The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Pens-Bruins, Beastmodo, Miller trade talk, and more

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so Bruins-Penguins tonight. Looking forward to this one. Pittsburgh’s chance for redemption…if that’s possible during the regular season. (It’s not, but the game’s on NBCSN so we’re selling it anyway.) Looking back on the playoffs, I still can’t believe the Pens only scored twice against the B’s in four games. Two goals. That’s it. Kinda reminds me of that Harry Doyle line in Major League: “That’s all we got, one goddamn hit?” Wait, can we say goddamn on PHT? Whatever, let’s run with it. In a related story, do you think we’ll hear about the Bruins’ “layers” before or after this one? We all know Claude Julien loves him some layers.

Mike Halford: Oh man, the layers. How could I forget the layers? Julien spent the entire playoffs talking like his team was a Tex-Mex dip. Anyway, I’m also excited for tonight’s game. What I remember most about that series was the bitterness — Evgeni Malkin fighting Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara punching Sidney Crosby in his surgically repaired jaw — all of which added to Pittsburgh’s patented off-the-charts frustration. It also served as a reminder that, as much as they say they’ve matured, the Pens can still be rattled, especially if you sock ’em, POW, right in the kisser. Oh, and since we’re on the subject of firing shots, Mike Babcock threw one out in advance of another good Wednesday matchup: Detroit at Vancouver. When asked how he’d handle the red-hot Sedins-Kesler line, Babcock replied, “We’ll see who’s handling who.” No need to find the waitress, Vancouver, because you just got served.

MORE: Penguins, Bruins renew hostilities

JB: Did you hear what they’re calling the Sedins-Kesler line? Beastmodo. Get it? Because the Sedins played for Modo in Sweden and Kesler’s a big Marshawn Lynch fan or something. I think a better nickname for that line would be “the first line..and also the second line” line, because those three have been playing a ton under new head coach John Tortorella. In fact, among NHL forwards, only Sidney Crosby (22:52) is averaging more ice time than Kesler (22:38), Henrik (22:28), and Daniel (22:14). Good thing it’s not an Olympic year or anything. And Vancouver has an easy travel schedule, right? I actually don’t have a huge problem with it, but it will be interesting to see how those guys look once the playoffs start. Either way, I can’t wait until Torts has to start answering the fatigue questions every day from reporters. That was always fun when he was coaching the Rangers. Dan Girardi could’ve been face down with seven IVs stuck into his back and Torts would’ve refused to admit his players were tired.

source:  MH: Pretty sure you don’t put IVs into a guy’s back, Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. Can we talk about the Vanek trade for a sec? I know it’s a bit old already, but all these new details keep coming out. First we learned Buffalo retained a bunch of Vanek’s salary. Then we found out the Isles could defer the ’14 pick if it’s in the top 10. I feel like there’s one more hidden clause, some sort of future consideration where Ryan Miller would agree to go to Long Island if the team would 1) win more than one game in a row (it hasn’t yet, by the way) or 2) use its celebrity super-fan network of Ralph Macchio and E from Entourage to hatch a comedic vehicle for Miller’s wife. But in all seriousness, Miller has to go soon, right? I read something about that on a very handsome website yesterday.

JB: I wonder if he’d go to the Islanders. They could definitely use a goalie, and he seems like the kind of guy who’d enjoy Brooklyn’s hipster scene. But rumor has it (and by rumor I mean TSN’s Bob McKenzie) that Miller wants to end up in California. I presume this is because his wife is an actor and that’s where actors live, as opposed to Buffalo, where disappointed sports fans live. Unfortunately for Miller, I just can’t think of a California team that needs a starting goalie. The Kings don’t. The Ducks don’t. The Sharks don’t. Maybe he could try out for the Lakers, but they really need to get younger.

MH: I think Miller’s best hockey fit is in the glitzy and glamorous town of Edmonton (hey, it’s got a film festival). But even if he agreed to go there, I don’t see anything beyond a rental situation, which would only be a band-aid solution to the Oilers’ gaping goaltending wound. I’m glad you brought up the California teams, though, because they’re all playing well, and they all play in the Pacific Division, which should really be renamed the $2 Steak Division because it’s so tough and no worse a name than Metropolitan. Can you disagree with any of this? I don’t think you can.

JB: Don’t forget about Phoenix and Vancouver. Those teams are playing well, too. So yeah, tough division that Pacific Division. Good luck with that, Edmonton and Calgary. Personally, I’ve been really impressed with Anaheim. I thought they’d take a step back this season, but a 10-3-0 start seems to be proving me wrong. (I’m used to it, don’t worry.) Everyone knows about Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but the Ducks are also getting contributions from lesser-knowns like Kyle Palmieri, Mathieu Perreault, Patrick Maroon, and Nicky Bonino, whose name actually isn’t Nicky, it’s just Nick, but I enjoy saying Nicky Bonino. Fuhgeddaboudit. Until next week…

Canadiens reward Antti Niemi with extension after turnaround

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There weren’t many positives in Montreal during the 2017-18 regular season, but Antti Niemi‘s play was certainly one of them. On Tuesday, the team announced that the veteran has signed a one-year, $950, 000 deal. He was scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st.

Niemi’s journey to the Canadiens organization was a bumpy one. After being bought out by the Dallas Stars last offseason, he signed a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He started the year as Matt Murray‘s backup, but he quickly found himself on waivers in October after a string of poor performances (he had an 0-3 record, a 7.50 goals-against-average and a .797 save percentage during his time with the Pens).

The Florida Panthers decided to put in a waiver claim on the 34-year-old netminder, but not much changed in his play during his brief time in the Sunshine State. He suited up in just two games with the Panthers before going back on waivers in November.

With Carey Price out of the lineup, the Canadiens decided to roll the dice on Niemi and that’s when things changed for the better. By reuniting with his former goalie coach in Chicago, Stephane Waite, Niemi was able to get his career back on the rails. The pair won a Stanley Cup together in 2010 and, again, they showed that they form a great partnership.

In 19 games with an injury-riddled Canadiens team, Niemi had a 7-5-4 record with a 2.46 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage. Those numbers are remarkable when you consider just how bad the Canadiens were in 2017-18.

As great of a story as this is, this new one-way contract doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be one of the two goalies on the NHL roster come October. Carey Price will be the undisputed starter going into camp, while Niemi and Charlie Lindgren battle for the backup job. Both players are on one-way deals, so the Habs will be paying one of their AHL goalies a lot of money no matter who heads down to AHL Laval next fall. Both contracts can totally be buried in the minors without counting toward the salary cap.

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.

Where will Mark Hunter go after leaving Maple Leafs?

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The hockey world hasn’t heard from Maple Leafs assistant general manager Mark Hunter since the team promoted Kyle Dubas to GM last week. Well, on Tuesday, the team announced that the two sides have mutually agreed to part ways.

“Following extensive discussions with Mark, he and the Toronto Maple Leafs have mutually agreed to part ways,” said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. “I’d like to sincerely thank Mark for everything he’s done for this organization over the last four years and I wish him nothing but the best in the future.”

Many speculated that Hunter wasn’t happy about being passed over for the general manager opening that eventually went to Dubas, and this kind of confirms that theory. During his tenure with the Leafs, Hunter was in charge of the pro scouting, amateur scouting and player evaluation. He played a big part in Toronto’s rapid rebuild.

So now, Hunter is free to pursue other opportunities outside of the Leafs organization. But according to TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, he can’t join another team until after the NHL Entry Draft and free agency. That seems fair considering he has a lot of intel into Toronto’s off-season plans and because he’s departing with term left on his contract.

It’ll be interesting to see if Hunter decides to join forces with former Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello, who officially became the Islanders president of hockey ops on Tuesday morning. After all, current Isles GM Garth Snow is on thin ice, so there could be an opening for a new general manager in the near future. Assuming they move on from Snow, Hunter could be in line to get the job if he decides to go there. If Snow sticks around, he could still join the team in a different capacity.

If things don’t work out with the Islanders, Hunter could always join another NHL team with a front-office opening. Getting a GM gig might be a little difficult considering there aren’t any more openings right now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get a good gig elsewhere. The Montreal Canadiens have already made some changes to their management group by allowing Rick Dudley to move on to Carolina. Could Hunter be a fit there? It would be a heck of a statement for him to go from Toronto to Montreal.

Of course, if Hunter doesn’t like the NHL offers on the table, there’s also a possibility that he could return to the OHL with the London Knights. When the Leafs came calling in 2014, Hunter was serving as part owner and general manager of the Knights (he remains a co-owner of the team with his brother, Dale, and Basil McRae).

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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.

Islanders hire Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations (Update)

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It’s expected this week that the New York Islanders will officially announce the hiring of Lou Lamoriello to run their hockey operation department, according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic.

It’s unclear at the moment what specific role the 75-year-old Lamoriello will have within the organization. It’s possible he takes over the role of president of hockey operations or general manager, or potentially both. His son, Chris, is the Islanders’ assistant GM.

Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Lamoriello would not return as their GM after three seasons at the helm.

Staple also confirmed a Hockey30 report that Lamoriello met with Islanders captain John Tavares last week ahead of this move. Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent only July 1.

There are many questions to be answered as we wait for the Islanders to announce this move. First, what does this mean for the beards of Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd, as well as the mustache of Cal Clutterbuck?

Next, where does current GM Garth Snow stand? He’s been running the show since 2006 and has a contract for at least four more seasons. The team has made the playoffs only four times during his tenure and advanced out of the first round once. The fan base demanded change once this season went off the rails, with billboards purchased in Brooklyn calling for Snow’s firing. During an end-of-season press conference in April, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said Snow and head coach Doug Weight would be staying for now, but that he would be “evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations.”

The next question is the biggest and that has to do with Tavares. He’s said time and time again that he wants to re-sign, but hasn’t inked an extension and hasn’t given any indication what factors would sway him one way or the other. A new arena on Long Island is coming. But is this change in management and whatever Lamoriello told him in their chat enough to convince him to not explore free agency and commit to staying with the franchise? Only time will tell. But this change could be a good first step forward for the franchise.

UPDATE: The Islanders made the news official on Tuesday morning, with Lamoriello getting the title of president of hockey operations. “He will have full authority over all hockey matters with the organization” was also noted in the press release. Farewell, Garth?

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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: How Reaves became a playoff hero; Which non-playoff teams can make 2019 postseason?

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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 fact that the Vegas Golden Knights are in the Stanley Cup Final is good for all hockey fans and it’s a great story. (Vice Sports)

• No American team has sold for merchandise than the Golden Knights. Stores couldn’t keep the Western Conference Champion hats and t-shirts on the shelves. (Vegas Review-Journal)

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was furious that Caps forward Tom Wilson refused to fight Jamie Oleksiak after Wilson broke Zach Aston-Reese‘s jaw with a hit. “When Jamie challenged Wilson, he couldn’t run quick enough to get away from him.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Ryan Reaves has had to adjust his game to stick around in the NHL. Things haven’t always worked out for him, but he eventually became a hero for the Golden Knights in the third round. (ESPN)

• If the Golden Knights were to win the Stanley Cup, Vegas casinos would lose a ton of money. (MLive.com)

• Hockey Graphs looks at whether or not the NHL has become more competitive by analyzing advanced statistics between 2007-08 and 2017-18. (Hockey Graphs)

• The St. Louis Blues’ home rink will have a new name going into next season. For the next 15 years, the arena will be named “Enterprise Center”. (NHL.com/Blues)

• Down Goes Brown looks at which non-playoff teams could make it to the postseason next year and which ones could even get to the conference final. (Sportsnet)

• Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis has one year remaining on his current deal. What will his next contract look like? Based on some comparables, expect him to earn at least $5.5 million. (On the Forecheck)

• A young boy who suffered serious injuries in a school bus crash received an incredible gift from the New York Rangers that included a stick signed by Henrik Lundqvist. (NBC New York)

• The IIHF has voted to allow both the men’s and women’s Chinese hockey teams to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (China.org)

• Have you ever dreamed of being an NHL scout? Well, take a look at what scouts look for when assessing potential talent. (The Hockey News)

• Anaheim’s farm team, the San Diego Gulls, have signed head coach Dallas Eakins to a multi-year contract extension. (San Diego Gulls)

• Despite struggling at the end of the season, Devan Dubnyk had another solid year for the Minnesota Wild in 2017-18. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Capitals and Lightning.

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.