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Bigger ice makes a big difference at the Olympics

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Size matters. Especially when it’s 15 feet.

If an Olympic hockey coach coming from North America tried to imitate Gene Hackman in ”Hoosiers” and took a tape measure to the rinks in South Korea, it wouldn’t add up. International-sized ice is 15 feet wider than rinks used in the NHL, American Hockey League and NCAA -100 feet compared to 85 – and that’s more than enough to change everything.

”It’s totally different: two different sports,” said Henrik Sedin, who won the 2006 Olympic gold medal with Sweden on the larger ice. ”You can have players that are good in the NHL but they can’t play on the bigger ice, and then you have guys the other way around where they really succeed on the big ice but when they come over here, they can’t play. It’s a different sport.”

Big ice makes a big difference where goals are at a premium and five-man defensive units can make the outer edges of the rink feel like a distant planet. Going to the 200-by-100 international ice is a (far-fetched) idea some have suggested might increase scoring in the NHL, but Slovak Olympic coach Craig Ramsay recalls playing for the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers on the big sheet in Lake Placid, New York, and the quality of play and offense did not match everyone’s expectations.

”It was a hard game because people would be more than willing to beat you (wide) but now they’re 50 feet from the net instead of 40 and there’s a big difference,” Ramsay said. ”The (defensemen) are smart and can push you a little bit wider (and) your angles are not nearly as good and the goaltender now can cut down that angle and it’s not as easy to score as people think.”

Canada scored just six goals in its three medal-round games in winning gold in Sochi in 2014, one of four Olympics featuring NHL players on international ice. Canada also won in 2002 on big ice and in 2010 when the International Ice Hockey Federation allowed for NHL-sized rinks to use the ones already in place in Vancouver.

In Sochi, Canada coach Mike Babcock employed Ralph Krueger as his big-ice consultant, and it paid off with North American NHL players tailoring their game to the style of play.

”You kind of just have to shrink the ice down a little bit,” said Jamie Benn, who won gold with Canada in Sochi. ”We were changing little things on the ice to try and get an advantage with the big ice. You definitely have more time and more space, but in the end it’ll always come back to the middle of the ice.”

The fear for NHL players from the U.S. and Canada has always been getting caught on the outside on the big ice. That should be less of a concern this time around with rosters largely made up of players currently skating on international-size ice in Europe. The U.S. has 15 players and Canada has 20 who are based in European professional leagues, which was very much by design.

”That is an advantage from a standpoint that they know the angles,” U.S. coach Tony Granato said. ”The big sheet, there are different styles that we’re going to play against so internationally you’re going to see a lot of teams that sit back in a 1-4 to clog the neutral zone. Lots of countries use that style of play. We’re going to have to, obviously, prepare our guys to be ready for seeing things differently than you see in North America.”

Several European-born NHL players said there is less hitting, more trapping and the overall pace is slower on the bigger ice.

European teams have the advantage of players who learned to play on the big ice, even though many excelled in the NHL. Someone like 17-year-old Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin could be a perfect fit for this style of play, along with Russian playmakers Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk who can take advantage of the extra room.

”It’s a lot more of a puck-possession game, definitely, when you play on the bigger ice,” Canada assistant general manager and gold-medal-winning goalie Martin Brodeur said. ”I think the fact that you’re going to play against European guys that are used to playing on that ice surface, it was the big difference. I think now having most of our players playing in Europe, I don’t think it’s going to be that big of adjustment for these guys to play in these games.”

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PHT Morning Skate: The hockey world remembers Ray Emery

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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

• Remembering Ray Emery. (

• A tragic end for Ray Emery, a polarizing figure who led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final. (Ottawa Sun)

• After signing a six-year, $37 million contract last week, a look at how an agent change changed the course of Connor Hellebuyck‘s career. (InGoal Magazine)

Logan Couture, who committed the next eight years of his NHL career to the San Jose Sharks on July 1, is ready to pay it forward. (The Hockey News)

• A move out the wing helped Claude Giroux revitalize his career, and helped Sean Couturier to have a career year, but could a move back to center be the best move for the Flyers going forward? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• A lengthy look at the single best contract for each of the NHL’s 31 teams. (ESPN)

• Vegas’ top line is good, but best top trio hockey? Nope. (Knights on Ice)

Ryan Kesler could miss the entirety of next season and the Anaheim Ducks don’t appear to be worried about it. (Anaheim Calling)

• It wasn’t just New York Islanders fans who felt the sting of his departure on July 1. His own teammates need to pick themselves back up as well. (Sportsnet)

• He’s one the greatest names in Detroit Red Wings history. It’s time to retire Sergei Fedorov’s No. 91. (Detroit Free Press)

• A look at Nathan Walker and the future of international hockey. (Puck Prose)

• Well, this is interesting: Troy Stecher’s closest comparable as he heads to arbitration is in Jim Benning’s family. (Vancouver Courier)

• A look at how Paul Bissonnette has forged a career in multimedia after forging one as a fourth-liner in the NHL. (Forbes)

• After signing Devon Shore to a two-year, the Dallas Stars are still in decent shape in terms of the salary cap. (Blackout Dallas)

• Oilers Nation is doing a player-by-player review from last season, and this particular review looks at if Edmonton is going to miss Patrick Maroon more than they think. (Oilers Nation)

• When Devils’ head coach John Hynes expects to fill his coaching staff and what he wants in an assistant. (

• How Andrej Sustr found healing through art. (NHLPA)

• The rollercoaster of a ride that was the first season of Fanatics handling official NHL apparel. (Scotty Wazz)

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

Canadiens make a good move: Solid deal for Danault


Unanimously good moves haven’t happened regularly for the Montreal Canadiens these days, so it’s worthwhile to appreciate even what would seem like easy calls.

With that in mind, signing useful forward Phillip Danault to a nice three-year contract ranks as one of Marc Bergevin’s best decisions in some time, whether you can chalk up the value to RFA leverage or not. The Canadiens confirmed that the cap hit is a reasonable $3.083 million per season.

Danault, 25, has essentially been a point-every-other-game player for Montreal. He scored 25 points in 52 games this past season after a relative breakthrough in 2016-17, when he collected 40 points in 82 contests. Not too shabby.

It’s conceivable that Danault could maybe chip in a bit more if leaned upon in a bigger way, as he averaged 16:35 minutes per game, with a touch less than a minute (56 seconds) of that average happening on the power play.

Now, it’s not as though the Canadiens are being foolish in playing him in his current role, as it’s plausible that he’s best served as a supporting cast sort of asset. The point is that Danault seems to make good use of his time, might be able to do a tad bit more, and tends to check out reasonably well from a possession standpoint. He’s not the type of player who will win you a Stanley Cup, yet he’s also the sort of guy who wouldn’t take much off of the table, either. In other words, this is a justifiable contract and could even be a nifty value.

Faint praise? Pretty much, but it’s better than the usual reaction for Bergevin & Co. (laughter, mockery).

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

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery passes away at age 35


Terrible news on Sunday: former NHL goalie Ray Emery passed away at age 35.

Toronto photojournalist Andrew Collins first reported the sad news, which was confirmed by Hamilton Police. Multiple reporters, including Collins, indicate that drowning was the cause of death.

The Ottawa Senators drafted Emery in the fourth round (99th overall) in 2001, and some of Emery’s best moments happened with the Sens, including a run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. Emery played in 287 NHL regular-season games and 39 playoff contests, also suiting up with the Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, and Chicago Blackhawks. Emery last played in the NHL in 2014-15 with the Flyers, while his last hockey season came in 2015-16, when he split that campaign between the AHL and Germany’s DEL.

In 2012-13, Emery and Corey Crawford were awarded the William Jennings Trophy, which is handed to the goalie (or in that case, goalies) who produced the lowest GAA during the regular season. He also enjoyed a moment with the Stanley Cup during his time with Chicago:

via Getty

Emery stood out thanks to his personality as much as his goaltending, with his one-sided fight against Braden Holtby ranking as one of his most memorable moments in the NHL.

While his NHL career was brief, Emery made an impact, as you can see from an outpouring of emotion from fans and former teammates, including Daniel Carcillo and James van Riemsdyk. Plenty of people around the hockey world also shared their condolences, including Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, who was familiar with Emery during his stint with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk released a statement in memory of Emery.

“On behalf of the Ottawa Senators, I wish to express my sincere condolences on the passing of Ray Emery. Ray was instrumental in our run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, and at his best he brought a competitive edge and combative mentality to the game. On behalf of our entire organization, I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ray’s family, friends and loved ones.”

Blue Jackets get nice value with Bjorkstrand; Panarin meeting looms

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With agitating uncertainty surrounding the long-term futures of Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin, it’s probably wrong to say that the Columbus Blue Jackets wrapped up their “to-do list” on Sunday.

They’ve at least taken care of the matters that are more in their hands this weekend.

On Saturday, defenseman (and potential-gone-wrong) Ryan Murray accepted Columbus’ qualifying offer in something of a shoulder shrug signing. The next day, it was more of a fist bump, as intriguing forward Oliver Bjorkstrand agreed to a friendly three-year deal.

The team didn’t confirm this in its release (because reasons), but the cap hit is a thrifty $2.5 million per season, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline and others.

During his first season in the NHL, the 23-year-old showed promise, scoring 11 goals and 40 points despite modest ice time (an average of 14:18 TOI per game). The Athletic’s Alison Lukan notes that Bjorkstrand checks many of the analytics boxes – rarely a bad sign – so there’s some very genuine optimism that the Dane will deliver strong value.

Personally, it’s also nice to see that he’s hungry to score more goals.

Speaking of the to-do list regarding items they might not have the power to address, Panarin announced that he and his agent will meet with Blue Jackets brass on Monday. Maybe a contract extension actually could happen? Maybe a different sort of resolution is coming?

A lot rides on that situation, yet it doesn’t hurt to land good values at a nice price. That’s absolutely the case with Bjorkstrand.

Really, value might be one of the themes of this Blue Jackets summer, as Bjorkstrand joins Anthony Duclair and Riley Nash as potentially wise bets. Cap Friendly notes that Columbus has its RFAs signed with $5.6M in cap space remaining, so perhaps they have more up their sleeves?