes don’t last eight years in the NHL, and appear in nearly 300 games. Jokes aren’t embraced by their teammates, which Scott absolutely has been in Nashville.

If there’s one thing worse than calling Scott a joke, it’s calling him a goon.

“It’s really a derogatory term,” he said. “I don’t like it when people call me a goon, and I hate it in articles when someone’s like ‘oh, the goon John Scott.’ I’m not a goon. If you look at my fights, I don’t fight that much every year. I fight like maybe six times a year.

“It’s just one of those things where you get this label, and it sticks.”

Between the Players’ Tribune article and Friday’s media session, the lead-up to All-Star weekend has done plenty in showing Scott in a new, more complex light. And he’ll have an even greater opportunity to keep the narrative going on Saturday, when he’ll participate in the hardest shot contest at the skills competition.

Scott probably would’ve participated in every contest if he could’ve. But this is All-Star weekend, filled with All-Star players — and even though he’s one of them right now, he knows it’s only temporary.

He’s wired differently from them, after all.

“I’m in the hardest shot, and hopefully I can get in something else,” he said. “But they’re always editing this stuff because guys don’t want to do something, or this and that.

“There’s a lot of prima donnas here.”

Sharks waive Raffi Torres

Raffi Torres
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The San Jose Sharks have placed veteran winger Raffi Torres on waivers, per TSN.

Torres, 34, has yet to play in a game this year after missing 41 contests to a suspension for hitting Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg in the head. Torres is also dealing with lingering knee issues, but had recovered enough to join San Jose’s AHL affiliate on a conditioning stint in mid-January.

More, from the Mercury News:

Torres, whose two-week conditioning assignment with the Barracuda expired earlier this week, was still recovering from knee surgery he had in December. After he was eligible to return from his 41-game suspension, Torres played two games for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate before he suffered what Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said was a minor setback.

Torres missed the Barracuda’s three games last week, but returned to practice with the team on Monday and played for the Barracuda on Wednesday night, registering one shot on goal in what was a 3-0 loss to the Texas Stars.

Torres is in the last of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M average annual cap hit. Given his age and health problems — his surgically repaired ACL has undergone a variety of procedures over the last two years, and cost him all of the ’14-15 campaign — Torres seems unlikely to be claimed.

Should he clear, the Sharks would (presumably) send him back to the American League, so he can continue working back into game shape.

 

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

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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.