The Chip ‘n’ Chase: NHL business is booming, the Panthers are the new Coyotes, #WhyImThankful, 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 I assume you’re enjoying all the big business news in the NHL this week. I only say that because I remember how much you enjoyed covering the lockout. All those fun terms, like “make-whole” and “variance” and “hill to die on” and “please leave me to die on this hill so I don’t have to write about this anymore.” Good times. Of course, unlike the many, many…many weeks the lockout lasted, this week was mostly fantastic news for the league. First there was Forbes saying the average franchise is worth $413 million, up a shocking 46% from a year ago. Then there was the new Canadian TV deal worth around $5 billion. Sure, the concussion lawsuit was a bit of a downer, but hey, it’s tough to throw a perfect game, right?

Mike Halford: I definitely don’t miss the lockout. Though I was always proud of our “Wingels is KooKoo for Finland” headline, a PHT classic that wouldn’t have been possible without the work stoppage. And while I’m still not super stoked about covering the business side of hockey, I have to admit some of the Forbes valuations were interesting. Like the Maple Leafs, who are apparently worth the equivalent of six Columbuses. I wonder if the Jackets used that as bulletin-board material prior to their 6-0 dismantling of Toronto on Monday. I can just hear Todd Richards: “Do you know what they’re saying about you? That you have a debt-value ratio of 43 percent! THAT YOU ONLY GENERATE 69 MILLION IN ANNUAL REVENUE!!!” Then they bust out of the dressing room like gladiators. Gotta be what happened. Fiscal analysis can be a real motivator.

JB: Having grown up in Vancouver, I found it pretty remarkable that Forbes ranked the Canucks No. 4 at $700 million, ahead of big-city American franchises like the Blackhawks, Bruins, Flyers and Red Wings. The first Canucks game I ever attended, way back in the ’80s, there might’ve been 8,000 fans at the old Pacific Coliseum. Then, in the ’90s, when the Nordiques left for Colorado and the Jets left for Phoenix, there were very real worries Vancouver could lost its team to an American city next. Add to the equation all the grunge music being played at the time, and the situation was downright depressing. Anyway, it’s amazing how dramatically things can change over a decade or two. Winnipeg’s already back in the league and I wrote yesterday that Quebec City seems like a slam dunk for expansion or relocation. Saskatoon next?

MH: I do love the idea of NHL road trips going through Saskatchewan (“You guys can stay at the motor lodge…or the motor lodge”), but I’m mostly holding out expansion hope for America’s No. 1 hipster enclave, Portland. You know how a bunch of players are growing bad moustaches for Movember? Well in Portland, it’s Movember 12 MONTHS OF THE YEAR. Seems like a good fit. As for relocation, I’ve noticed Florida has inherited the “team everybody’s picking to move” mantle from the Phoenix Coyotes. Granted, the Panthers have a lease with the county that runs through 2028 and the new owner has real-estate development plans in Sunrise, but…I mean, imagine being a Panthers fan. Can we really blame those poor fans for not showing up to games? Two years after making the playoffs for the first time in forever, your team goes into the season scouring for unsigned free agents and buyout casualties. Then it loses 13 of its first 16 games and fires the entire coaching staff. At what point do you just throw up your hands, say “THAT’S IT, I’M DONE” and, y’know, start doing the 1,349 other fun things you can do in South Florida while everyone up north is freezing?

source:  JB: I’ve never been to Sunrise, but in my mind it’s like Del Boca Vista from Seinfeld, so I actually imagine Panthers fans throwing up their hands and yelling, “SERENITY NOW!” …before falling asleep in their seats. But yeah, it’s totally unfair to judge that market purely on current attendance. I’m not saying the NHL is right for Sunrise and/or wouldn’t do considerably better in a hockey-mad place like Quebec City, but I do feel the need to point out a team that had an average attendance of 12,727 in 2006-07. That would be your defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. BREAKING NEWS: Fans don’t like cheering for losers.

OK, so we need to take care of some corporate business now. It’s Thanksgiving on Thursday and NBC has a #WhyImThankful contest going on social media. So let me ask you this: why are you thankful?

MH: From a pure hockey perspective (ignoring things like “good health” and “my wife and child”), I’m thankful for the 48 hours immediately following Turkey Day. Did you know there are 23 games on Friday and Saturday? And that includes the Thanksgiving Showdown between the Rangers and Bruins on NBC! (Hey, if we’re gonna go corporate, we might as well go the whole nine.) I plan on dominating the couch over those two days. You can call me Lord Chesterfield-upon-Sofa.

Oh, and speaking of the Rangers, John Tortorella makes his return to MSG on Saturday when the Canucks take on the Blueshirts… who, stop me if you’ve heard this before, are struggling to score. In fact, the Rangers’ offense is worse under Alain Vigneault than it was under Torts, to the point where Vigneault suggested his team should start mentally preparing to win 2-1 hockey games.

JB: Meanwhile, in Vancouver, people are wondering if Torts has the Canucks playing too risky. Specifically, by having the defensemen aggressively pinching to keep the puck in the attacking zone, a tactic that’s resulted in more than a few odd-man rushes and pucks behind Roberto Luongo. For example:

For fans, I think it’s a good lesson in not taking the media’s black-and-white narrative hook, line and sinker. AV isn’t a run-and-gun coach — he never was — and Torts certainly isn’t terrified to take the odd chance. For the most part, coaches use the system they believe will result in the most wins, and that depends largely on the players they have in their lineup.

As for #WhyImThankful, well, I was thinking of saying I’m thankful for all the readers that visit PHT on a daily basis. But come on, that would be way too mushy. This is a hockey website. We can’t be seen as soft, or the readers will start taking liberties in the comments section. And then we’d have to hire John Scott as a moderator or something.

So I guess I’ll just say I’m thankful for kittens. Who are adorable.

source:

Nothing soft about that.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

“We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

“Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

“This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

“Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

“I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

ATLANTIC

The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

“You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

CENTRAL

Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

“It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

“Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

PACIFIC

Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

“It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”