Scott Hartnell on transitioning to media, his outdoor game experience, Gritty (PHT Q&A)

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Retirement has been good for Scott Hartnell. The 17-year NHL veteran announced his retirement in October and has been using the time away from the game to spend it with his family. He certainly doesn’t miss the traveling or the grind of an 82-game season, but definitely misses being around his teammates on a daily basis.

“But when you know, you know,” Hartnell told Pro Hockey Talk this week about retiring. “It was time for me to walk away from the game. I’ve just really, really enjoyed my time away.”

Following a few on-air stints in the off-season, Hartnell joined NHL Network this week as a studio analyst and will debut during this weekend’s coverage of the Stadium Series game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins from Lincoln Financial Field.

While still playing, Hartnell said he would run into on-air personalities who told him he would be great on TV. Since then, trying TV out was in the back of his mind and he’s eager for the opportunity.

“Right now, it’s just kind of me getting my feet wet here with NHL Network and looking to do more shows, get more involved and feel more comfortable,” he said.

We spoke with Hartnell this week about the balance of being a former player and using criticism in his new role, his outdoor game experience, Carter Hart, and, of course, his new pal Gritty.

Enjoy.

Q. As you were nearing the end of your playing days, did you start thinking about what you wanted to do post-hockey?

HARTNELL: “Yeah, I remember somebody asked me after my first year ‘What are you after hockey? It’s not going to last forever.’ I was like, oh, I’m going to play until my mid-30s, and chances were that wasn’t going to be the case. Fast forward 17 years and that was the case. Reality is I’ve got a good support system around me, still have talk to my agent, still have some good friends that are still playing and some friends that retired. You just kind of lean on all of those people and your friendships over the years. Obviously things work out and you kind of go in the direction where some things are interesting for you.”

Q. How do you think you’ll be able to balance your relationships in the game and sometimes having to be critical of friends, ex-teammates and teams you played for?

HARTNELL: “I don’t think I want to be one of those guys where you just absolutely bury a guy for not taking a hit to make the play, where if I was a teammate I probably would have said something. I don’t want to be that guy on TV; you kind of ruin some friendships along the way. There’s a fine line where I think you can constructively criticize and to get your point across without hurting anybody’s feelings.”

Q. How did you view the role of the media as a player?

HARTNELL: “I’m not going to lie, some days it’s more annoying than other days. Some days you’ve got to face the music when there’s a bad play or a bad turnover. Some days are fun, like when you’ve got a hat trick or scored a big goal or made a play that made a difference in the game. It all depends day-to-day. When you’re losing hockey games the media sucks. When you’re winning hockey games it’s let them come in early, right? There’s so many different scenarios.

“To be on the other side of a microphone, thinking of questions, asking questions, it’s very different, very uncomfortable right now.”

Q. You were able to play in two outdoor games with the Flyers in your career, one at home, one away. From your experience, would you say that being the home team is a little tougher going into it compared to the road team where it’s like a business trip with fewer distractions of family and people hitting you up for tickets?

HARTNELL: “Yes and no. Obviously you have some friends that are asking for tickets, you don’t want to say no. The one I played on the road [2010 Winter Classic in Boston], I had some family come in for that. It was standard. You want to take care of the tickets a couple days before the game so you’re not thinking of who I have to leave passes for and those kind of things. That was my kind of rule. If you ask the day of the game, I won’t even answer my phone. 

“It’s fun when it’s a big rivalry like with Pittsburgh. Flyers have made a great push, it’s at the Linc. It’s going to be a wonderful atmosphere.”

Q. Having played in Philadelphia, knowing the history of the franchise, are you amazed at how Carter Hart has come in, especially when he was called up, and helped lead a turnaround?

HARTNELL: “It’s exciting. I think fans were getting sick and tired of the losing, the uncompetitive play. One kid and obviously a couple of changes behind the bench and in the front office, it’s totally turned the mentality of the team. Talking to guys, the room is fun to be in now. Those first few games when Hart was in net, you felt like they were playing better defense, they were stepping into shots, they were not trying to get out of the way of a shot. It’s really fun to see that fire back in the dressing room and that correlates to the ice.”

Q. Finally, what was it like to spend a day with Gritty?

HARTNELL: “That guy is my best friend. He’s awesome. He’s quite the personality. I didn’t think it would go over as well. I was thinking, ‘Oh, boy, can’t wait to see this one fail.’ It’s been hilarious. The personality of him is great, how he’s up there skating with kids and running them over. I’m a big fan and enjoy him.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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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.

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.

Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom rings bell after final cancer treatment

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A week after hitting the ice with his teammates for the first time in six months, Oskar Lindblom got to ring the bell marking the end of his chemotherapy treatments.

The 23-year-old Flyers forward was diagnosed in December with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and played only 30 games this season.

On Thursday, Lindblom walked down the hall at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to ring the bell and celebrate with the nurses who took care of him.

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” he told the Flyers website. “It feels I’m having a birthday, Christmas and all those holidays at the same time. It feels awesome to be done. I can’t wait to just get back to normal life again and start feeling like I’m living.”

(Lindblom will not play for the Flyers later this summer if the NHL resumes the 2019-20 season.)

Since being diagnosed, Lindblom received support from all over the hockey community. Players from the Flyers and around the NHL wore#OskarStrong” shirts and he was given a standing ovation when shown on the Jumbotron during a January game.

“From family to friends to fans, I can’t explain how much they’ve meant to me,” said Lindblom, who is the Flyers’ Masterton Trophy nominee. “Especially at the start when it was a rough time and I got all those kind words. It just made me feel so much better, calm, and it really helped along the way.”

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Top free agents; O’Reilly up for ‘unique’ challenge

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• A look at the top 50 free agents who could hit the market at some point in the next few months. [TSN]

• Which UFA moments have defined the NHL’s salary-cap era? [Sportsnet]

Ryan O'Reilly is up for the “unique” challenge of helping the Blues defend their Stanley Cup title. [NHL.com]

• “There are health risks for the players who will be quarantined in hub cities for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but their concerns don’t end there. It’s possible the players will be paying for the lost revenues caused by COVID-19 for years.” [The Hockey News]

• On players potentially opting out of playing if the NHL resumes this summer. [NBC Sports Washington]

• It’s not looking good for Alexander Romanov, Kirill Kaprizov, and Ilya Sorokin in their attempts to play this season. [Hockey Wilderness]

• The NHL should thank college hockey for producing so many impactful young defensemen. [Grand Forks Herald]

• What Alexis Lafreniere would mean to the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Why Shane Doan should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. [Five for Howling]

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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.

Hurricanes losing Dudley, still in talks with TV’s Forslund

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said Wednesday that executive Rick Dudley won’t return and the team is still in talks with longtime TV play-by-play announcer John Forslund on a new deal.

The 71-year-old Dudley had worked as Carolina’s senior vice president of hockey operations since 2018, part of nearly five decades in professional hockey. That included serving as general manager for four NHL franchises, and he also played and coached the Buffalo Sabres.

“Rick and I talked months ago and he said that at the end of his contract, he was going to move on,” Waddell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Waddell said the team has reached agreements with all employees whose deals expired Tuesday so far except for Forslund, who is in his 25th season with the franchise and also does national broadcasts with NBC.

“We’ve had multiple talks: I’ve talked to the agent numerous times, I’ve talked to John a couple of times,” Waddell said. “We’ve laid it out. They didn’t yesterday ask for anything other than some time.”

Reached by the AP on Wednesday evening, Forslund said: “I’ve said it (before), the door’s always open until it’s completely closed. And as of right now, that’s where it stands.”