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Red Wings rebuilding while recalling franchise’s famed past

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DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit Red Wings home game looks and sounds a little like a memorial these days.

The lights are dimmed as images of the franchise’s glorious past flash digitally onto the ice before the puck drops, reminding the relative few fans in the stands how good things used to be. And, they were good. Really good.

Detroit’s 11 Stanley Cup banners are lowered from the rafters where retired jerseys are also displayed, rekindling memories of the four titles from 1997 to 2008 and the seven championships from 1936-55. The most successful U.S.-based NHL franchise has had some of the game’s all-time greats wear its sweater, adorned with a winged well, from Gordie Howe to Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.

The good times fade during the lights-and-sounds pregame show as the pace of the music picks up and a video montage shows the current team, mostly a mix of role-playing veterans and not-ready prospects. When the lights are turned up closer to game time, more seats appear to be empty than occupied on some nights.

Detroit is among the worst teams in the league this season – as expected and by design. The Red Wings hope a painfully poor season will help get them on the fast track to retool with difference-making players in the draft along with some help from veterans in free agency.

”I knew it was coming and I was prepared for it,” said Red Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano, who is in his 37th season with the team and his 52nd in the NHL. ”I don’t like it. It upsets me, but not to the point that I’m going to go off the deep end.”

The Red Wings appear destined to miss the playoffs for a third straight year after a remarkable run of 25 consecutive postseason appearances. Other than the current players and coaches, who are trying to win every game, losing is seen as a necessary evil. Some fans, though, appear to be so fed up they don’t even sit in seats they paid for to attend games.

In an effort to make the sparsely filled sections at Little Caesars Arena stand out less in person and on TV, the backs of red seats have been temporarily covered in black. They will eventually be replaced by black chairs at a considerable cost in a 1-year-old arena that is the centerpiece of a $1.2 billion project.

Detroit got off to the worst start in franchise history by opening with seven losses and winning only one of its first 10 games. The Red Wings have bounced back with four wins in their last five.

”I wouldn’t say it takes the sting out of the slow start, but it’s something to build off of for sure,” forward Justin Abdelkader said during the recent surge.

Winning could prove to be counterproductive for the Motor City’s hockey team this season.

Part of what has held the Red Wings’ rebuilding effort back is the fact they haven’t had a No. 1 overall pick in the draft in recent years to get a generational player. If they lose enough this season and have some luck in the NHL draft lottery to get the top pick, Jack Hughes would give the franchise and its followers a desperately needed boost. Hughes is a playmaking center for USA Hockey’s 18-under team, which trains and plays in suburban Detroit. His skill would help the team on the ice, though perhaps not right away, and his presence would provide a boost in interest for a team struggling to regain its standing as one of the most popular in a sports-crazed state.

The Red Wings have also hurt their chances of continuing the success they had for two-plus decades by drafting players, particularly on the blue line, that didn’t pan out. And while Detroit is close to the bottom in the NHL standings, its payroll is larger than about 20 teams in the league.

The team has invested in its 2014 first-round pick, 22-year-old center Dylan Larkin , by giving him a $30.5 million, six-year contract last summer. It is trying to surround him with players to push the franchise back toward the playoffs and eventually championship contention.

”We’ve got to rebuild by drafting, developing and being patient,” general manager Ken Holland said early in his 22nd season in charge and 36th with the franchise. ”I believe we’re headed in the right direction with a lot of young kids we think are ready to come of age.”

Chris Ilitch, the most powerful person in the organization, seems to agree with him. The president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, which owns the team and the arena, gave Holland a two-year contract earlier this year to continue guiding a long-term rebuilding project that is counting on 30-plus draft picks from 2017-19.

”Kenny Holland has done a marvelous job at accumulating picks, which are so important to executing a successful rebuild,” Ilitch said. ”I think you’re starting to see the fruits of the labor.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The defending champion Washington Capitals host Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the first meeting between the teams since the Penguins won their season opener. Pittsburgh has lost a season-high four straight games after a strong start, while Washington has dropped three of five.

LEADERS

Goals: David Pastrnak (Boston), 12; Assists: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 19; Points: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 24; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay) and Frederik Andersen (Toronto), 8; Goals-against average: Jaroslav Halak (Boston), 1.45; Save percentage: Jaroslav Halak (Boston), .952.

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The Buzzer: Greiss shutout gives Trotz win in return to Washington

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Three stars

1. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

There was probably a little pressure inside the Islanders dressing room prior to this one. Sure, it was just another game in the 82-game slog that is the regular season, but for their head coach, it was a bit more special than that.

Barry Trotz made his return to Washington for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup as the Capitals bench boss last June. They gave him a classy tribute and then he and his Islanders made sure they wouldn’t forget him in a 2-0 win.

Greiss was instrumental in that, stopping all 19 shots he faced as the Islanders leapfrogged both Washington and Columbus to move into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

John Tavares who?

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

Sticking with goalies and their help in big wins… Luongo stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in a 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s not a 40-save night, but consider that the Panthers came into the game with a seven-game losing streak as a heavy anchor. They needed something, and Luongo provided the near-perfect game to end the longest active streak in the NHL.

3. Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames

Bennett usually gets lost in the Johnny Gaudreaus and the Sean Monahans of the Calgary world.

Some nights the other two don’t light it up, allowing other Flames to shine. Bennett provided that spark, scoring twice and adding an assist in the game.

Bennett’s second of the came with under four minutes left and broke a 4-4 deadlock in a 6-4 Calgary win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Highlights of the night

Bennett’s winner came off a nice pick up on a not so nice pass:

Kuemper the keeper:

A nice tribute to Brooks Orpik, who played his 1,000th game on Friday:

When you celly too hard:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 3, Maple Leafs 1
Canadiens 4, Blue Jackets 1
Islanders 2, Capitals 0
Senators 4, Hurricanes 1
Flames 6, Red Wings 4
Penguins 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)
Canucks 4, Sabres 3


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

Caps give Trotz, coaching staff classy tribute in return to Washington

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They helped build a team that would eventually win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup last June, so when Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn returned to Washington to face their former team on Friday, it was only fitting that the Capitals made sure to give the trio a classy salute.

And classy it was.

A 1:35-long video played on the jumbotron at Capital One Arena, while a packed house stood and showed their admiration for the coaching staff that led the Capitals to four consecutive 100-point seasons, 205 wins, a .677 points percentage and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies.

Trotz was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award for the best coach in 2016 and, of course, led the Capitals past the Vegas Golden Knights in five games last season to capture hockey’s greatest prize.

Here’s the video tribute:

Trotz is now the head coach with the New York Islanders, with Korn and Lambert also by his side once again, and they have already put their stamp on that team, helping them get past the loss of John Tavares over the summer and still be a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.

That’s just the Trotz way.

You can read more about Trotz, his return, why he left and what he’s done on Long Island in this story from PHT’s Sean Leahy.


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

Matt Dumba’s ‘anger’ led to indefinite stint on sidelines

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Chalk one up for those who are staunch supporters of their star players not engaging in fisticuffs.

Fans of the Minnesota Wild would have wished that Matt Dumba wouldn’t have thrown a “wild punch” at Matthew Tkachuk in a game against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 15.

The fight happened just 40 seconds into the first period. The result? A torn pectoral muscle, surgery, and an indefinite timeline for return.

Dumba, who led the NHL in defenseman scoring prior to the injury, told the Star Tribune’s Sarah McLellan that he was “angry.”

“I was angry and threw a wild punch that didn’t connect,” Dumba said Friday. “I had a bunch of stitches in my face and I think he rubbed those, had hit those a couple times, and it made me pretty angry.”

Dumba, wearing a brace around his right arm, told reporters that he didn’t feel the pain of the injury until he had a chance to calm down in the penalty box.

Dumba’s surgery came on Dec. 26 and along with it, a three-month timetable to return. On Friday, Dumba didn’t have a firm return date.

“It’s pretty slow to start here,” he told NHL.com. “Everything is just letting it heal, letting it get the rest that it needs. That’s our focus right now. I’ve been doing that and making sure this repairs the right way.”

Dumba will be stuck in that brace for a few more weeks before he can start rehabilitating the injury.

The Wild could sure use their best defenseman in the fight for a playoff spot. They could use that scoring — the Wild are 25th in goals-for this season. It appears that if he’s to play again this season, it might not be until the playoffs begin in early April.


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

Plunging Panthers get a break: Trocheck is back

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About two months since fracturing his ankle in a frightening on-ice accident, Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck is back. He’s suiting up against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner makes it sound like Trocheck essentially kicked down the door to get back in the lineup, as Jameson Olive of the team website reports.

“He came in pounding the table. You know Troch, he wants to be back in so bad,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “The doctors reaffirmed he’s back to 100 percent, so now it’s just our decision … we’ll see.”

Getting the 25-year-old back is a big deal, so it’s not surprising to see the Panthers celebrate this positive development.

You can firmly plant this under the heading “hockey players are tough.” It was perfectly reasonable to expect Trocheck to miss the remainder of the season. Instead, Friday’s game against Toronto is merely the Panthers’ 46th game of 2018-19.

Uncomfortably enough, it’s fair to wonder if Trocheck’s return will still be a matter of “too little, too late.”

The Panthers are carrying a bruising seven-game losing streak into Friday’s action, and it’s not as though the Toronto Maple Leafs will make things particularly easy on them.

Just about all the prognostications look dour. Money Puck gives them a 3.05-percent chance to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, less than their odds for the Los Angeles Kings. Corsica’s projections put Florida at 2.6-percent, this time tying the lowly Kings, but lower than the Devils and Flyers. Woof.

Now, let there be no doubt that the Panthers could be a highly formidable opponent if Trocheck returns at anywhere near “100 percent.”

Even the Trocheck boost likely won’t be enough for Florida to earn just its third postseason trip since 1999-2000, yet with plenty of questions swirling about Boughner’s job security, perhaps a more fully-formed effort could earn the current Panthers regime another swing in 2019-20? However you feel about Boughner and GM Dale Tallon, this franchise’s history is littered with more reboots than “The Fantastic Four” and “Spiderman” movies combined (and with box office receipts that lean more toward The Invisible Woman than webslingers). A little stability could be good for the Panthers.

The worst-case scenario is scary, mind you. What if the Panthers end up hitting the reset button and it’s shown that Trocheck rushed back from injury too soon, possibly aggravating issues?

Such worries hover in the background, but regardless, it’s impressive that Trocheck has been able to return so soon.

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.