Blue no more: Patrick Maroon’s perfect St. Louis homecoming

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Each morning Anthony Maroon woke up during a visit to see his father, he’d ask his grandmother how many days he had left with him.

Nine? All smiles.

The goodbyes were brutal. Patti Maroon told her grandson she couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t cry, but she’d try.

By the last day, she had to wear sunglasses to keep Anthony from seeing the tears in her eyes. Then they’d pull up to the airport and Anthony would scream, ”I want my daddy!”

”It was heart-wrenching,” Patti said.

Patrick Maroon played his first eight NHL seasons away from his son, who lived with his mother in the St. Louis suburbs. When he was a free agent last summer, he had a more lucrative offer from the New Jersey Devils and a multiyear offer from the San Jose Sharks to weigh against a deal for $1.75 million with the St. Louis Blues for just this season.

He agonized over the decision and ultimately took less, betting on himself to play for his hometown team in front of his son and surrounded by his tightknit family. After a rough start to the season for him, Maroon helped the Blues make the playoffs, scored the double-overtime series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the second round against Dallas and now is in the Stanley Cup Final with the team he always yearned to play for.

”It’s meant the world to me,” Maroon said. ”As a kid, you dream of this your whole life and to come back home and play for your team you grew up watching your whole life, and to actually live out your dream and actually put your skates on and play (in) the Stanley Cup finals, it’s a pretty cool moment for me. Not only a cool moment for me, but my dad that’s been a season ticket holder and Blues fan, my mom, my family, my son. It’s been really cool and very special: a lot of highs, a lot of lows, but we’re getting through this together.”

There was the criticism for taking the No. 7 Keith Tkachuk wore, jeers in the stands his parents had to hear, sessions with a sports psychologist, a franchise-record 11-game winning streak, the death of his grandfather the day before the playoffs began, his game-winning assist in the postseason opener, his overtime heroics and an emotional meeting with his family after making the Cup Final.

Those are some significant highs and lows. Now Maroon is on the ultimate high, playing for the Blues against the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup – a playoff run that has given his family reason to come together to watch his games at an emotionally difficult time, and none of it would’ve happened had Maroon not gone home.

”If it wasn’t for this, I said, I’d probably be home and I’d use any kind of excuse not to come,” aunt Jan Phegley said from the basement of brother Rob Ferrera’s house. ”But my brother keeps calling me and he doesn’t give me any excuse to stay away. And when I get here I’m OK. And (Patrick’s brother) Justin goes: ‘Yeah, Aunt Jan, don’t you think we would be home? But we’re here.’ It’s just made such a big difference in everybody’s life.”

No one more so than Anthony, the 10-year-old center of the family who perhaps like his father growing up doesn’t realize how good of a hockey player he could be. Last July, Patrick was watching his son play at the same Oakville roller hockey rink he played in as a kid the night he had to decide where to sign.

His dad, Phil Maroon, wasn’t sure Patrick should take on the pressure of playing in St. Louis and suggested he take the extra security from San Jose because he’s now in his 30s. He even flipped a coin: heads for the Blues, tails for the Sharks. It came up tails.

”He goes, ‘OK, I’m going to sign with them,”’ Phil said. ”About two hours later, he calls me up and says, ‘Dad, I signed with the Blues.”’

What changed in those two hours? He was with Anthony and fiancee Francesca.

”It’s always been Anthony,” Phil said. ”That was the bottom line. That’s what it came down to.”

New Jersey offered more than $3 million because general manager Ray Shero told Maroon he deserved it. Shero has gotten to know the family well over the years from the world championships and then trading for Maroon at the 2018 deadline and understands perfectly why he left so much money on the table.

”He did it for all the right reasons,” Shero said. ”You can’t script this any better.”

Maroon grew up in Oakville outside St. Louis, once carved out a penalty box in the wall of his parents’ furnished basement for full-contact games with his friends and played minor and high school hockey there. Now there are signs all over Telegraph Road like the one at Dierbergs Market that reads, ”Congrats Oakville Big Rig Pat Maroon.”

”We had that in the back of our mind, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be neat if he was able to go all the way, and who knows what team he would be on?” said Mick O’Halloran of the Oakville Hockey Club that Maroon played two seasons with as a high school freshman and sophomore. ”It was meant to be for him to skate here at this time.”

This isn’t the first time hockey brought Maroon home. He played for now-Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper with the North American Hockey League’s Texarkana Bandits in 2005-06 and the team moved to St. Louis the next season. Maroon had 95 points, was league MVP and led the St. Louis Bandits to the national championship – and is now looking to do that again with another hometown team and his son watching.

”He always missed being away from his boy,” Cooper said. ”He wanted to be close to him and just the way it’s all worked out, it’s been awesome.”

It wasn’t always awesome. Phil said Patrick hit a low point in December when his game wasn’t right and the Blues were in the aftermath of a coaching change and the losses piling up. New teammate Ryan O'Reilly saw what Maroon was going through and set him up with his dad, Brian, a sports psychologist, for a chat around the holidays that got him on track mentally.

Phil believes that’s when everything turned around for his youngest son, who appreciated the assistance.

”Ryan, he’s one of my best friends on the team and he was just looking out for me, looking to see if I needed help,” Maroon said Monday. ”His dad was an outlet and his dad pulled me aside, so we just had a little chat. Big Bri does some really good things. He’s really good at what he does. He just brought some positivity back in my life and some things that I needed and things that were missing in my game that he believed in.”

O’Reilly doesn’t know what his dad said to help Maroon, but he sure noticed the difference.

”You kind of saw that shift and watched him get back and find his game again and be a dominant force,” O’Reilly said. ”A lot of times thinking can get in the way of a performance. And when you can get rid of that and be as present as possible like you kind of see from Pat how your kind of game unfolds and gets back to where you want it.”

The Blues went from last place in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3 to the playoffs. But the more important developments came with Anthony’s team.

Patrick and Anthony got to play in the Meramec Sharks’ annual father-son game for the first time. That experience reminded Patti of the skills competition in Edmonton where she saw her youngest son and her grandson standing on the blue line in matching Maroon Oilers jerseys, and she and Phil then got to watch them skate on the same ice with the same youth team Patrick also played for as a kid.

”It was just surreal,” Patti said.

Less than a month later came the moment that sister Jen Guetschow said shattered their family’s world. Grandfather Ernest Ferrara died at age 94 from complications following leg surgery.

It was the day the Blues were leaving for Winnipeg to start the playoffs against the Jets. The team held the plane so Maroon could say goodbye to the grandfather, something that might not have been possible if he had signed anywhere else.

”We were all standing around crying,” Patti recalled. ”He had to leave, so he’s bending down and he’s hugging and kissing my dead dad and he’s going: ‘Grandpa, I love you. I love you. I’m gonna win the Stanley Cup for you.”’

Grandpa Ernie had called that last summer after Maroon signed with the Blues. He’d always send video messages to Patrick asking for goals or congratulating him, and one that ends with a puff from his cigar is still saved on Jen’s phone.

”Welcome home Patrick and Francesca,” Ernie said, stogie in hand. ”I’m so happy that you’re gonna be playing next door here. I love you, and the Blues are waiting for ya. They’re already predicting they’re gonna win.”

Maroon assisted on Tyler Bozak‘s Game 1-winning goal against Winnipeg the next day. Uncle Rob Fererra texts Patrick the night before a game and usually tells him, ”Don’t forget, dream of big assists, big goals, big hits, big plays.”

The night before Game 7 against Dallas, he told him, ”Now go dream of big goals” and forget about assists. Wearing No. 7, Maroon scored to win Game 7 on May 7 directly in front of family members sitting in row 7 of section 107 and only minutes after Jen, husband Paul and Rob kissed the prayer card from Ernie’s funeral.

Patti Maroon didn’t even see the goal because fans were standing in front of her. Son Philipp ran to tell her Patrick had scored, and it was bedlam in the best possible way.

”Everybody in my family was crying,” Patti said. ”I just felt like they’re really going to win the Stanley Cup. Like, this is for real now.”

Maroon looked around at Stanley Cup Final media day and it all hit him: the decision to take less money and a shorter deal to play for the Blues, the tumultuous season and now the chance to lift the Cup.

”Well, it’s worth it now, right?” Maroon said. ”Money doesn’t solve problems in the world anymore. It doesn’t really bring you happiness. Living out your dream and being home and being with family and being with a team in that locker room and have those guys fight, sweat and be where we’re at right now, that means more to me.”

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

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Sissons, Predators agree to seven-year, $20 million deal

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We see long-term deals with high annual average values.

We see short-term deals with lower annual average values.

But rarely do we see long-term deals with low annual average values. Like less than $3 million low.

Yet, despite the rarity of such a pact, David Poile and the Nashville Predators have become some sort of trendsetters in getting plays to sign lengthy deals worth a pittance annually.

Colton Sissons becomes the second in the past three years to sign on with the Predators long-term at a small AVV. Sissons new deal, avoiding arbitration, is a seven-year contract worth $20 million — an AAV of $2.85 million.

“Colton will be an important part of our team for the next seven seasons, and we are happy he has made a long-term commitment to our organization and the city the Nashville,” Poile said. “He’s a heart and soul player who is versatile and can fill many important roles on our team, including on the penalty kill and power play. His offensive production has increased each season, and he remains an integral part of our defensive structure down the middle of the ice. Colton is also an up-and-coming leader in our organization, which is something we value strongly.”

Poile seems to have no issue signing depth guys to lengthy deals. In 2016, he signed Calle Jarnkork to a six-year deal worth $12 million. In fact, he’s the only general manager to pull of such moves.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Both players have chosen security over maximizing earning potential.

Sissons, 25, had a career-year last season, scoring 15 goals and 30 points in 75 games.

His AAV is in the ballpark of what was projected. Evolving Wild’s model had him making $2.65 million. What wasn’t foreseen is that term.

EW’s model projected a three-year contract for Sissons with a 30.2 percent probability of coming to fruition. But what percentage of chance did EW give a seven-year contract? 0.4 percent.

Anything is possible, kids.


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

PHT Morning Skate: Hard cap hurt; Iginla talked Lucic into Flames move?

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The hard salary cap is hurting the NHL’s brand. (Broad Street Hockey)

• With his name removed from the list, he’s the top 10 untradeable contracts after the Milan Lucic trade. (The Hockey News)

• Flames’ trade for Milan Lucic is inexplicable. (Yahoo Sports)

• The seven best free-agent deals signed in the NHL this summer. (Daily Hive)

• Ranking every NHL team by weight… a hefty ask. (Vancouver Courier)

• The Flames can blame (partly?) a franchise legend for helping sell Calgary to no-movement-clause Milan Lucic. (Sportsnet)

• Is there too much offense from the defense in today’s NHL? (TSN.ca)

• Stanley Cup-winning teams with the most Hall of Famers. (Featurd)

• The King always gets his way. (NHL.com)

• Part 1 of a look at the false sense of parity in the NHL. (Last Word on Hockey)

John Tavares is both healthy again and still upset his Maple Leafs got bounced by the Bruins in Round 1. (NHL.com)

• The best and worst moves from each Eastern Conference general manager. (The Score)

• What would an NHL team made up only of players from New York/New Jersey look like? (The Athletic)

• A look back on the Martin St. Louis trade and its impact. (Raw Charge)


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

Will coaching change be enough to give Ducks’ goalies some help?

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Since becoming the Anaheim Ducks’ starter, John Gibson has become one of the best goalies in the NHL.

For the first part of the 2018-19 season he was almost single-handedly carrying the team and helping to keep it at least somewhat competitive. He was not only in the Vezina Trophy discussion, but as long as the Ducks were winning he was a legitimate MVP contender. But for as good as Gibson performed, the entire thing was a house of cards that was always on the verge of an ugly collapse.

The Ducks couldn’t score, they couldn’t defend, they forced Gibson to take on a ridiculous workload in terms of shots and scoring chances against.

Eventually, everything fell apart.

Once Gibson started to wear down and could no longer steal games on a nightly basis, the team turned into one of the worst in the league despite having a top-10 goaltending duo. That is a shocking accomplishment because teams that get the level of goaltending the Ducks received from the Gibson-Ryan Miller duo usually make the playoffs.

How bad was it for the Ducks? They were one of only three teams in the top-15 in save percentage this past season that did not make the playoffs.

The only other teams in the top-15 that missed were the Montreal Canadiens, who were just two points back in a far better and more competitive Eastern Conference, and the Arizona Coyotes who were four points back in the Western Conference and the first team on the outside looking in.

The Ducks not only missed, they were 10 points short with FIVE teams between them and a playoff spot. Again, almost impossibly bad.

It is a testament to just how bad the rest of the team performed in front of the goalies, and it continued a disturbing trend from the 2018 playoffs when the Ducks looked completely overmatched against the San Jose Sharks in a four-game sweep. It was clear the team was badly flawed and was falling behind in a faster, more skilled NHL.

The problem for the Ducks right now is that so far this offseason the team has remained mostly the same.

They bought out the remainder of Corey Perry‘s contract, will be without Ryan Kesler, and have really not done anything else to change a roster that has not been anywhere near good enough the past two seasons.

That means it is going to be another sink-or-swim season for the Ducks based on how far the goaltending duo of Gibson and Miller can carry them.

It is a tough situation because the Ducks have made an absolutely massive commitment to Gibson as he enters the first year of an eight-year, $51.2 million contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is a huge investment in a goalie, and for the time being, the Ducks have not really done anything to support him. Even if you have the best goalie in the league — or just one of the best — it is nearly impossible to win based only on that. Great goalies can help, they can mask a lot of flaws, and they can even carry a mediocre or bad team to the playoffs if they have a historically great season (think Carey Price during the 2014-15 season). But that still puts a ton of pressure on the goalie, and it is nearly impossible to ride that all the way to a championship.

There is, however, one small cause for optimism.

A lot of the Ducks’ problems defensively last season seemed to be based around their system and structure in the early part of the season under then-coach Randy Carlyle.

Under Carlyle the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to suppressing shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances during 5-on-5 play.

They were 29th or worse when it came to shots on goal against, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, and 26th in total shot attempts against. This is something that always happened with Carlyle coached teams and they would always go as far as their goaltending could take them. In recent years, Gibson masked a lot of those flaws by playing at an elite level and helped get the Ducks in the playoffs. He was able to do it for half of a season this year before finally playing like a mortal instead of a goaltending deity.

But after Carlyle was replaced by general manager Bob Murray, the Ducks showed some massive improvement defensively, shaving multiple shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances per 60 minutes off of their totals.

They went from 26th to seventh in shots on goal against, from 29th to 19th in shot attempts, from 30th to 17th in scoring chances against, and from 29th to 17th in high-danger scoring chances against.

Still not great, but definitely better. Much better. So much better that even though Gibson’s overall performance regressed, the Ducks still managed to win games and collect points at a significantly better rate than they did earlier in the season. They were 14-11-1 from Feb. 10 until the end of the season under Murray.

That is a 91.3 point pace over 82 games. That would have been a playoff point total in the Western Conference this past season.

Under Carlyle, it was a 74.6 point pace. That would have been one of the four worst records in the league.

Coaching changes are very rarely a cure-all. It is still a talent-driven league, and if you do not have talent you are probably not going to win very much. But there are always exceptions and outliers, and sometimes a coaching change is a necessity and can help dramatically improve a team.

New Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has an incredibly short NHL head coaching resume so we don’t have much to go by when it comes to what he will do What we do have to go by came in Edmonton where it has become abundantly clear over the past 15 years that the problems go far beyond the head coach (because they have all failed there). The Ducks are still short on talent at forward and defense, but it should still be able to perform better than it did a year ago. And with a goalie as dominant as Gibson can be (with a great backup behind him) there is no excuse for them to be as far out of the playoff picture as they were.

The Ducks don’t need to be the 1995 Devils defensively to compete.

They just need to not be the worst shot suppression team in the league.

If Eakins can figure out a way to build on the momentum the Ducks showed over the final two months of the 2018-19 season, they might actually have a fighting chance.

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.

Calgary Flames set with arena plans to replace Saddledome

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a tentative agreement for a new arena to replace the Saddledome.

The city, NHL team and the Calgary Stampede have agreed in principle to terms. The Stampede, a rodeo exhibition, owns the land.

The deal was to be presented to the City Council on Monday and then put to a vote. Calgary citizens would then have a week to voice their opinion before a council vote next week to ratify the deal.

The Saddledome is almost 36 years old. The cost of the event center is $550 million to $600 million. It is to have a seating capacity of about 20,000 for sports and would be the heart of a larger revitalized commercial and residential district.