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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.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

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’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

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.