Capitals accept differences of opinion on White House visit

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The news is constantly on television at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility, and like any workplace, there’s no shortage of opinions.

”We’re human beings, and people share different opinions and different political views,” veteran team leader Brooks Orpik said. ”It’s no different than anybody else. People that are friends vote for different people.”

Those differences were on public display the last week when two players said they would not join their teammates in visiting President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship. Canadians Braden Holtby and Brett Connolly said they’d respectfully decline the invitation.

Several other players, including Russian captain Alex Ovechkin, Americans T.J. Oshie and John Carlson and American coach Todd Reirden have said they’re going. A vast majority of the team that won the first NHL title in franchise history is expected to tour of the White House and meet Trump in the Oval Office in a private ceremony.

The Capitals are accepting of each other’s differences of opinion on going to the White House and say this isn’t a divisive issue and won’t be a distraction.

”You’re a team and you want to stick together no matter what,” Holtby said. ”For me, it’s just a personal thing. I believe in what I believe in, and in order to stick to those values, I think I have to do what I feel is right, but that doesn’t make a difference on everyone else’s decision. We stick by every single teammate we have and their decision.”

Playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly, who is black, told Canada’s Postmedia in June he would not go to the White House, citing Trump’s rhetoric. Smith-Pelly has been with the minor league Hershey Bears since late February.

Without specifically naming Smith-Pelly, Connolly said he’s ”in full support of an old teammate that I am really good friends with and I agreed with.” Beyond Holtby and Connolly, it is not clear how many players or team officials will not go to the White House.

Owner Ted Leonsis has said he’ll go if the team chose to. A spokeswoman said Wednesday that Leonsis did not have any comment about the Capitals’ decision to go.

Reirden, who was Barry Trotz’s top assistant when Washington won last season and has succeeded him as coach, said he has thought about visiting the White House while driving by it on Constitution Avenue, the same road the Capitals paraded down with hockey’s historic trophy.

”I was really excited about the invitation and will be going and be happy to be going,” Reirden said. ”I understand our players and their decisions, and I respect it. They’re allowed to make their own decisions. It’s important that we support them in whatever decision that they make.”

Holtby and his wife, Brandi, have marched in Washington’s pride parade and are advocates for LGBTQ rights. Holtby said that was a factor in his decision and that he and his family ”believe in a world where humans are treated with respect regardless of your stature.”

The Trump administration has taken steps to roll back protections for LGBTQ individuals, including rescinding guidance for schools on how to treat transgender students and attempting to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military.

”Sometimes you’re forced into situations where you have to stick by what you believe,” Holtby said. ”But in the end, I think there’s more important things I can do in the future. Trying to make a stand this way, I don’t think it does the most in terms of creating change. In the future, I just want to stick by what I believe in and trying to push towards a world where people are created equal.”

Orpik said the White House visit is not a point of contention among the defending champions like some on the outside are trying to make it. He’s quick to point out that even players who are going can agree with Holtby, but still want to experience one last Stanley Cup celebration.

”There’s a lot of guys that share a lot of the same values that Holts does, but they’re going to the White House and it’s not an endorsement of whoever’s in the office,” Orpik said. ”Whether you go to the White House to celebrate a championship, I don’t think says anything about your values or your character.”

In 2012, playoff MVP Tim Thomas decided not to join his Cup champion Boston Bruins teammates in seeing then-President Barack Obama at the White House, citing the ”out of control” growth of the federal government. Team president Cam Neely released a statement saying, ”We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization.”

The Bruins lost to the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs in 2012, which was Thomas’ last season with Boston because he was traded to Florida.

Thomas’ individual protest predated by many years the NBA’s Golden State Warriors’ team decision not to see Trump. Holtby said that as soon as the first championship team decided not to keep up the tradition of being honored by the sitting president at the White House, it became a topic for other professional athletes and he’s not surprised this has become such a hot-button issue.

Capitals players have been unflinchingly supportive of each other’s decisions in recent days and insist the White House is not a controversial topic internally.

”Guys are mature about it,” said Tom Wilson, who is Canadian. ”It’s like when we’re not playing well, guys aren’t yelling at each other and getting upset with each other. That’s something about our group that’s helped us with our success. We’re mature, and we deal with it as adults. This has been a similar outcome on discussions. I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve talked to Holts about it and I’ve talked to guys about it. You have that discussion, it’s cordial and you move on.”

The Capitals are in first place and figure to again be among the top contenders when the playoffs begin April 10. Despite their White House visit coming so late in the season, in the middle of a crucial stretch, they don’t believe it will negatively affect team chemistry or unity.

”We’re so respectful of each other and we’re so tight in this locker room that this won’t be a wedge or anything like that,” Oshie said. ”Guys get a chance to go to the White House. If that’s something they want to do, great. If it’s something they’re not comfortable with or something they don’t want to do, that’s fine, too. We’ll show up the next day ready to work and we’ll be just as close as we were the day before.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Trade: Penguins send Olli Maatta to Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun and draft pick

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford made it clear that changes were coming to his team this offseason.

On Saturday evening he made his first one.

The Penguins announced that they have traded defender Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round draft pick that originally belonged to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is a trade that accomplishes quite a bit for both teams.

First, from the Pittsburgh side, it clears up a log-jam the team had on its blue line with as many as eight NHL defenders either under contract or under team control (Marcus Pettersson is a restricted free agent) for this season. That alone made it seem likely that someone was going to be on the move, and especially after the team’s defensive play regressed again this past season and had a particularly brutal playoff run against the New York Islanders. By trading Maatta, it not only clears a roster spot but also sheds more than $3 million in salary cap space given that Kahun is still on an entry-level contract and counts only $925,000 against the cap for the 2019-20 season.

It also gives them some much-needed youth at forward.

Even after Maatta’s departure the Penguins still have a lot of questions to deal with on defense, where Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson are still taking up more than $7 million in salary cap space over the next few seasons (not ideal!), while Justin Schultz is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Will more players be on the move to address that position? Or does this just make it more likely the returning players take on bigger roles and are more set in the lineup? Based on what we have seen the past few seasons more changes are going to be needed.

The 23-year-old Kahun scored 13 goals and added 24 assists for the Blackhawks in 82 games this past season, his first full year in the NHL.

The addition of the draft pick also gives the Penguins six picks in this year’s draft: A first, a fourth, two fifths, and two sevenths.

As for Chicago, Maatta joins a defense that has needed an overhaul for a few years now and provides a fresher, younger face in the lineup. Even though Maatta has six years of NHL experience under his belt he will still only be 25 years old when the 2019-20 season begins. His career has gone through some extreme ups and downs. When he made his debut during the 2013-14 season he looked like a player that had legitimate top-pairing potential in the NHL could be on his way to becoming a cornerstone player in Pittsburgh. But in the years that followed he had to overcome cancer and an extensive list of injuries that sidetracked his career and led to some pretty significant regressions across the board. Injuries have still been an issue before him in recent seasons, but he seems to have understood his limitations and adjusted to the sort of game he has to play to make a positive impact.

He is not going to bring much speed to the Blackhawks’ blue line, and he tends to play a more conservative game when it comes to defending entries at the blue line, but he is a sound player in his own end and while he lacks top-end speed, is still very good with the puck on his stick. When he is at his best, he plays a clean, quiet game that will not get noticed (and there is nothing wrong with that; not everyone is going to be Erik Karlsson).

The problem is he is still prone to getting beat by faster forwards and when it happens it can at times look bad, which then leads to criticism.

He appeared in 60 games for the Penguins in 2018-19, scoring one goal and 14 total points. He averages around five goals and 25 total points over 82 games.

He has three years remaining on a contract that carries a salary cap hit of just over $4 million per season. He alone is not going to fix all of the Blackhawks’ shortcomings on defense, but he is not a bad addition, either.

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.

Blues parade Stanley Cup down streets of downtown St. Louis

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Rain or shine, as they say. And the rain wasn’t going to put a damper on this parade.

And while the wet stuff poured down prior to the parade proper in St. Louis on Saturday, it let up as to allow quite the sight, one a half-century in the making.

St. Louis fans lined Market Street just days after their Blues hoisted their first Cup in franchise history after defeating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in the Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The parade route began at the intersection of 18th and Market, went down past Enterprise Center — the home of the Blues — and ended at Broadway and Market, a couple blocks from the famed Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River.

The celebrations continued as players, coaches and alumni led a ceremony under the Arch.

“This is incredible,” Craig Berube said. “I knew that there was going to be a lot of support out here today. People are excited and happy and deserving because they love the game of hockey here. The fans are unbelievable. And they finally got a championship.

Brayden Schenn called it the best day of his life. Schenn wore a firefighter hat, honoring his father who is one and was on the back of one of the fire truck floats.

Rookie sensation Jordan Binnington called the moment surreal, and hardly looked nervous as he let loose and soaked the whole experience in.

Ryan O'Reilly, meanwhile, grabbed the Cup and took it down the street near the thousands of fans lined up, allowing those close enough to touch it as he went by.

Former Blues great Brett Hull, who has two Stanley Cup wins to his name, but never with St. Louis, labelled Saturday as the greatest day in the history of the city.

Hull was one of the first people on stage. Not sober, Hull wanted to change the chant from, ‘Let’s go Blues’ to ‘We went Blues’.

“We don’t have to say, ‘Let’s go’ anymore because we already did it,” Hull said.

Of course, the Blues parade wouldn’t be complete without Laila Anderson, a part of the team’s inspiration during their run to the Cup.

Anderson was surprised with Game 7 tickets and got to watch the Blues hoist Lord Stanley. She told Fox Sports Midwest that she thought her mom was pulling a prank on her when she said she was getting to go and be part of the championship parade.

“I’m just glad I could help them,” she said. ” I don’t know what I do but I’m just glad the whole city supports me so much.

Yesterday, the Blues took the Cup to OB. Clark’s, a neighbourhood sports bar and restaurant.


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

Kings buy out Dion Phaneuf

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Dion Phaneuf‘s time with the Los Angeles Kings has come to an end.

The team announced that they were buying out the 34-year-old’s contract on Saturday afternoon, the first day of the buyout window that lasts until June 30.

[RELATED: Buyout Frenzy: Five candidates to have contracts nixed from the books]

Phaneuf’s name had been circulating in buyout discussions for a while, so it’s hardly surprising that the Kings have elected to do so.

Phaneuf is a shade of the player he used to be and is on the back nine of his career. He’s got two years remaining on a deal and the Kings will save $2,833 million over the course of the buyout, including shedding over $4 million of cap space next year.

Phaneuf’s cap hit over four years will $8.375 million, with the Ottawa Senators retaining 25 percent or $2.791 million per the transaction the two teams made in 2018.

Trading Phaneuf was never likely. He had six points in 67 games last year and the Kings, who were dreadful, healthy-scratched Phaneuf down the stretch.

The Kings acquired Phaneuf prior to the trade deadline in 2018. He’d appear in 93 games over the past two seasons, recording 16 points.

Phaneuf, a first-round pick in 2003, played his 1,000th game during this past season. He’s six points shy of 500 for his NHL career.

The Kings have 10 picks in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft, including the 5th overall selection in the first round.

MORE: Flyers waive MacDonald, set to buy him out


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

Flyers waive MacDonald, set to buy him out

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Well, that didn’t take long.

The Philadelphia Flyers put defenseman Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out, according to the club on Saturday. The Flyers can buy MacDonald out on Sunday after he clears waivers.

Today marks the opening of the buyout window where teams can shed bad contracts (for the most part) and save a little money when it comes to the salary cap. MacDonald’s name was written on the wall on Friday, however, after the Flyers and Washington Capitals swapped Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen, a defenseman.

[RELATED: Buyout Frenzy: Five candidates to have contracts nixed from the books]

MacDonald had a year remaining on his six-year-, $30 million contract he signed prior to the 2014-15 season. The Flyers will save $3.833 million next year, reducing the cap hit from $5 million to just $1.66 million.

“It was a difficult decision,” Flyers GM Cliff Fletcher said. “It was solely cap related…This guys is a constant professional. He did whatever we asked him to do…He’s just a quality person & a guy who played an effective two-way game for our team.”

MacDonald’s play has tanked in recent times and his minutes followed. He had no goals and nine assists last year in 47 games where he averaged around 16 minutes a night, six less than when he was acquired by the Flyers in 2014 from the New York Islanders.

A shortened season became commonplace for MacDonald, often through injury as well as being healthy scratched. He’s never played a full 82-game schedule in his 10-year NHL career.

MacDonald’s buyout is the first foot to fall.

There are several more candidates who could follow the same path over the next two weeks.


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