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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)

PHT Morning Skate: Thornton not ready for retirement; Best Lundqvist trade scenario

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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.

• Cam Neely and Jeremy Jacobs were impressed by Zdeno Chara‘s level of courage throughout the Stanley Cup Final. (WEEI)

• It’s going to be a really interesting off-season for Torey Krug. (Bruins Daily)

• The Canadiens should force the Jets’ hand by going after Nikolaj Ehlers. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Could the Capitals move up or down in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft? (NBC Sports Washington)

• ESPN looked at how former first overall pick Patrik Stefan was able to move on from a disappointing career. (ESPN)

• The Hockey News got to chat with Penguins star Sidney Crosby at the NHL Awards. (The Hockey News)

• Will Barry Trotz and/or Robin Lehner come away with major awards in Vegas? (Newsday)

• What does the ideal Henrik Lundqvist trade scenario look like? (New York Post)

Rasmus Dahlin had one of the best rookie seasons in Sabres history. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• It doesn’t sound like Joe Thornton is ready to hang up his skates just yet. (NHL.com)

• Flames forward Sean Monahan believes his teammates Mark Giordano is a no-brainer for the Norris Trophy. (Flames Nation)

• What do the Vegas Golden Knights look for in a draft pick? (Sinbin.Vegas)

Neal Pionk was shocked when he found out he was being traded to the Jets. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• Bobby Brink might be the first player from Minnesota taken in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. (Minneapolis StarTribune)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million deal: report

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The Philadelphia Flyers took a calculated gamble, trading a late-round pick for the rights to negotiate with center Kevin Hayes. It appears that move is now paying off, for both team and player.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Tuesday night that Hayes, a pending unrestricted free agent, are closing in on a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.14 million annual average value), taking one more big name free agent off the board long before the free agency window opens on July 1.

A day normally referred to as a ‘frenzy’ will be merely a whimper at the pace big names are being erased off the list.

The Flyers really wanted their guy, so much so that they’re paying a guy who’s only broken the 20-goal mark once and has only surpassed 50 points once, too — this year, with 55 points in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.

But teams will pay big money for a top-six center who is large in stature and has a knack for using that frame to drive to the net. At 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds, Hayes is a formidable figure on the ice and at 27, is coming into the prime of his career.

Hayes becomes the 18th highest paid center in the NHL, making more than Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado and Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg — all three players who are top-line centers on their respective teams and with significantly more success in the production department.

CapFriendly has the nearest comparable to Hayes’ contract listed as Ryan O'Reilly of the St. Louis Blues, who won the Conn Smythe a few nights ago.

The Flyers acquired the rights to court Hayes last week when they sent a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Jets, who brought Hayes in from the Rangers at the trade deadline.

Hayes didn’t impress in Winnipeg, but came into a team that was on a downward trajectory and couldn’t rectify it himself.

Initially, it was reported that Philly wasn’t No. 1 on Hayes’ list. We can suppose that changed as the AAV rose in negotiations.

A couple thoughts:

  • Matt Duchene must be licking his chops at this point. Duchene, a UFA himself, is going to be signing T-Pain’s ‘I’m so Paid’ for years to come.
  • It would appear the dollar figure for William Karlsson would come in around this mark.
  • The Flyers are doing big things this offseason.

Earlier on Tuesday, they added defenseman Justin Braun from the San Jose Sharks, taking advantage of a team that needed to shed some salary.

The Hayes signing just highlights further the aggressive off-season by Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is undertaking, vastly different than Ron Hextall’s slow-and-steady plan.

Over the last week, they added Matt Niskanen from the Washington Capitals by shipping Radko Gudas the other way and bought out Andrew MacDonald‘s contract.

And they still have nearly $23 million to work with and restricted free agents in Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov they still need to sign.

The Flyers are that darkhorse team for next year. They’ve appeared to find a capable starter in Carter Hart, have re-tooled their blue line and still have names such as Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek to go along with the Hayes addition.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Trent Yawney joins McLellan’s coaching staff with LA Kings

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Trent Yawney has joined Todd McLellan’s staff as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings announced the hiring Tuesday.

Yawney was an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers last season. The former Chicago Blackhawks head coach spent 2014-18 on the staff of the Anaheim Ducks, working under Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle.

Yawney was McLellan’s assistant for three seasons with the San Jose Sharks from 2008-11. Yawney and McLellan also played together for two seasons with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades from 1983-85.

Yawney specializes in coaching defensemen. He joins a staff in Los Angeles including Marco Sturm and goaltending coach Bill Ranford, two holdovers from Willie Desjardins’ staff last season.

McLellan was hired by the Kings on April 16.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Trouba trade highlights Rangers’ brilliant rebuild

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While it’s important to understand the context for why the Jets made the trade, the bottom line is that the Jacob Trouba trade is a slam dunk for the New York Rangers. Scratch that, we need a more pronounced sports metaphor: it was a grand slam.

It also says a lot about the Rangers’ rebuild process that, while the Trouba trade might be management’s best move yet, there are plenty of other fantastic moves to choose from.

Brassard bonanza

If you want a starting point that includes an exclamation point, begin with the monstrously one-sided Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard trade. The trade seems to get more lopsided with every Zibanejad goal, and after every time Brassard sadly packs his bag after being traded once again. It’s almost cruel that the Rangers received a second-rounder while Ottawa only nabbed a seventh-rounder as part of that deal.

(Really, that trade isn’t that far off from the Rangers’ buddies in New Jersey stealing Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.)

If you start with the Zibanejad heist and end with trading for Trouba plus the near-certain selection of high-end prospect Kaapo Kakko, you’d see that the Rangers are writing the blueprint for how to run an NHL rebuild. Sure, there’s been luck here and there – particularly in getting 2019’s second pick – but the Rangers have done more to make their own luck than any other rebuilding team.

Turning Pionk and the 20th pick into Trouba

Neal Pionk‘s presence in the Trouba trade stands as one of the testaments to the Rangers’ full rebuild approach.

Where the occasionally rebuild-resistant Red Wings gave opportunities to aging veterans like Mike Green and Thomas Vanek (Vanek had a no-trade clause this past season!), the Rangers pulled a perfect “pump-and-dump” with Pionk. There’s some evidence that Pionk was a fairly substantial part of the package for the Jets, so the Rangers deserve some credit for driving up Pionk’s value. Depending upon whom you ask, the Rangers might have profited from the Jets overlooking dismal underlying numbers for Pionk.

Whatever Winnipeg’s actual opinion of Pionk might be, the bottom line is that Trouba is an enormous addition for the Rangers. You can get into a debate about how good or great Trouba really is, but the bottom line is that he’s immediately the Rangers’ best blueliner, and almost certainly by a wide margin.

(As great as the Pionk pump-and-dump turned out, the Rangers’ paltry defense opened up that scenario by … you know, being really bad.)

Putting on a hard hat for this rebuild

Yes, the Rangers have lucked out here and there (a huge lottery jump to the upcoming No. 2 pick, the Jets being in a bind so they needed to trade Trouba, the hilarity of the Zibanejad heist), but they’ve also made their own luck by making tough decisions.

Lesser teams would have kept all or some of Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta, possibly losing them for nothing via free agency anyway. Instead, the Rangers made those often-painful choices, and are healing faster after pulling off those Band-Aids.

Thanks to that hard work, they’ve added a nice war chest of picks, prospects, players, and assets.

  • Again, Trouba is a top-pairing defenseman, if not a star, and is thus a huge addition.
  • Adam Fox is a hyped defensive prospect in his own right, costing the Rangers a couple draft picks.
  • We’ll see how Lias Andersson develops, but the Rangers wouldn’t have received the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft if they didn’t trade Stepan and Raanta.
  • Maybe the Rangers didn’t get a perfect deal for McDonagh and J.T. Miller, but it was another example of New York loading up on volume in picks and prospects. For example: if K’Andre Miller (22nd overall in 2018) becomes a gem, note that the Rangers used some of their quantity of draft picks to move up a bit and snag him.
  • A Stars’ Game 7 win against the Blues in Round 2 would have turned a 2019 second-rounder into a 2019 first-rounder for New York, but the bottom line is that the Rangers got a nice deal for Zuccarello. Also, if Zuccarello re-signs with the Stars, the Rangers get a first-rounder in 2020, instead of a third-rounder. You simply need to make that call with a 31-year-old winger, even one as beloved as Zuccarello.
  • The 20th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft went from the Jets to the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes deal, and that the Rangers sent it back to Winnipeg in the Trouba trade. So, if the Rangers didn’t trade Hayes, they might not have landed Trouba. Again: load up on picks and assets, and load up on scenarios where you can get better. The Rangers have been masterful at this.
  • If there was hand-wringing over giving up assets for Adam Fox, the Rangers soothed some of them by landing some lesser picks for Adam McQuaid.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff, and this is the abridged version of that trade book; you can see a fuller list via Cap Friendly’s handy trade history page.

Mix those above moves with some interesting picks like Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, and the Rangers are making leaps, rather than baby steps, toward being competitive once again.

Kaapo Kakko ranks as the biggest pending prospect addition, yet he could have some nice help thanks to the Rangers’ other moves.

More work to do

Speaking of other moves, the Rangers’ work isn’t done yet.

The most intriguing situation would come down to switching gears if Artemi Panarin really is interested in hitting Broadway.

The Trouba trade, not to mention the influx of talent headlined by Kakko, could make the Rangers a more appealing destination for Panarin. That’s especially true if the Rangers have even more tricks up their sleeves as Cap Friendly projects their cap space at about $19M (though a Trouba contract and Panarin pact would make that dry up fast).

The Rangers don’t have to rush things if they don’t want to, or if Panarin looks elsewhere, though.

For one thing, Mika Zibanejad rules, is just 26, and is a bargain for some time ($5.3M cap hit through 2021-22). A potential trio of DJ Z-Bad, The Bread Man, and (whatever nickname we give) Kakko could be one heck of a start.

Especially since the Rangers boast other interesting forwards at or near their primes.

Chris Kreider (28, $4.625M), Vladislav Namestnikov (26, $4M), and Jimmy Vesey (26, $2.275M) all enter contract years in 2018-19. The Rangers could trade one or more of those three forwards, either before the season or even at the trade deadline, or keep them around if they’re primed for immediate competition. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Sabres have already contacted the Rangers about Vesey, so for all we know, more significant moves could come soon.

(If you ask me, Kreider is the standout of those three, although that might make him even more appealing to trade.)

Money clearing up

The Rangers’ salary structure should look a lot cleaner after 2020-21, too.

Consider three expensive, aging veterans who are all coming off the books after two more seasons: Henrik Lundqvist (37, $8.5M per season), Kevin Shattenkirk (30, $6.65M), and Marc Staal (32, $5.75M).

For some, the Rangers’ rebuild is held back by Lundqvist, as there’s an objective argument that it would be wiser to part ways with the future Hall of Famer. That makes sense in a vacuum, but context matters: trading Lundqvist would be a very difficult thing to spin PR-wise, particularly since the Rangers are already asking fans to be patient. Maybe trading away “King Henrik” would be too extreme for fans paying big bucks at MSG.

It’s probably healthier to look at that situation with a more optimistic outlook.

There’s a scenario where the Rangers do indeed make a quantum leap from rebuilder to contender, giving Lundqvist one or two more chances to chase that coveted first Stanley Cup.

On the other hand, maybe the Rangers strategically stink, and Lundqvist either: a) plays out his contract, thus eventually opening up a ton of space in two years or b) gets antsy and asks for a trade to a contender, likely easing angst from fans if the Rangers did make a trade. Maybe Rangers fans could cheer on Lundqvist somewhere else, as some Bruins fans did when Ray Bourque lifted a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche?

All things considered, it could be worse, right?

You can apply similar logic to Shattenkirk and Staal.

In Shattenkirk’s case, I wouldn’t be shocked if the American-born defenseman rebounded at least to some extent. In 2017-18, he was hampered by a knee injury that eventually prompted surgery. Last season, it was probably tough for any Rangers defenseman to look respectable. (Hey, Shattenkirk’s relative stats are OK.)

It’s not outrageous to picture Shattenkirk’s perception rise if Trouba helps his fellow right-handed defenseman slide into a sheltered, and less prominent role. If that happened, the Rangers could either get more out of Shattenkirk from improved play, or maybe even trading him. This is a league where teams are desperate for defense, so you never know.

Marc Staal seems like more of a lost cause, at least if you look at deeper numbers, yet as we’ve seen frequently in the NHL, plenty of teams either don’t care about analytics, or will value narratives about “sturdy veterans” more than any graphs or stats.

Those teams are more liable to pursue Staal now that his term is down to two years remaining, and the Rangers could also offer to retain salary to make something happen.

Now, it’s possible that none of Lundqvist, Shattenkirk, or Staal would get traded. There may be no takers, and all three have clauses of some kind to make deals more difficult to strike.

But even if they play things out, and so at a disappointing level, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light isn’t even very far away.

***

After heaping all of this praise on the Rangers, it’s important to reiterate that there’s plenty of work to do, and plenty of ways where things could still go wrong. Maybe the Rangers make Bobby Holik-type free agent mistakes again once they start spending money, or maybe management gets impatient with losing and pulls the plug on the rebuild before the foundation settles?

Overall, though, you can’t ask for much better work than what we’ve seen from the Rangers, especially in the NHL, where teams aren’t always as bold as they should be when it comes to making trades and getting creative.

This could very well be the peak of the rebuild as far as a single week of moves goes, but this isn’t an isolated incident. The Rangers have done a brilliant job of building a brighter future after being in a pretty dark situation not that long ago.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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