Does the Atlantic Division have a true favorite?

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Every year, sportswriters face tough choices when they make predictions. Can a surprise team find lightning in a bottle once again or will they prove to be one-hit wonders? Will the splashiest moves create a “Dream Team” or an expensive, embarrassing nightmare? Should you tab the best team on paper or try to chart intangible things like chemistry?

While most decisions are tough, there are certain situations that stand out by being unusually difficult to gauge. In my mind, the Atlantic Division race is far more difficult to forecast in 2011-12. You could make an argument for almost every team to win the title, although I don’t think the New York Islanders are “there” yet. (Expect significant strides from that young bunch, though.)

Let’s take a look at what makes each Atlantic team confounding.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils were expected to collapse like they did in 2010-11 during just about every season since the lockout. That’s the natural assumption when you keep losing great (Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer) and very good (Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin) defensemen while your star goalie slides further away from his prime.

New Jersey has burned many pundits for counting them out over the years, though. Before 10-11, they ranked high in the standings more often than not, even when they looked thin on paper. They’re a deeply flawed team, but it’s tough to count them out completely considering their organizational guile (not to mention the fact that they employ Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias).

New York Islanders

Again, I don’t expect them to be in the division title chase, but counting this rising team out of the playoff picture is foolish. The Isles could turn some heads, especially if Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo are healthy.

New York Rangers

Click here for a post full of questions about the team, but to play my own devil’s advocate, they have arguably the best goalie in the world (Henrik Lundqvist), one of the league’s best passers (Brad Richards), a fiery coach (John Tortorella) and a ton of worker bees to drop in front of shots and hustle for loose pucks. It’s not outrageous to put them in the mix.

Philadelphia Flyers

Not many division title winners trade away their captain (Mike Richards) and a potent, affordable sniper like Jeff Carter. Then again, the Flyers march to the beat of their own stone-faced drummer.

They still have a nice variety of forwards to work into the lineup, although that group won’t be as good in all three areas of the ice (especially on the penalty kill). It’s hard to tell what to expect from Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek this year, in particular.

Oddly enough, public sentiment seems to be that Ilya Bryzgalov will be a bust. I disagree, even if I firmly nod my head when people discuss the risky nature of his contract. For all that’s been made about Dave Tippett’s defensive system, the Phoenix Coyotes allowed the third most shots per game (32.6) last season. Bryzgalov kept them afloat and should be able to clean up some messes for Philly, which is promising since Chris Pronger’s health is unclear – at best.

Pittsburgh Penguins

A lot of people – and at least one prominent video game – picked the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup, which probably means that they expect them to take their division as well. Two factors make that a risky proposition, though:

1. Obviously, Crosby’s health is a big question mark.

2. The Penguins earned just one division title since Crosby’s debut.

The team should be commended for its work without Crosby and Malkin last season, but they played with a tiny margin of error and scrapped out a lot of charity points in that time. Geno could indeed be explosive next season, but the Penguins’ aren’t a lock to win the Atlantic by any means.

Then again, who is?

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

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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.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


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

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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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.

Dominic Moore’s Smashfest charity Ping-Pong event a ‘labor of love’

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Dominic Moore’s NHL career has allowed to him to play for nine different teams, including two stints with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. He has 897 games under his belt since breaking into the league in 2003-04. His long playing career has also allowed him to share his love of Ping-Pong with many fellow players inside various dressing rooms.

Given his travels around the league, you could probably play a “Six Degrees of Separation” game with Moore. For example: When the 37-year-old was in his first full NHL season in 2005-06, his usual Ping-Pong partner was veteran Michael Nylander. Last season while with the Maple Leafs, the teammate who he found himself playing against on a regular basis was William Nylander, Michael’s son.

“It’s kind of a hilarious turn of events there,” Moore told Pro Hockey Talk this week.

On Aug. 1, he will be hosting the seventh annual Smashfest Ping-Pong tournament featuring around 25 current and former NHL players. (According to Moore, Patrick Eaves, the three-time defending champion, is well enough to participate after missing most of the 2017-18 season with post-viral syndrome.)

In the six years Moore has put on the event, he’s been able to raise $665,000 for concussion and rare cancer research. Smashfest 1, back in 2012, raised $20,000. Now in a few years he’ll hit the $1 million mark, which wasn’t even on the radar when things were getting going.

“Never thought about that, honestly. Obviously we wanted to raise as much as we could every year,” Moore said. “Last year we got up to $165,000. I was really hoping we’d be able to hit $1 million this year — I was a bit maybe ambitious with that. I doubt we’re going to get there, but once we got close it certainly became a goal to try and hit.”

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Some of the money that’s raised goes toward rare cancer research benefitting the Broad (pronounced Brode) Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moore wanted to ensure that the donated funds would make an impact.

“Especially with cancer research, it seems like it’s easy for money to become a drop in the bucket because it takes so much money to do the research,” he said. “And obviously in the cancer space there’s a lot of money that’s put into this research. But for rare cancers, because of the fact that there isn’t a lot of funds behind it, I felt like it was so important to spend our money wisely.”

What the Broad Institute does as part of a special project with Moore is solicit tissue samples from patients around the country suffering from rare forms of cancer. With proprietary technology, they’re able to turn one sample into hundreds and then multiply the tissue for additional testing.

“The premise of it, you’re trying to get tissue directly from patients because what happens with rare cancers is someone will go into a hospital in San Francisco, they have their surgery, that tissue stays in the hospital, they’re the only one on the west coast that has this particular cancer, there’s no money to fund it, nothing gets done with that tissue, but it sits as a commodity in that hospital’s fridge and nothing ever happens with it,” Moore said. “Or maybe they do do some research on it but it’s just an isolated piece of data that has no value. 

“So the whole premise of our project with The Broad is that wherever these patients are around the country we get the word out to them that they can and should send their tissue to the Broad Institute. The Broad actually jumped through a bunch of logistical things to try and make this happen so they made a whole kit, and shipping cancer tissue and keeping it alive as you ship it and making it easy for patients to do that, it sounds easy — just ship the tissue — but it’s not.”

The Broad Institute is also making all of its data available to those who want to use it in order to advance the research.

“The open source nature of it too is something that we’re really proud of,” said Moore.

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The idea for Smashfest originated in 2011 with Moore wanting to use Ping-Pong as a way to raise money and also showcase player personalities. He’s always loved the game, going back to his childhood. Growing up he heard stories about the 1980s Edmonton Oilers competing in intense games that would last until minutes before puck drop. When he reached the NHL, it became a regular activity with his teammates, wherever he went.

“I think it’s just that it’s conducive to you put a table in the middle of the locker room and it’s something fun and competitive that the guys can do,” said Moore, who’s currently an unrestricted free agent and would like to continue playing. “It can help them warm up. It just seems like it fits. I had the idea. This is the perfect thing for a charity event. I loved it, I loved playing. Marty St. Louis and I played a lot in Tampa together. That was around the time I was finally like I’ve got to get off my butt and try and make this happen.”

From the start, Moore wanted Smashfest to be different than a charity golf tournament. He wanted it to be fun, quirky and unique. With help from the NHLPA, gather a bunch of hockey players and fans at a Toronto brewery in the middle of summer for a Ping-Pong tournament. Sounds like the makings of an interesting night, right? He had no idea how it would go over, but from the very first event it was clear there was traction and it would be a success.

“It’s been a labor of love. It’s something that the team that works on it has worked incredibly passionately on and spends a lot of time on,” he said. “For me personally, it’s something I enjoy working on. I do put a lot of time into trying to grow it. We’ve got some great partners and sponsors and friends of the event that all kind of work together to make it what it is. 

“That’s what’s allowed it to grow, as well as the unique nature of the event in terms of showcasing the players in a totally fun way. I think that’s just been the recipe that’s made it grow to the way it is and hopefully we can continue that. I’d love to continue to make it bigger and better.”

Smashfest 7 will take place Aug. 1 at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto.

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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.

Chris Chelios leaving Red Wings to be closer to family in Chicago

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DETROIT (AP) — Chris Chelios is leaving the Detroit Red Wings to return to his hometown of Chicago.

Chelios spent a decade with the Red Wings as a player from 1999-2009, and he’s also been an adviser for the team. His Hall of Fame career as a defenseman started in Montreal before he spent eight years with the Blackhawks.

”For me, this is an opportunity to move back to Chicago to be closer to family, and in particular my mother,” Chelios said Thursday. ”I began to seriously consider moving home last February after the passing of my father. Now that my children have all graduated, it seems like the ideal time for my wife, Tracee, and I to make the move.”

Chelios was traded to Detroit in March 1999 and he remained with the Red Wings through the 2008-09 season before finishing his career with a brief stint with Atlanta in 2009-10.

”I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Red Wings organization over the last 19 years,” Chelios said. ”Admittedly, I was skeptical about the 1999 trade that brought me to Detroit. As a Chicago guy who was playing for the Blackhawks at the time, we despised those Detroit teams of the 1990s. After the trade, however, things changed quickly and I began to feel right at home.”

Chelios and the Red Wings won Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008.

”What an unbelievable experience, playing on some of the greatest teams in league history, with some of the greatest players of all-time,” Chelios said. ”I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of it all. The Cup-winning teams in 2002 and 2008 are the obvious highlights, but I’m grateful for every chance I had to put on a Red Wings sweater.”

Chelios’ son Jake is a defenseman as well and is in the Red Wings’ organization.

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey