20th anniversary may be rough for the Ottawa Senators

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Milestone anniversaries are supposed to be joyous occasions of reflection and celebration. Unlike the Montreal Canadiens, this will be a single year affair where the team honors the awful first team since the franchise was reborn in 1992-93. They’ll unveil new alternative jerseys with a retro-type feel and they’ll host the NHL All-Star Game on January 29. By all accounts, it should be a special year for the fans in Ottawa with all of the special events the organization has planned. If nothing else, the season will start off with a bang when Dany Heatley makes his triumphant return to Ottawa with his new team, the Minnesota Wild.

From the team’s official website:

“This will be a special season for Senators fans,” said Senators president Cyril Leeder. “From the all-star game to a new heritage jersey and special promotions and tributes, we look to recognize the great moments from the last 20 years, while embracing why hockey makes us such big Senators fans.”

“Canada is the home of hockey and our city is proud to have the Senators as such an important part of our community,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “The Sens’ 20th anniversary season will be a celebration of a great partnership between the people of Ottawa and the team.”

Let’s be honest: another great way for the Sens to celebrate the occasion and honor the fans would be to win a few more games than they did last year. Unfortunately, Mike Brophy of Rogers SportsNet has a harsh dose of reality for any fans expecting greatness this season:

“While many teams will kick off the year hoping to win the Stanley Cup, the Senators’ realistic goal will be to simply make the playoffs. Coming off a season in which they finished 26th overall, the Senators are a heck of a lot closer to that 1992-93 team that finished with a 10-70-4 record than they are to the team that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2006-07, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five games.”

That’s rough. But hey, at least they have some good videos to get the fans pumped for the anniversary next season!

There’s no question the rebuilding effort started in earnest in the middle of last season. When it became apparent to GM Bryan Murray that the team was not competitive in the Eastern Conference, he started a fire sale that laid the groundwork for the future. Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Alexei Kovalev, and Chris Campoli were all sent out of town for a collection of draft picks. The void created by the jettisoned Senators gave guys like Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, and Erik Condra an opportunity to prove they could hang in the NHL. And they did. Oh, and the draft picks? When all of Murray’s wheeling and dealing was done, he ended up with three 1st round selections in this year’s entry draft that turned into Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Puempel.

With the plethora of moves, Murray has the Senators in a position they haven’t experienced in a while: hope for the future. He’s done an enviable job of acquiring draft picks and assembling an AHL affiliate in Binghamton that won the Calder Cup last season. They may not have the most formidable NHL roster this season, but fans can take solace in the idea that help is on the way.

As far as this season goes, the Senators are going to need career years from some of their best players if they want to compete. Jason Spezza will have to continue to be a #1 center and feed youngsters like Bobby Butler and Colin Greening. Captain Daniel Alfredsson will have to fully recover from back surgery and channel his inner-2007 Alfredsson on the ice. Sergei Gonchar will have to recapture the magic that made him an elite defenseman and Erik Karlsson will have to continue his march towards the same elite status. But most importantly, goaltender Craig Anderson will have to show everyone why the Senators signed him to a 4-year contract extension after acquiring him in February from Colorado. He’ll have to play like the guy who almost single-handedly carried the Avalanche to a playoff spot in 2009-10. In short, he’ll have to steal more than a few games.

Even if the team struggles next year in the Northeast Division against the likes of the Boston Bruins and new-look Buffalo Sabres, at least they have a few young prospects in the pipeline to make for a brighter future. Now, if people are comparing the team to the original Senators in five years, then there will be some serious cause for concern.

PHT Morning Skate: Bruins scrimmage a ‘unique’ opportunity; It’s different this time for Blues

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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.

• Team scrimmage a unique opportunity for the Boston Bruins. (Bruins Daily)

• A look at Patrick Roy’s candidacy for head coach of the Ottawa Senators. (TSN)

• Holland starting to clean house in Edmonton. (Sportsnet)

• Long-suffering Blues fans feel it’s different this time around. (ESPN)

• Blues heroics have wiped away decades of disappointment. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Why the status of Zdeno Chara doesn’t mean what it used to. (WEEI)

• Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy likens the Blues to Boston’s twin. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Berube’s Blues built on toughness. (TSN)

Alex Ovechkin will get a much-needed break, once the World Hockey Championships are over, that is. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Petr Budaj is heading to college… as a coach. (ABC Fox Montana)

• Adam Fox was worth the two picks the New York Rangers Rangers sent the Carolina Hurricanes. (EP Rinkside)

• Rangers offseason looking bright (NHL.com)

• Did what Washington accomplished last season have any bearing on the Bruins, Blues path to the Cup Final? (NovaCaps)

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

Magical playoff ride ends in more disappointment for Sharks

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Magical comebacks, dramatic wins and the most talented roster in San Jose Sharks history weren’t enough to deliver the franchise its first Stanley Cup title.

A team depleted by several key injuries ended its season with a 5-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference final Tuesday night, turning the drama of Game 7 wins in the first two rounds into footnotes on a season that was ultimately a disappointment.

”We didn’t make it easy for ourselves the whole playoffs,” defenseman Brent Burns said. ”We always battled back. We got through a lot as a team. A lot of guys just battled. Just to get this far a lot of things have to go right. We battled together but came up short. It’s crushing to come this far and not get the job done.”

The goal for the Sharks was clear ever since they acquired two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson from Ottawa just before the start of the season. Coach Peter DeBoer told his team the ingredients were in place for that elusive first championship in San Jose. It appeared like that could be the case after the Sharks rallied from three goals down in the third period of Game 7 in the opening round to beat Vegas in overtime and followed that up with another Game 7 win against Colorado in round two.

But with Karlsson unable to play the final four periods of the postseason because of a groin injury that slowed him since January, and captain Joe Pavelski and two-way center Tomas Hertl also out after taking high hits, the Sharks didn’t have enough to handle the Blues.

This season ended like so many others for the Sharks, who have won more games than any other team and the second-most playoff series the past 15 seasons but still are seeking a first championship.

”They all hurt,” said center Logan Couture, who tied a franchise record with 14 goals in the playoffs. ”It doesn’t matter what the roster is. When you get this far in the playoffs or you make the playoffs it hurts. You get in the playoffs you believe you can win.”

Here are some other takeaways from the season:

JUMBO JOE: One motivating factor for the Sharks this postseason was delivering a title for beloved leader Joe Thornton. The greatest player in franchise history turns 40 in July and has not decided whether he wants to come back for another season. Thornton dealt with injuries early in the season, then had a strong stretch as a third-line center late before struggling a bit the final two rounds outside of a two-goal performance in Game 3 at St. Louis.

”He’s the face, he’s the heartbeat of the organization,” DeBoer said. ”I think like all the players in that room, as coaches we’re disappointed for not helping him get there. Because he gives you everything he’s got and should be there.”

CAPTAIN PAVELSKI: No player personified the Sharks’ grueling journey this spring more than Pavelski. His postseason started with a puck that deflected off his face for a goal. The injuries only got worse when his helmet violently crashed to the ice, leading to a bloody concussion in Game 7 against Vegas. That led to the epic comeback with four goals on one disputed major penalty that will go down as the greatest moment in franchise history until the team wins a Cup. Pavelski made a triumphant return in Game 7 of the second round but got hurt again in Game 5 against the Blues. Pavelski turns 35 and heads into an uncertain summer of free agency following a 38-goal season.

KARLSSON’S FUTURE: It was a somewhat disappointing first season in San Jose for Karlsson and now the question is whether it will be his only one. He took about two months to find his groove and then played at an elite level for about six weeks. He hurt his groin in January and was never the same. He missed 27 of the final 33 regular-season games and was never completely healed in the playoffs. He heads into free agency in July and his decision will impact what the Sharks will be able to do with Pavelski and other key pieces.

STEPPING UP: The biggest positive for San Jose this season was the emergence of Hertl and Timo Meier as building blocks for the future. The 25-year-old Hertl was the top-scoring forward for the Sharks with 74 points and showed the capability of manning a top line as a center. The 22-year-old Meier had 30 goals and looks like a long-time fixture as a top-six forward.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Martin Jones was one of the worst starting goalies in the league during the regular season in his first year of a $34.5 million, six-year contract. He had a career-low .896 save percentage in the regular season and was pulled early in two of his first four postseason starts. He rebounded and was a key part of the first-round win over Vegas but finished the playoffs with an .898 save percentage.

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

A bet on a whim could net Blues fan $100K, another $50K

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If you’re in Las Vegas next year around January and there’s a team in last place, perhaps put a few dollars down on them winning the 2020 Stanley Cup. You never know.

That’s what St. Louis Blues fan Scott Berry did on a business trip at the beginning of the year.

Speaking to The Action Network’s Darren Rovell, Berry bet the $400 he was planning on gambling away on the Blues — at that time a 150-to-1 longshot to win the Cup.

The hotel he was staying at — Paris Las Vegas Hotel — had the Blues at 250-to-1. Telling Rovell it seemed high, he strolled over to the Bellagio and found them at only 150-to-1.

“So I sprinted back to the Paris and put down everything I had planned on spending on gambling — $400,” Berry said. “To win $100,000 sounded really good.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

With the Blues beating the San Jose Sharks in six games with a 5-1 win on Tuesday night, Berry is now on the cusp of turning his January bet into a June haul if the Blues win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Berry wasn’t the only one to throw down some cash, either.

Brendan Chapel, who plays with Berry in a rec hockey league, saw the odds after a message from the latter and dropped $200 of his own hard-earned cash on the Blues. He stands to win $50,000 if the Blues can overcome the Boston Bruins, a series that begins next Monday at TD Garden in Boston.

That’s $600 that could turn into $150,000.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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

Kaapo Kakko has made his case to be top pick at 2019 NHL Draft

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If the IIHF World Championship is a last-chance-hotel of sorts for a few lucky youngsters looking to lift their draft stock, Finland’s Kaapo Kakko certainly hasn’t checked out yet.

If anything, he’s given the New Jersey Devils brass a headache leading up to the NHL Draft on June 21.

A good headache, of course.

Jack Hughes, the American prodigy who’s set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program ablaze, has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for most of the year, and the year leading up to this draft, and perhaps sometime before that, too. He’s a special player who, in 50 games this season with the program’s U-18 team, put up 34 goals and 112 points, 20 more at the U-18 world championships and four assists in four games at the world juniors.

Thus, Hughes is rated as the top prospect in North America from NHL Central Scouting, and the top prospect in the world by several pundits. When you average 2.24 points per game, these things come pretty naturally. When you put up 228 points in 110 games with the USNTDP — a 2.28 point-per-game clip — you become one of the best, if not the best, to ever emerge from the program.

Hughes has earned his stripes heading into Vancouver, but has his reputation warded off Kakko’s rise at the Worlds?

Kakko hasn’t exactly flown under the radar. Not at all, but he’s lived in Hughes’ shadow. At least, he did.

While both are playing at Worlds right now, it’s Kakko who’s getting the big minutes playing on a Finnish team that isn’t nearly as star-studded as the U.S. So while Hughes has a lonely assist in the tournament, and has only really featured in spurts, Kakko has launched a full-on assault on the minds of Devils general manager Ray Shero and his scouting staff.

Kakko has six goals and one assist in seven games played now at the tournament. He’s shown he can take over games with his hat trick vs. Slovakia, and he’s shown his sublime skill.

That’s two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray between the pipes.

Kakko cares little. Just like he didn’t when he slotted home the game-winning goal to give Finland a gold medal against Hughes’ Americans at the the IIHF World Junior Championship in January.

Kakko is another link in the chain that’s been Finland’s golden years of young prospects who are remarkable. Whatever was in the water 18 to 22 or so years ago should have been bottled.

And it has to make the Devils think.

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds already, Kakko comes ready for the NHL game in size. He’s played with men in the Finnish Liiga and is having no issues at all against NHLers at the Worlds either.

In his first full season with TPS, Kakko put up 38 points in 45 games, including 22 goals.

The recent Finnish lineage has included the likes of Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, Arturri Lehkonen, Mikko Rantanen and Miro Heiskanen, among others. Neither of those guys were first overall picks, yet all of them are making massive impacts of the teams they play on.

Hughes probably still goes first in June, and that might just be alright for the New York Rangers, who sit in the second hole knowing they get one or the other.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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