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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.

Advice for new Wild GM Bill Guerin

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In a lot of ways, it’s fitting that the Minnesota Wild announced Bill Guerin as their next GM during Ottawa Senators Day at PHT.

After all, Guerin is stepping into a GM gig that might be just as tough as what Pierre Dorion is dealing with in Ottawa, even if the challenges are different.

Despite missing the playoffs in 2018-19 and failing to win a series from 2015-16 through 2017-18, Craig Leipold continues to drink the Kool-Aid, rather than pulling off the Band-Aid. He wants the Wild to contend, so if any rebuilding happens, it needs to take place while the Wild also try to compete.

Mock former GM Paul Fenton all you want, but that isn’t exactly an easy juggling act.

The question, then, is will Guerin be able to juggle better than Fenton? (After all, he does have the hands of a former NHL sniper.)

Here’s some friendly advice for Guerin because, frankly, he’ll probably need all the help he can get.

1. Find out who wants out

As a former player, Guerin likely has a leg up on most GMs when it comes to being able to relate to other players. That might come in handy when it comes to a sensitive subject: waiving no-trade and no-movement clauses.

Theoretically, it would be awkward to have such a conversation with a veteran player who’s meant a lot to the franchise, whether that be Zach Parise and his seemingly eternal contract, or Mikko Koivu on a one-year deal. Yet, as we’ve seen from Parise doing some summer soul-searching with The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required), some of these players have already pondered moving on. It’s easier to have such chats when you’re accomodating a veteran player trying to win that elusive Stanley Cup than it is to ask if you can uproot their family via a trade, after all.

2. Identify your core, and don’t settle

Such clause talk brings up some tough decisions for Guerin when it comes to who is a core Wild player and who is expendable.

As stuck as the Wild seem right now, it’s remarkable how much of a clean slate Guerin can enjoy in the not-so-distant future … at least if he makes smart calls. Via Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $9.5M in cap space, although RFAs Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek still need deals. Even if the cap remained at $81.5M, the Wild’s 2020-21 cap space would rise to $22M, and then all the way up to about $44M heading into 2021-22.

With that in mind, Guerin needs to be cold and calculating. Should the Wild sign Jared Spurgeon, a soon-to-be 30-year-old defenseman who figures to be expensive following this upcoming contract year, or would it be smarter to trade a quality defenseman for what could be a big haul, and build for the future? The Wild have already seen how bad a long-term contract can look, and while Spurgeon could age gracefully, he could just as easily become another albatross.

Spurgeon isn’t the only tough call, but he’s among the toughest.

[From Wild Day at PHT: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

3. Invest in analytics

Firing Fenton after a bit more than a year wasn’t the greatest look for the Wild, but the silver lining was that it kept Fenton from flubbing a Jason Zucker trade in the same way he made the worst blunder of his time, the atrocious Nino Niederreiter trade.

According to Russo’s scathing, incredible rundown of Fenton’s reign in Minnesota, the Niederreiter trade was essentially made during a Florida retreat where the Wild’s top analytics staffers weren’t even invited.

The dream would be for Minnesota to be cutting edge, yet at a minimum, Guerin can avoiding shooting himself in the Fenton … er, foot.

4. Bring in your people

On the other hand, Russo’s reporting also enforced why it can be so important to surround yourself with people you trust.

As much criticism as Fenton drew in that piece regarding being paranoid about leaks … it also is worth mentioning that stunning details ended up leaking out of Minnesota about Fenton’s foibles. Is that ironic, or Alanis Morissette ironic? Considering all that surfaced, can you blame Guerin if he poaches some of the people he knew from Pittsburgh?

Guerin must aim for the right balance between hiring people you can trust, and fresh faces who innovate. I’d wager there’s a sweet spot between Lincoln’s “team of rivals” and Jon Gruden sending his scouting staff home during draft time out of paranoia.

5. Manage Leipold

Perhaps reality will slowly dawn upon Leipold that the Wild need to at least reboot things a bit. In the meantime, though, Guerin needs to hit the right buttons: keeping this team reasonably competitive, without totally mortgaging the future for marginal present-day gains.

***

Chances are, there will be missed shots here and there for Guerin, but if he gets big picture decisions right where Fenton right wrong, the Wild might just become the top-shelf team Leipold demands.

Eventually.

MORE:
• Did the Wild learn from the Fenton era?
• Why the Wild are better off being terrible this season
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Three questions for Senators in 2019-20

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Let’s take a look at three questions surrounding the Senators that don’t revolve around mercurial owner Eugene Melnyk.

1. Can D.J. Smith start building something?

Ideally, Smith will begin with Ottawa much like David Quinn started his time with the Rangers: as a coach with very limited expectations.

Honestly, it would probably be best if the Senators “lost respectably” in 2019-20. Score some goals, excite some fans, and maybe distract from the mess surrounding the team at times.

In the grand scheme of things, Smith will be able to help Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk to continue their ascent up the rankings among young NHL blue chippers, while also helping to develop the team’s more mid-range prospects. Bonus points if Smith can also put veteran players in the right situation for “pump and dumps” during the trade deadline, whether that means helping Craig Anderson maximize his value, or merely others in positions to succeed.

Basically, there are ways Smith can “succeed” even if the Senators don’t really win the battle on the scoreboard very often. They don’t seem to have the weapons necessary to light up many scoreboards, either way.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. What defines “success” for this team, in general?

And that really brings it to another question: what should Ottawa really be striving for?

Yes, there’s a chance that Smith innovates and this team overachieves, but even if that happens, what’s the ceiling for such situations?

The worst-case scenario might be that the Senators play so well that they end up in the playoff bubble, but can’t quite make it, so they also end up with a mediocre first-rounder. It would also be quite bad if a relatively competent Senators team inspired Pierre Dorion to decide against trading veterans who aren’t likely to be part of the future, from Anderson to Ron Hainsey to maybe even a more borderline case like Chris Tierney.

Yes, there’s some young talent in Ottawa, but they should be greedy and try to grab as much as they can. Especially since it’s unclear how many of their current prospects will actually move the needle. After watching the Avalanche use their fourth overall pick in 2019, the Senators could really use at least one more player in that range.

Being realistic about their chances is pretty important, and it’s part of what makes Dorion such an X-factor.

3. Can the Senators get some stops?

Despite having Mark Stone and Matt Duchene for a significant chunk of the 2018-19 season, the Senators still were outscored by 59 goals, allowing an NHL-worst 301.

Losing Stone, in particular, should make it that much tougher to keep the goal differential battle respectable, as Stone is one of those rare wingers who gets very deserved attention as a Selke candidate. On paper, there’s little reason to believe that Ottawa will be a particularly competitive team, especially with so many young players learning on the job.

Maybe D.J. Smith’s system might make life a little easier for Craig Anderson, though? Anderson suffered through some terrible play the past two seasons (.898 save percentage in 2017-18, not much better with .903 in 2018-19), yet the 38-year-old has had some great runs in the past, often when people least expected it.

Even with great goaltending, the Senators’ chances are limited, but it would probably do a lot for their collective psyche – and maybe even their young players’ development – if they could at least put up a fight most nights.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Senators GM must manage a rebuild — and Melnyk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa handing Colin White a six-year, $28.5 million contract was more than just conveniently timed for Senators Day here at PHT. It was also a pivotal moment for a big Senators X-factor: GM Pierre Dorion.

To be more specific, this team’s future hinges on how Dorion manages the Senators’ rebuild … and in what might be an even bigger challenge: managing owner Eugene Melnyk.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | Three questions]

You don’t have to be an accountant to notice that, at least in the short term, the vast majority of the Senators’ moves have been about saving money. It’s to the point that people are already joking that White will be long gone from Ottawa before his actual salary peaks at $6.25M in 2024-25:

But that really was an eye-opening signing because it shows that Dorion can occasionally convince Melnyk to fork over dough for “core players.”

It will be interesting, then, to see how the rest of that core develops, as there are some other potentially pivotal contracts to sign, and Dorion will eventually need to add pieces, whether that means NHL-ready players through trades and free agency, or additional prospects through the volume of draft picks the team has (painfully) accumulated by trading away the likes of Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Matt Duchene.

Consider Thomas Chabot the next pressing test case. He’s entering the last year of his rookie contract, so will Ottawa get that done briskly, or will that situation linger ominously? There’s nightmare scenarios where another team poaches Chabot with an offer sheet, knowing that Melnyk seems allergic to signing bonuses.

Dorion truly needs Melnyk on board in cases like these, especially since more are on the horizon, notably with Brady Tkachuk‘s entry-level contract expiring after 2020-21.

There are a ton of factors that could sway things as time goes on, from Seattle’s expansion draft to possibly even a new CBA forming as the Senators’ rebuild goes along. Such thoughts might complicate things if Melnyk believes that a new CBA would be kinder to his wallet.

But, even in the shorter term, Dorion could make some interesting moves if he’s creative — and in cases like retaining salary to get trades done, if he can get Melnyk to buy in.

I’ve already argued that the Senators should embrace short-term pain for long-term gains, not unlike the Hurricanes absorbing Patrick Marleau’s buyout to land a first-round pick. That’s not to say Ottawa needs to clone such moves detail by detail; instead, the point is that Dorion should be creative, and also embrace the likely reality that this team is unlikely to be any good this season, so they might as well build for the future.

That’s where the 2019-20 season presents interesting opportunities.

Craig Anderson seems long in the tooth, but he’s surprised us before with seemingly random near-elite years, and what better time for the 38-year-old to pull another rabbit out of a hat than this one, where he’s in the last season of a deal that carries a $4.75M cap hit?

That sounds like a hefty sum today, but it would be manageable for a contender around trade deadline time, where they could “rent” Anderson. Maybe Ottawa would take on a contract a contender doesn’t want (perhaps Anderson to the Calgary Flames in a deal that involves Cam Talbot and Michael Frolik, if Talbot doesn’t work out) for the price of picks and prospects?

Ottawa doesn’t have marquee trade bait like they did with Karlsson, Duchene, and Stone last year, but you can land nice assets for mid-level players, too, from Anderson to someone like Chris Tierney.

There’s only so much Dorion can do about Melnyk’s penny-pinching ways, whether the Senators owner is truly just being “cost-conscious” now only to eventually spend when it’s time to contend, or if that “unparalleled success” talk was merely just talk.

But as we’ve seen with teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, you can build something pretty special even while dealing with budget constraints. You need some creativity from a GM, and an owner who will spend money when it counts.

Is Dorion up to the task? So far, the results have been mixed, but how he handles this situation (now, and in the future) is an enormous X-factor for the Senators.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Former Rangers and ‘Miracle on Ice’ player charged in attack

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GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Mark Pavelich, a forward on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team who went on to play for the New York Rangers and two other NHL teams, has been charged with assault for allegedly beating a neighbor with a metal pole and breaking several of the man’s bones.

The 61-year-old Pavelich allegedly attacked his neighbor last week at Pavelich’s home in the small Lake Superior community of Lutsen, Minnesota, after they returned from fishing, authorities allege in the criminal complaint. Pavelich told investigators he believed the man had “spiked” his beer, leading to the alleged attack, the complaint says.

First responders found the neighbor in shock with “obvious disfigurement of his leg,” KMSP-TV reported. He also had a bruised kidney, two cracked ribs and a fractured vertebra.

Pavelich faces charges of second- and third-degree assault, possession of an illegal shotgun and receiving a gun with an altered or missing serial number. During a hearing Monday in Cook County District Court, the judge ordered a mental competency hearing for Pavelich, who didn’t have an attorney listed in online court records as of Wednesday.

He remains in custody in lieu of $250,000 bail, the Star Tribune reported.

Pavelich played five seasons with the Rangers and parts of one season each with the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks, compiling 137 goals and 192 assists in 355 NHL games. He also played professionally in Europe.

Pavelich had two assists in the United States’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the 1980 Olympic tournament. The U.S. went on to beat Finland in the final to win the gold medal.

In 2012, his 44-year-old wife, Kara, died in an accidental fall from a second-story balcony at their home. Two years later, Pavelich sold his gold medal for $262,900 through an auction house, saying he wanted to help his adult daughter.