Tyler Seguin

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Check, mates: NHL top lines are expected to do it all

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Tyler Seguin doesn’t consider it a challenge. He sees it as an opportunity.

Every time Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock sends Seguin and his linemates over the boards against an opponent’s top line, he knows he has a job to do.

”Out-check the other line and let the skill kind of take over,” Seguin said. ”It’s fun.”

Fun? Sure. It’s also increasingly common in the NHL as coaches seek to put their top lines on the ice against the other team’s best forwards to create matchup problems that often lead to goals.

Goodbye to the likes of Bob Gainey and hello to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom. All can help keep the puck out of the net almost as well as they can put it in.

”We’re seeing less of the old Don Luce, Craig Ramsey, Brent Peterson lines,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, referring to defensive-minded forwards of yesteryear. ”We have guys like Bergeron; Sid goes up against top guys. So I think you’re seeing more of the power against power than we have in the past.”

Power against power is the name of the game in hockey today as players such as Bergeron, Crosby, Backstrom and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews embody the kind of top-line stars who can double as shutdown centers. Crosby was so good in that dual role at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Canada won a gold medal – and he was so dominant offensively the past two seasons that the Penguins won consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Crosby is well aware of the modern duties of a top-flight center.

”You have more responsibility defensively,” he said. ”You’re covering a lot of space, so it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of.”

Before the season, reigning MVP Connor McDavid of Edmonton cited defense and faceoffs as areas he wanted to improve. He already has the dynamic offensive capabilities and sees that as the next step in his evolution.

”It’s more rounding out your game,” McDavid said. ”Being a defensive guy, being able to be put out there in the last two minutes to defend a lead, just to be able to be trusted by your coach out there.”

Coaches have to be able to trust their top players in all situations, particularly since the days of strict shutdown lines are dwindling.

”The systems are about defense, and everyone needs to play it,” Backstrom said. ”That’s what the mindset is – to be good defensively and offensively.”

The best defense is good puck possession because often the most productive players aren’t as sound in their own end. Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella considers it essential to make elite offensive players spend time in their defensive zone, figuring they’re more apt to try to do too much in the neutral zone and turn the puck over.

Good two-way players also have that mindset when they’re matched up against top skill guys.

”They’re so good offensively that sometimes they can forget about their defense, and that’s when you can take advantage of them,” Philadelphia Flyers No. 1 center Sean Couturier said. ”They’re thinking so much offense that once they turn the puck over they’re going to try plays to get turnovers. That’s when you can take advantage of them most of the time.”

That’s the danger of going skill on skill. Few see Calgary Flames stars Johnny Gaudreauand Sean Monahan as defensive stalwarts, but coach Glen Gulutzan continues to put them on the ice against other top lines.

Gaudreau said ”sometimes the best offense comes from playing against other top lines.” And the strategy has multiple benefits.

”It makes sure that your top guys, they’re aware that they’re out there against the other sharks, so to speak, in the league,” Gulutzan said. ”Now they’re a little more conscious defensively. And what you hope is that, through a course of a season, you’re making your guys more defensively aware and come playoff time those things will come in handy.”

Seguin said he thinks the playoffs lead to concerted defensive efforts to shut down certain players, though that largely comes from coaches leaning on their top defensemen. Hitchcock and other coaches said putting their best defensemen against opponents’ top forwards is the most important matchup no matter the situation.

Of course, it helps to have forwards who thrive on tough matchups and understand balancing priorities.

”A lot of times you’re getting matched up with better players, so I think playing offense the whole game isn’t realistic,” Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. ”Most of the time it’s just being in the right places and knowing where you are on the ice as opposed to chasing everybody around and that whole ‘shadow’ thing. You’ve just got to be in right areas and right zones.”

Playing responsible defense is one piece of the transition to offense, whether it’s winning board battles or faceoffs or taking the puck away. But top players are counted on and paid to score, so keeping others off the board simply isn’t good enough.

”If it’s 0-0, we’re still kind of mad as a line,” Backstrom said. ”We want to win that match. It would be nice if we could score against them.”

Jamie Benn’s promised goal caps off memorable day for car crash survivor

Murray family
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When Jamie Benn met Kendall Murray after Saturday’s morning skate, he left her with the promise that he would score that night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Eight months ago, the idea of Murray standing there as the Stars captain made that promise seemed unbelievable.

***

On Feb. 10, Murray, 16, was the sole survivor of a car accident in Plano, Texas that killed two of her friends, Lilly Davis and Sam Sacks. She was burned on 25 percent of her body, and some of her injuries included two broken arms, a broken pelvis and a skull fracture.

Two months later, as Murray lay in her hospital bed at Medical City Plano still unable to walk, Benn and Tyler Seguin, her two favorite players, made a surprise visit. The news about the accident had reached the Stars organization and the players jumped at the opportunity to stop by and say hello.

The smile on her face as she saw who was walking into her room was one that those inside will never forget. The running joke throughout the 45-minute visit was that everyone could tell when Murray was getting excited because her heart-rate monitor would spike.

“When those two walked in, it just shot up to 170,” Murray told Pro Hockey Talk Tuesday afternoon with a laugh.

Before Benn and Seguin said their goodbyes, they told Murray they wanted to see her at American Airlines Center this season once she was back on her feet and walking again. The day before that visit she had started the process of learning to walk again, a she would ultimately accomplish.

Not long before Benn made his promise, Murray fulfilled hers by walking around arena during Saturday’s morning skate. There she saw Seguin again and got to chat with Stars general manager Jim Nill. She later would meet up with Benn when her told her his plans for the game.

“I’ll score for you. I’ll make sure it’s for you.”

In the opening minute of the second period, Benn delivered on his promise, with Murray’s other favorite Star playing a role in the game’s first goal. After an Avalanche turnover in the neutral zone, Seguin fired a pass off the side boards which was picked by Benn at center ice leading to a 2-on-1. Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson gave the captain enough space for him to then fire a wrist shot blocker side on Semyon Varlamov.

Murray, wearing her dad’s Neal Broten Minnesota North Stars jersey, watched in disbelief.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, he did it,’” Murray said, “That’s actually for me and I knew that it was for me. It was so crazy. It was the first goal, too. It made the Stars be ahead in the game which was awesome.”

To top off an already memorable day, Seguin would score at the end of the second period to give the Stars a 2-0 lead. He would later complete a Gordie Howe Hat Trick after scrapping with Patrik Nemeth in the third period. The pucks from both goals were retrieved and given to Murray as a gift from the players after the game.

“That was just icing on the cake. Great to have both of them score and have Tyler get in his first NHL fight,” Murray said. “Quite a game to watch.”

The Murray family attends a handful of Stars games every season and will also be in attendance for a December game in Minnesota against the Wild while in town visiting family. Given that Benn is 100 percent in goal promises, he may have to make a few more to Kendall this season. Or at least Seguin could get in on the fun, too.

***

Eight months after the accident, Murray is doing well. A junior in high school, she’s back in regular classes with her friends and even attended homecoming last month. Twice a week she’s in occupational therapy and physical therapy and seeing progress. The tear in her carotid artery is fully healed and nerve damage in her hand is slowly improving. At the end of October she’ll be discharged from PT, marking another milestone on her journey to full recovery.

“I’m coming down to the end of it all which is nice so I can get back to my normal high school life,” she said.

————

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.

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Rich Peverley retires from NHL, joins Stars’ front office

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Rich Peverley shared some sad (though maybe not surprising) news on Saturday: his NHL playing career is over.

On the bright side, it sounds as though he’s immediately transitioning to a front office job, as he told the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika that he’ll work in the player development department.

“It was working out, monitoring how I was doing, continuing to see doctors to exhaust every avenue and find out exactly if I could play,” Peverley said to the DMN. “It’s a case that’s very complicated, and what I have learned is there is no 100 percent to medicine and, unfortunately, I can’t play anymore.”

Peverley fought his way from going undrafted to playing 442 regular season games and 59 postseason contests in his career. He’s likely best remembered for his time with Boston, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2011.

It’s never a happy moment to see a player hang up his skates at what he believes is a premature age (Peverley is 33).

On the other hand, there are probably a few onlookers who are breathing a sigh of relief.

Peverley’s “cardiac incident” was a truly frightening scene, and many were worried about the risks he might be taking if he resumed NHL play. Some of the choice might have been taken out of his hands, as it’s plausible that no GM wanted to roll the dice with his health.

Heika shares more details regarding Peverley’s decision and his role with the Stars organization here.

Tyler Seguin already spoke out about his former teammate:

PHT Morning Skate: Evander Kane wins back girlfriend with billboard in L.A.

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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.

Buffalo Sabres’ forward Evander Kane recently put up a billboard on the Sunset Strip to win back his model girlfriend Mara Teigen. (TMZ)

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is going with an old school look on his mask this season. (Bar Down)

Seattle’s arena project took step forward recently as the design for potential building was approved. (The Hockey News)

This season’s NHL trade deadline will be moved to Feb. 29, 2016, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie. (theScore)

Life after hockey is an ‘abrupt reality check’. (The Canadian Press)

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin showed off his football skills recently while doing some agility training. Have a look:

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.