Pens put Neal on IR, recall Zolnierczyk

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Pittsburgh added some grit to its lineup on Tuesday by recalling forward Harry Zolnierczyk from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Pens are hurting up front with wingers Beau Bennett and James Neal out with unspecified injuries. Bennett, 20, was skating in place of Neal, who has been out since hurting himself in the first game of the season and is now on injured reserve.

Zolnierczyk, 26, has shown a surprising offensive flair for WBS thus far, scoring three goals in three games. He split last season between the Ducks and Flyers, appearing in seven games with Philly and none with Anaheim — he was shipped immediately to the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in Norfolk, and played out the season there.

The former Brown University standout make his mark on the league last year with some reckless hits. He was tossed from a game against Washington for kneeing Caps forward Mathieu Perreault, then suspended four games for charging Ottawa’s Mike Lundin.

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.

NHL On NBCSN: Sabres finding success after plenty of change

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

How have things changed in such a positive direction for the Buffalo Sabres? Consider this: They’re currently 9-6-2 and sitting in the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They didn’t win their ninth game until Dec. 22 last season and in 2016 they hit that total on Dec 1.

There’s been plenty of pain over the last seven seasons, which all ended without a single playoff appearance. But plenty of change has done the Sabres good, and general manager Jason Botterill was aggressive this summer in upgrading areas that are now beginning to see a pay off.

He stuck with head coach Phil Housley, who experienced a disastrous first season in Buffalo in 2017-18. But with a year under his belt, the Sabres are slowly starting to turnaround and the messages he’s sending are being heard by his players.

“He comes in here, he’s positive between periods, he’s on us to get those goals and he knows that we’re never out of games,” said Sabres captain Jack Eichel, who leads the team with 19 points and is averaging 1.12 points per game. “I think we’re starting to believe in each other. I know that we know we’re never out of games. He’s building an identity for us. I think the more and more we stick to it and believe in what we’re trying to do and believe in him and believe in ourselves it’s working out.”

[WATCH LIVE – 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

That lack of success in Housley’s rookie coaching season resulted in Rasmus Dahlin, who’s playing over 18 minutes a night. The summer also brought Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Jeff Skinner via trades. Goaltender Robin Lehner was allowed to walked and was replaced by Carter Hutton in free agency.

Skinner’s been a boon to the Sabres’ offense. Along with Eichel, he’s recorded 19 points and currently leads the team with 12 goals. He’s well on pace to eclipse his career-high 37 goals he scored with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016-17. He has also scored 10 of his 12 goals this year at even strength.

The culture of losing appears to be over, and what Botterill started to build in Buffalo following his hiring in May 2017 is becoming clearer.

“There’s a lot of proud history that we have being a Sabre,” said forward Kyle Okposo. “We want to make sure that everybody is honoring the people who came before us and the culture that they tried to build here. We want to get back to that, get back to really that pride of being a Sabre. That’s what we’re trying to build is something that people can remember.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.