Getty Images

How do we improve the NHL All-Star Game? (PHT Roundtable)

11 Comments

NHL All-Star Weekend has come and gone for 2018 and now we count the days until next year’s event at HP Pavilion in San Jose. While we wait, the PHT staff has some ideas on how to improve the event for 2019. Let us know your ideas in the comments.

SEAN LEAHY: The most successful addition to NHL All-Star Weekend was the fantasy draft in 2011. Then we had the 3-on-3 divisional tournament idea in 2016, which injected much needed life into the event (Thanks, John Scott!). The current format doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and has brought some competitiveness to the games, especially with $1 million on the line.

Unfortunately, the fantasy draft went away, but bringing it back would provide added value to the weekend. It’s an event to fill the Friday night slot before the Skills Competition and would allow fans to see even more personality from the players — even if they may be a little sauced up, thanks to an open bar.

Let fans vote for the starting lineup for each of the four divisions with the top-vote getters being named captain. The host team would be one of the four captains regardless of the final tally. Then you get the players on a stage again to hold a snake draft and allow trades to further make things entertaining.

The game itself isn’t often the highlight of the weekend. The Skills Competition has traditionally held that title, and for three years it was the fantasy draft. Let’s see that again.

JAMES O’BRIEN: The fantasy draft is all that really matters to me, preferably with players enjoying “some refreshments.” It’s a glorious occasion, with the Skills Competition also providing oodles and noodles of fun.

Really, the specifics of the All-Star Game itself are mostly immaterial, because do you really want to make that game important? Look at the MLB; they’ve strained a hamstring making theirs waaaay too important. Imagine if the All-Star Game decided who has home ice during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final instead of the better record and feel that vein pumping in the side of your head.

If you must, though: East vs. West, every team represented. 3-on-3 is fine with me if it doesn’t call for more snubs, but again, the other stuff is what makes this weekend fun.

[A simple request for future NHL All-Star Skills Competitions]

ADAM GRETZ: I think the obvious answer here is to blend the two best ideas they have had into one really good idea: The 3-on-3 mini-tournament, with a fantasy draft to build the teams.

Fans vote for All-Stars the way they always do with the top four vote-getters across the league being the captains that will pick their teams.

I think the 3-on-3 idea is the one that produces what has been — by far — the best quality game. Even if the players aren’t going at 100 percent like they would in a regular season or a playoff game or any game that matters, the nature of the 3-on-3 matchup is so wide open and fast paced that it is still exciting. Then you add in the fantasy draft component which was still one of the funniest things the league has done and gave us our best chance to see player’s real personalities. Now you’re just doubling the fun with four captains instead of two.

JOEY ALFIERI: The NHL has changed up the All-Star Game a few times, but they’ve tried their best not to make players get too uncomfortable. One new way to change things up would be to randomly select what position players will play. It might be unrealistic to imagine a forward playing goalie, but they should give it a try.

Have an All-Star draft like they did a few times. Once a player is selected by one of the captains, the player chosen will then randomly be assigned a position. Imagine Brent Burns as a goalie, or Phil Kessel playing goalie. Now that would be awesome. A player could get lucky and get his original position, but imagine if he had to play with someone who was out of position. A defense pairing of Erik Karlsson and Carey Price would be pretty cool.

It might not be a realistic option, but it would definitely get more hardcore hockey fans watching the game because it would take players out of their comfort zone. Let’s make it happen!

SCOTT BILLECK: I like the 3-on-3 format on the ice, but I’d like to see it be a little more meaningful. Money is nice, but these guys make enough money that a little spit in the bucket isn’t going to make a big difference.

The 3-on-3 format has been exciting when something is on the line.

Make a trophy. Engrave the names of the winners. Players are inherently competitive. Give them a reason to compete.

I don’t believe it’s possible to go the baseball route, where the winning conference, in this case, would get home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final. Hockey is a contact sport and no owner is going to sign on off for allowing their players to play a heated game.

As for the Skills Competition, bring back those things that made it fun. Keep Saturday as fun as it can be.

Best shootout goal – kind of like the slam dunk contest. Rate the goals. Let Ovi and Subban dress up. Let it be fun for the fans and the players. Saves are nice and all, but people want to see great goals.

The Buzzer: Garland, Raanta help Coyotes roll; Capitals stay hot

1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

The Arizona goaltender earned his first shutout of the season and 12th of his career with a 31-save performance during a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Power play goals from Derek Stepan and Jakob Chychrun helped power the Coyotes to their fourth win in five games. The win puts them now one point behind the Oilers for the Pacific Division lead.

2. Braden Holtby, Capitals

The Capitals netminder was kept busy during a 5-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Holtby made 32 saves, which included 25 stops in the final 40 minutes. Washington has now won their last seven games that Holtby has started and 10 of their last 11 with him in net. He also passed the 25,000 career minute mark to join Olaf Kolzig as the only goalies in franchise history to hit that number. John Carlson picked up two assists and now has 11 multi-point games this season.

3. Conor Garland, Coyotes

Garland was one of three Coyotes with multi-point nights (Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz the others) as he netted a goal and an assist in the victory. He now has three goals in his last four games is up to 10 goals and 14 points through 22 games this season. In 47 games a year ago, Garland recorded 13 goals and 18 points.

Hathaway ejected for spitting

A late second period melee sparked by a Brendan Leipsic hit on Derek Grant saw several fights break out as Chandler Stephenson scored. Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway ended up tangled with Erik Gudbranson and was given a five-minute match penalty for spitting at the Ducks’ defenseman. Hathaway could face further punishment from the NHL in the form of a fine or suspension.

Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2019 inducted

Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky, Hayley Wickenheiser, Sergei Zubov, Jerry York, and Jim Rutherford were inducted Monday night in Toronto.

Highlights of the Night

Alex Ovechkin was left open in his favorite spot on a power play. Guess what happened next?

• Sweet spinning pass from Dvorak to set up Garland’s goal:

• With the game in Arizona, the Coyotes decided to troll the Kings by unveiling a Taylor Swift banner (backstory here). How did that go over with LA? Well…

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Capitals 5, Ducks 2
Coyotes 3, Kings 0

————

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.

Capitals’ Hathaway ejected for spitting on Ducks’ Gudbranson

AP Images
14 Comments

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as combatants were being separated in the aftermath of a heated brawl, Erik Gudbranson gave Garnet Hathaway another punch and received something he didn’t expect in return.

Hathaway spit on him and was thrown out of a feisty matchup Monday night he and the Washington Capitals won 5-2 against Gudbranson and the Anaheim Ducks. Hathaway said he regretted the loogie that could spark further punishment from the NHL in the form of a fine or suspension, and the Ducks were spitting mad about the entire incident.

“That’s about as low as you dig a pit, really,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a bad thing to do. It’s something you just don’t do in a game, and he did it.”

Hathaway was given a match penalty for spitting in the latter stages of the fracas late in the second period. Gudbranson got a 10-minute misconduct, Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie was also ejected for being the third man into a fight and a total of 50 penalty minutes were doled out.

“These games can get physical and they can get nasty,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “These guys’ll throw down, drop their gloves, that stuff goes on in the game, but what I saw there I haven’t seen – I think I’ve been in pro hockey 30 years maybe – and I’ve never seen that before. It’s just something you don’t see in the game.”

After some off-and-on hostilities in the first 39 minutes, Washington’s Brendan Leipsic incited the brawl by bulldozing Anaheim’s Derek Grant just before Chandler Stephenson scored to make it 3-0 Capitals with 33.4 seconds remaining in the second. Almost all 10 skaters on the ice got involved, and Hathaway fought Gudbranson, Grant and Ritchie in a matter of minutes.

Officials were attempting to separate players when Gudbranson rabbit-punched Hathaway, who then spit in his face with referee Peter MacDougall a few feet away. Officials checked the video before confirming a five-minute match penalty and game misconduct on Hathaway for spitting, which carries an automatic ejection.

“Unfortunately, spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went onto him,” Hathaway said. “It has no place. It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head, and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle had been agitating much of the night, almost dropping the gloves with Tom Wilson and tripping up Leipsic in various incidents. It all paved the way for the brawl.

“It just escalated,” Guhle said. “It for sure was in the works. There were scrums all night. Guys were going after each other. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

The fighting and Hathaway spitting overshadowed the NHL-leading Capitals winning their second in a row and picking up at least one point for the 14th time in 15 games. Alex Ovechkin scored his 254th career power-play goal, Richard Panik, Stephenson and Jakub Vrana also scored, Wilson sealed it with an empty netter and Braden Holtby made 32 saves for Washington.

“He’s tremendous,” Ovechkin said of Holtby. “He’s working hard. Of course, everybody has ups and down, but his game right now is definitely up.”

Ducks goaltender John Gibson made several spectacular saves to keep his team in the game. Gibson stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced, losing for the 10th time in 17 starts despite third-period goals from Sam Steel and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“We need him,” Eakins said. “We’re a team in transition.”

Anaheim is also an angry team after seeing Hathaway spit on Gudbranson.

“At the end of the day, it’s probably the least respectful thing you can ever do to somebody,” Grant said. “We’re all competing out there and sometimes the game gets that way. As a group, I thought we did a good job sticking up for each other. That’s a tough one to swallow.”

Unexpected hat trick gives Ducks’ Grant rare opportunity

Getty
Leave a comment

If you weren’t expecting Anaheim Ducks forward Derek Grant to record a hat trick this season — as he did in the Ducks’ 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night — you weren’t alone in that thought.

That thought also extended to his closest friends and resulted in a friendly wager over the summer that now gives the Ducks’ forward an opportunity to name a childhood friend’s first-born child.

Grant first mentioned it during a between periods interview on Saturday, and expanded on it on Monday.

From the Ducks’ Adam Brady:

Another buddy had suggested that if he made a hole-in-one the next day on the links he should be allowed to name the baby.

“My one friend said he should get to name it if he gets a hole-in-one that day golfing,” Grant recalled with a chuckle. “I’m not quite as good a golfer, so he made it real for me if I get a hat trick this year, I’d get to name his first child.”

Grant added that even though his friend’s fiancee was a little skeptical of the idea at first, the couple is fully on board with him naming their child.

This probably seemed like a safe bet for his friend to make because before Saturday Grant had scored just 18 goals in 228 career games and had only scored two goals in a game once. He played 92 NHL games before scoring his first career goal during the 2017-18 season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Hurricanes’ Haula out with more knee issues

1 Comment

A couple of years ago the expansion draft process gave Erik Haula an opportunity to get an increased role with the Vegas Golden Knights.

He took advantage of that opportunity with a breakout season that saw him score 29 goals and become a key part of one of the most improbable Stanley Cup Final teams ever.

It has been a tough road for Haula in the two seasons since due to injuries, and now his first year with the Carolina Hurricanes is being sidetracked by more knee issues.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour announced on Monday that Haula is “going to be out for a while” and that he does not think the forward will be playing anytime soon due to continued issues with his knee. Haula had recently missed four games this season due to soreness in his surgically repaired knee before returning to the lineup on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. He played in each of the Hurricanes’ past two games, logging 27 minutes of total ice time in a more limited role.

Haula was originally injured a little more than a year ago when an awkward fall during a game in Toronto resulted in him being stretchered off the ice. He did not play another game for the Golden Knights and was traded over the summer in salary cap-clearing deal.

He was off to a great start this year with eight goals in his first 16 games with the Hurricanes. That total has him just one goal off the team lead where he trails Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Dougie Hamilton (all three have nine goals, while all three have played in all 20 games so far).

This is a tough injury for both the Hurricanes as a team and for Haula on a personal level.

First, the Hurricanes are losing one of their most productive forwards and a player that had already seemed to be a perfect fit in their lineup. His addition was a huge boost to their forward depth and so far everything had been working exactly as planned for a team that has its sights set on becoming a championship contender.

As for Haula himself, he is currently in the final year of his contract and given the way he has produced the past three years when healthy he was playing his way toward what could be a fairly significant raise this summer, whether it was with Carolina or another team. There is obviously still a chance he can return at some point this season and pick up where he left off, but the short-term outlook is definitely concerning.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.