Flyers send Couturier home, recall Zolnierczyk

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Philadelphia’s season-high six game road trip hasn’t started all that well.

Word broke on Tuesday that the Flyers have sent home sophomore Sean Couturier — he missed Monday’s 5-2 loss to Toronto with the flu — and recalled Harry Zolnierczyk from AHL Adirondack.

Zolnierczyk is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Flyers take on the Jets at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. He’s likely to replace Tom Sestito, who had a costly turnover in the loss to the Maple Leafs and finished with just 6:47 of ice time.

Zolnierczyk, 25, has 9G-8A-17PTS in 46 games for the Phantoms this season. He appeared in 37 games for the Flyers a year ago, scoring three goals and three assists.

As for Couturier, it’s unclear when he’ll return to the Flyers lineup (or re-join the team.) He took part in the morning skate prior to the Leafs game, but was made a late scratch and later returned to Philly.

NHL’s ‘Smart Puck’ will enhance fan experience

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The NHL has already announced that the Smart Puck era is quickly approaching, which is exciting news for hockey fans all over the globe.

The league is planning on having this added technology at their disposal for the start of the 2019-20 season, but there’s a chance that we could get a preview of it at the start of next year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So you might be wondering how this will enhance the hockey experience for fans, coaches and players. It’s simple. The technology will allow the league to track the puck’s movement on the ice at a rate of 200 times per second. That means that coaches will be able to get more information when it comes to possession, shot placement, shot distance and probably speed. If the coaches are getting their hands on that information, it means that they’ll be able to provide their players with even more specific data.

From a fan perspective, the added information will give outsiders more access to accurate advanced information. There are a few analytics website that already provide shot location information, but this would add a level of accuracy that we’ve never had before.

The Smart Puck can also change the way fans gamble on hockey.

“There’s no doubt that [sports betting] will be a part of the fan experience almost across any touchpoint. Live streaming products will start to incorporate betting functionality. And today, the foundation for that experience is data,” said NHL senior vice president of business development and global partnerships David Lehanski, per Sporttechie.com. “We’re seeing that 75 percent of all bets in sports now are in-game prop bets. The only way we can do that in a real-time manner is to be aggregating data and distributing it on a real-time basis with someone who can create odds and probabilities in real time and distribute that to the fan.”

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.

Locking up Evander Kane is smart business for Sharks (Updated)

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The San Jose Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck at the trade deadline when they acquired Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. No one was really sure how Kane would fit in with his new team, but he made enough of an impact that the Sharks are reportedly about to hand a new seven-year contract extension, according to Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet.

The report suggests that Kane’s new contract will come with a cap hit in the $7 million range. Locking up the enigmatic winger for that long could be seen as risky, but the fact that he’s going to be 27 years old when the season starts takes some of the risk out of the new deal.

When the trade between the Sharks and Sabres went down in February, many speculated that Kane would be nothing more than a rental. After all, if San Jose extends him, the second-round pick they’re sending to Buffalo becomes a first-rounder in 2019. Kane fit in so well on the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi that it appears as though they don’t mind giving up their top selection in next summer’s entry draft (can you blame them?).

Oh, and by the way, the 2019 pick is lottery protected, according to the Associated Press. So if the Sharks were to fall apart next season, they could push the selection to 2020.

Kane hit a bit of a rut during his time in Buffalo, but it’s hard to blame him? No one should be making excuses for a millionaire on skates, but these guys are human, too. The Sabres haven’t played meaningful hockey in so long that daily motivation is probably hard to come by.

In San Jose, it became clear pretty early on that Kane was going to be comfortable in his new surroundings. He had 20 goals and 20 assists in 61 games before the trade and nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks. In the postseason, he added four goals and one assist in nine contests.

As you’d expect, all of his advanced metrics went up after he moved to the West Coast. According to Natural Stat Trick, his CF% went from 49.94 in Buffalo to 53.60 in San Jose. His FF% 50.80 to 55.03, his SF% went up by almost six percent. When Pavelski was on the ice with Kane, his CF% was 56.11. When Pavelski was on the ice without Kane, his CF% was 46.27 percent. Playing together clearly made both players better.

There’s a risk anytime a team hands out a long-term contract. In this case, Kane hasn’t been the most consistent player over the course of his career, so there’s a little cause for concern. But it’s also important to note that power forwards that can skate and that are under 30 rarely hit the open market. Even if they do hit free agency, you never know how well they’ll fit in with your current group of players. This situation is already different in that respect because the Sharks had a couple of months to evaluate him in their building, with their players. He fits.

Handing over roughly $50 million over to Kane likely means that they’ll be out of the running for John Tavares, but there’s no guarantee that the Islanders captain will go there if he hits the market anyway.

GM Doug Wilson is making the right decision here.

UPDATE: The Sharks made the signing official on Thursday morning. The financial terms of the deal weren’t officially released, but many insiders have speculated the it will be worth $49 million.

“At only 26 years old, Evander has established himself as one of hockey’s true power forwards and an impact player,” GM Doug Wilson said in a release. “We think his abilities mesh perfectly with our group of skilled, young players and veteran leaders. It’s extremely heartening to have Evander join a trend of elite players who have chosen to remain in San Jose. It speaks volumes as to how players view this organization and further illustrates the continued commitment to our fans by our owner Hasso Plattner.”

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.

The long Stanley Cup Final wait is finally over for Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

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The celebrations continued around them as Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the two longest-tenured Washington Capitals, embraced. “One more,” Backstrom said to Ovechkin.

It’s been a journey to this point for the Capitals’ two star players. They’ve experienced the numerous disappointments and been reminded of them every spring. Those three seasons that ended with a Presidents’ Trophy, and an early-round playoff exit. Those six series eliminations at the hands of the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The high expectations that were never met.

But this year was different. This is not the best Capitals team of the Ovechkin/Backstrom era. Even with an eighth division title since 2007-08, there were plenty of other favorites ahead of them on the list of 2018 Stanley Cup favorites. Why? Well, for starters, we’d seen that movie before and we all knew the ending.

So when the Capitals fell behind 0-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, it was surprising, but not too surprising. Same old Capitals, we all said. But then head coach Barry Trotz went back to his horse in Braden Holtby beginning with Game 3 and the turnaround began. Holtby would help the Capitals win 12 of his 17 starts, post a .935 even strength save percentage and two shutouts — with both coming in the final two games of the Eastern Conferenece Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a second consecutive all-around effort for the Capitals after they lost control of the best-of-seven matchup with three straight losses following two wins at AMALIE Arena to begin the series.

“I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” said Ovechkin. “We understand what it has to take to be in the final. You can see the effort right now. This game was unbelievable. Everybody was all in, and we get the result.”

“It only took us 11 years, but now we’re there,” said Backstrom. “It’s a great feeling, especially the way we did it, too. The way we played the game, I thought it was outstanding from everybody. Right now, I’m just happy. I’m just going to enjoy this for a couple of days.”

[Full Schedule: 2018 Stanley Cup Final]

The journey continues Monday at T-Mobile Arena for Game 1 of the Final (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) when the Capitals visit the Vegas Golden Knights, who employ Washington’s old general manager, George McPhee, and old defenseman, Nate Schmidt. The series will certainly not be short of storylines.

Ovechkin, who is probably still holding on to the Prince of Wales Trophy as you read this, called Game 7 “probably” the biggest game of his life and of the franchise’s. He delivered by scoring 62 seconds into the game, and after the final buzzer went off the emotions of the moment rendered him unable to finish thoughts during his post-game press conference.

Years of disappointment are being wiped away with each series victories. The Capitals exorcised the ghosts of the Pittsburgh Penguins that had haunted them for years and finally got over the hump of advancing to the conference final. Now, for the first time since 1998, they’ll be playing in a series with the Stanley Cup on the line.

“Every series is tough. We just played our game, stick to the system and we deserved to win,” Ovechkin told NBCSN after Game 7. “[There] were hard moments in all series, against Tampa, against [Pittsburgh], against Columbus. but we fight through it and we’re right now four wins away from [being] Stanley Cup champions.”

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best and worst of Garth Snow; Is Hossa a Hall of Famer?

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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.

• The Toronto Maple Leafs have a new assistant general manager in Laurence Gilman, who has been hired one day after Brandon Pridham received a promotion to the same role. [Maple Leafs]

• What do the Calgary Flames have to do to make it back to the playoffs next season? TSN’s Scott Cullen looks at their strengths, weaknesses and needs heading into the summer. (TSN.ca)

• Rotoworld’s Ryan Dadoun looks at what went wrong with the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks this season. (Rotoworld)

• Plenty of different teams have shocked the sporting world, but where do the Golden Knights rank in that department? They’re probably the biggest surprise in modern American sports history. (ESPN)

• The Golden Knights have been incredibly consistent throughout their inaugural season, so there’s no reason for anyone to be overlooking them at this point. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Is Marian Hossa a hall-of-famer? Apparently, this is a debate. (The Hockey Writers)

• The city of Abbotsford hasn’t had professional hockey since the AHL’s Heat left in 2014. But now that the Canucks are looking to move their farm team, Abbotsford might be back on the hockey map. (Abby News)

• Even though he’ll never play in a major tournament again, former NHLer Daniel Alfredsson is loving life as a hockey dad. (Canadian Press)

David Backes hasn’t lived up to the dollar amount of his contract, but he continues to be a useful asset for the Bruins. (CBS Boston)

• Garth Snow has been the GM of the Islanders for a while, so Newsday breaks down all of his good and bad moves. (Newsday)

• Rangers head coach David Quinn made a name for himself after his bold strategy in the 2009 National Championship Game resulted in Boston University overcoming a late two-goal deficit to win in overtime. (New York Post)

• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and Capitals.

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.