Phoenix fans are OK with Winnipeg having an NHL team… Just not theirs

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Having gotten to tour around Jobing.com Arena in Glendale and to get on the ground and see how things go hockey-wise in Arizona, I got the same feeling you would in any other place in the NHL. The team is the same, the staff is the same, the facility is a gorgeous jewel in the middle of the desert. The Coyotes are led by a captain that embodies what it means to be a leader in the NHL, and there’s enough characters around the team to be extremely entertaining in any city anywhere in North America.

The fans are welcoming, warm and knowledgeable which helps make everything that’s going on surrounding the team off the ice all the more difficult. With the ongoing sale saga involving Matthew Hulsizer and the Goldwater Institute surrounding Hulsizer’s proposal to get public money to help him buy the Coyotes, the fans and residents of Glendale (not always a mutual association) are left in the awkward lurch of continuing to spend their own money on a team that they’re not even sure will be around next year.

Jobing.com Arena and the surrounding Westgate City Center filled with all sorts of economic goodies and condominiums offer plenty of things for the fans and residents to help spend their money but without an anchor tenant at the arena, prospects become quite bleak.

Jordan Frank is a Coyotes fan from Glendale who’s been a fan of the team since they moved from Winnipeg in 1996. Hearing from him, you can tell just how tough the situation is for fans there.

“I see both sides of the story. There’s no legal thing [Goldwater Institute] can do. They can try to stop it. It all comes down to whether or not the city can afford to shell out that much money in this economy. I don’t think so, but at the same time we spent tons of money building this stadium and if it’s empty… What’s the point?”

“At the end of the day, I’d be upset because it does more harm than good if the team moves, ” Frank says.

Amy Jo Green is another huge supporter of the team and she says that Goldwater’s motives in this aren’t quite looking out for the public good so much anymore as it is looking out for what’s best for themselves.

“Goldwater has latched onto this situation as an opportunity for significant publicity and fundraising for their own betterment.  If Goldwater only cared about the taxpayers, they would not be doing radio shows in Canada and doing idiotic publicity stunts like joining Facebook groups for the return of the Jets.”

Goldwater’s tactics of late throughout this affair have caught the attention of fans and they’re not happy with it. Phoenix morning radio host Brian “Sludge” Haddad has started a Facebook group of his own to mock the public watchdog commission and rally support for the team called the Sludgewater Institute.

The words I heard from lots of people around the Coyotes were simple and stuff that doesn’t provide Winnipeg supporters with a lot of fire: “We’re fine with a team going to Winnipeg… We just don’t want it to be this team.”

Former Jets fans should be empathetic to the situation given what happened when the Jets left Manitoba in the mid-1990s. While many fans in Manitoba are frothing at the mouth at the prospect of getting the NHL back, perhaps they should take a step back in the shoes they were standing in 15 years ago before getting too anxious.

Puck Treasures: The Mario Lemieux candy bun

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Puck Treasures is all about showcasing unique pieces of hockey memorabilia. Have an interesting item? Send us an email at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

You know you’ve made it when you get something named after you. It could be a street, a school, a beer… maybe even a candy bar.

We know the famous “Reggie” bar named after baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the late 1970s.

Those “Reggie” bars were produced by Standard Brands’ Curtiss Candy Company. After several ownership changes, the D.L. Clark Company, based in Pittsburgh, decided in 1992 to honor the captain of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

Behold, the Mario Lemieux Bun!

Worthpoint.com

Each bun, which featured chocolate, peanuts and caramel, contained one Lemieux hockey card. Select packages included cards autographed by Le Manifique. Check out Sal Barry’s review of the three-card set.

According to the Post-Gazette, Lemieux became the first Pittsburgh athlete with his own candy since the Bubby Bar, named after Steelers quarterback Bubby Brister. It was also the first time an NHL player was featured on an internationally marketed candy bar.

There are still some Mario Buns available on eBay, if you’re interested in collectibles or eating 27-year-old candy.

Too bad they couldn’t have teamed up with Jaromir Jagr peanut butter a few years later for a mega-powers bar.

PREVIOUS PUCK TREASURES:
The 170-year-old hockey stick valued at $3.5 million

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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.

Criticism doesn’t alter Sabres GM’s plan to build with youth

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jason Botterill is very much aware of the criticism he’s attracted overseeing a Buffalo Sabres team that extended its playoff drought to nine years by failing to even qualify for the NHL’s expanded 24-team format.

That doesn’t mean the general manager is going to his alter his vision in continuing to build the organizational depth and developing young talent.

“There’s always urgency in this position, and I’m not surprised that our passionate fans want to see a winner on the ice,” Botterill said during a Zoom conference call Wednesday, a day after the Sabres were officially eliminated following the league’s decision to forego the remainder of the regular season.

“When we talk about development, it also equates to trying to find a winning environment here,” he added. “We want our young players to step in and put them in positions where they can succeed, where they can help out our core players right away.”

Though Botterill saw glimpses of his team being competitive under first-year coach Ralph Krueger, there wasn’t enough consistency to extend the Sabres’ 50th anniversary year after games were placed on pause due to the pandemic in March.

With a 30-31-8 record, Buffalo finished 13th in the Eastern Conference standings with a .493 points per game percentage. The Sabres were edged out from securing the final spot in the expanded format by Montreal (.500).

Buffalo’s playoff drought is the NHL’s longest active streak, and one short of matching the league record shared by Florida (2001-11) and Edmonton (2007-16).

For now, Botterill has ownership’s backing after Kim Pegula this week told The Associated Press the GM’s job is secure for a fourth year.

Buffalo’s season featured a series of peaks and valleys. Following a 9-2-1 start, the Sabres proceeded to go 2-8-3 over their next 13 games. And after a 7-3-1 run put the Sabres in striking distance of the playoff race in February, the wheels fell off with a six-game skid.

“We had too many poor streaks to combat the good streaks,” veteran forward Kyle Okposo said. “One of the keys to making the playoffs and playing well season is to manage those skids. We need to find a way to do better at that.”

Okposo is preaching patience by saying he sees promise in the Sabres developing players, and the simplified structure introduced by Krueger.

“I know people are mad, and they want to win. And we want to win, too,” Okposo said. “But we are going in the right direction, and I think that’s the message I have for fans.”

BRIGHT SPOTS

Captain Jack Eichel scored a career-best and team-leading 36 goals, including nine game-winners. Forward Victor Olofsson finished with 20 goals and had been leading NHL rookies in scoring before missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. Second-year defenseman Rasmus Dahlin finished fourth on the team with 40 points (four goals, 36 assists) in 59 games.

LOW POINTS

Forward Jeff Skinner finished with 14 goals and 23 points, a year after scoring a career-best 40 goals, which led to him signing an eight-year, $72 million contract. Defenseman Zach Bogosian had his contract terminated after refusing to report to the minors. Goalie Carter Hutton won his first six starts before going 0-8-4 in 13 appearances, and finished the season 12-14-4.

BUSY OFFSEASON

The Sabres were estimated to have more than $35 million available under the salary cap this offseason, though that projection will change with the cap expected to remain flat or potential constrict due to lost revenue.

Buffalo’s cap space stands to be eaten up with Olofsson, forward Sam Reinhart, defenseman Brandon Montour and goalie Linus Ullmark the most notable players eligible to become restricted free agents.

Buffalo’s unrestricted free agents include forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larrson and late-season addition Wayne Simmonds.

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Though Botterill hasn’t ruled out adding experienced talent through trades or free agency, he also expects several youngsters to compete for jobs next season. The candidates includes former first-round draft picks Tage Thompson and Casey Mittelstadt, who spent last season developing in the minors. Then there’s 2019 first-round pick, center Dylan Cozens, who has completed his Canadian junior eligibility.

DOWN DAHLIN

Missing the playoffs doesn’t sit well with Dahlin.

“It’s tough to be here in Sweden with all my Swedish buddies going back and playing, and I’m staying here at home,” Dahlin said via a Zoom call. “It (ticks) me off a little bit.”

NHL monitoring situation before choosing where to play games

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Concerns about Canadian coronavirus restrictions could push hockey south of the 49th parallel into the U.S. this summer.

Seven of the 10 locations the NHL has zeroed in on to hold playoff games if it resumes are American cities not restricted by Canada’s 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival. As 24 teams figure out how to squeeze an expanded roster and limited personnel into one of two ”hub” cities, the Vancouver Canucks are even considering relocating training camp to the U.S. if the situation doesn’t change in the coming weeks.

”It’s something that we’re thinking about, but also too we just want to give it a few more days just to see if something is going to change,” Vancouver general manager Jim Benning said Wednesday. ”The perfect scenario we’d like to use our facilities. We’re probably going to have 30, 32 guys here and we have great facilities for our players, so we would like to do that first and foremost. But we’ve talked about moving it off site.”

The Canucks are in the same boat as the NHL, which is in no rush to choose among the 10 finalists: Las Vegas, Columbus, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. It will in the next few weeks select two or three to host Eastern and Western Conference brackets and then the Stanley Cup Final by factoring in government regulations, the frequency of COVID-19 in the community and availability of testing.

”We want to just be in a position to, in real time, have lots of options once we understand what the state of play is at the time we need to make the decision,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”We could pick one or two locations, but that might, if we made the decision today, not turn out to be as good a decision as one that we make three, four weeks from now because things are continuing to evolve in all of the places that we play.”

The league told GMs on Tuesday to plan for a roster of 28 skaters and unlimited goaltenders for training camps that won’t begin before early July and games without fans several weeks later. Each team will have a personnel cap of 50 in the city where games are played, though the Montreal Canadiens could be without one of their top players.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said forward Max Domi, who is high risk because he has Type 1 diabetes, will not play if doctors deem it to be unsafe.

Before the NHL commits to where games could be held, officials are planning for multiple scenarios. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is engaged in regular dialogue with the U.S. and Canadian governments and medical experts to determine what the health and safety landscape might look like this summer.

”That doesn’t mean we get to look for any type of exception or any type of favoritism,” said Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, who’s on the Return to Play committee. ”I think we just want to continue to follow the guidelines that are set out for us and do the best that we can. Hopefully things improve to a point where those things could be possibly loosened up, not just for us but for all of society.”

Because testing is lagging in Ontario and British Columbia’s government isn’t expected to make exceptions for the NHL, Edmonton could be Canada’s best hope. Oilers GM Ken Holland said with an attached practice rink and hotel and nearby restaurants, ”Edmonton checks off in my opinion all the boxes.”

Except that Daly said Canada’s 14-day quarantine would be a nonstarter. The NHL is already facing what Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp called a ”time crunch” to fit in effectively five rounds of playoffs, and if the focus shifts solely on U.S. locations, Las Vegas and Columbus appear to be the front-runners.

Beyond the abundance of hotels and sparkling new rink the Las Vegas Strip can offer, the arena district in Columbus could serve as an effective bubble for the NHL.

”Whether it’s from the building or the facilities surrounding the building to accommodate hotel rooms, meals — whatever it needs to be, we’ve covered it,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. ”Also the state of Ohio is in pretty good shape as far as flattening the curve and providing a safe environment that way. The transportation is easy if needed between facilities in Columbus, and we have a lot of rink facilities that we can use for the amount of teams that would be in the tournament.”

There wouldn’t be much of a home-ice advantage without fans, and the league is considering moving the ”home” team to the other city. But that isn’t stopping NHL executives from pitching the ability to host playoff games.

”We have a state of the art facility in Cranberry, the Lemieux Center, and the medical center attached and we have plenty of hotels and everything like that,” Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said. ”We meet the criteria but we understand there’s other cities that do, also.”

The two biggest surprises on the NHL’s list were Chicago and Los Angeles. The Blackhawks and Kings each said they were honored to be considered.

But not being a coronavirus hotspot and having a surplus of testing are key elements to the decision. Bettman said the league won’t interfere with an area’s medical needs or take up tests from the general public, and those in hockey hoping to land games know that.

”None of us would agree to a situation where we are taking away testing from people that need it,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. ”Several weeks from now, we would really have to be in a position where the health care community and the government community of whatever country we’re in, whatever city we’re in are in agreement that this can be done and it can be done in a respectful, conscientious way.”

Cam Talbot, supporters trying to save Alabama-Huntsville hockey program

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The lights may not be out just yet on the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s hockey program.

Days after the school announced it was cutting men’s and women’s tennis, as well as hockey, the opportunity was presented to give the team one more season and the chance to find private funding.

That fundraising goal? $1 million by the end of this week.

“[School president Darren Dawson] did make us a verbal commitment that if you get to that number, we’ll make it happen,” former UAH player Sheldon Wolitski told AL.com. “We’re hoping he’s going to honor his word. We were asking for a formal statement from him to say that. It would be a shame to put all this effort and we raise it and he doesn’t follow through.”

Dawson and athletic director Cade Smith announced last week that the program, which goes back 41 years, was ending due to budget problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hockey in Huntsville has been around since the late 70s and it’s really grown,” said Jared Ross, who played four years at UAH and whose dad coached the team for 25 years. “You look at the kids around the rink and how it’s impacted them. You see them out on the ice skating during the intermission and cleaning up the snow. It’s had a huge impact on the growth of hockey in Huntsville.”

Wolitski and another former player promised $300,00 toward the $1 million goal. A GoFundMe has raised over $260,000 as of Thursday morning toward the short-term goal of $500,000.

From the fundraising page:

For short term we are looking to raise $500,000 of the 1 million via this Go Fund Me account. If the required funds are raised, UAH has agreed to create an advisory board consisting of hockey alumni, local business leaders and major donors to help turn UAH Hockey into a world class hockey program.

That campaign has been given a signal boost by the program’s most famous alum, Flames goaltender Cam Talbot, who played for the team from 2007-10.

“The program meant a lot to me,” Talbot told NHL.com’s WIlliam Douglas. “I never thought that it would really kind of grow to allow me to live out my dream like I am now. I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity if I didn’t end up in Alabama.”

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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.