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Reactions to the death of a hockey icon: Bob Probert dead at 45

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bobprobert-gettyimages.jpgWith the shocking news of the passing of Bob Probert today at the age of 45, it’s tough to gauge just what the reaction would be to losing a guy whose aura on the ice was one that instilled fear in opponents. He was the rogue sheriff in a somewhat lawless era of the NHL. An era where the “code” dictated the laws between enforcers and an era where messing with another team’s superstar could turn a hockey game into a now abused cliché about how you went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.

I’m old enough to say that I was at the perfect age to believe that Bob Probert was an indestructible force in the NHL. A guy who would stand up for your teammates no matter what and he’d make “the bad guys” pay for their transgressions and he would do it out of respect for his teammates and for the game itself. After all, if there wasn’t guys like Bob Probert out on the ice taking care of business when their teammates were wronged, who was going to handle it? Back in the 80s, the league wasn’t stepping in to mete out punishment, it was up to guys like Probert to do so and he earned the respect of everyone on the ice in doing so. What’s not to love about a guy that does that pulls the respect card like that? Sure the guy had problems in his personal life. He fought demons with cocaine and alcohol abuse for years. He was arrested. He was banned from going to some road games because he wasn’t allowed to cross the border. What makes people love a guy with so many flaws like this? He was kind to those off the ice. A man with a huge heart who would take the time to ask how you were doing even though his celebrity status should’ve meant he never had to do that. He would do it anyhow, just like how any of us regular schmoes might if we were in those superstar shoes. Bob Probert was just a regular guy that made it big and we rooted for him to do well because it felt like he was one of us making it big.

What are others saying about this iconic figure of skill, protection and pugilism on the rink and a caring man off of it? The plaudits are many. Join us after the jump to read more.

Mitch Albom – Detroit Free Press:

Young kids won’t understand our fascination with Probert. They don’t make his kind anymore. They don’t encourage it and they don’t tolerate it. But there is a reason you still see people wearing his jersey at Joe Louis Arena, more than 15 years since he last played for Detroit.

Coming up in the 1980s, Bob Probert was the sort of warrior they now model video game characters after. Relentless. Brutal. Single-minded. Unafraid of blood. He was an enforcer, a goon, a guy whose main purpose was to make sure nobody messed with his team’s stars. Someone touched Steve Yzerman? Bob Probert touched back hard. Someone ran the goalie? Probert ran him harder.

Don Cherry reflects on Probert the fighter and showman. Reading all of this piece by Chris Johnston – The Canadian Press is a must.

Cherry remembers attending a game where Probert was set to have a rematch with Troy Crowder after the two had staged a memborable fight earlier in the season. Everyone in the building was abuzz with anticipation.

“I said to the linesman before, ‘If they get started don’t break them up.’ The linesman said, ‘Are you kidding? I want to see it, too,”‘ recalled Cherry. “The puck was up in the other end and everyone was watching Probert and Crowder. I remember he hit Crowder so hard, his helmet went about 10 feet in the air.

“It was a dandy.”

Joey Kocur, a teammate and opponent of Probert’s on the ice reflects on a lost friend.

“My favourite memory of Bob would be sitting down before a game, going over the opposing lineup and picking and choosing who would go first and if the goalie would be safe or not,” Kocur said in a statement. “It was great to be able to go out on the ice knowing that he had my back and I had his.

“He was like the brother I never had.”

Versus’ Adrian Dater hears from both Ian Laperriere and Stu Grimson, legendary fighters in their own right.

“He was the scariest player I ever played against, for sure,” Philadelphia Flyers fighter Ian Laperriere said. “I never fought him, but he chased me around a lot.”

Stu Grimson elaborates a bit more on Probert the man off the ice.

Grimson said he got to know Probert better when their careers were both over. Together, they were part of a contingent of ex-players who went to Afghanistan to visit with Canadian troops several years ago.

“We got to sit down and talk more and it was good. We played a lot of ball hockey with the troops and had a good time,” Grimson said. “I locked horns with Bob probably more than anybody else in my career. We always had a kind of unspoken connection, that most fighters do.”

Aaron Portzline of the Puck Rakers Blog caught up with Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley, a guy whose career was really carved through by what guys like Probert did years ago. Shelley has nothing but admiration for the man.

Shelley called him “Mr. Probert” when he asked Probert to fight in the first period.

“When I asked him to fight the first time, I heard the words come out of my mouth, and I thought, ‘Oh god, I’m done.’ He said no problem. The puck dropped and there we go.”

Shelley never met Probert away from the ice, he said.

“I never got to shake the man’s hand and say thanks to him,” Shelley said. “Thanks for the great memories, thanks for showing us younger guys the way, and thanks for giving me a chance to “go” with him when I was just a young guy coming up in the league.

“But, you know what? I got to meet him on the ice, doing his business. And that’s a special way to meet him.”

(Photo courtesy: Glen Cratty/Allsport/Getty Images)

John Tavares to explore his options during free agent interview period

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DALLAS — John Tavares may still re-sign with the New York Islanders, but he’s going to at least see what’s out there before making a final decison.

When the interview period for prospective free agents opens this week, Tavares will meet with five teams, his agent Pat Brisson confirmed.

The 27-year-old Tavares said all season long that he wants to re-sign, but as we sit eight days away from the opening of the free agent market, he’s yet to agree to any deal. The Islanders can offer him an eight-year contract, while other NHL teams can only go as many as seven.

“This is where I hope to be. I’ve always stated that,” Tavares said in April. “But obviously I have some time to think about my situation and go from there. I’ve loved it here and people have really embraced me, the team and organization have been first class since I’ve gotten here. Obviously, some great talent and some great things ahead. Definitely a lot of positives and I’ll have to take some time and figure out what I want to do and go from there.”

The Islanders have used their off-season to begin taking the franchise in a different direction. GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight were relieved of their duties and Lou Lamoriello was brought in as the new president and GM. This past week he went out and replace Weight with Barry Trotz, who just won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals.

Those are definitely a pair of moves not only to improve the organization but also show Tavares that ownership is serious about making the team a contender again. Will this work? Only time will tell, but the Islanders are hoping their solid off-season continues with No. 91 back in their lineup next season.

“Right now, until something’s done, it’s not done,” said Lamoriello. “There’s no question that he’s a very important part of this organization. We want him to be here. We’ll just have to wait.”

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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.

Free agency looms for Orpik as Avalanche ready buyout

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When the Colorado Avalanche gave up their 47th pick to land the rights of RFA goalie Philipp Grubauer, they also took on Brooks Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit. Joe Sakic didn’t play coy about Orpik’s time likely being brief with Colorado, and that appears to be the case.

[Get the lowdown on the trade here]

The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers with a buyout in mind, according to reporters including Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

Via Cap Friendly, a buyout would mean a $2.5M cap hit in 2018-19 and a $1.5M cap hit in 2019-20 for Colorado. Between the buyout, 47th pick, and Grubauer’s eventual contract, Colorado is clearly making a significant investment in the former Capitals goalie.

As TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Friday, this situation shouldn’t be a surprise for Orpik.

“I told him I owed him the respect to let him know that the plan is to buy him out and let him be a free agent,” Sakic said. “I’m sure he’ll have a lot of teams that’ll want to add him to their group.”

Is it possible that Orpik, 37, could be back with the Capitals? The team kept the door open.

Considering that Orpik is essentially double-dipping here, it wouldn’t be shocking if the rugged defenseman came at a reasonable price. Then again, some teams might (over-)value a hard-hitting, veteran blueliner who’s won a Stanley Cup with two different squads.

After a 2018 NHL Draft loaded with modern-style, fleet-of-foot, smaller defensemen, it should be interesting to see how an old-school guy like Orpik will fare during free agency.

Chances are, there will be room for someone like Orpik somewhere, possibly even Washington.

2018 NHL Draft Tracker: Rounds 2-7

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After a lengthy first round on Friday, NHL teams are tearing through rounds 2-7 in a blur on Saturday. Not every name will stand out as of this writing, but GMs often unearth their biggest, franchise-turning bargains when they get in the weeds.

Before we get to today’s picks, let’s review some of the earlier action revolving around the top 31 selections.

This post will be regularly updated with picks coming in rapidly.

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Round 2

32. Buffalo – Mattias Samuelsson, D, NTDP
33. Detroit (from OTT via NYR) – Jonatan Berggren, W, Sweden
34. Florida (from ARI) – Serron Noel, W, OHL
35. Montreal – Jesse Ylonen, W, Finland
36. Detroit – Jared McIsaac, D, QMJHL
37. Vancouver – Jett Woo, D, WHL
38. Montreal (from CHI) – Alexander Romanov, D, Russia
39. NY Rangers – Olof Lindbom, First Goalie Taken, Sweden
40. Edmonton – Ryan McLeod, C, OHL
41. NY Islanders – Bode Wilde, D, NTDP
42. Carolina – Jack Drury, C, USHL
43. NY Islanders (from CGY) – Ruslan Iskhakov, C, Russia
44. Dallas – Albin Eriksson, W, Sweden
45. St. Louis – Scott Perunovich, D, NCHC
46. Washington (from FLA via NJD) – Martin Fehervary, D, Sweden
47. Colorado – Kody Clark, W, OHL
48. NY Rangers (from NJD) – Jonathan Tychonick, D, BCHL
49. Columbus – Kirill Marchenko, W, Russia
50. Philadelphia – Adam Ginning, D, Sweden
51. Los Angeles – Akil Thomas, C, OHL
52. Toronto (from SJS) – Sean Durzi, D, OHL
53. Pittsburgh – Calen Addison, D, WHL
54. Anaheim – Benoit-Olivier Groulx, C, QMJHL
55. Arizona (from MIN) – Kevin Bahl, D, OHL
56. Montreal (from TOR) – Jacob Olofsson, C, Swden
57. Boston – Axel Andersson, D, Sweden
58. Pittsburgh (from COL, NSH) Filip Hallander, C, Sweden
59. Tampa Bay – Gabriel Fortier, W, QMJHL
60. Winnipeg – David Gustafsson, C, Sweden
61. Vegas – Ivan Morozov, C, Russia
62. Edmonton (from WSH/MTL) Olivier Rodrigue, G, QMJHL

Round 3

63. Minnesota (from BUF) – Jack McBain, C, OJHL
64. Colorado (From, Pittsburgh, from OTT) Justus Annunen, G, Finland
65. Arizona – Jan Jenik, W, Czech
66. Montreal – Cameron Hillis, C, OHL
67. Detroit – Alec Regula, D, OHL
68. Vancouver – Tyler Madden, C, USHL
69. Chicago – Jake Wise, C, NTDP
70. NY Rangers – Jacob Ragnarsson, D, Sweden
71. Montreal (from Edmonton) Jordan Harris, D, USA
72. NY Islanders –   Jakub Skarek, G, Czech
73. Arizona (from CAR) – Ty Emberson, D, NTDP
74. Chicago (From Arizona/CGY) – Niklas Nordgren, W, Finland
75. Dallas – Oskar Back, C, Sweden
76. Toronto (From St. Louis) – Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, C, Russia
77. Boston (from FLA) – Jakub Lauko, C, Czech
78. Colorado – Sampo Ranta, W, USHL
79. Anaheim (from NJD) –  Blake McLaughlin, W, USHL
80. Columbus – Marcus Karlberg, W, Sweden
81. Detroit (from PHI) – Seth Barton, D, BCHL
82. Los Angeles – Bulat Shafigullin, W, Russia
83. Toronto (from SJS) – Riley Sotts, C, WHL
84. Detroit (from PIT) – Jesper Eliasson, G, Sweden
85. Anaheim – Lukas Dostal, G, Czech
86. Minnesota – Alexander Khovanov, C, QMJHL
87. San Jose (from Chicago/TOR via NJD and WSH) – Linus Karlsson, C, Sweden
88. NY Rangers (from BOS) – Joey Keane, D, OHL
89. Florida (from Nashville) – Logan Hutsko, C, Boston College (HE)
90. Tampa Bay – Dmitri Semykin, D, Russia
91. Winnipeg – Nathan Smith, C, USHL
92. Minnesota (from VGK) – Connor Dewar, C, WHL
93. Washington – Riley Sutter, W, WHL

Round 4

94. Buffalo
95. Ottawa
96. Carolina (from ARI)
97. Montreal
98. Detroit
99. Vegas (from VAN via PIT)
100. Dallas (from CHI)
101. NY Rangers
102. Montreal (from EDM)
103. NY Islanders
104. Carolina
105. Calgary
106. Dallas
107. St. Louis
108. Calgary (from FLA)
109. Colorado
110. New Jersey
111. Nashville (from CBJ)
112. Philadelphia
113. Los Angeles
114. San Jose
115. Vegas (from PIT via TBL)
116. Anaheim
117. Buffalo (from MIN)
118. Toronto
119. Boston
120. Chicago (from NSH)
121. Tampa Bay
122. Montreal (from WPG)
123. Florida (from VGK)
124. Washington

Round 5
125. Buffalo
126. Ottawa
127. Philadelphia (from ARI)
128. Montreal
129. Pittsburgh (from DET)
130. Vancouver
131. Nashville (from CHI)
132. NY Rangers
133. Edmonton
134. NY Islanders
135. Vegas (from CAR)
136. New Jersey (from CGY via ARI)
137. Dallas
138. St. Louis
139. Florida
140. Colorado
141. New Jersey
142. Chicago (from CBJ)
143. Philadelphia
144. Los Angeles
145. San Jose
146. Pittsburgh
147. Anaheim
148. Minnesota
149. Toronto
150. Winnipeg (from BOS)
151. Nashville
152. Tampa Bay
153. Winnipeg
154. Vegas
155. Minnesota (from WSH)

Round 6
156. Buffalo
157. Ottawa
158. Arizona
159. Detroit (from MTL)
160. Detroit
161. Vancouver
162. Chicago
163. NY Rangers
164. Edmonton
165. Los Angeles (from NYI)
166. Carolina
167. Calgary
168. Dallas
169. St. Louis
170. Florida
171. Colorado
172. New Jersey
173. Columbus
174. Philadelphia
175. Los Angeles
176. San Jose
177. Pittsburgh
178. Anaheim
179. Minnesota
180. Vegas (from TOR)
181. Boston
182. San Jose (from NSH)
183. Tampa Bay
184. Winnipeg
185. Vegas
186. Washington

Round 7
187. Buffalo
188. Ottawa
189. Arizona
190. Philadelphia (from MTL)
191. Detroit
192. Vancouver
193. Chicago
194. Ottawa (from NYR)
195. Edmonton
196. NY Islanders
197. Carolina
198. Calgary
199. Dallas
200. St. Louis
201. Florida
202. Colorado
203. New Jersey
204. Columbus
205. Philadelphia
206. Tampa Bay (from LAK)
207. San Jose
208. Pittsburgh
209. Toronto (from ANA)
210. Minnesota
211. Toronto
212. Boston
213. Nashville
214. Tampa Bay
215. Winnipeg
216. Carolina (from VGK)
217. Washington

Ilya Kovalchuk, LA Kings agree to three-year deal

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DALLAS — The Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes has come to an end and the Los Angeles Kings are the big winners.

As the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft got under way, the Kings announced they’ve agreed to terms on a three-year contract which carries a $6.25 million cap hit per season.

“We are excited to add Ilya to the LA Kings organization. He gives us an added element of skill and scoring along with a desire to win. We will withhold further comment until July 1,” said Kings general manager Blake.

Kovalchuk last played in the NHL during the 2013 season before retiring to go play in the KHL. While he was “retired” the Devils still held his rights until his 35th birthday this past April. Any attempts to make a comeback prior to turning 35 meant that teams would have had to go through the Devils to make a deal.

After leaving New Jersey, Kovalchuk spent the last five seasons with SKA St. Petersburg helping them win two Gagarin Cups. This past February, he lead the Olympic Athletes From Russia to a gold medal at the Olympics in Pyeongchang.

It was eight years ago that the Kings tried to acquire Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers before the Devils stepped in with a better offer. According to ESPN, the Thrashers GM wanted Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson and Wayne Simmonds in return, but then-Kings GM Dean Lombardi refused to give up those young pieces in return.

There were a number of teams in the Kovalchuk hunt this time as well, with many pegging the San Jose Sharks as favorites. GM Doug Wilson did a good job of clearing cap space in order to present an enticing offer for the Russian forward, but now the can shift their focus to John Tavares, if he decides to explore the market.

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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.

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