Evgeni Malkin

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PHT Morning Skate: Bettman on NHL Olympic future; Malkin joins ‘Putin’s Team’

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on if the league would ever return to the Olympics: “I never say never, but I find it hard to envision a scenario where it makes sense, unless, possibly, if the Winter Games are back in North America where the time frame and the attention and the logistics, travel, are a lot different.” [NBC Sports]

• Here’s a name for future induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Frank Zamboni. [CBC]

Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the latest Russian hockey player to join “Putin’s Team,” the social movement first promoted by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. [Tribune Review]

• All hail Sergei Bobrovsky. [Jackets Cannon]

• Step away from the panic button. It’s going to be just fine for the Calgary Flames. [Flames Nation]

• Returning to the Los Angeles Kings was like coming home for Mike Cammalleri. [Kings]

• The San Jose Sharks have been looking a bit Kings-like of late. [NBC Bay Area]

• What did Leo Komarov think of the little kiss Brad Marchand planted on him Saturday night? “I kind of liked it.” [TSN]

• Just how close did Jaromir Jagr get to signing with the St. Louis Blues? [Post-Dispatch]

• You may notice Keith Yandle is using a unique stick. Here’s the story behind it. [Panthers]

• Now that Matt Duchene is gone, who should be the regular second line center for the Colorado Avalanche? [Mile High Hockey]

Jason Zucker’s goal scoring binge is benefiting more than just the Minnesota Wild. [Star Tribune]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Putin, Ovechkin, Malkin vs. students

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

To start the school year, Russian president Vladimir Putin skated on a team that included Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Bure and faced off against students. You can see footage of that below:


(H/T Puck Daddy and the Associated Press)

Jake Dowell, who is a veteran of 157 NHL games, has been invited to AHL Rockford’s training camp on a tryout basis. (IceHogs.com)

Braden Holtby’s retro-styled mask has been unveiled. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

In the same vein, Michal Neuvirth’s “Rocky” mask has been revealed. (NHL.com)

Red Wings GM Ken Holland reflects on some of the changes in strategy and challenges the Red Wings have endured over the cap era as they look to make the playoffs for a 25th consecutive campaign. (RedWings.nhl.com)

Evgeny Kuznetsov hopes to spend his entire career with the Washington Capitals. (Washington Post)

Crosby, Toews, Weber, Price lead pack in NHL 16’s ratings

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After unveiling the top 10 goaltenders for the upcoming video game NHL 16, EA Sports has done the same for every other position.

As was the case last season, Sidney Crosby has the highest overall rating at 96, but there are some alterations after that. In 2015, Steven Stamkos ranked second overall with a 93 rating and he kept that rating for 2015-16, but he’s been leapfrogged by Jonathan Toews (94), Shea Weber (94), and Carey Price (94).

Pavel Datsyuk (93) and John Tavares (92) round out the top-five among centers. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh have two players in the top-10 with Henrik Zetterberg (92) and Evgeni Malkin (92) securing eighth and sixth place respectively.

As previously established, Weber leads the pack among defensemen and is followed by Duncan Keith (93), Drew Doughty (93), Ryan Suter (93), and Erik Karlsson (91). Nashville is the only team with two defensemen in the top-10 as Roman Josi (90) ranks ninth.

When it comes to right wingers, Corey Perry (92) got the top position, although he’s closely followed by Patrick Kane (92). Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Jakub Voracek (90), and Marian Hossa (90) make up the remainder of the top-five. Phil Kessel, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh over the summer, saw his rating slip from 90 in 2014-15 to 89 following a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs.

When it comes to left wingers, it won’t surprise many to learn that Alex Ovechkin secured the top rating at 93. He’s followed by Jamie Benn (92), Taylor Hall (90), Zach Parise (90), and Max Pacioretty (89). The Dallas Stars’ acquisition of Patrick Sharp means that they now have two players in the top-10 as Sharp took the final place on that list with his 89 rating.

NHL 16 will be out on Sept. 15 in North America and Sept. 17 in Europe. If you want to see each position’s top-10 list, you can view them here.

Kings, Kopitar ‘not even in the ballpark’ on new contract

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Anze Kopitar is heading into the last year of his deal, and eligible to sign an extension at any time.

Just don’t expect that “any time” to be “anytime soon.”

From LA Kings Insider:

The Kings and Kopitar are are “not even in the ballpark” in their discussions, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told LA Kings Insider over email when asked whether the two sides were “close” to reaching an agreement.

Kopitar, 28, is making $6.8 million annually on his current deal, which expires next July. Given his status as one of the NHL’s elite centers, it would stand to reason his camp’s initial ask is sky-high; he’s big, he’s strong, he’s won a pair of Stanley Cups, been a Selke finalist two years running, topped 60 points in each of the last two seasons and, for his career, has 60 points in 70 playoff games.

Bottom line? Kopitar is going to get paid.

The question is how much.

One would think the bar’s been set by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews who, starting next year, will pull down $10.5 million annually. Another comparable would be Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who pulls in $9.5M per season.

The hangup, of course, is that Los Angeles might not have a ton of financial flexibility in the future. Dustin Brown’s deal, a $5.875M cap hit that runs through 2022, gets more onerous by the day and there’s still no clear picture if the termination of Mike Richards’ contract will hold up after the NHLPA’s grievance is heard.

Still, it’s hard — impossible even — to envision a scenario where Kopitar doesn’t get extended. Top-line centers are some of the most coveted entities in the NHL and, in a Western Conference featuring the likes of Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Tyler Seguin, Kopitar carries immense value.

The real question now, it seems, is if the Kings and Kopitar can avoid the distraction of entering the season without a new deal in place.

Under pressure: Mike Johnston

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The Pittsburgh Penguins fired coach Dan Bylsma because claiming division titles isn’t good enough for a franchise trying to win more than one championship while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still in their prime. Mike Johnston was hired to do better, but that’s not what happened in 2014-15. Penguins executive David Morehouse claimed that the team never seriously considered firing Johnston after that, but will that change if Pittsburgh fails to live up to expectations again?

Johnston’s Penguins were effective for much of the regular season, but a late season collapse nearly ended their playoff berth streak and they dropped four out of five games against the New York Rangers in the first round. Internally, injuries were reportedly viewed as a primary cause for the Penguins’ 2014-15 shortcomings and it certainly is true that they didn’t have Kris Letang or Pascal Dupuis during that first round series.

At the same time, the team’s scoring depth was a big problem too and it’s one GM Jim Rutherford hopes he addressed this summer with the additions of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr, and Matt Cullen. Adding a player of Kessel’s caliber in particular raises expectations, but it also emphasizes the immediacy of the Penguins’ window for a few different reasons.

First and foremost, the Penguins gave up a top prospect in Kasperi Kapanen and a conditional first-round draft pick to get him, further depleting their pool of prospects. Secondly, Phil Kessel will turn 28 in October and while that’s not old even by NHL standards, it is roughly in line with the ages of Malkin, Crosby, Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Of that group, Fleury was the first to enter his 30s and as the rest of them follow suit, diminishing returns will become an increasing concern that’s compounded by the fact that they’re all signed to expensive long-term contracts that consume a lot of Pittsburgh’s cap space.

Which is to say that Pittsburgh can’t afford to be squandering seasons and if Johnston isn’t the guy to lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, then the Penguins have to make a change sooner rather than later. That’s not to suggest that Johnston shouldn’t be the coach in 2015-16, but it does mean that the pressure on him to deliver the best possible outcome couldn’t be higher.