2010-11 NHL season preview: Florida Panthers

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Thumbnail image for daletallon1.jpgLast season: (32-37-13, 77 points, 5th in Southeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference) The Panthers seem like they’re in a perpetual holding pattern. It was only fitting that the team was bad enough to earn the third pick in the draft, which fell just short of earning them a potential star such as Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.

Head coach: Peter DeBoer took advantage of the recent trend of AHL coaches gaining a promotion to the NHL. Who knows how patient the franchise is, but you almost feel like the 2010-11 season should be part of a grace period. The team is in a clear rebuilding stage.

Key departures: F Nathan Horton, F Gregory Campbell, D Keith Ballard. In the short term, the Panthers might actually take a step back. Horton is an injury-prone but talented forward who needed a change of scenery, but the team didn’t bring in an immediate replacement. Ballard is a solid if overpaid defenseman who might be missed a bit.

Key arrivals: D Dennis Wideman, F Steve Bernier, F Michael Grabner, F Chris Higgins, D Mike Weaver. Wideman is an up-and-down defenseman who can be leaky in his own end but also put up big numbers. Bernier and Higgins are frustrating players while Grabner might benefit from a great opportunity in Florida. First-round pick Erik Gudbranson might make a jump to the NHL right away.

Thumbnail image for vokounsquashed.jpgUnder pressure: Tomas Vokoun is in a contract year on a rebuilding team. If he can put together another impressive statistical season, he’ll either be rewarded by the Panthers or another team with a big deal.

Protecting the house: Vokoun is the starter and flash-in-the-pan backup Scott Clemmensen should stay in place, although super-prospect Jacob Markstrom might get some playing time if the team is far out of the playoff race. Goalies have been the strength of this team all the way back to Roberto Luongo’s time there (heck, some might say since the days of John Vanbiesbrouck) and that’s still the case.

The Panthers defense is a weird mix of damaged veterans (the much-maligned Bryan McCabe, Wideman and Bryan Allen) as well as young guys who might not be ready yet (Gudbranson and Dmitri Kulikov). Essentially exchanging Ballard for Wideman is a considerable downgrade for a decent-at-best group. On the bright side, the future looks pretty good for their blue line.

Top line we’d like to see: Cory Stillman-Stephen Weiss-David Booth. Stillman is a nice playmaker who is getting long in the tooth, Weiss has the two-way skills that make him a stat-blogger favorite and Booth is a power forward in the making if he can conquer his concussion issues. This line would have a little bit of everything, although it would be far from elite.

bryanmccabecaptain.jpgOh captain, my captain: I’ll admit, I had to look this up, but … McCabe? Really? Hahaha.

Street fighting man: The Panthers put up a lot of fights last season (50) compared to their division mates, but they no longer have their leading fighter Nick Tarnasky listed on their roster (he’s currently a free agent). Still, with new GM Dale Tallon, I imagine they’ll probably throw some punches. Bryan Allen had nine fights last season and Byron Bitz sounds like the kind of guy that might pick up the fighting mantle.

Best-case scenario: Well, I guess a dark horse run to a playoff spot would be the best-case scenario? Honestly, the team would be better off tanking for some blue chip talent.

Worst-case scenario: The Panthers seemingly always end up just short of a playoff berth which is a bad place to be in the current NHL. They don’t get the premium prospects that come with high picks or the prestige and gate revenue of a playoff run. Doing so again would make Tallon’s rebuild process go much slower.

Keeping it real: Tallon is doing a nice job, but there will be some growing pains. The team is better off being lousy this season as they amass young, talented through the draft and shrewd free agent moves. Aside from their goalie duo, the team really doesn’t have many strengths.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Florida rates a 1. Perhaps they could ride Vokoun’s talent (and the inspiration that comes with a contract year) into a stunning playoff run, but they’ll likely trade him in the middle of the season and truly commit to the rebuilding process.

Obscure penalty call against Tarasenko continued Blues’ weird rules week

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Thanks to Ryan O'Reilly‘s shorthanded goal in overtime on Friday night the St. Louis Blues were able to win consecutive games for just the third time this season. A shorthanded goal in overtime is always noteworthy just because of the circumstances, especially when it lifts a team that has been struggling all season.

What made this one so fascinating for the Blues is why they were shorthanded in the first place.

Just 1:31 into the overtime period Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko was whistled for using an illegal stick when he picked up a stick that originally belonged to defenseman Colton Parayko. There is nothing in the rule book against using a teammates stick (it is actually quite common when a defender loses or breaks their stick during the flow of the game) with one large exception — when your teammate is so tall that they have been given an exception by the league to use an oversized stick.

That is the case for the 6’6″ Parayko.

Via NHL rule 10.1

No stick shall exceed sixty-three inches (63″) in length from the heel to the end of the shaft nor more than twelve and one-half inches (121/2″) from the heel to the end of the blade.

Requests for an exception to the length of the shaft (only) may be submitted in writing to and must be approved by the League’s Hockey Operations Department prior to any such stick being approved for use.

Only players 6’6” tall or more will be considered for exception. Maximum length of a stick granted an exception under this rule is sixty-five inches (65”).

It is then illegal for any other player on the ice to use a stick belonging to him. As soon as Tarasenko picked it up and used it in the game, he was guilty of the rules violation. O’Reilly said after the game, via the Associated Press, that he and the rest of the Blues’ bench had no idea of the rule. It is also some stellar eagle-eyed officiating by referees Kendrick Nicholson and Dan O’Halloran to spot the infraction and make the call.

Fortunately for the Blues it did not end up hurting them as O’Reilly scored the winning just 35 seconds later.

Parayko also scored two goals during the game.

This is the second obscure rule the Blues have been involved with in as many games this week.

In their previous game, a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Florida Panthers, they had a goal disallowed on a weird play when a Robert Bortuzzo dump-in from center ice deflected off of referee Tim Peel and bounced into the net behind Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. NHL 78.5 rule state that any apparent goal will be disallowed when it has been deflected directly into the net off of an official.

The Blues are back in action on Sunday afternoon against the Calgary Flames and it might be worth watching just to see what obscure rule has to be pulled out of the rule book.

(H/T Scouting The Refs)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres suspend Patrik Berglund indefinitely for failing to report to team

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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Saturday morning that the organization has suspended forward Patrik Berglund indefinitely for failure to report to the team. The Sabres said they will have no further comment on the suspension at this time.

This announcement comes after the 30-year-old forward missed the previous two games due what coach Phil Housley had called an illness. The Sabres are set to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Saturday evening and are looking to win their third game in a row.

Berglund was one of the players acquired by the Sabres over the summer in the blockbuster Ryan O'Reilly trade with the St. Louis Blues.

In 23 games with the Sabres this season he has two goals, two assists, is a minus-five, and had been averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game. Before he missed the previous two games he had been stuck in a 10-game point drought. The last time he found the scoresheet was the Sabres’ win over the Ottawa Senators back on November 3 when he scored a goal and recorded an assist.

He scored 17 goals and nine assists in 57 games for the Blues a season ago.

Berglund is in the second year of a five-year, $19.250 million contract that carries a salary cap hit of $3.85 million per season and includes a modified no-trade clause.

The Sabres have been one of the NHL’s biggest surprise teams this season with a 19-9-4 record entering play on Saturday, good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division and a 10-point cushion over the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. This is all happening after they finished the 2017-18 season with the worst record in the league for the third time in five seasons. Along with Berglund, the Sabres also acquired Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka in the O’Reilly trade, while also adding Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary, and Carter Hutton and selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Their 42 points on the season are currently tied for the fourth most in the league.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin, Aho dazzle in duel; Scheifele on fire

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Three stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

More on this can be found here.

The tl;dr version?

Ovechkin scored his second hat trick in as many nights, extended a point streak to 13 games, a goal-scoring streak to five games and inspired an epic comeback for the Caps.

Yeah, nothing to see here.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

He was playing in the same game as Ovechkin, and had a night that will get lost in Ovechkin’s theatre.

Aho had two goals and two assists and was the orchestrator as the Hurricanes built up their 4-1 lead. It ended up being all for nothing, but Aho now has 11 goals and 33 points in 31 games this season. He’s a special player.

3. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele scored a howitzer on the power play in the first period, assisted on Mathieu Perreault‘s goal to give the Jets a 3-2 lead and then scored the overtime winner to cap off the three-point night.

It was the third time in 16 days that the Jets have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks. The Jets are now the top team in the Western Conference with 44 points.

Scheifele has had much to do with that. He’s on a four-game multipoint streak and has 20 points in his past 11 games.

Highlights of the night

Ovi’s hatty:

He makes this look so easy:

Laine release alert:

Factoids

Scores

Devils 5, Golden Knights 4 (OT)

Coyotes 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Penguins 5, Bruins 3

Senators 4, Red Wings 2

Capitals 6, Hurricanes 5 (SO)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

Jets 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

Oilers 4, Flyers 1


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

Another Ovechkin hat trick inspires epic Capitals’ comeback

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Alex Ovechkin entered God Mode on Friday night to lead the Washington Capitals back from a 4-1 deficit in a 6-5 shootout win.

The only thing that Ovechkin didn’t do on the night was score the shootout winner, which he had a chance.

Still, Ovechkin recorded his second hat trick in as many games and helped spark an epic comeback from the Capitals who, at one point, didn’t look like they showed up in Raleigh.

Instead, Ovechkin continued his assault on the NHL with goals No. 26, 27 and 28 in 31 games this season to extend his point streak to 13 games.

Get this: the last time The Great Eight had a point in 13 straight was in his sophomore season in 2006-07.

Get this, too: he’s scored now in five straight games (nine goals during that span), the first time he’s done that since his rookie season in 2005-06, where he scored in seven in a row. At the rate Ovechkin is going, he might eclipse that record.

He’s on pace for 72 goals, too.

He’s 33.

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote that Ovechkin isn’t slowing down earlier this week, and that remains true as the weekend begins.

All of this scoring from Ovi has meant a four-game winning streak and first place in the Metropolitan Division after a not-so-great start to the season.

Carolina probably deserved better in the game, or at least Sebastian Aho certainly did.

Hidden amongst Ovechkin’s heroics was a four-point night from the young Finn. The Hurricanes built up that 4-1 lead with the work of Aho its focal point. Then they gave up four straight before tying it in the last half of the third.

Carolina couldn’t convert on an overtime penalty and then couldn’t score more than a goal in the shootout to lose in its sixth round.

But enough about the losing team. The night belonged to Ovechkin in the end.

He’s pretty good, we hear.


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