Five Thoughts: Bruins domination in Game 3 and hopes for Winnipeg

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Depending on your thoughts about how a 2-0 game goes down, chances are you might’ve been far more entertained by the other news of the day yesterday. While Tim Thomas was busy shutting out a seemingly listless Lightning team, reports indicate that the Thrashers are indeed headed off to Winnipeg. All that means right now is that we’ve got a lot to sound off on in our Five Thoughts this morning.

1. We knew going into Game 3 that it wouldn’t be the up-and-down madness of goals and high-tempo play that we saw in Game 2 between Boston and Tampa Bay, but even last night’s game came off as way more of a letdown considering. Thankfully, Tim Thomas was there to save us and the game with some of his patented ridiculous saves. Tampa Bay really pushed play in the first period including a flurry of shots that saw Thomas come up especially huge.

After two games that saw Thomas both get hung out to dry at points and struggle with the Lightning attack, they got a prototypical Bruins-style game out of everyone and shut things down hardcore. If the Bruins play more games like that, they’ll do very well the rest of the way.

2. I don’t like to be critical of players before they’ve really shown they don’t have what it takes to keep up with things in the NHL, but I’m casting my worried gaze towards Victor Hedman. David Krejci’s goal in the first period happened when Hedman went to go help Brett Clark in the corner to go after the puck, leaving Krejci all alone in front of the net to score.

While Guy Boucher’s system calls for players to rotate around to make sure no one’s left alone like that, that’s a situation where Hedman absolutely cannot leave his man to blindly stick to the system. While Dominic Moore and Steve Downie offered no help there as they were both caught up in chasing Nathan Horton, all it took was one quick decision by Hedman to get after Milan Lucic to make things fall apart in an instant.

If Hedman can’t stick by a forward in front of the net that’s a bad matchup to make a forward race down to get on him. While Hedman’s eaten up big minutes through the playoffs, he lacks a physical element to his game and his offensive numbers don’t pop. Hmm…

3. If the Lightning weren’t worried about Patrice Bergeron coming back, after seeing him in Game 3 they should know better. While Bergeron didn’t factor in the scoring, it’s everything else he can do to help give the Bruins an edge that makes him a difficult matchup for Tampa. With Bergeron and Krejci out there to take faceoffs, the Bruins were able to control play right off the bat 67% of the time. Bergeron won 64% of his draws while Krejci won an astounding 72% of his.

With Tampa Bay unable to win draws anywhere on the ice, getting their offense started or getting their defense a break just didn’t happen. Guys like Vincent Lecavalier, Dominic Moore, and Steve Stamkos had better get working on those draws during practice before Saturday afternoon’s Game 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

4. All right Winnipeg, it looks like you’re going to get an NHL team back. After all the hardship after the Jets moved to Phoenix, they’re being rewarded with the Thrashers as their situation in Atlanta appears ready to peter out without a local buyer to step in. Since this move seems all but done, let’s again reignite our stand about one thing: Call them the Jets.

I don’t care if it’s the Winnipeg Jets or the Manitoba Jets, but with the NHL apparently holding the rights to the Jets name, getting that name back and bringing back that name and the history of the team is the thing that makes most sense. There’s talk that True North wants to hang on to the Manitoba Moose name or may want to go with something else entirely different, but it was the memories and the history of the Jets going back to their days in the WHA that kept hope alive in the small Manitoba city of ever getting the NHL back. Now that it’s seemingly about to happen, here’s to hoping that Mark Chipman and David Thomson tell their ad wizards to stuff it and honor the city’s NHL past moving forward.

After all, which jerseys do you think are going to sell more once this is a done deal, Jets retro merchandise (which the NHL already sells a ton of) or whatever board room creation True North might come up with? There’s a reason why fans who gathered on the streets in Winnipeg last night after Stephen Brunt’s report of a deal being done started chanting “Go Jets Go” and it’s not because they were telling the Thrashers to hurry up and fly into town.

5. As for whether or not realignment happens this year or next, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why it can’t happen this year. By all accounts the NHL prepared for this possibility by drawing up multiple schedules for next season factoring in whether or not the team would be in Atlanta or Winnipeg. According to Brunt, this is also a deal that the owners wrote off on depending on what the negotiated sale price was a few weeks ago.

Instead of having the Winnipeg team play a lame duck and horrible travel season in the Southeast Division and making everything harder for everyone in the Eastern Conference for a year, it just makes too much sense to have things prepared in advance and ready to roll since this was something the league knew might happen. It’s not as if the NHL doesn’t know who’s interested in coming to the Eastern Conference to take the Thrashers spot. Here’s to hoping the NHL did things the right way as opposed to their own way.

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

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.