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The best hockey moments of 2017 (PHT Year in Review)

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(Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and much more as we bring you the best of 2017.)

We’ll remember the champions, the award winners, the big goals and the big saves from the past year, but there are also plenty of stories that were memorable in different ways. Some are serious, some are fun, and in the end they’ll be part of the story that hockey in the year 2017 told.

Here are our 15 favorite moments from the hockey world in 2017.

15. Dart Guy introduces himself to the hockey world

Jason Maslakow drove from Waterloo, Ont. to Washington D.C. for Game 2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round series against the Washington Capitals in April. Television cameras caught him during the game and the reaction from fans went through the roof. His face was painted with a leaf on it, his beard was dyed blue, there was a Stanley Cup shaved into his head and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He quickly became known as “Dart Guy,” and fans soon turned the image into memes and used it as their social media avatars.

The 37-year-old’s life changed after that night. The Leafs invited him to attend Game 3 at Air Canada Centre; he took part in various appearances around the city; he eventually gave up smoking and encouraged other fans to follow him; and he even has his own TSN radio show.

14. Andre Burakovsky mistakes random car for Uber, gets ride anyway

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We’ve all had this experience, right? You’re waiting on your Uber or Lyft driver to arrive and you think you see them, you pop open the door and then you are embarrassed to learn you almost entered the wrong car. Well, it happened to the Washington Capitals forward last February on his way home from a Top Golf location during the team’s bye week. The driver, Manny Nicolas, didn’t believe who it was at first and was finally convinced when Burakovsky showed him some photos on his phone.

13. Meet the “Dancing goalie from Brampton”

Noah Young may be eight years old, but he’s got the dances moves of a seasoned professional. While he had been dancing regularly during games during his young career, one set of moves was caught on video and went viral as he bounced to “Juju On That Beat” by Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall. That led to him being invited to practice for the ECHL’s Brampton Beast where he got to teach goaltenders Andrew D’Agostini and Zach Fucale exactly what it takes to look smooth out there.

12. Hockey player gets new heart, hits the ice again

Six years ago, Tyler Jaenicke ended a shift unable to catch his breath. After experiencing the issue for several days, he was checked out by a doctor and told the life-altering news. At age 17, he was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a form of heart failure. He had a implantable cardioverter defibrillator put in and had to walk away from the game he loved. In 2016, his heart began failing and surgery was required. He was then placed on the heart transplant list.

Two months after having a battery-operated pump implanted, Jaenicke was notified that a donor heart was available. Forty-eight hours later he underwent a transplant and then went through months of rehab, all while sticking to his goal of playing hockey again. He succeeded and returned to the ice in October as part of Davenport University’s hockey team.

“You just can’t give up on life no matter what it is you’re going through,” Jaenicke told MLive.com. “I’ve been able to reach out to a few kids going through what I went through, and I understand what a difference that can make.”

11. Vladimir Tarasenko’s special birthday surprise

During the St. Louis Blues’ Casino Night, Tarasenko was the winning bidder on a trip for two on the team plane to see them on the road in Arizona and Colorado. The prize obviously wasn’t for the Russian superstar but instead for his friend Arianna Dougan, an 11-year-old who was fighting neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer. A week later, she was invited to meet the team after practice where she received a jersey from head coach Mike Yeo and also handed Tarasenko a box full of cupcakes (blue sprinkles, of course.)

Sadly, Ari would pass away in November and the Blues would honor her during their Hockey Fights Cancer night by wearing bedazzled warmups jerseys.

10. Connor McDavid and that awkward fan photo

It’s no surprise that the Edmonton Oilers star is stopped at the airport with photo requests from fans, but one last May took on a life of its own because of the look on his face. He told the story of what happened on the Puck Soup Podcast in June:

“I was walking into the security line and I had actually walked past them. And then they say ‘hey Connor can we get a picture?’ and I say ‘sure’ and sure enough they come up to me and start hugging me.  Both of them. Both of them were hugging me.  And sure enough there was someone who had their phone ready to take a picture. They had already turned around and were ready for the picture and took the picture before I had even realized what was going on. The whole thing lasted seven seconds and then I was out of there.”

9. Chris Pronger’s smiling check on Justin Bieber

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Remember the celebrity game during All-Star Weekend in January? No? I’ll bet you remember this photo, thought. That’s all you need to remember, really.

8. Brian Boyle scores first goal after cancer diagnosis

Leukemia wasn’t going to stop Boyle from playing the game he loves. After missing the first month of the season for treatment, he returned in early November to the New Jersey Devils’ lineup. In his fifth game back, he scored on Cam Talbot, which unleashed plenty of emotion from the veteran forward.

“I’ve never cried after a goal before,” Boyle told MSG’s Deb Placey during the first intermission. “It’s a lot. It’s everything… These guys, my wife, my kids, they’ve been through a lot, too. My parents, my siblings, it’s a good feeling.”

7. Craig Anderson’s emotional Bill Masterton Trophy speech

Anderson had to take several absences away from his Ottawa Senators teammates as his wife, Nicholle, fought a rare throat cancer. She would go into remission in May and a month later the netminder was awarded the 2017 Masterton Trophy and delivered this memorable line: “Live for the now.”

6. Alex Ovechkin delivers hat trick for fan on Hockey Fights Cancer Night

When Ovechkin promised Alex Luey that he would score for him against the Toronto Maple Leafs last month, he told the 13-year-old he would try and find him in the crowd. The Washington Capitals captain tallied a hat trick that night to help make the young cancer survivor’s night.

5. Dave Strader returns to Dallas Stars broadcast booth

As he battled bile duct cancer, the play-by-play man returned in February to call a Stars game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It ended in dramatic fashion as captain Jamie Benn fired home the overtime goal. After the celebrations ended, the players all gathered at center ice to salute Strader.

The long-time hockey broadcaster would pass away in October and was further remembered when the team held their Hockey Fights Cancer night in early November. Days before he was honored as the 2017 Foster Hewitt Award, Strader’s son, Trevor, performed the national anthem before the Stars game that night.

4. Bryan Bickell scores first career shootout goal in final NHL game

Through 395 NHL games, Bickell had only taken one attempt in the shootout. Knowing it was his final game, the Carolina Hurricanes forward scored, five months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. You can see how much the moment meant not only to Bickell and his wife, but also to his teammates.

3. Jamie Benn promises goal for car crash survivor, delivers

The first time Kendra Murray met Benn she was in a hospital room recovering from a car crash that took the lives of two of her friends. The next time she saw him was at a morning skate in October, eight months after the accident. After chatting with general manager Jim Nill, she got to see Tyler Seguin, who visited her that day with Benn, again, and then she met up with the Stars captain who told her, “I’ll score for you. I’ll make sure it’s for you.”

Sure enough, he did early in the second period of that night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, he did it,’” Murray told Pro Hockey Talk in October. “That’s actually for me and I knew that it was for me. It was so crazy. It was the first goal, too. It made the Stars be ahead in the game which was awesome.”

2. Viktor Arvidsson assists Predators fan in marriage proposal

“Don’t drop it,” were the words of advice from Matt Irwin. The Nashville Predators forward was tasked with delivering an engagement ring on his way to the Bridgestone Arena ice for warmups. When he took off his glove and handed the ring to Morgan Landsberg, her face filled with shock and confusion. She turned around and then saw her now-fiancee Conor Payne get down on one knee and pop the question. She said yes and now has one of the better engagement stories out there.

1. Golden Knights honor Vegas shooting victims and first responders

After the tragic mass shooting on Oct. 1 just blocks from T-Mobile Arena, the Vegas Golden Knights held a ceremony prior to their first home game to pay tribute to the victims and first responders. The team introduced doctors, firemen, nurses, paramedics and police officers, who were each accompanied by a Golden Knights player. There was also a 58-second moment of silence remembering the 58 victims with their names superimposed on the ice. The advertisements on the boards were replaced with the #VegasStrong hashtag.

To end the ceremony, Deryk Engelland, a Vegas native, spoke to the crowd reminding them they are all “Vegas strong.” He would later score in the franchise’s first ever win.

Previously:

The top hockey bloopers of 2017

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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.

Domi’s passing skills impress Habs’ Gallagher

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If you want to paint the grimmest picture for the Montreal Canadiens’ side of Friday’s trade with the Arizona Coyotes, consider goal stats for Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk.

It’s been noted that Galchenyuk scored almost as many goals in one season (30 in 82 games during the 2015-16 campaign) as Max Domi has during his entire NHL career (36 in 222 games). Brutal, right?

Yes, but it probably oversells the gap between the two as overall players, even if Galchenyuk has undoubtedly enjoyed the superior career.

For one thing, Domi’s enjoyed his moments. He scored 18 goals during his impressive rookie season, the only year he’s enjoyed a respectable shooting percentage (11.5 percent).

As you zoom out, the comparison gets less lopsided. Glance at overall points and things get closer. Domi’s generated 135 points over his 222-game career, good for an average of .60 points per contest. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, comes in at .61 (255 points in 418 games). So, if those averages stood during an 82-game season, Galchenyuk would score 50 points while Domi would generate … a fraction less than 50 points.

Now, you can counter those observations by fairly noting that goals come at higher premium than assists. Again, it’s clear that so far, Galchenyuk’s been more dynamic.

But that’s not the point. Instead, one should realize that Domi is a superior threat as a passer, not a shooter. (Galchenyuk, meanwhile, can be a deadly sniper.)

Domi’s teammates seem to notice that distinction, especially Brendan Gallagher, who won gold with him at the 2016 World Championship.

“He plays extremely hard, he competes hard, but he’s a pass-first kind of guy. It was shocking at times, the way he sees the game,” Gallagher said to Dan Braverman of the Canadiens website. “If you’re out on the ice with him, you have to be ready to shoot the puck, because he’s looking to feed his linemates, which is always nice to play with.”

In a fascinating breakdown for Sportsnet, Andrew Berkshire points out that playmaking has been an issue for the Canadiens for quite some time, even with the addition of a creator like Jonathan Drouin. Berkshire wonders if Domi (who Berkshire deems a “borderline elite playmaker”) could make a big difference in that regard.

Domi spent a huge chunk of last season playing on a line with Christian Dvorak, and he shot 9.9 per cent after scoring on 17 per cent of his shots last season, so his presence doesn’t guarantee anything, but the playmaking ability Domi displays is absolutely something the Canadiens are trying to address here, and I think they’re banking on adding that playmaking ability to a group of shooting forwards making a bigger impact on team goals than Galchenyuk’s style of play would.

Again, this isn’t to say that Domi is more valuable than Galchenyuk. (Berkshire ultimately describes Galchenyuk as “the better, more talented, more dynamic player,” for example.)

Instead, it’s merely important to recognize that this might not be as egregious as the Shea WeberP.K. Subban trade.

Interestingly, it’s easy to imagine both Galchenyuk and Domi enjoying improved results in 2018-19, at least if healthy. Domi might not be much of a goal threat, but it’s tough to imagine him suffering through another six shooting percentage. Galchenyuk fell off his typical goal pace thanks in part to an 8.9 shooting percentage in 2017-18 (versus 16.3 percent in 2016-17 and 12.4 for his career).

There’s also the matter of Domi’s cap hit ($3.15 million) coming in cheaper than that of Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9M), but you can dive deeper into those aspects here.

Does this mean that the Canadiens won the trade? Right now, the answer seems to be “No.”

The point is that this might not be remembered as the sort of head-shaking disaster that the Subban – Weber trade ended up being and the Mikhail Sergachev – Jonathan Drouin swap looks like after the first year.

That said, it’s still worth giving Marc Bergevin a hard time about, because “maybe not as bad as it looks” isn’t the ideal peak for a GM’s recent trades.

More on the Domi – Galchenyuk trade

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues GM confirms Kovalchuk interest, makes Jagr comparison

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PHT’s Adam Gretz placed the St. Louis Blues fifth in his power rankings for potential Ilya Kovalchuk destinations earlier week, citing the team’s need for a boost on offense (while highlighting the tantalizing potential of Kovalchuk with Vladimir Tarasenko).

It sounds like Blues GM Doug Armstrong is throwing his team’s name in the hat, if nothing else. He confirmed the Blues’ interest in Kovalchuk, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Always looking to improve our team,” Armstrong said. “We’re like all teams. He’s 35 years old, there’s risk involved with players of that age. But he could be Jaromir Jagr. He could start slowing down at 41. Or he could come back and hit the wall. You never know.”

Armstrong also mentioned that, unlike teams such as the Sharks and Kings, the Blues didn’t arrange a face-to-face meeting with Kovalchuk. It’s unclear if that fact indicates a lower level of interest from St. Louis and/or Kovalchuk.

The age comments are more than just pointing out the obvious, by the way.

Kovalchuk would count as a 35+ contract, and with his most recent ask being a manageable cap hit yet a deal that would ask for some term at three years, a team would need to be confident that signing him would be worth it in the future. Not just now.

Taking a look at the Blues’ Cap Friendly page, such a risk would be reasonable for St. Louis, yet they would need to mull over the ramifications.

Three especially noteworthy players currently have three years remaining on their contracts: Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, and Alexander Steen. It might surprise some to realize that Steen is already 34, but Schwartz and Allen are young enough that the Blues must acknowledge that raises could be coming.

(Personally, that seems most pressing for Schwartz, as Allen has his critics as an up-and-down No. 1 goalie.)

A couple other looming raises could make Kovalchuk’s hypothetical three-year deal a bigger burden, as such a deal would run concurrently with raises in 2020-21. Both Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million cap hit) and Brayden Schenn ($5.125M) stand to make a lot more money once their bargain deals expire after 2019-20.

Overall, the Blues are in a fantastic situation to make it all work.

They only have about $62M committed to 18 players heading into next season, and the only plus of Robby Fabbri‘s terrible injury luck for St. Louis is that the RFA is likely to sign a team-friendly contract. (Assuming that Fabbri gets a clean bill of health.)

The Blues stand as a dark horse candidate for John Tavares for the same sort of reasons that Kovalchuk would make sense. While last season’s failure to make the playoffs was a disappointment, they’ve generally been competitive. A big-time addition could really accelerate that improvement, and this team has money to burn (for now). St. Louis also boasts some prominent players in the thick of their primes.

And, sure, Tarasenko’s presence cannot hurt.

St. Louis isn’t exactly like the Ducks, a team that hasn’t drafted a Russian player since 2009. While Tarasenko is the most prominent countryman on the Blues roster, St. Louis also employs Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nikita Soshnikov. (Czech forward Vladimir Sobotka also isn’t far removed from a three-year sojourn in the KHL, for whatever that’s worth.)

Long story short, the Blues have plenty of reasons to legitimately pursue Kovalchuk, and there’s some reason to believe that St. Louis would be a good fit for him.

That said, they’ll need to get in line … and they may not be in the front of that queue when free agency begins in July.

MORE ON THE KOVALCHUK SWEEPSTAKES

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames probably won’t land first-rounder (or helicopter?) in 2018 NHL Draft

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When the Calgary Flames sent a rich package of future assets to the New York Islanders for Travis Hamonic, it seemed like a reasonable risk. Especially for a team with lofty aspirations.

Sometimes a failed trade is obvious immediately; other times, hindsight provides clarity. In retrospect, GM Brad Treliving and the Flames suffered a big loss there. Calgary missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Hamonic wasn’t the steadying force on defense the Flames were hoping for.

Missing the postseason was already painful for the Flames, but next weekend’s draft weekend figures to rub salt in those wounds.

Thanks to Treliving’s (not unreasonable) decision to push some of his chips to the middle of the table, the Flames don’t have a pick in the first, second, or third rounds as of this writing. (Mike Smith worked out better for Calgary, but he also cost them their third-rounder.)

After the dust settled and people lost jobs, the Flames’ first two picks are currently slated for the fourth round: choices 105 and 108.

At least Treliving provided a great line about the Flames’ low odds of trading into the first round, via NHL.com’s Tim Campbell.

“Would we like to get into the first round? Yeah,” Treliving said on Friday. “I’d like a helicopter too.”

“There’s a price. We’re not going to do something just so we can call a name on Friday. It takes a fairly good price to get in there. Are we trying to manufacture some more picks? Sure. We’re looking it.”

One can only imagine the helicopter memes and Photoshops that might surface from this comment, at least if we’re lucky. Really, the bigger question is: do you go with references to Arnold in “Predator” or do you go a little more arthouse with “Apocalypse Now?” Flames fans and front office members will have time to consider these things while other teams ponder which prospects they should nab.

All kidding aside, Flames fans should be pleased that Treliving isn’t trying to sell the farm (or chopper) just to save face during the draft.

A lesser GM might compound the mistake by losing another trade to get a better pick or two. Instead, the Flames seem more likely to live to fight another day.

Maybe July 1, or early July, could stand as that day?

Via Cap Friendly, the Flames currently allocate $62.51 million in cap space to 15 players. Depending upon the height of ceiling, Calgary could carry approximately $18-$20M. While they have quite a few RFAs, none are really of the major variety. So Treliving set himself up with room to maneuver if he likes what he sees on the open market.

Granted, the Flames do need to be careful, as Matthew Tkachuk‘s rookie deal will expire after 2018-19, and the same is true for aging veteran Mike Smith’s $4.25M cap hit.

All things considered, the Flames are probably justified in swinging for the fences again, even if last season’s failure might inspire some trigger-shyness.

Yes, some key players such as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Tkachuk, and Dougie Hamilton are all in their prime years (or Tkachuk is set to enter his), but there are also substantial players whose windows could close soon. Norris-caliber defenseman Mark Giordano is 34. Smith is 36.

There’s a lot to like with that roster, to the point that it remains surprising that they endured such a tepid 2017-18 season.

Surrounding that promising core with a better supporting cast is the key, and this summer can be huge in that regard. It’s just clear that the Flames aren’t likely to make those important additions via picks in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Now, a bold trade involving NHL-ready players during draft weekend? Pulling that off seems like a distinct possibility.

(Hey, they’ll need something to do.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Galchenyuk trade just one reason Coyotes are excited

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Here’s a confession: last summer, I got a little too excited about the Arizona Coyotes’ progress.

It turns out that 2017-18 was a little too early to take the Coyotes seriously, but there are still reasons for optimism. The Alex GalchenyukMax Domi trade stands as the exclamation point at the end of a Coyotes fan’s sentence.

Sometimes teams improve by leaps and bounds. Other times, it’s more about baby steps.

After seeing Arizona stumble a bit this past season, it’s difficult to tell how far they’ve come. Either way, there are reasons to be increasingly positive about what GM John Chayka is doing, so let’s lay them out.

  • The Galchenyuk trade looks like a win.

Time will tell if it’s a big win (or even a win at all?). At the moment, it seems significant. Sure, one can discuss some of the ways that things might work out better than expected for Montreal, but much of that optimism hinges on better luck for Domi.

If you had to make a safe bet, you’d wager on Arizona’s side. Most GMs would take that.

  • Last summer’s trades quietly worked nicely.

There’s a solid chance that tuned-in hockey fans noted that Antti Raanta pulled off a solid first season as a starting goalie, at least after shaking off injury issues early on. He was rewarded with a three-year extension that carries a $4.25 million cap hit, a deal that finds a pretty nifty compromise between mitigating risks for the Coyotes with rewarding Raanta’s patience and hard work.

(Considering his fantastic .930 save percentage in 2017-18 and strong .922 career average, it could end up being a steal.)

The quieter development is that Derek Stepan played quite well, too.

Despite poor shooting luck (14 goals on 209 SOG for just a 6.7 shooting percentage), Stepan still scored his typical 56 points. That’s not a world-beating output, but it’s the type of production that the Coyotes more or less expected from the 27-year-old center.

Stepan can be part of the solution in Arizona.

  • A team that once looked weak down the middle seems formidable.

Landing Galchenyuk and Stepan eases the pressure on certain players. If the Coyotes believe that Dylan Strome would be a more comfortable fit on the wing, that isn’t quite as disappointing now.

  • They can add more talent this summer.

On one hand, it’s tough to gauge how much the Coyotes can really be a factor in free agency, considering their money challenges. Especially since they’re likely to pay up to extend Oliver Ekman-Larsson once they’re permitted by the CBA.

Still, there’s a chance they can add a small piece or two, and they also face interesting opportunities with the fifth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They could add to their very modern-styled group of defensemen (OEL, Alex Goligoski, and Jason Demers all appeal to “fancy stats” types) by landing a prospect like Quinn Hughes. On the other hand, perhaps they’d add a forward who could make a near-future impact such as Brady Tkachuk?

Sure, it would have been great if they happened upon the top pick and were gifted Rasmus Dahlin, but they can still add a blue chip next weekend.

  • Their young players could improve.

It’s easy to forget that Dylan Strome is still just 21. Coyotes fans may always cringe at Mitch Marner‘s superior development (picked fourth after Strome went third overall in 2015), but that doesn’t mean that the ship has sailed on Strome as an NHL-caliber player.

The 2016 NHL Draft presents interesting questions as well.

“Beast” defenseman Jakob Chychrun‘s value is still unclear after his sophomore season was hindered by injury issues. Clayton Keller, meanwhile, looks like a fantastic find; the tantalizing question is: “How high is his ceiling?”

  • Enviable flexibility

In recent years, the Coyotes served as an Island of Misfit Contracts, absorbing dead cap space in Pavel Datsyuk’s and Chris Pronger’s deals in exchange for futures. They’ll see Dave Bolland‘s contract expire after 2018-19.

The nice thing for Chayka and the Coyotes is that they can continue in that potentially fruitful direction, but only if they choose to.

Simply put, this team isn’t anchored to too many problem contracts of their own doing. As of this writing, their longest contracts run for three seasons. OEL will change that, and few would really complain. The point is, the Coyotes enjoy the luxury of room to maneuver.

No doubt, the in-house budget stands as a concern, yet the Coyotes don’t need to fret about dollars going to waste.

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No doubt about it, the Coyotes have plenty of work to do. The good news is that, so far, this group is getting the job done.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.