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Panarin to Stars? Unlikely, but it would be glorious fun

Sometimes it’s enjoyable to boil your favorite things down to their most basic components, channeling what made you fall in love with that hobby in the first place.

Such thinking probably explains part of the reason why arcade-style sports games can be so fun. Instead of aiming to be a realistic simulation of 5-on-5 basketball, NBA Jam pitted the two best players (licensing pending) against the two best from other teams, throwing in a fiery net or three for good measure.

Picturing hockey simplified to posters for boxing or pro wrestling main events can be fun, particularly as we enter September, when things can sometimes get bogged down in granular details.

Don’t get me wrong, training camp battles are absolutely worth discussing. PTOs can sometimes work out so well that you wonder why the players involved didn’t instead command a bidding war on the free agent market. These are worthy endeavors, particularly for us NHL obsessives.

Still, seeing John Tavares go to the Toronto Maple Leafs brings back that childlike “Pokemon” urge to watch superpowers form. With that in mind, it’s tough not to be tantalized by the mere mention of Artemi Panarin someday joining the Dallas Stars.

Is such a situation all that realistic? It’s difficult to say, and foolish to predict. This thought did come to mind, however, after the Athletic’s Sean Shapiro and Aaron Portzline reported that the Stars are on Panarin’s “short list” of destinations.

Again, it’s crucial to remember that a trade is by no means imminent. Shapiro noted as much, also bringing the discussion back to the belief that Panarin’s greatest preference might be to sign in New York.

No, this is mere daydreaming about how fun it would be, unless you’re a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Consider the following:

1. This core has already shown it can be very, very exciting.

If you were to give one NHL team the most credit for the league’s hope-instilling push toward a faster, more skilled style, you’d probably point to the Mike Sullivan-era Pittsburgh Penguins.

Love them or hate them, the Penguins opened the door for teams to take something closer to a “Let’s out-score our problems” approach, as Pittsburgh won back-to-back Stanley Cups even as they didn’t necessarily play lockdown defense. Winning that second consecutive title with Kris Letang on the shelf had to send a message to at least some teams that, hey, maybe it’s smarter just to load up on offense and hope you can just overwhelm your more conservative-style opponents.

The success of the Penguins might obscure other contributors to The Cause of Watchable Hockey, and the 2015-16 Dallas Stars were a shooting star across a sometimes-bleak sky during their all-too-short run as the must-watch team of the NHL.

That version of the Stars fell in the second round, yet they also generated 109 standings points, topped all teams in scoring, allowed enough goals to keep things exciting, and generally made the argument that a high-octane team could succeed. The Penguins took that to the next level.

Things went off the rails for Lindy Ruff after that, to the point that management over-corrected by putting their system in reverse by rolling the dice on a second tour for Ken Hitchcock. Their roster and his coaching philosophy mixed as well as oil and water, so there’s already hope that this team will be way more fun under incoming head coach Jim Montgomery.

2. No longer “wait for Benn-Seguin?”

For better or worse from a W-L standpoint, Hitchcock decided to load up the Stars’ high-end talent by frequently putting Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov on the same line.

Watching those three befuddle opponents could be a lot of fun, but with all due respect to quality players like Radek Faksa, it also made watching a Stars game sometimes feel like a chore when the big guns were on the bench.

Adding a dynamic talent like Artemi Panarin wouldn’t just make the Stars better in just about any instance, even if it meant landing him in a trade. It would also make them way, way more fun to watch.

There’s a scenario where the Stars could have one of Benn, Seguin, Panarin, and Radulov on the ice at all times. That’s a grab-your-popcorn scenario.

Seriously, imagine adding this skill to an already-impressive top-end.

3. Making it work would be nerdy fun, too.

One prevailing thought – yes, it’s OK if you’ve been screaming this at your screen during this entire post – is “Yeah, but how will they pull it off?”

That’s a pertinent question whether the Stars would, hypothetically, land Panarin either in a trade or by convincing him to come to Dallas in free agency. Such thoughts undeniably force this into daydream territory, rather than being a reality the Stars should realistically pencil in.

(The Rangers? They might want to put together a Trapper Keeper full of Panarin plans. Just saying.)

Even so, it would be entertaining for us “franchise mode” types to see if GM Jim Nill could pull off this balancing act.

After all, Panarin isn’t the only star forward who needs a new contract – one way/place or another – after the 2018-19 season. The Stars’ star forward Seguin needs one too, and that situation sure seems murky at this moment. Imagine the juggling act that would be required if the Stars found a way to get Panarin and Seguin on the books from 2019-20 and on; the best-case scenario would probably call for the pairing to cost $20M, as much as management would instead love for Jamie Benn’s $9.5M per year to remain the peak price.

Benn – Seguin – Panarin – Klingberg would be right up there with the cream of the crop for teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay, but you might only be able to afford old cartridges of “NBA Jam” after paying all of those guys. That’s a challenge, but it would be one to watch for team-building dweebs such as myself.

***

To reiterate, Panarin to Stars isn’t reported to be imminent.

For all we know, the Blue Jackets might find a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat and convince Panarin to stay in Columbus, after all. It’s also plausible that, while Dallas is a big market, it might not be where Panarin really wants to play.

Still, the Stars have their advantages. There are the tax breaks that would allow Panarin to retain more of the bread from a new deal, the weather’s warmer than some other locales, so that Tampa Bay tanning tampering wouldn’t win out as much.

The most fun advantage is that Panarin would play with other star players if he somehow ended up with the Stars. Honestly, it would be a crime if that happened and Dallas found a way to be not-so-fun to watch.

Such events will probably only happen in alternate realities and daydreams, but they’re fun scenarios to picture, realistic or not.

What are some other fun Panarin possibilities that come to your mind? And, yes, it’s OK for Blue Jackets fans to blurt out “Just stay.”

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.

Players hope US-Canada rivalry game helps spawn pro league

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The United States women’s hockey team beat Canada 4-1 on Saturday night, with players hoping the first in a series of five games between the international rivals will help kindle the public’s interest in both their sport and their fight off the ice for better professional opportunities.

Canada’s Victoria Bach and the Megan Keller of the U.S. traded power-play goals in the first period, before Amanda Kessel put the U.S. on top for good with a player advantage in the second. Abbe Roque’s backhand in the period gave the US a 3-1 lead and Alex Carpenter beat Genevieve Lacasse for the final goal 1:15 seconds later.

More than 7,000 fans showed up for the international competition, which comes after more than 200 members of what has since become the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association announced in May they would not play professionally in North America during the 2019-2020 season.

“I think it’s important for people to watch us play and see the level of talent and entertainment that’s out there,” Kessel said. “It’s getting that understanding that we need to help get us a place to play year-round so that people can see us more than five times a year.”

The women are seeking a professional league that provides a living wage, health insurance, infrastructure and support for training. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shut down in the spring after 12 years of operation, leaving only the five-team National Women’s Hockey League, where most players make less than $10,000 a season.

“The product is there,” Kessel said. “The people to watch it are there. We just need a structure set in place.”

Sarah Nurse, a forward for Team Canada, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays for New York in the WNBA, said players are hoping to get support from the NHL, which has, so far, expressed little interest in investing in a women’s league.

“We can look at (the WNBA) and see that women’s sports have value and they have a place in this world,” said Nurse, who made $2,000 last season playing in the CWHL. “That is definitely a model that we look to.”

The rivalry series was created after the Four Nations Cup in Sweden was canceled when top Swedish players pulled out of national team events due to concerns over their salary and working conditions.

Without a viable pro league, players who are out of college have been training on their own at random rinks across North America in between gatherings of the national teams or training sessions and exhibitions sponsored by the players association.

Canada won two of those over the US in Pittsburgh last month.

But the lack of consistent competition can stunt the players’ development, especially when it comes to be being prepared for world and Olympic competitions, the players said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Nurse said. “Games are when we truly get better and test out our skills, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more games to play.”

Cayla Barnes, who plays defense for the U.S. team and Boston College, said she and the other college players on the national teams understand what is going on and appreciate what the older players are doing.

“They are putting so much on the line for the younger generations,” she said. “Not just for us college kids who are coming up, but for U-8, U-10 girls who are coming up so they have opportunities later on. So I think all of us who are younger are trying to support them in whatever way we can.”

Hundreds of girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys attended the game, chanting “U-S-A” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I want to be like them, like in the Olympics when I get older,” said 14-year-old Leila Espirito Santo, of Glastonbury “I started playing when I was in fourth grade and I wasn’t the best, but watching them play made me want to be better. It showed me I could do it.”

The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Moncton, New Brunswick. Other games part of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series are slated for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Duclair; Staal one point away from 1,000

NHL Scores Eric Staal Minnesota Wild
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Three Stars

1. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators. This had to be a satisfying game for Duclair. He showed John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets that he does, in fact, know how to play the game by scoring three goals in a 4-3 win for the Ottawa Senators. That performance includes the game-winning goal in overtime. The 24-year-old Duclair now has 18 goals in 33 games this season and is on pace for more than 40 goals this season. Read all about his day here.

2. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, and Patric Hornqvist out of the lineup the Penguins have more than $35 million in salary cap space sitting in the press box at the moment. They still keep finding ways to win. They picked up a 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings in Saturday thanks to another huge game from Rust. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in regulation, then scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Rust now has 12 goals and 22 total points in only 19 games this season for the Penguins. He has always been one of their most versatile — and valuable — players, and he is showing why this season.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild. Staal has been on a roll for the Wild and thanks to his two-goal effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, he now has six points in his past five games and is up to 999 for his career. That means with one more point he would become only the 89th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000 point milestone. The Wild are one of the league’s hottest teams since the start of November with a 12-3-5 record in their past 20 games. They were 4-9-0 before in October.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • David Pastrnak extended his lead in the NHL goal-scoring race with a pair of goals in the Boston Bruins’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He now has 28 goals on the season and is five ahead of Jack Eichel.
  • Warren Foegele scored two goals for the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer stopped all 32 shots he faced and Dougie Hamilton scored against his former team in a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Anthony Beauvillier was the overtime hero for the New York Islanders as they topped the Buffalo Sabres.
  • The New Jersey Devils gave Alain Nasreddine his first NHL win as a head coach while the Taylor Hall watch continues. Read all about it here.
  • Frederik Andersen stopped 36 out of 37 shots as the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the fading Edmonton Oilers to their fourth consecutive defeat. It is the 200th win of Andersen’s career.
  • Jonathan Bernier backstopped the Detroit Red Wings to their second consecutive win as they hold off the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Mika Zibanejad‘s two goals are not enough for the New York Rangers as they drop a 4-3 shootout decision to the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Ben Bishop turned aside 37 out of 38 shots to help the Dallas Stars crush the Nashville Predators.
  • Evander Kane and Logan Couture both record two points as the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed win over the Vancouver Canucks. It is the first win for Bob Boughner as head coach of the Sharks.
  • Tyler Bozak scored two goals as the St. Louis Blues stunned the Chicago Blackhawks. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Timo Meier finishes a great passing play for the San Jose Sharks with an absolute rocket of a shot to beat Jacob Markstrom.

Jonathan Quick has really struggled the past two years, and it came in a losing effort in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but this series of saves in overtime is pretty ridiculous.

Garnet Hathaway score with some style for the Capitals.

Give this fan a contract

This is a $50,000 shot between periods in Montreal.

Factoids

  • The Blues’ comeback is just the second time in franchise history they erased a three-goal third period deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • Zibanejad’s first goal for the Rangers came just 10 seconds into the game, the fastest goal for the Rangers since the 1985 season. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Eichel extended his point streak to 16 consecutive games, making it the fourth longest in Buffalo Sabres franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • The Wild have earned a point in 12 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Brad Marchand hit the 50-point mark for the season, the first Bruins player since Adam Oates during the 1995-96 season to reach that mark in 34 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic played in his 1,000th career game on Saturday night, making him the 340th player in NHL history to reach that milestone. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Foegele’s two goals for the Hurricanes both came while shorthanded, making him the fifth Hurricanes player to ever accomplish that in a game. [NHL PR]

Scores

Ottawa Senators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
New York Islanders 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 4, New York Rangers 3 (SO)
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Calgary Flames 0
Dallas Stars 4, Nashville Predators 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Edmonton Oilers 1
Minnesota Wild 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Detroit Red Wings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
Washington Capitals 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Boston Bruins 4, Florida Panthers 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Los Angeles Kings 4 (SO)
New Jersey Devils 2, Arizona Coyotes 1
St. Louis Blues 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3
San Jose Sharks 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

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.

Devils give Nasreddine first win as Taylor Hall trade watch continues

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For the second game in a row the New Jersey Devils held star forward Taylor Hall out of the lineup as they continue to work toward a trade.

They were still able to give interim coach Alain Nasreddine his first win as an NHL coach by defeating the Arizona Coyotes, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Kyle Palmieri.

Entering play on Saturday the Devils had been 0-4-1 since firing John Hynes and replacing him with Nasreddine.

The win also snapped a seven-game losing streak.

The big story, though, continues to be where Hall ends up as trade talks continue between the Devils and several teams around the league. Trade speculation has followed Hall and the Devils all season and reached a boiling point on Friday night when he was made a late scratch in Colorado for what the team called “precautionary” reasons. The fact he did not play again on Saturday seems to further drive home the point that a trade could be imminent.

At this point it simply a matter of where he ends up.

While the Avalanche remain the odds on favorite to land him, several other teams have reportedly emerged as possible destinations. One of those potential teams: Saturday’s opponent in Arizona.

Other teams that have been rumored to be interested include St. Louis, Florida, and Edmonton.

The Coyotes are an intriguing option because it would be a pretty clear sign that they are ready to try and win right now. Even with Saturday’s loss to the Devils they remain in first place in the Pacific Division and are off to one of their starts in years. They have a good young roster, but are still lacking impact forwards. Phil Kessel was supposed to help address that over the summer, but he is off to a slow start (only one even-strength goal) and has not yet been a difference-maker.

Adding Hall would be a huge win for the Coyotes not only because of the impact to their own roster, but it would also keep him away from a division rival In Edmonton.

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.

 

Blackhawks self destruct, blow 3-goal third period lead to Blues

Blackhawks Blues third period rally
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Just when it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks had hit rock bottom they found a way to keep digging.

Their disastrous three-game road trip came to a brutal end on Saturday night in St. Louis when they allowed a three-goal lead with 16 minutes to play turn into a 4-3 regulation loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

The meltdown began when St. Louis’ Tyler Bozak scored just 30 seconds after Patrick Kane had given the Blackhawk a 3-0 lead, capitalizing on a terrible turnover by Alex Nylander.

The Blues completed the comeback with three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a pair of goals just 12 seconds apart to tie the game.

Just three minutes after that sequence Justin Faulk scored his second goal of the season for the game-winner.

1. The Blackhaws’ problems remain the same

It’s the defensive zone play. It has been the defensive zone play. It continues to be the defensive zone play.

At times the Blackhawks look like a team that has never had to play in the defensive zone before. Turnovers, missed assignments, blown assignments, and just about every possible defensive calamity that can happen to a team in the defensive zone happens to this team on a near nightly basis. All of that was on display in the final 16 minutes on Saturday and it once again left their goalie — in this case Corey Crawford — all by himself on an island.

2. Where they stand now

In last place in the Central Division and next-to-last place in the entire Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Needless to say, that is a brutal position for a team with one of the league’s largest payrolls to be in.

They are 3-8-2 in their past 13 games (only one of those wins in regulation), are nine points out of the second Wild Card spot and 12 points back of the top-three teams in the Central Division.

They were outscored by a 14-6 margin on their three-game trip that took them through Arizona, Vegas, and St. Louis.

At this point the season is not only getting away from them, it appears to be completely gone.

3. What happens next?

This is the type of stretch, and this is the type of game, that leads to change.

Or at least starts the ball rolling toward change.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been on the job for just one year, and firing him that quickly after he replaced a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach would make it seem like the Blackhawks don’t really have much of a plan and don’t really know what they’re doing.

But do you know what? Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe they don’t have a plan. General manager Stan Bowman gambled big on his core and that its strong second half a year ago was a sign of what the team was still capable of. That it maybe just needed a few tweaks to compete again. With every passing game this season, and with every defensive meltdown that seems worse than the previous one, it is becoming increasingly clear this team just isn’t very good and the right changes were not made.

In the end something is very wrong with this team and there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

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.