Kronwall on Zetterberg: “He’s the best player on the ice right now”

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For the first half of the season, Henrik Zetterberg looked nothing like his All-Star self.

For the second half, that’s all he’s looked like.

The 31-year-old Swede has been lights-out over the past 23 games, scoring 12G-19A-31PTS while igniting his linemates, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler. Zetterberg’s also a big reason why Detroit was able to muster an 11-9-3 record over that same 23-game stretch despite losing the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson to injury.

“He’s the best player on the ice right now, night in and night out,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall told MLive.com. “He’s making things happen every shift, whether that’s working hard offensively or defensively. Right now he’s playing unbelievable.

“That whole line has been great for us.”

As MLive’s Ansar Khan notes, the Zetterberg-Filppula-Hudler line has carried the Wings on many nights. Filppula has set career highs in goals (23) and points (24) while Hudler has rebounded from a bad 2010-11 campaign to score 23 times, tying a career-high. Both have played extremely well, but owe a large part of their success to Zetterberg’s play.

“[Zetterberg’s] a competitive guy, but he’s skating so much better than he did at the start of the year,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Things are going for him. He’s got confidence. That line, to me, dominates every shift.”

While he’s probably not concerned about personal statistics, Zetterberg could escape some ignominy with a strong finish. He’s scored at least 70 points in every season since the lockout, save the 2006-07 campaign (missed 19 games with back spasms) and this year, he’s on 66 points…with six games left in the season.

“Pucks are going in, you get more confidence and you do more stuff that comes natural,” Zetterberg said. “Before you maybe think twice about doing stuff, but now it just happens.

“Hopefully it will continue.”

Looks like Bobrovsky is back to being Bob

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Whether it came from the mental strain of being in a contract year or can be boiled down to the highs and lows of modern goaltending, the bottom line was that Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t himself to start this season.

Through his first six appearances of 2018-19, Bobrovsky allowed eight goals once, four goals in another game, three on three occasions, and two in another contest. For a goalie who’s been all-world during the regular season for some time now, it’s not too surprising that John Tortorella felt that Bob wasn’t being Bob.

Well, what about Bob now?

After Monday’s tight 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars, Bobrovsky’s done an about-face in his past six games. He’s kept opponents to a single goal in five of those six contests, including three games in a row.

A hot goalie can often make the difference between wins and losses, such as when Bob stopped Jason Spezza point-blank to preserve Monday’s regulation victory:

Torts and others have noticed that Bobrovsky has been spot-on, including in that win against Dallas.

“He was really good tonight,” Tortorella said, via the AP. “They had some point-blank chances on some of our breakdowns, and he looked in control.”

Maybe it all turned around on Nov. 1, when Bobrovsky only allowed one Sharks goal despite facing a barrage of 45 shots.

Whatever the case may be, this is a fantastic sign both for the team and the goalie. If it wasn’t already obvious that the Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky to get that extra edge most nights, note that seemingly promising backup Joonas Korpisalo has really struggled so far this season, managing a lousy .875 save percentage over seven games.

A keyed-in Bobrovsky could cost the Blue Jackets that much more money if the two sides agree to a contract behind this season, but when you consider the potential pitfalls of him walking away or being traded, maybe that’s a good problem to have?

After all, it sounds like they won’t have that same say with Artemi Panarin.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Tom Wilson’s suspension reduced to 14 games, can return immediately

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Tom Wilson is back.

A neutral arbitrator has ruled that Wilson’s suspension — originally a 20-game ban for his latest hit to the head of an opponent — has been reduced to 14 games and that he is immediately eligible return to the Washington Capitals’ lineup.

The Capitals are in Minnesota on Tuesday night to play the Wild, and it is expected that Wilson will be in the lineup.

Since Wilson has already served 16 games of the original suspension due to the length of the appeals process, he will get back two games worth of salary — just a little more than $378,000.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety initially suspended Wilson 20 games for a preseason hit on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. It wasn’t the hit itself that was worth 20 games, but the fact that it was the fourth time in less than a calendar year he had been suspended for such a play, something the DoPS argued was an unprecedented run of discipline.

Wilson initially appealed the ruling to the NHL, but it was upheld by commissioner Gary Bettman.

At that point Wilson was eligible to appeal to a neutral arbitrator.

[Related: Wilson suspended for 20 games]

That neutral arbitrator — Shyam Das — is the same one that reduced the 27-game suspension for Nashville Predators forward Auston Watson after he pleaded no contest to domestic assault charges during the offseason. Das reduced that suspension to 18 games.

Das was was previously a neutral arbitrator for Major League Baseball but was fired by the league in 2012 after overturning Ryan Braun’s suspension.

In this case Das ruled that Wilson violated Rule 48 and illegally hit Sundqvist in the head, but he did not support the Department’s reasoning for a 20-game suspension. In reaching his conclusion for 14 games, Das took Wilson’s previous suspension (a three-game playoff ban for a hit to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese) and doubled it to six games because it was a playoff suspension (one playoff game is considered two regular season games in the eyes of the league), then doubled the six games because of Wilson’s status as a repeat offender. He then added two games to account for Sundqvist’s injury.

Parros and the NHL’s DoPS had tripled the value of his postseason suspension to arrive at the original 20-game ban.

Wilson’s run of supplemental discipline started last preseason when he was given a two-game suspension (both preseason games) for a hit to the head of Blues forward Robert Thomas.

In his first game back from that suspension (another preseason game against the Blues) he earned a four-game regular season suspension for boarding Samuel Blias.

His third suspension, the three-game playoff game, came 87 games after the Blias suspension.

He played in only 15 games before the hit on Sundqvist.

Overall, it is four suspensions for Wilson in a span of 105 games played, and that does not include several borderline hits in the playoffs (Alexander Wennberg, Brian Dumoulin, and Jonathan Marchessault) that received additional scrutiny but ultimately did not rise to the level of league discipline.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Seattle group remains confident arena will be ready for 2020

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SEATTLE (AP) — The potential owners of an NHL expansion franchise in Seattle remain confident arena renovations will be completed in time for the 2020-21 season.

NHL Seattle said Monday that ownership recognizes the ability to start play in 2020 is dependent on KeyArena renovations being finished on time. The group says it will work closely with the NHL to keep the league informed of progress.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in Toronto that he expects the Board of Governors to decide on Seattle expansion during a meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, on Dec. 3-4. But Daly said he’d heard the arena was targeted for completion in November 2020, which would be too late because the league does not have interest in the team beginning play at an alternate rink.

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

Who will make up the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class?

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The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class has been inducted, so why not look ahead and speculate on who could be part of next year’s group. There are seven months until the phone calls are made informing the group of individuals that will make up the 2019 class, so let’s see who might make the cut and find themselves on stage in Toronto next November.

Per the Hockey Hall of Fame, eligible players “must have not played in a professional or international hockey game during any of the three (3) playing seasons prior to his or her election.” A maximum of four male and two female inductees can be elected in the player’s category a year.

THE LOCK

Hayley Wickenheiser – Where do we begin? The hockey legend owns four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, plus seven more golds from the IIHF World Championships. She was the Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006 and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally. 

While playing professionally in Finland, she became the first women to record a point in a men’s league. Wickenheiser also participated in two rookie camps with the Philadelphia Flyers and acted as a guest coach in camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. She’s currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Leafs.

Wickenheiser will no-doubt become the seventh woman in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

THE POSSIBLES

Daniel Alfredsson – 444 goals, 1,157 points, Olympic gold and silver medals, 1996 Calder Trophy, six-time NHL All-Star, 2012 King Clancy Trophy. This is Alfie’s first year of eligibility and he could be the beneficiary of no strong men’s player headlining the class. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, Alfredsson has an impressive resume and strong international credentials to make the cut. He’s also known for scoring the first shootout goal in league history, and sported Hall of Fame worthy hairstyles over his career.

Curtis Joseph – 454 wins, 51 shutouts, Olympic gold medal, three-time All-Star. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, Joseph had himself a fine career but unlike Osgood didn’t win a Cup. Is he Hall of Fame class or Hall of Very Good class? Only five goalies, including Martin Brodeur this year, have been inducted into the Hall since 1973. Is it time we see more?

Boris Mikhailov – The man Herb Brooks loved to remind his “Miracle on Ice” team looked like Stan Laurel had a decorated career playing for CSKA Moscow and representing the Soviet Union internationally. Domestically, Mikhailov scored 429 goals for CSKA and recorded 653 points, leading them to 11 Soviet League titles. On the international scene, the long time captain captured two Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships. And remember that it’s not the NHL Hall of Fame; it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame.

[2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class changed the game]

Alex Mogilny – He was the first Soviet player to defect west and when he arrived he quickly made his mark. His 76-goal season in 1992-93 tied him for the NHL’s goal scoring lead with Teemu Selanne. He would finish with a 127 points that season. A year later he was named the first European captain in NHL history by the Buffalo Sabres. When it was all said and done, the six-time All-Star scored 473 goals and recorded 1,032 points. He’s a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club, which means you’re a winner of the Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Championship.

Jeremy Roenick – 513 goals, 1,216 points, nine-time All-Star, silver medals at Canada Cup and Olympic Games. 

JR’s elite level status only lasted for a few seasons in the early 1990s. After three-straight 100-point and 45-plus goal seasons, his production settled into the “very good” range in the mid-90s. While he certainly has the “fame” part down with the personality he’s shown during and after his NHL career, as well as his influential role in the 1996 movie “Swingers,” he did not win any individual hardware, so it’s likely he’ll continue to have a tough time finding a way in.

Doug Wilson – 237 goals, 827 points, 1982 Norris Trophy winner, eight-time All-Star, Canada Cup gold. You don’t hear the San Jose Sharks general manager’s name much when these discussions come up. He played during an era dominated by Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, but examine his career and it was a pretty solid one. Top 20 in points by a deenseman, top 10 in points per game. Like Andreychuk in 2017, there are always some surprise inclusions every few years. And here’s a good note from Sean McIndoe of The Athletic: “Here’s the complete list of players who both won a Norris Trophy (peak) and finished in the top 25 all-time in defenseman scoring (longevity), but haven’t been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Doug Wilson, and that’s it.”

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Sergei Zubov – His 771 points puts him in the top 20 all-time among defensemen, as does his 0.72 points per game average. He has the 12th-most playoff points for defensemen with 112. Only Sergei Gonchar has more goals and points than Zubov among Russian blue liners. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time All-Star, and gold medalist at the Olympics and World Junior Championship. If Nicklas Lidstrom hadn’t dominated so much, how much more love would Zubov have received?

THE REST

Tom Barrasso – 369 wins, 38 shutouts, 1984 Calder Trophy, 1984 Vezina Trophy, 1985 Jennings Trophy, 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup titles, 2002 Olympic silver medal.

Dan Boyle – 163 goals, 605 points, 1,093 games, Olympic gold, World Championships silver, one Stanley Cup, six seasons of 50-plus points.

Patrik Elias – 408 goals, 1,025 points, Olympic bronze, two World Championships bronze medals, two-time Stanley Cup winner, nine 20-plus goal seasons.

Theo Fleury – 455 goals, 1,088 points, seven-time All-Star, gold at the World Junior Championship, Canada Cup and Olympics, silver at the World Championship and World Cup of Hockey, 1989 Stanley Cup winner.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

Sergei Gonchar – 220 goals, 811 points, five-time All-Star, 2009 Stanley Cup title (two more as a coach), silver and bronze medals from the Olympics and World Championships, eight 50-plus point seasons, five straight seasons with at least 18 goals.

Steve Larmer – 441 goals, 1,012 points, 1983 Calder Trophy, two-time All-Star, 1991 Canada Cup gold, 1994 Stanley Cup title, owns third-longest consecutive games streak in NHL history.

Vincent Lecavalier – 421 goals, 949 points, 2004 World Cup of Hockey gold and MVP, 2004 Stanley Cup, 2007 Rocket Richard Trophy, 2008 King Clancy Trophy, four-time NHL All-Star. It’s not quite the trophy case of 2018 inductee Martin St. Louis, so that could probably leave Lecavalier stuck in the Hall of Very Good.

Bernie Nicholls – 475 goals, 1,209 points, three-time All-Star, World Championship silver.

Kent Nilsson – 262 goals, 686 points, two-time NHL All-Star, 1987 Stanley Cup title, 1978 WHA rookie of the year, IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame, Canada Cup and World Championship silver medals. The man who inspired Peter Forsberg:

Chris Osgood – 401 wins, 50 shutouts, three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Jennings Trophy winner.  A good goalie on some great Detroit Red Wings teams for a long time. How much has that hurt his candidacy?

Keith Tkachuk – 538 goals, 1,065 points, 1996 World Cup of Hockey champion, Olympic silver medal. Like Roenick, Tkachuk’s numbers are good, but he’s in a range where there are a handful of players with similar stats. While Joe Mullen’s inclusion may help Tkachuk or Roenick at some point in time, right now, he’s just on the outside.

Pierre Turgeon – 515 goals, 1,327 points, Lady Byng Trophy, five-time All-Star. A very good player for a very long time. But other than a Byng, no other individual honors to help him standout from the rest.

Mike Vernon – 385 wins, 27 shutouts, 1996 Jennings Trophy, 1989 and 1997 Stanley Cup titles and 1997 Conn Smythe Trophy, five-time All-Star. Also, key player in one of the league’s most memorable brawls:

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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.