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NHL All-Star Media Day notebook: Karlsson, Tavares on futures; Klingberg’s Karlsson connection

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TAMPA — After dropping one of the season’s most memorable quotes in November, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is now trying to worry about the present day not jump ahead to the summer of 2019 when he could be an unrestricted free agent.

His quote of “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” raised many eyebrows around and the league and had various fanbases creating hypothetical trade scenarios should the Senators decide they can’t afford to keep him.

During NHL All-Star Media Day on Saturday, the Senators captain said he’ll wait until this coming summer before beginning to think about his future.

“Whenever I have to make a decision on what I need to do with my future and when we have to make those discussions, we will,” Karlsson said. “As of right now, it’s not something that I’m focusing on or worrying about. I’m just worrying about trying to get us out of the slump were in and trying to find a solution to the problems we do have.

“Whenever the summer comes around, I think the discussions are going to heat up a little bit more, and that’s when I’ll probably sit back and reflect on the things I want in my career. I’m sure Ottawa’s going to give me their perspective of things as well, and then were going to move on from there.”

Tavares talks future

In other superstar contract news, John Tavares reiterated his stance that he would like to stay with the New York Islanders. The 27-year-old forward is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and clarity around the team’s future with a new arena project by Belmont Park had many believing that an extension was imminent. That hasn’t been the case just yet.

“I’ve always stated that I’ve really enjoyed being there,” Tavares said. “I haven’t thought about anything but mostly focusing on this season and taking my time and being patient. When the time is right, I’ll make my decision. Anything that we’ve talked about I prefer to keep it internally between me and the organization. Talks are always open and they’ve been great so far. I’m not going to get into specific details.

“The way I look at is anything that affects my daily life, whether it’s at the rink or not at the rink, will go into my decision. Obviously you want to play for a team that’s doing everything it can to win, and the Islanders are certainly doing that. You can see a lot of the potential and the young talent we have, as well as guys who’ve been there for a while, like Josh [Bailey], Anders [Lee], Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the veteran guys we have. We’ve got a solid foundation there.”

Bloomberg reported on Friday that Tavares and his Islanders teammates may be returning to their old home for 12 games next season at Nassau Coliseum as the Belmont Park project is built with an eye to open in time for the the 2020-21 or 2021-22 NHL season.

Why Mike Smith landed in Calgary

The Calgary Flames wanted to go in a different direction after a year with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson didn’t work out. At the same time, Mike Smith was looking for a chance to move away from Arizona after six seasons and have a chance to win.

So just before NHL teams had to submit their expansion draft protected lists, the Coyotes sent Smith to the Flames for a package that included defensive prospect Brandon Hickey.

After spending time in Dallas and Tampa splitting goaltending duties or acting as backup, Smith became a full-fledged No. 1 with the Coyotes. His very first year was a successful one as he helped the team to the Western Conference Final. But after that it was downhill and the team failed to reach the postseason as issues around the club continued. He was ready to move on.

“Great people that I played with and teammates and training staff and all that. My three were born there so,” Smith said. “My time in Arizona was great for my career, but I think I was at the point, too, where I was really wanting a chance to be on a good team, a team that’s up and coming but has the core group to win now, and I think that was an important decision. Having Calgary on my list, there was a good chance that I’d end up there and it’s been a good transition so far.”

It wasn’t a tough decision for Smith to decide to waive his no-trade clause. The options were limited but the Flames are further along than the Coyotes and it was a situation he wanted to be a part of.

“There’s only so many spots for a goalie, right? So you can narrow that down pretty well on who needs goalies, who has one,” he said. “It makes your list pretty self-explanatory to say the least. There wasn’t too much thought process that went into it. I knew the teams that kind of were in need of a goalie and Calgary was one of them. Obviously, I’m thrilled to be a Flame.”

John Klingberg’s Karlsson connection

Coming up through the Frolunda system in Gothenburg, Sweden, Klingberg was able to watch a lot of a very young Erik Karlsson. The Senators captain was playing junior hockey a few years ahead of the Dallas Stars defenseman. Karlsson was a must-watch player and someone Klingberg looked up as a fellow blue liner.

“That was great for me because at that time I just switched to D and he was that offensive player in juniors that everyone wanted to be like,” Klingberg said. “I had the privilege to see him play a lot of junior hockey in Frolunda where I grew up. That was great for me.”

Get the goalies involved

The Skills Competition showcases the top talents of the league’s best players, but for goalies, their job is basically to be a prop and stop shots. Yeah, there’s been those few times — goalie race, Four Line Challenge — where they’ve actually been the focus of a specific event. But they’re just as eager to get involved.

“I wouldn’t mind shooting at the targets, seeing how my hands are,” said Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck. “It would be fun to be a little more involved, but we’re goalies. Our skills get in the way of things.”

Mike Smith, who provided one of the highlights from last year’s Skills Competition for sinking a full-length shot through a small hole during the Four Line Challenge, is keen on the idea, but a little hesitant.

“I wouldn’t want to skate,” he said. “I would want to stand still. I think Accuracy would be the one.”

When I asked him if he’d want something like the Four Line Challenge brought back, he simply said, “I couldn’t do that again.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are celebrating their 25th season, and the city of Tampa will host the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. The League’s midseason showcase will take place at AMALIE Arena and will include the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) and 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

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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.

Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

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Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

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Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him his job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

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.

Immediate jump unlikely to be best for Kotkaniemi, Habs

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The Montreal Canadiens shouldn’t ask “can Jesperi Kotkaniemi jump straight from the 2018 NHL Draft to the main roster?” Instead, they’re better off wondering if he should.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said that the 18-year-old will get a chance to impress in training camp after performing well at development camp, according to NHL.com’s Sean Farrell.

“He got better every day, so we’re going in with an open mind,” Bergevin said. “I don’t know, but just the fact that he’s signed and he’s coming to camp and he’s closer to the NHL. Where he’s going to be Oct. 1, I can’t tell you, but we see a lot of potential and growth in this young man.”

That’s fair, and the Canadiens would be justified in giving the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft the nine-game audition before sending him to Finland or the AHL instead of burning the first year of Kotkaniemi’s entry-level contract.

Cautionary tale

But, big picture, this is probably one of those situations where both sides would be better off if Kotkaniemi dips his toes in the water rather than diving right in. If Montreal needs a quick example of a player whose rookie deal hasn’t been used in an optimal way, they might want to consider Jesse Puljujärvi, who went fourth overall in 2016.

Puljujärvi only played in 28 games in 2016-17, making a minimal impact while pushing himself that much closer to ending his rookie deal. Things didn’t get that much better last season, as he only generated 20 points in 65 games. A breakthrough is quite possible in 2018-19, but the downside would be that the Oilers would then need to give him a raise, and would only really enjoy one high-value season from his entry-level contracts.

That’s the sort of poor asset management Montreal should be concerned about, especially if they’re being realistic about their chances next season.

Tension in the air

Now, it’s plausible – maybe probable – that things could go a little better in 2018-19. For the most obvious example, the Habs could conceivably be viable if Carey Price returns to elite form (and good health).

In all honesty, the Lightning and Maple Leafs seem slated to be light years ahead of Montreal. The Panthers and especially the Bruins head into the season with higher hopes, too. The Habs run the risk of falling short of the postseason even if they improve considerably, so why not just push Kotkaniemi’s contract back a year instead of possibly wasting it?

The Finnish forward only turned 18 on July 6, so you’d expect him to be a bit less polished compared to an older prospect like, say, Brady Tkachuk. The worst-case scenario might be if Kotkaniemi plays well enough to hit double digits in games played, yet generally struggles and ends up stunting his growth while wasting a year of that ELC.

It might not be the healthiest environment for Kotkaniemi to debut, either.

Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien must be at least a touch concerned about job security, and the atmosphere has a chance to be pretty toxic. Critics blast Julien for how he handles young players at the best of times, but how ugly might the scene be if fans are calling for Bergevin and Julien to be replaced?

Montreal seems pretty locked-in to its forward group this season, too, and that’s possibly accurate even if they actually pull the trigger on a Max Pacioretty trade. The return could be pretty modest if Kotkaniemi’s is merely a minor upgrade over a replacement-level player.

***

The Habs already made a divisive choice in selecting Kotkaniemi after lucking into the third pick in 2018. Many believe that Montreal aimed at need first and foremost, with the expectation being that Kotkaniemi will develop into the first-line center, a piece that’s eluded Montreal for ages. The pressure’s eventually going to be pretty fierce for the prospect to deliver, so the Canadiens would be wise to wait until he’s truly ready.

And, again, the decision need not be based on altruism alone. Instead, by doing what’s most likely best for Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens stand a better chance to take advantage of his cheap contract when they’d ideally be better prepared to contend.

There are worse problems to have, yet Montreal really needs to start getting these decisions right if they want to turn things around.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

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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.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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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.