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.

Healthy Ekman-Larsson ready to give Coyotes a playoff boost

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson had knee surgery last summer, fully expecting it to help him have a healthy 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes captain instead played with lingering pain, never able to fully recover.

The NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was a huge letdown, but it at least allowed Ekman-Larsson time to get back to full strength.

”These 2 1/2 months have been really good for me,” he said during a conference call this week. ”My knee is feeling 100% and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”

Ekman-Larsson had another solid season in 2018-19, finishing second on the team with 44 points with 14 goals. He was named to the NHL All-Star team for the fifth time and continued to be one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.

Ekman-Larsson opted to have offseason knee surgery to help with another lower-body injury and never was quite right this season, his 10th in the NHL.

The break allowed him time to heal, as did a trip back to his home in Sweden.

Unlike Arizona, Sweden did not go on lockdown once the pandemic hit and Ekman-Larsson took advantage, using the time to heal physically and mentally.

”With this virus going around, I haven’t felt so good mentally,” he said. ”Going back home and being around my family really helped that situation. I benefited from the physical part of being away. For the mental part, it was nice to get away from it.”

The Coyotes returned to the ice this week to prepare for the resumption of the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Monday a tentative deal on a return-to-play format. Should it be ratified, the league will resume play on Aug. 1 with 24 teams proceeding in an expanded playoff format at two hub cities in Canada.

The Coyotes, the West’s No. 11 seed, will open against Nashville in a best-of-five series in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

”It just feels like it’s a different game,” said Ekman-Larsson, the lone remaining player from the 2012 team. ”Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but at the same time it’s another level.

”I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance.”

The Coyotes have a chance to make a little noise once they get there.

Ekman-Larsson is healthy, as is Phil Kessel, who struggled with injuries after being traded from Pittsburgh before the season. Arizona also has one of the best goaltending tandems in Antti Raanta and Darcy Keumper, who are both healthy as well.

”For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson gives them an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Chris Pronger leaves senior VP of hockey ops role with Panthers

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The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Chris Pronger is leaving his role as senior vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the organization in 2017 after spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I want to personally thank the Viola family, Doug Cifu, Dale Tallon and all of the staff with the Florida Panthers,” said Pronger via a team statement. “I was able to grow as an executive and more importantly as a person in my three years with the hockey club. I wish the Panthers organization nothing but the best in the upcoming playoffs and years to come.”

Pronger is moving on to focus on the company he runs with his wife, Lauren. Well Inspired Travels “caters to elite athletes, C-Level executives and business owners.”

The Panthers are currently preparing for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Islanders, which is set to begin next month.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

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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: NHLPA Executive Board backs RTP, CBA agreement

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The NHLPA’s Executive Board has approved the tentative Return to Play and Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now things move to the full union membership vote for ratification. Voting, which is by secret, electronic ballot, begins Wednesday and will end Friday. [NHLPA]

• Inside the NHL bubble: testing, what could cause postponement [PHT]

Justin Williams on coming back to the Hurricanes for one last run: “I didn’t come back to play 20 games. I came back for a chance to win a Stanley Cup.” [News and Observer]

• “Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr found sensible solutions to shared problems without resorting to any of the hostility or grandstanding these negotiations are typically known for. They and their respective leadership teams started meeting out of the spotlight last summer before recalibrating on the fly and piecing together the framework for this agreement amid a health crisis that poses a significant threat to their industry and many others.” [Sportsnet]

• Will any NHL players opt out of the Return to Play? [The Hockey News]

• These X-factors will shape the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. [ESPN]

• “Lawyers for the NHL Players’ Association are scheduled to appear by video conference before an Ontario judge Tuesday in an effort to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former union employee who alleges the NHLPA covered up a theft of more than $100,000 in union funds by one of its executives.” [TSN]

• It doesn’t sound like Jake DeBrusk, a pending RFA, will be looking for a hometown discount this off-season. [NBC Sports Boston]

• Who is the No. 1 goalie and will rust be a factor are just a couple of questions facing the Penguins ahead of their series vs. Montreal. [Pensburgh]

• Are the Predators better served hoping to win the No. 1 pick or advancing by the Coyotes? [A to Z Sports Nashville]

• The Oilers are deeper than their solid special teams units. [Oilers Nation]

• A long-term knee injury could keep Juuso Valimaki out of the Flames’ lineup next month. [Flames Nation]

• On the challenges facing Flyers veterans after a long break. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

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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.

IIHF encouraged by NHL’s potential return to Olympics in ’22

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International Ice Hockey Federation chief Rene Fasel is encouraged after learning the NHL’s pending labor deal opens the possibility of the world’s best players returning to the Olympics.

Aside from the uncertainty raised by the coronavirus pandemic, Fasel told The Associated Press he doesn’t foresee any major stumbling blocks that could derail negotiations leading up to the 2022 Beijing Games.

“No, I don’t think there’s a deal-breaker,” he said Tuesday. “There are a lot of challenges. But I think in principle, I would say the news that that’s in the CBA, for me and especially international hockey, is very good news.”

Fasel spoke a day after the NHL and NHL Players’ Association tentatively agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for four years, which would run through the 2025-26 season.

A person with direct knowledge of the agreement told the AP it includes a provision that would allow NHL players to compete at the next two Winter Games, including the 2026 Olympics in Italy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the contents of the CBA were not released.

The league participated in five consecutive Olympics before skipping the 2018 Games in South Korea.

In order to return, the NHL and its players would first have to resolve various outstanding issues — including health insurance, travel costs and marketing rights — with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee.

Travel costs alone to Pyeongchang two years ago were projected to be $15 million, which the IOC refused to pay. The NHL was also denied control of using Olympic game footage to promote the league and players. Another concern was weighing the benefits of shutting down the regular season for two weeks only to have Olympic games being played in the early morning hours in North America due to the 14-hour time difference; a similar time difference would be present for 2022.

Fasel acknowledged the NHL’s concerns and said he was encouraged after the parties had what he called “a very positive meeting” in New York in early February. Follow-up discussions were placed on hold due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t give up after Pyeongchang. We understood the situation, how it was at that time. No bad feelings,” he said. “We really hope it will come in ’22, and we are ready to work and find a solution.”

The NHL and union have declined to discuss the proposed CBA until it is approved, which could happen as early as Friday.

Carolina Hurricanes veteran forward Justin Williams called the Olympic proposal “really attractive.”

“I just think it’s great for the game of hockey to be able to showcase the best players,” Williams said. “The Olympics are a special event in itself, but having NHL players there, even as actual players, we love to see the best on best. That’s pretty special.”

USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said he was thrilled by the possibility of being to put together a team with NHL players, which could include rising young stars such as Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and Seth Jones.

“It’s exciting to consider the team of Americans that could represent our country in Beijing, and we applaud the efforts of the NHL and the NHLPA in making this a possibility,” Kelleher said.

The NHL previously tamped down the chances of returning to Olympic play.

“At this point in time, we believe that the negatives outweigh the positives,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said following the February meeting in New York. Daly did raise the prospect of folding Olympic participation into CBA talks.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr had a different take on talks with the IOC and IIHF, saying: “The impression I had coming out of the meeting was there ought to be a way to get this done to everybody’s satisfaction.”

Fehr previously described the decision to skip the 2018 Games as a lost opportunity to showcase the sport.

Fasel, whose term as IIHF president was extended a year to September 2021, praised the NHL and players for addressing the Olympics in the CBA.

“We do not have leverage, and we just have to get the PA and the NHL to understand this is good for the promotion of the sport, especially in Asia,” Fasel said. “I’m happy that in the end they understand this is important for the development of ice hockey in the future.”