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Jim Paek helping lead the growth of hockey in South Korea

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Jim Paek bowed his head and pumped both fists as one of his assistants, former NHLer Richard Park, celebrated beside him. Sanghoon Shin’s shootout goal versus Ukraine during last April’s Division I – Group A IIHF World Championship didn’t secure just any win — it was a victory that meant South Korea would continue its rise in international hockey and be promoted to the top division for the 2018 tournament, playing against the likes of the United States, Canada and Finland.

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Three months after wrapping up the 2010-11 American Hockey League season as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Paek’s home country of South Korea was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. Three years later, the Seoul native was tapped to become the country’s men’s ice hockey coach.

Before he accepted the job, Paek reached out Curt Fraser, a fellow assistant in Grand Rapids and former head coach of the Belarusian national team. Fraser bestowed plenty of wisdom from his two-year international experience.

“It’s a different world. North American hockey, NHL hockey, American League hockey to international, you’re stepping into a different territory,” Paek recently told Pro Hockey Talk. “He gave me some great advice on how to control it, what to look for, how to prepare yourself, those type of things. But the biggest thing is he said, ‘Jim, it’s a great experience for you,’ and it sure has been. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this.”

[‘Olympics Are a Start’: Stanley Cup Winner Builds New South Korean Hockey Dreams]

Paek’s playing career ended in 2003, and as he got closer to hanging up his skates he knew he wanted to stay involved in the sport. He loved teaching, which showed when as a veteran player he would do extra work with young teammates after practices. He knew the next step in his hockey life would be to enter the coaching ranks. His start came with a year in the World Hockey Association 2 and then a season behind the bench with an Ohio high school team. In 2005, he moved up the ranks as an assistant on Greg Ireland’s staff in Grand Rapids.

From ‘Badger’ Bob Johnson to Scotty Bowman, Paek was educated by some of the game’s best coaches, and each have had an influence on his approach and style today.

“To be able to have those great coaches coach me, I’d be a fool not to take the positives from what they taught,” he said. “But I think the key component to that is what I’ve tried to do is take all the positives from all the coaches that I’ve know over the years, all the way to even my minor atom amateur days, to all the way up to my coaching days [with] Jeff Blashill, so a combination of everybody, but to try to make it your own and not be them. Not be a ‘Badger’ Bob, not be a Scotty Bowman — try to fit that into my personality and use that in a positive way.”

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As Paek and South Korea await their first Olympic game on Feb. 15, the preparation continues. Earlier this month they participated in the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge, losing their three games to Denmark, Norway and host Austria. In December they’ll travel to Moscow for the Channel One Cup and play against Canada, Finland and Sweden. It’s getting to be crunch time and these games erve as valuable experience for his players.

Most of the roster is set, which will feature a mix of South Koreans and Americans and Canadians. Some would call the North American players who came over and earned citizenship to join the national team “imports,” but Paek sees it differently.

“I really don’t like that term ‘imports,’” he said. “The Canadian guys and American players that we have have been in this country for many years… Brock Radunske has been here like eight years. He’s been here longer than me. In my eyes I see 25 Korean players that are playing hockey in Korea, that are preparing for the Olympics, their dreams, their goals.”

Those North Americans who came over aren’t ringers. As Paek said, most have been in South Korea for years and used their time in the Asia League Ice Hockey to grow and develop the sport. They’ve adjusted to life in a new country, become immerse in the culture and helped improve the quality of hockey.

“With their experiences, they came over and they set the standard and have tried to get the Korean players up to that level and that standard,” Paek said. “They’ve done a great job in doing that when they came over. With the Asian league being here and allowing those Canadian players to come over and participate in the Asian league, sure, it’s helped tremendously, along with so many other things [like] the Korean players’ willingness to improve and develop and work extremely hard to get better in their own right. There’s a combination of a lot of things, and initially when they came over to raise the standard it’s been great.

“As we move forward, it’s everybody helping each other. It’s Korean guys helping the Canadian guys and the Canadian guys helping the Korean guys as a team does.”

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Since being awarded the 2018 Winter Games and given automatic berths into the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments, South Korea has made a focused effort on raising the interest level in hockey in the country. A four-year, $20 million investment plan backed by the Korean Ice Hockey Federation (KIHA), South Korean government, International Olympic Committee and national sponsors was vital, and over the last seven years the participation numbers from youth to adult have been on the rise.

According to statistics provided by the KIHA, the number of registered boys and girls 12 and under has grown from 897 in 2011 to 2,132 in 2017. Growth in other age groups such as U15, U18, U23 and 24 and older have also increased, a trend that started before Paek’s arrival in 2014.

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The growing numbers in the 12 and under group is a promising sight. The country’s collective efforts have worked and the impact of those youth players seeing South Korea in Olympic hockey tournaments will only help increase those numbers going forward.

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“Thank God.” 

That was Paek’s first thought after Shin’s promotion-clinching goal. He then recalled all of the support he’d received from family and friends and the coaches who influenced him along the way. As he stood on the bench, he saw his players celebrating a mission accomplished. There was a lot of work to be done when he was hired in 2014, and in that moment the program went from making baby steps to taking one giant leap.

As his staff embraced around him, Paek knew that he what he had just witnessed would have a major impact on hockey in South Korea.

“It was just a very emotional time for me, just like a proud father would be,” he said. “It was a tremendous moment in Korean hockey for me personally, and for the country also. To see that and everybody’s efforts that they put into it, sure made me happy.”

Grouped with the Czech Republic, Canada and Switzerland, South Korea’s Olympic gold medal hopes are currently listed at 500/1. No one is expecting the Disney movie ending, but they’ll be one of the more intriguing teams to watch. Even before the NHL decided against sending its players, they were going to be a fan favorite based on their underdog status.

And no matter how the tournament plays out, South Korea has already won, according to Paek.

“You know, success right now, I think we have succeeded,” says Paek. “Being able to start where we started and being able to play in the Olympics at a world stage in front of this competition, in front of these countries, we’ve succeeded. That’s in my eyes. Anything we do beyond that is gravy. But our players aren’t satisfied and we’re preparing extremely hard to win, and that’s what we do and that’s what anybody does. You don’t prepare to lose, so we’re trying our best and we’re working extremely hard to be successful.

“The players are very proud to represent their country, and hopefully that’ll show and the people of Korea will be very proud of our hockey players.”

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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.

Panthers ready to welcome Mike Hoffman, fiancee with ‘clean slate’

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When Dale Tallon was contacted by Pierre Dorion last week about potential interest in Mike Hoffman, the Florida Panthers general manager thought the asking price from the Ottawa Senators GM was a bit high. He put that conversation to the side until he was contacted Monday night by Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks. Then a deal was made.

It was a wild Tuesday morning that saw Hoffman traded twice in the span of a few hours. He first went from Ottawa to the Sharks and then was later flipped to the Panthers.

“We felt this would be a perfect fit for our team,” Tallon said on a conference call Tuesday morning. “He’s 28, he can score, he can skate, he’s got a cannon for a shot.”

Hoffman, who played with Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau for one year with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, has scored 104 goals over the last four seasons and was the type of player Tallon was looking to add to his lineup to potentially play alongside Vincent Trocheck.

“Our power play will be better, too. He’s got a great one-timer, great shot,” Tallon said.

[Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers]

Dorion was seeking players in a return, presumably so the team could stay above the salary cap floor for next season with more trades likely on the way (Karlsson, Bobby Ryan?). Wilson, however, was merely looking for draft picks for Hoffman as he’s been clearing cap space with many believing he’ll go strong after Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares.

By acquiring Hoffman, that comes with the questions about last week’s allegations about his fiancee cyberbullying Erik and Melinda Karlsson. 

Tallon said he spoke with some of his players and staff and “had no pushback at all” when it came to bringing Hoffman and his fiancee, Monika Caryk, into the Panthers family. “I trust my guys. I trust my staff,” he said.

He also spoke with Hoffman directly and Tallon noted he has a good relationship with the player’s agent, former NHLer Mike Liut. He feels confident that Hoffman and Caryk will be embraced by the team and by the Panthers’ wives and girlfriends.

“Together, we discussed that what happened there is in the past and we’re moving forward with a clean slate,” Tallon said.

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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.

Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers; Clearing space for Kovalchuk, Tavares?

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Mike Hoffman has been traded.

Hours after going from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Hoffman found himself on the move, again, as the Sharks flipped him to the Florida Panthers along with a seventh-round pick in 2018. In return, the Panthers gave up second-rounder in 2019, a fourth and fifth-round pick in 2018.

“Mike is a skilled, consistent and hard-working player who has proven himself to be a talented goal scorer in the NHL,” said Panthers general manager Tallon. “His speed, experience and offensive abilities will bolster our top-six group.”

Obviously, we know what the Panthers are getting in Hoffman. He’s scored at least 22 goals in each of his last four seasons, but he comes with some baggage. Hoffman’s fiancee, Monika Caryk, had an order of protection filed against her by Erik Karlsson‘s wife, Melinda, last month.The Hoffmans have since denied those allegations, but it made for a messy situation in Ottawa.

The Sens were motivated to unload Hoffman as soon as possible, but they obviously took an inferior deal to make sure he didn’t stay in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for the Senators, the Sharks seemed to have pulled a fast one on them.

You’re probably wondering why San Jose would acquire the 28-year-old from Ottawa just to ship him away hours later. Well, they managed to dump underachieving forward Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to Ottawa in the first trade and now they’ve sent Hoffman’s $5.187 million salary to Florida for draft picks.

“This series of trades has allowed us to accomplish several organizational goals,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “We have witnessed some tremendous growth in our younger forwards over the past season and we feel that we have another group of players that are ready to challenge for additional ice time, including Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen, Dylan Gambrell, Max Letunov, Rudolphs Balcers, Antti Suomela, Vincent Praplan and Lukas Radil. These transactions have also allowed us to add to our pool of draft selections, as well as free up a substantial amount of cap space for internal and external player options in the coming months.”

The Sharks have been linked to both John Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk, so you’d have to imagine that this extra cap space they’ve created will go towards trying to sign one or both of those players.

The salary cap is expected to jump to anywhere between $78 million and $82 million. If we split the difference and project ahead to a cap of $80 million, that would leave the Sharks with $16.5 million. They still have to re-sign RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney, so it’s more realistic to assume that they would only be able to afford one of Kovalchuk or Tavares. But if today’s trades have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible when it comes to hockey transactions.

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.

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

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Thanks, Vegas.

That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the success of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. 1 defenseman John Carlson and a strong group of free agents available soon, the ceiling for player spending will rise to between $78 and $82 million from $75 million.

“The higher the better,” Washington Capitals Stanley Cup-winning GM Brian MacLellan said. “It makes it a lot more fun.”

Gentlemen, open your wallets – players like Tavares, Carlson and forwards James van Riemsdyk and Paul Stastny won’t come cheap. They’re just a few of the big-name players who could be on the move this offseason.

With GMs meeting Thursday in Dallas and around each other this weekend at the draft, trade talk is percolating before free agency opens in July. Ottawa forward Mike Hoffman, Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly, Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel, Montreal captain Max Pacioretty and Washington backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer could all be on the move in the next several days.

Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson is the star who will go to the highest bidder if the Senators are willing to trade the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with one year remaining on his contract. GM Pierre Dorion is in a tough spot, potentially having to deal either Karlsson or Hoffman after it was revealed last week that Karlsson’s wife Melinda has filed an order of protection against Hoffman’s girlfriend, Monika Caryk, alleging harassment and bullying.

Decisions are far more immediate for the Islanders and Capitals. New York should probably make a move to re-sign Tavares before its face of the franchise can begin speaking with other teams June 25, and recently hired president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello has to hire a new coach.

The Islanders might’ve gotten a fortunate bounce there when Barry Trotz resigned from his job with Washington less than two weeks after lifting the Cup. Re-signing Tavares and hiring a replacement for fired coach Doug Weight go hand-in-hand.

If it doesn’t work out and Tavares hits the open market, a contract with a salary approaching Connor McDavid‘s $12.5 million isn’t out of the question. Nashville GM David Poile said cap situations put five or six teams in position for top-end free agents and knock about half the league out of the running.

“We all have different commitments already of contracts,” Poile said. “Some teams have a lot of room. Some teams don’t have very much room.”

Big-revenue teams with money to spend include the retooling New York Rangers and the rising Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers are among several teams linked to Russian Olympic MVP Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s looking to return to the NHL after five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who won an Olympic gold medal with Kovalchuk, is back in the U.S. and could also be on the way to returning. Voynov was convicted of domestic abuse and is suspended indefinitely by the NHL, which makes it unclear how a team will pave the way for him to play.

Even excepting Voynov, hundreds of current free agents don’t know where they’ll be playing next season. Beyond Tavares, Carlson is the most in-demand pending free agent after leading all defensemen in regular-season and playoff points.

Carlson plans to have his day with the Stanley Cup in Washington, but because of the uncertainty of the offseason, there’s no guarantee he’ll be there this fall.

“We’ll see what happens,” Carlson said. “We’ll talk and go from there. I don’t really know what else to say other than that. I love it here and all that, I want to stay here, but there’s more to it than that.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

PHT Morning Skate: Bob McKenzie’s final prospect rankings; Pens need to make moves

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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.

• TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie came out with his final prospect rankings for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. These are always must-see for every hockey fan. Yes, Brady Tkachuk is in the top three and Jesperi Kotkaniemi makes an appearance in the top five. (TSN.ca)

• Now that the Capitals won the Stanley Cup after many thought their championship window had closed, Sean McIndoe looks at eight teams who enter next season in a similar position. (Sportsnet)

• Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had one of the best seasons between the pipes in franchise history, but is it enough for him to come away with the Vezina Trophy? Bryan Burns makes a case for Vasilevskiy. (NHL.com/Lightning)

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli looks at the three biggest priorities for every Canadian team in the NHL this summer. The Sens have already accomplished one of their three goals, so that’s pretty good! (TSN.ca)

• Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty made an appearance at the Open Door homeless shelter in Montreal. Pacioretty and his wife donated sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres to the shelter. (Montreal Gazette)

• Sportsnet breaks down all the latest news and rumors regarding the top 12 potential free agents. Yes, John Tavares is at the top of the list, but there’s also some other quality free-agent options. (Sportsnet)

• The best way to improve the Penguins roster is for GM Jim Rutherford to make a splash or two at this week’s NHL Draft. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Hall-of-fame defenseman Denis Potvin has some advice for Rasmus Dahlin: “I know the great career Phil (Housley) had as a player, the fantastic skating abilty he had and the way he was able to put up points so consistently. I just sure hope his focus is to make sure the young man plays defense first. And that will take teaching, I don’t care where he comes from.” (Buffalo News)

• Former NHL defenseman Sheldon Souray opened up about his battle with pain medication. “At the beginning, it was embarrassing. I never felt really like telling my story. All my friends know, obviously, and I’m very proud of it now. (Montreal Gazette)

• Adidas has created a custom Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Champion shoe. It looks exactly how you’d expect it to look. (BarDown)

• How would signing John Tavares affect the Vegas Golden Knights’ forward lines? Let’s just call that a classy problem. (SinBin.Vegas)

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.