Bold ideas for next Winter Classic include Colorado, Florida

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The Winter Classic is morphing into a prestige and money-laden event that represents hockey’s best answer to the Super Bowl. In its first five years, the event has bounced around Northeastern cities, but the calls for more exotic locales have been picking up with each passing year.

Here are two especially interesting ideas from today’s round of stories.

Taking the Winter Classic out West

Avalanche beat writer Adrian Dater paints an intriguing picture of a Winter Classic game in Colorado for Sports Illustrated:

Can you picture this?

It’s 25 degrees outside on an early January night and the Detroit Red Wings are taking to the ice against the Colorado Avalanche under the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains. More than 76,000 fans are packed inside Sports Authority Field in Denver, including — brace yourselves — TIM TEBOW.

One of the greatest rivalries in sports history — not just the NHL — is revived for one day at least. And in case the current Avs and Wings wouldn’t be enough of an attraction, there is the alumni game to consider.

I’m not quite sure the NHL should base its Winter Classic planning on the drawing power of a quarterback who might be old news by next year (Tebow), but the overall idea has some appeal. The alumni game would indeed be a beauty since many of those greats just recently retired. (Mike Keane was playing until 2010.)

Florida + retractable roof = gold?

The Miami Marlins have made a lot of noise during their transformation in the MLB’s off-season, so attempting to attract a Winter Classic to their new ballpark seems in character. It almost doesn’t sound completely ridiculous thanks to the building’s retractable roof, either.

Here are some interesting details about the bold idea via a great blog post by George Richards of the Miami Herald.

First, the ballpark would have toclose its retractable roof for about two weeks with the air conditioning running – and humidity lowered – while the ice sheet is built and maintained.

On game day, the roof would open for the outdoor affect.

One can only imagine the scenery an outdoor hockey game in the tropics would produce for a worldwide television audience. That imagery is what the Panthers would sell to the league. It’s a hook no other market has. Sure, Los Angeles has sun and palm trees; it doesn’t have the retractable roof.

Sure, the retractable roof seems kind of like cheating, but Richards writes that it would afford an opportunity to have NHL-quality ice. (That’s not necessarily a claim that could always be made during some of the rougher stretches of some Winter Classic games.) Beyond that, the lure of going to Miami for a combination of a New Year’s celebration and outdoor hockey is so stunning that my liver hurts just thinking about it.

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As Richards wrote later on in that piece, a Winter Classic in Florida remains highly unlikely. That being said, the fact that the technology is in place to make that even feasible is exciting enough.

Moving on, tell us: where would you like to see the next Winter Classic? Feel free to base your choice(s) on whatever standards you’d like, from best overall experience to highest degree of difficulty and anything in between.

Sharks are buying out final year of Paul Martin’s contract

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The San Jose Sharks are clearing more salary cap space for what could be a big summer.

On Friday the team announced that it is placing veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out his contract.

The 36-year-old Martin was limited to just 14 games this past season. He was set to enter the final year of a four-year, $19.4 million contract that he signed in free agency prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. During his time with the Sharks he played a key role on their blue line — playing more than 20 minutes per night in his first two years with the team — and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in his first year with the team.

“Paul Martin has been the upmost professional on and off the ice during his three years in San Jose,” said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team. “His leadership, character and on-ice contributions have been essential to our success and in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The impact he has had on our organization, his teammates and many of our younger players will be felt for many years to come.”

The big thing here for the Sharks is the salary cap savings for this season that a buyout brings.

According to CapFriendly the Sharks will save more than $2.8 million against the salary cap this season before taking a $1.4 million salary cap hit next season.

That savings, combined with the recent trade of veteran forward Mikkel Boedker, has already trimmed more than $6.5 million in salary off of the team’s salary cap number for the 2018-19 season. That will leave them with more than $18 million in salary cap space under the new $79.5 million ceiling, making them players for just about any unrestricted free agent (or potential trade target) that they could want.

They already considered one of the top contenders to land Ilya Kovalchuk in his return from the KHL.

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.

Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft

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Brian Savage calls it a “hockey candy store.” The Red Bull Academy in Salzburg, Austria features state-of-the-art facilities and the ability for young players to improve their games to a level that could pay off with a future professional career.

A young Noah Dobson and his family saw just that and made a decision to begin a unique path to the National Hockey League.

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It was during the 2015 Canada Winter Games tournament in Prince George, B.C. that Dobson came on the radar of Paul Henry, a Red Bull scout who helped put together Canada’s 1994 Olympic team. In a tournament that featured future NHL draft picks like Owen Tippett, Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and fellow 2018 prospects like Jett Woo, Joe Veleno and Calen Addison, the 15-year-old Dobson had an impressive showing with four goals and eight points in six games.

Henry would set up a meeting that spring with the Dobson family in Summerside, Prince Edward Island and give them the sales pitch. Intrigued, they flew to Austria to meet Pierre Page, then Red Bull’s Global Sporting Director, and Savage, who served as a North American scout.

“They were very impressed and excited to agree to come to Red Bull Academy where they could do the supervised online schooling program approved by Canadian and American Universities like Harvard and others,” Page told Pro Hockey Talk recently.

Page, who coached 636 NHL games with four teams, had a vision to make Red Bull a destination for young hockey players. As soon as players arrived, they were blown away.

“When I got over there, to stay at their facilities, it was just a whole great experience playing on a different side of the world and seeing other countries at the same time playing the game you love,” says Dobson. “It’s the kind of experience that I’m going to look back at and have lots of memories from.”

Savage’s presence helped in the recruitment. The former NHLer, who played 12 seasons in the league, moved his family, including his three boys, to Salzburg to help Page get the academy going. His son Ryan also played for Red Bull.

Dobson spent the 2015-16 season in Salzburg, playing 24 games with the U-18s and 11 games with the U-20s. Like some of his teammates, he was alone in a new country, a long ways away from his family.  But the players’ schedule kept them busy, with trainings between four and six hours a day, plus schooling and access to ice any time for extra work. Savage and head coach Matt Deschamps would have the players over for some home-cooked meals and take them out for various activities, like skiing, to help deal with homesickness. 

“I think it really benefited me as a player and a person, experiencing different cultures,” says Dobson.

“[Dobson] was sold on the program and totally committed to paying the price to make this year really worth it,” Page says.

Once comfort set in, and the routine of a hockey life picked up, Dobson’s game improved. Already a good skater as a tall, right-handed shot, he impressed the Red Bull scouts during the Canada Winter Games tournament holding his own against older competition. The year in Salzburg saw improvements on both ends of the ice, thanks to the additional work he was doing after practices.

“Really what he needed was some strength and guidance on and off the ice,” says Savage, who now works with hockey tournament company 200×85. “He had a really good shot. He really had a nice total package to him and we were just there to enhance it and get him to the next step. Obviously his coaches in junior have done a great job getting him to where he is now.

“I think that year at Red Bull showed him how hard he had to work to get to where he wanted to be.”

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan would make Dobson the sixth overall pick in the 2016 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft. He would spend the next two seasons compiling 24 goals and 95 points over 130 games and helping deliver a Memorial Cup this past May. As the NHL Draft approaches, he’s the fifth-ranked North American skater, and isn’t expected to have a long before hearing his name called by a team.

“I think he’s going to have a great career, whether it’s a year from now, two years from now, when he gets a little bit stronger and can compete against the men. But I see him being in those top three defensemen eventually,” says Savage. “I’m sure with his work ethic and determination he’s going to continue going strong. Whatever team gets him is gonna get lucky because he’s a great kid.”

Page, who parted with Red Bull in Feb. 2016, continued to track Dobson after he left for the QMJHL and described his development as “incredible.” He has faith in the 18-year-old’s talents and knows there’s a great NHL career ahead for him.

Says Page, “I would not want to be the team who passes on him at the draft.”

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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.

Together Again: Red Wings add Bylsma to Blashill’s staff

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The Detroit Red Wings have added a Stanley Cup-winning head coach to their staff, as they announced the hiring of Dan Bylsma as an assistant coach.

The obvious connection here is that Bylsma was part of Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill’s staff with Team USA at the 2018 World Hockey Championship. They helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal in the tournament.

“I know that Dan will make a great impact on our team, and we’re excited to add him to the bench,” Blashill said in a team release. “His resume speaks for itself, including the Stanley Cup championship and Jack Adams Award. I also had the unique opportunity to work with Dan at this year’s World Championship, and that experience leaves no doubt that Dan will bring innovative ideas and tremendous attention to detail to our coaching staff.”

Bylsma was out of the NHL last season after being let go by the Buffalo Sabres after the 2016-17 campaign. The 47-year-old failed to make the postseason in both seasons in Buffalo. He has a career record of 320-190-55 over eight seasons as a head coach.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Bylsma, who was born in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Time for Sabres to upgrade in goal

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Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill confirmed that the team will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.

Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.

The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?

Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.

For those hoping Botterill will dip his toe in the free-agent pool, you may be disappointed. There’s no number one goalie available this year. Top options include: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton.

Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.

Hutton could be an option.

The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.

There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.

If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.

Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.

Another veteran option could Sens netminder Craig Anderson, who is available, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.

It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.