Former Winnipeg Jet Luciano Borsato believes a new team can work in Winnipeg

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In all the hustle and bustle surrounding the potential relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg one of the debates raging on centers around whether or not the NHL can work there this time around. After all, the financial climate now is quite a bit different in 2011 than it was in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets left Manitoba, Canada for Phoenix, Arizona.

While that aspect can be debated as to whether or not Winnipeg NHL fans will shell out the bucks necessary to keep a team fat and happy these days, one aspect that doesn’t seem to be questioned very much is how the fans will take to a new team. While you can talk to any number of fans in Winnipeg and get euphoric statements confirming they’ll love their potential new franchise, talking to one former Jets player helps you really believe that’ll be the case.

Luciano Borsato played for the Winnipeg Jets for five seasons in the 1990’s before moving on to play in Germany the season when the Jets departed for Phoenix. Now retired from hockey and working as an online marketer, the Canadian-born Clarkson University graduate believes that if the NHL returns to Winnipeg it will be a huge success based on how great it was while he was there.

“I have fond memories of Winnipeg. Like most Canadian kids, playing in a Canadian NHL city was a dream for me. Winnipeggers loved the team and supported us enthusiastically — the playoff white-outs with over 16,000 fans showing their unity all dressed in white would send shivers down your spine,” Borsato said.

“I hope they create that same atmosphere for every game during the regular season as well, as it was a great feeling for the players to see that support. But more than just that, I actually got to know many fans and families in the city and would be invited to their homes, restaurants and businesses regularly. That was my most personal impression of Winnipeg.”

That sort of intimate setting in Winnipeg might give some players reason to pause. After all, Winnipeg is a small city with a population between 600,000 and 700,000 people. When you compare that to Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver it’s minuscule. Compared to a similar NHL city like Edmonton and it’s right on par.

Can it work though? Borsato thinks that with the way the NHL is set up these days it can.

“Yes, I think it can work, under certain conditions. The biggest factor would be finding wealthy owners willing to not only bring the team to Winnipeg, but be prepared to absorb losses over the years. That seems to have been accomplished with the Thomson family. Due to the fluctuations in the floor of the salary cap since it was introduced, this would be the most important factor from a new owner’s perspective,” Borsato says.

In 2005, the first salary cap was $39 million with the salary floor set just over $21 million. This season, the cap is $59.4 million, with the floor now doubled to $43.4 million. Meanwhile, next season it’s believed that the salary cap will go up over $62 million and bring the floor up once again. With the salary cap tied to revenues it’s a good sign for the league to see they can keep juicing the cap. On the downside, all teams have to spend more money. Having a deep pocketed owner helps solve these issues. As for Winnipeg itself, Borsato’s sold on the fans and the market.

“From what I’ve read, Winnipeg is doing quite well economically and we all hope it continues. With the solid new fan base from the Moose and the excitement of the NHL returning, I’d like to think a new NHL team would be a great catalyst for the city.”

With the serious talk out of the way, the one lingering major debate left hinges on what to call the potential new Winnipeg franchise. We asked Borsato if he’d like to see the Jets name be resurrected or should the new franchise carve its own identity separate from the Jets legacy. His thoughts are most intriguing.

“Personally, yes. It’s nice to say you played in a city and for a team that is currently in the NHL. Having said that, the original Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes franchise would be a separate entity from a modern Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg franchise, with a different set of records, players, etc. As a business, it would make sense for a new name to be chosen, but I, and most of the former players, would be more than happy to see the Jets name back.”

We’ll find out in the coming days and weeks whether or not the new Winnipeg team will be the Jets or the Moose or any number of other possible names, but one thing’s for sure the memories of the Jets and the run they had originally in Winnipeg has everyone remembering the way it used to be fondly.

Rangers begin training camp with goal of making the playoffs

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The New York Rangers have two clear goals this season: to keep improving and return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

The addition of forwards Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, and defenseman Jacob Trouba this summer helped accelerate the team’s rebuild, and now the Rangers believe they are ready to take the next step in the second year under coach David Quinn.

”We want to make the playoffs,” Quinn said Friday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, New York, ‘Obviously it’s something we want to accomplish. The moves we made over the summer are just a continuation of what we’ve been doing over the last 16, 17 months. Within the walls of our locker room and the walls of this building, we feel good about the direction we’re going in and we’re going to continue to get better daily.”

The Rangers went into rebuilding mode by dealing some veterans at the trade deadline in 2018 and continued it at last season’s deadline. There were a lot of ups and downs in the first full season of the makeover, and they finished 32-36-14. New York had just five wins in its last 21 games (5-10-6) to end up seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 20 points out of the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Now, the team that began training camp with on-ice testing on Friday has even higher expectations than the one that left for the summer five months earlier.

”I want improvement,” Rangers team president John Davidson told reporters one day earlier: ”Playoffs is a goal for sure, but there’s got to be improvement the right way that you can count on long-term to get gratification out of the season.”

Quinn believes the familiarity the returning players have with his system should help their second training camp together get off to a better start than a year ago. And they should be better prepared for their coach’s physical demands.

”They certainly have done everything we’ve asked them to do away from the rink,” Quinn said. ”They look in better shape, they’re a little bit older, a little bit more mature. We just want to continue to build on the progress they made last year.”

Signing Panarin in free agency was a big boost. The 27-year-old had 28 goals and 59 assists last season while helping Columbus get the last wild card in the Eastern Conference and then beat Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay to advance to the second round. He brings career totals of 116 goals and 204 assists in 322 games over four seasons with Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks.

Kakko was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, and Trouba was acquired in a trade with Winnipeg and then signed as a restricted free-agent.

Davidson, who rejoined the organization in May after stepping down as the president of the Columbus Blue Jackets, knows Panarin well.

”He’s competitive, really competitive,” Davidson said. ”The big spots in games, he likes to find a way. … He’s’ a guy that’s going to show up for work every day and you don’t have to worry about him.

”He’s very strong, strong on the puck, strong in loose-puck battles.”

Some other things to know as the Rangers head into their first practice sessions on Saturday:

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Henrik Lundqvist back for his 15th season after going 18-23-10, with career-worst of a 3.07 goals-against average and a .907 save-percentage. It also marked the first time he had fewer than 24 wins.

Alexandar Georgiev is coming off a solid season as the backup, going 14-13-4 with a 2.91 GAA. The 23-year-old could be challenged for the No. 2 spot by Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, who has come over from the KHL.

Davidson and Quinn both said they don’t have a target for games in mind for Lundqvist, but don’t want to overuse him.

”We want him to have a great season so that when we do make the playoffs he’s in a position where he’s fresh,” Quinn said.

LINE COMBINATIONS: Quinn said he plans on starting camp with Pavel Buchnevich joining the first line with Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Filip Chytil will get a look at centering the second line with Chris Kreider on the left wing and possibly Kakko or fellow rookie Vitali Kravtsov on the other side.

Lias Andersson and Brett Howden will get chances in the middle on subsequent lines. Ryan Strome is likely to start out on a wing, but could also see some time at center.

O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: The Rangers haven’t had a captain since trading Ryan McDonagh at the deadline in 2018, and there doesn’t appear to be a standout favorite to fill that role.

”I think we’d like to have a captain but that’s something that’s going to evolve,” Quinn said. ”We’re in a situation where it’s going to happen and the captain will pick himself in a lot of ways.”

Wild signs Jared Spurgeon to 7-year, $53 million extension

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One of Bill Guerin’s first big moves as general manager of the Minnesota Wild was to make sure one of his team’s top defenders will remain with the team for quite a long time.

The team announced on Saturday that it has signed veteran defender Jared Spurgeon to a seven-year, $53 million extension. The contract, which begins at the start of the 2020-21 season, will run through the end of the 2026-27 season and carry a cap hit of $7.575 million. That salary cap hit is the largest one ever handed out by the Wild, just barely topping the cap hits belonging to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

Spurgeon was set to become an unrestricted free agent this upcoming season and would have almost certainly been one of the top players on the open market. Instead, he remains in Minnesota where he will continue to play for the only team he has ever known.

In the short-term, Spurgeon is worth every penny to the Wild. He may not be a household name among the NHL’s elite defenders, but he is an excellent top-pairing player that excels in both his own end of the ice and offensively. The only potential downside to the deal is that Spurgeon turns 30 in November and will be turning 31 in his first year of the new contract.

That is an expensive investment in a player on the wrong side of 30, something the Wild already have a lot of. With Spurgeon’s contract in place the team now has more than $38 million committed to seven players next season that will be over the age of 30. That number would only increase if they re-sign Mikko Koivu.

How Spurgeon’s career holds up will go a long way toward determining how this works out for the Wild.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Blues turn back the clock with alternate jersey

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The St. Louis Blues unveiled their alternate uniform for the 2019-20 season on Saturday, and they are going back to the days of Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Wayne Gretzky, and Chris Pronger.

For three home games this season the Blues will wear their mid-1990s uniforms that feature a diagonal yellow musical staff, some red, and a trumpet on the shoulders.

The Blues will wear these uniforms on Nov. 21 against the Calgary Flames, Feb. 27 against the New York Islanders, and March 31 against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Blues offer a closer look at all of the features of the jersey.

What do you think, Blues fans? Are you happy with this temporary retro look for this season?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Capitals’ Kuznetsov suspended 3 games for ‘inappropriate conduct’

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The NHL announced on Saturday that Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has been suspended for three regular season games, without pay, for what the league is calling “inappropriate conduct.”

In late August, Kuznetsov was given a four-year ban from the IIHF after testing positive for cocaine at the 2019 World Championships. That ban came just months after a now-deleted social media video surfaced that included Kuznetsov in a hotel room with white powder on a nearby table.

Kuznetsov met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week to discuss the failed test. That meeting resulted in the three-game suspension.

The NHL also announced that Kuznetsov informed the league he will not be appealing the suspension.

Kuznetsov released a statement, via the Capitals:

“I have decided to accept the NHL’s suspension today. I am once again sorry that I have disappointed my family, my teammates, and the Capitals organization and fans. I promise to do everything in my power to win you back with my actions both on and off the ice. I also understand that I am fortunate to have an opportunity to make things right. Thanks to the Capitals, NHL, and NHLPA, I have taken many steps in the right direction and I’m confident that I will continue on that path. I am grateful for everyone’s support and I’m looking to move forward from this point. While I can appreciate that people may have additional questions, I will not be commenting further on this matter.”

Kuznetsov will miss games against the St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, and Carolina Hurricanes.

He will be eligible to make his 2019-20 debut on Oct. 8 against the Dallas Stars.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.