Five Thoughts: Canucks get all the puck luck while Sharks shake off “choker” label

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We’re down to just one series left to figure out who will take part in the Stanley Cup finals and thanks to the Canucks amazing and fortunate double overtime victory, we know how half of the final matchup will be set up. Last night’s game is one that will stand out through these playoffs as one of the better games we’ve seen. As for our thoughts on things… We’ve got a few.

1. Remember when people were bagging on Roberto Luongo as a goalie who couldn’t get things done in the playoffs? It seems like forever ago, but that series against Chicago that saw Luongo benched in Game 6 turned out to be the turning point for him. He played great in Game 7 of that series and has been out of his mind good since then in helping beat Nashville in six games and now San Jose in five. His 54 save performance last night stands out as one of his best in these playoffs, if not his career.

In a playoffs that’s seeing players shake off old criticisms and carving out new legacies for themselves, it might turn out to be Luongo that gets the monkey off his back in the biggest way. You keep waiting to see signs of the old, shaky Luongo pop up and it just hasn’t happened since the Chicago series. In the Stanley Cup finals he could prove to be Vancouver’s biggest factor should they win it all, he’s been that good.

2. One of my thoughts after the Canucks got past Chicago in the first round was that it would be the motivator they needed to roll through the rest of the playoffs. Since then they got a great series out of Ryan Kesler and stellar play from Luongo to beat Nashville and then got incredible play out of Henrik Sedin and his line as well as more great play from Luongo to beat San Jose. Whether they face Boston or Tampa Bay, those teams are going to have their hands full with trying to defend against all the depth the Canucks bring to the table.

If you shut down the Sedins, you have Kesler playing out of his mind. If you bottle up the forwards, the Canucks defense finds ways to generate offense. And if you’re able to get through all of that there’s still Luongo to try and beat. Vancouver’s depth and talent level are two major reasons why we liked them to win the Stanley Cup when the playoffs began but now they’re getting the puck luck and the other breaks that teams that win it all seem to get.

3. Ryan Kesler’s apparent injury in last night’s game gave Vancouver fans a reason to feel sickly about things. Of course, whatever it was that was ailing Kesler wasn’t enough to keep him out of action long as he got back on the ice and managed to score the game-tying goal late in the third period. His production was vastly reduced in the Western Conference finals especially when compared to the previous round against Nashville, but his importance to the team is sky high and will be vital to the Canucks chances at winning the Stanley Cup.

Of course, the key here will be to see just how hurt Kesler is. With the Canucks continuing on we may not find out right away and considering he did come back into the game, it may not be all too bad. The upside to finishing up now means he’ll get at least a few days to rest up. We’re going to assume he and the Canucks will be rooting for Boston and Tampa Bay to go seven just to be safe.

4. After the game it was revealed that Sharks captain Joe Thornton played Game 5 with a separated shoulder. Thornton had 32:15 of ice time last night while getting seven shots on goal, no points, and finishing up with a -2 plus/minus rating. Thornton was also 10-18 on faceoffs. I think we can put the “playoff stiff” label away for good on Thornton. His play was solid, his play was tough, and he continued to do all the same things he had done in the playoffs defensively. He wasn’t able to get the offense going in this one, but he did more than his fair share of work all series and playoffs long.

Anyone looking to cast negative words toward Thornton now is either a wayward fan who’ll never be happy or a long time Bruins fan still holding a grudge against him for similar injured yet point-free heroics in the 2004 playoff loss to Montreal. The Sharks failure to get out of the Western Conference finals again will make it seem like they choked yet again, but getting knocked off by a better team is no reason to hang your head in shame. It’s just how it goes sometimes.

5. Sharks fans are obviously disappointed after another shortcoming in the Western Conference finals and some may wish for GM Doug Wilson to make drastic changes. One of the names being thrown around by fans immediately is that of Dany Heatley but with three years and $19 million still owed to him, he’s not going anywhere after such a miserable playoff series. Heatley did play well defensively in Game 5, but paying $7.5 million a year against the cap for a guy who’s supposed to score bunches of goals who’s playing better as a checking forward doesn’t make him attractive to any team.

Heatley should have some soul searching to do during the offseason to figure out where his heart and focus have gone off to. He showed signs of that in Game 5, but overall his playoffs were yet again highly forgettable. Heatley is being paid to play like a force of nature on the ice and striking fear into goaltenders. He’s got to find a way to blend in that tough defensive work and reignite his offensive game.

Seattle’s addition looms as part of draft weekend story

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — While the selections of Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kaako and the P.K. Subban trade all got their deserved attention during the NHL draft, one of the biggest crowds of the weekend surrounded a 59-year-old team executive and a Hollywood filmmaker.

More than six months after the NHL announced its 32nd franchise, what’s happening in Seattle remains a curiosity in the hockey community. With the draft in Vancouver, and Seattle team president and CEO Tod Leiweke and part-owner Jerry Bruckheimer hanging out for the weekend, it amplified the questions about what is to come next for the yet-to-be-named franchise a couple hours to the south.

Seattle is still two years away from an expansion draft, its first league-wide draft and eventually dropping the puck on its inaugural season. Yet the healthy interest in what is happening there was a big part of the draft weekend.

What’s going to be the team name? What will the colors be? Is the arena timeline still on track so the building could host the 2021 draft as the Seattle group desires?

Maybe most important to the hockey operations side of the 31 other teams – who is going to be the general manager and when will that person be hired?

”I will say this, the rest of the league is so excited about Seattle,” Leiweke said. ”We’re going to bring the Pacific Northwest into the league. It’s a big territory. We’ve got Oregon, Washington, Alaska so I think the teams are really excited. They’re really friendly right now, I’m not so sure they’re going to be that way forever. For the time being they’re fantastic.”

Yes, teams are being helpful and welcoming of the Seattle franchise, in part due to the respect they have for Leiweke. His success in previous NHL stops when Minnesota was getting started and in revitalizing Tampa Bay has given him clout among the rest of the league. The other league executives know Leiweke will demand Seattle be an elite franchise from the start.

”He’s done this a lot,” said Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, who worked with Leiweke in Tampa Bay and was at one time thought to be a GM candidate in Seattle. ”He knows how to run a team, he knows how to build a building. He knows how to create an environment, the in-game presentation, everything about running the business side of a pro sports team he’s done it. His personality and energy and people skills, he gets it done.”

But franchises also are starting to take account of what their own rosters will look like two years from now when Seattle starts to pillage other teams under the same rules that helped make Vegas so successful in its first season.

GMs are smarter now and creative ways to potentially protect players are popping up. For example, when the Philadelphia Flyers signed center Kevin Hayes to a $50 million, seven-year deal, they included a full no-movement clause in the first three seasons to protect him from Seattle expansion. Hayes has a 12-team no-trade list in the final four years of the contract.

”It’s still early. Your roster is going to be different in two years and you have an outlook, but you know it’s coming,” Colorado GM Joe Sakic said. ”We didn’t worry about it last time (with Vegas), but we were the worst team in the league last time. If you have to worry you have two or three guys they might select, chances are you have a pretty good team.”

Whether Seattle can have the same expansion draft success as Vegas will largely depend on its GM and staff. While Seattle’s management was in Vancouver to learn some of the logistics of potentially hosting the draft in the future, the status of its GM opening remained a priority.

Seattle did make one addition, hiring Alexandra Mandrycky as the team’s director of hockey administration. Mandrycky was previously a hockey operations analyst for Minnesota.

”I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the faith Tod and the team have shown in me and their desire to use analytics to help build an outstanding team,” Mandrycky said.

Leiweke said there could be a GM hire this summer. Whenever it happens, it’ll be the first of many dominos over the next several months that’ll eventually include a nickname and colors.

”We’re prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things, we’re prepared to do that,” Leiweke said. ”Part of what Jerry and I have been doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks to get their take. It’s really a lot of fun.”

Nashville GM David Poile went through the expansion process with the Predators in 1998 and said while there was pressure with creating a new franchise, it also was freeing to try out new things and build a team from its infancy.

Whoever ends up being the GM in Seattle will have a similar experience.

”It’s one of those things where you get your handprints, fingerprints over everything that is being done in the franchise from hiring your scouting staff to coaches, to working on your rink, your dressing room, all those things,” Poile said. ”I thought it was one of the most fun years I’ve ever had.”

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Perry’s free agent value; McDavid’s shoelace belt

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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.

• What we learned at the 2019 NHL draft (ESPN)

• One standout from each round at the NHL Draft. (Sportsnet)

• Interview period spices up UFA rumor mill. (Toronto Sun)

• Diversity on display at the NHL Draft. (NHL.com)

• US program won the draft, but the Ontario Hockey League poised for a bounceback. (London Free Press)

• Stars’ Zuccarello set to test free agent waters. (NHL.com)

• Steve Yzerman’s first selection as GM of the Detroit Red Wings raised some eyebrows. (Winging it in Motown)

• The top 14 names taken in the NHL Draft. (SB Nation)

• With the draft behind them, the real challenge begins for the Winnipeg Jets. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Marleau deal could set a precedent for other trades. (Yardbarker)

• How should Corey Perry be valued as a free agent? (Sportsnet)

Connor McDavid wore a shoelace-belt to the NHL Awards. Here’s why you shouldn’t chirp him about it. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

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.

Rebooting World Cup of Hockey to be part of NHL labor talks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — With labor talks having already begun on an informal basis, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Don Fehr are in favor of rebooting the World Cup of Hockey tournament and holding it every four years.

The stumbling block to laying out a long-term calendar of international competition, however, revolves around the hot-button topic of the NHL competing at the Winter Olympics after skipping out on South Korea last year.

”One of the things I hope we will have is an agreement to establish the long-term schedule for international events which would include World Cups of Hockey,” said Fehr, stressing the plural ”Cups” during an interview with The Associated Press at the league’s draft festivities in Vancouver, British Columbia, this past weekend. ”That’s a stand-alone event. It should not be seen as competing with or replacing the Olympics. It can be done.”

Bettman is on board when it comes to the World Cup.

”We think that’s a great event and it’s something we’ve been trying to work out for more than two years,” he said. ”We’re all in favor of setting an international calendar, and it takes two to tango, so to speak.”

There’s a caveat, of course, and the reason why the two sides aren’t tangoing just yet.

”We think the World Cup of Hockey can be a wonderful event, particularly if we don’t go to the Olympics,” Bettman said.

Though resolving a way to reduce the percentage of players’ salaries being held back annually in an escrow fund is the NHL Players’ Association’s most pressing concern with the collective bargaining agreement, international competition is also on the list.

And that’s where the World Cup – revived in 2016 – and Olympic Games participation will play a role once formal negotiations begin this summer leading up to September deadlines in which either side can choose to opt out and terminate the current CBA by the fall of 2020. The owners have until Sept. 1 and players on Sept. 15 to reach their decisions and set the clock ticking toward another potential work stoppage.

”There have been a series of discussions. I don’t think I would call them formal negotiations yet,” Fehr said. ”And if your next question’s going to be how it’s going to end up, I’m going to tell you, ask me in the middle of August because I don’t know yet.”

Players are unhappy with the league’s decision to skip the most recent Winter Games after having participated in the previous five. Shutting down the regular season for two weeks is an issue for owners, as was the time difference regarding South Korea, with games being played in the early morning for North American audiences.

The union sides with the league involving other issues regarding Olympic participation such as players’ medical insurance coverage and marketing rights.

None of those apply when it comes to the World Cup because it’s jointly controlled by the league and union, with both sides splitting the revenue.

The World Cup’s return was greeted with a tremendous amount of fanfare when Bettman and Fehr shared the podium at the 2015 all-star game festivities in Columbus, Ohio, to announce the eight-team event would be held in Toronto the following year.

There was even discussion – but no resolution – of having it held every four years. The World Cup was previously played in 1996 and 2004, and succeeded the Canada Cup, which was held five times from 1976-91.

Speaking only for himself and not the union, Fehr said he would prefer the NHL compete at the Olympics and then have the World Cup held every four years – with two years separating the events.

”If it was up to me, I’d do it all sooner rather than later, but we’ll see,” Fehr said. ”The question is, can we get the agreement on all the intervening pieces.”

Fehr noted the union and NHL can’t resolve the Olympic participation question alone in labor talks because outstanding issues must also be negotiated with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee.

Bettman doesn’t see why the two sides can’t reach a deal on the World Cup, given they’re both in favor.

”Yes, so it should get done,” Bettman said. ”We’re going to ultimately come together and figure out something that everybody’s comfortable with.”

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

Subban excited with trade to Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — P.K. Subban wasn’t exactly shocked Saturday when the six-time NHL defenseman was traded from the Nashville Predators to the New Jersey Devils.

”I’ve been through the process before,” Subban said in a conference call with the media Sunday. ”There was a lot of talk after the season about what the Predators would do. Being in a (salary) cap world, every time you’re up against the cap and when you draft well, you have to pay players. We kind of knew that there would be changes, especially after losing in the first round (of the NHL playoffs to the Dallas Stars). I didn’t know what to expect.”

But when Subban got the call while in California that he had been traded to the Devils for defenseman Steven Santini, prospect Jeremy Davies and second-round draft picks Saturday and in 2020, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner was elated.

”When I found out that I was traded to the New Jersey Devils, I was extremely excited,” the 30-year-old Subban said. ”I’m looking at it as a fresh start. My job is to come out and help build a championship team. Winning is the most important thing to me. It’s the one thing I look at. I’m not playing for a contract. The most important thing is a championship and I haven’t won one yet. I’m going to an organization that has won. You have to set yourself up to win a Stanley Cup.”

The Devils won the Stanley Cup three times, in 1995, 2000 and 2003, but have qualified for the NHL playoffs just once in the last seven years, that being a first-round loss in 2018 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils failed to make the playoffs in 2019, but earned the first pick overall in the NHL Draft Saturday, with which the team selected American star Jack Hughes.

Although Subban is coming off the least productive season of his 10-year NHL career, scoring just nine goals and collecting 22 assists for 31 points in a career-low 63 games, he is confident that he can rebound with his new club.

”I always have something to prove,” Subban said. ”I don’t look at anything as being my low year. I always have to look at the big picture. I have trust in my body. Before last year, I played 82 games. I’m confident that I have a lot of good hockey in me. We had a lot of great defensemen in Nashville. In New Jersey, it will be a different situation and a different opportunity. I can take on a leadership role.”

Subban knows that getting traded to a new franchise will increase expectations.

”I have three years left in my contract (an 8-year, $72 million deal he signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 2015 and he’s expected to earn $10 million a year with the Devils this season),” Subban said. ”My expectations are to be in the top three or top five defensemen in the league. I know that if I’m at the top of my game, I could be the best in the league.”

Subban said that he plans on moving to New Jersey with his girlfriend, former Olympic gold medal skier Lindsay Vonn.

”I have an amazing girlfriend,” Subban said. ”After games, it’s great to have someone like that to come home to. She’s really excited about coming to New Jersey. She’s very supportive. She’s no longer competing, but she’s brought the competitive spirit over to my game. She talks about every player and is very interested. She has a lot of friends in the New Jersey area. She lived with me in Nashville and will be moving with me to New Jersey.”

Although the Devils struggled in 2018-19, Subban is confident that the team will bounce back with the addition of him and top draft pick Hughes.

”The system in New Jersey has always been built on winning,” Subban said. ”It was always tough to play the New Jersey Devils. They didn’t give you much. The players show a commitment to winning. They have a lot of young talented players who play. Growing up, watching the New Jersey Devils, I watched players like Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, old school players who respected the game.”

Subban seemed to be overjoyed by the trade to the Devils, even if the team is still in contract negotiations with former NHL Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall.

”He’s one of the go-to guys there and we have to get him signed,” Subban said of Hall. ”People understand that I’m not the only person there. All of us together want to make this team a champion. A lot of teams would dream to have the young talent that the Devils have. I’m there to compliment the young players. I’m confident that the best years are still ahead of me. I want to make a difference. I want to make an impact.”