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Kane, Kucherov, McDavid are 2019 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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The National Hockey League Players’ Association has announced its finalists for the 2019 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL,” as voted by fellow members of the NHLPA.

The 2019 nominees are Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. McDavid has won the award the last two years.

Formerly known as the Lester B. Pearson Award, the TLA will be presented less than four months after the passing of its namesake and NHLPA pioneer, Ted Lindsay.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Case For Patrick Kane: He led the Blackhawks in goals (44), assists (66) and points (110), and tied Kucherov for the second-most even-strength points (80) in the NHL. This past season was the second time Kane has topped each of the 40-goal, 60-assist and 100-point marks. The last time he did that was the 2015-16, which saw him win the Lindsay that year, making him the only player in franchise history to receive the award.

The Case For Nikita Kucherov: Kucherov helped the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning tie a league-best record of 62 wins, while capturing his first Art Ross Trophy. He scored a career-high 128 points to set a new single-season scoring record for the most by a Russian-born player, topping Alexander Mogilny’s 127 points from 1992-93. His 87 assists also led the NHL and tied the single-season record for the most by a winger (Jaromir Jagr, 1995-96). Kucherov could become the first Lightning player to receive the award since Martin St. Louis (2003-04).

The Case For Connor McDavid: McDavid led the Oilers (116 points), setting a career high in the process. He tied his goal total (41) from 2017-18 to finish sixth in the NHL. His 75 assists ranked second in the league and set a new career-high. If he wins the award, McDavid will become the first three-time recipient before the age of 23, and the first player to be deemed most outstanding by his peers in three consecutive seasons since Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin (2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10).

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS:
• Selke Trophy
Lady Bing Trophy
Masteron Trophy
Norris Trophy

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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.

Skinner focused on present in Buffalo rather than future

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By John Wawrow (AP Sports Writer)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jeff Skinner knows how much the Sabres and their playoff-starved fans want him to stay in Buffalo beyond this season.

”Ha, ha, I’ve heard,” the forward memorably said with a laugh in December. ”I’m having a lot of fun, too.”

And yet, two months later, Skinner is nowhere closer to providing anything resembling a definitive answer regarding where he’ll be playing once his contract expires after this season.

”The present is still where we are, and that sort of thing will play itself out,” he said Thursday. ”I think there’s no point in really talking about it now because there’s nothing really to talk about from me on my end.”

Skinner, however, can’t hide his emotions when asked how much he enjoys Buffalo.

His eyes brighten and he breaks into wide, toothy smile in saying: ”I like it here. Yeah, I like it.”

Cast off by Carolina as part of the Hurricanes’ latest rebuilding plan, the three-time 30-goal-scorer and 2011 NHL rookie of the year is approaching career-best numbers since being traded to the Sabres in August.

He has a team-leading 34 goals – three short of matching a career high – and is second in the NHL behind Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (38). His seven game-winning goals are second in the NHL and most in Buffalo since Derek Roy had nine in 2008-09. Skinner has been so consistent, his longest goals drought was four games to start the season.

And he and captain Jack Eichel have been inseparable on a top line that’s played a significant role in keeping Buffalo in playoff contention in a bid to end a seven-year postseason drought, and on a team that finished last in the overall standings in three of the previous five years.

Despite going 11-15-5 since a 10-game win streak in November, the Sabres (28-21-7) already have 63 points – one more than they had last season – and sit 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh.

The topic of Skinner’s future is once again rising to the forefront with the NHL’s trade deadline looming on Feb. 25, and after Skinner was spotted having a lengthy conversation with his agent, Don Meehan, following a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

”To me it was just checking in,” Skinner said, referring to the meeting. ”No details to discuss. Nothing really to report.”

As for the approaching trade deadline, Skinner shrugged and said: ”I don’t think about it at all.”

It remains unlikely the Sabres will consider trading Skinner by Feb. 25.

General manger Jason Botterill told The Associated Press in December he didn’t consider that date as being a deadline for contract talks. And there has been no indication – publicly or privately – that Botterill’s stance has changed since.

Botterill has maintained regular contact with Meehan, and has said he wants Skinner to focus on playing and familiarizing himself with his new surroundings. What bolsters Botterill’s hopes is noting how Skinner chose to play in Buffalo by waiving his no-trade clause in a deal the Hurricanes acquired prospect forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks.

Eichel laughed when asked if he’s aware of Sabres fans campaigning for Skinner to stay.

”He has how many goals, 34?” Eichel said. ”I’m sure Sabres fans want him to stay. I mean, would they want him to leave?”

Eichel’s certainly on board, too.

”I’m not Skins’ agent. I’m not our GM, but he’s been a big part of our team this year,” he said. ”You could probably say we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”

It will ultimately be up to Skinner to decide.

One positive is how much the Toronto-born player has enjoyed playing closer to home, and having his family attend games in Buffalo (essentially a two-hour drive) as opposed to Raleigh, North Carolina (roughly a two-hour flight).

Coach Phil Housley noted Skinner’s proximity to home and family has provided incentive. And it helps playing alongside Eichel.

”Jeff finds that open area, he’s a positional player, and Jack seems to find him in those areas,” Housley said. ”They just seem to have a great chemistry together.”

Skinner must also weigh what offers he might command in free agency at a time more teams are spending less in free agency and committing more salary cap-space to re-signing their own players.

All that can wait.

”As a player, you can only sort of control a small number of things,” Skinner said. ”For us right now, that’s moving on to tomorrow’s game and getting ready for that.”

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

Maple Leafs among NHL teams facing cap crunches next year

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By John Wawrow (AP Hockey Writer)

There are questions Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock won’t touch with a 10-foot hockey stick.

The challenge a team brimming with young talent faces in managing its payroll structure was one topic Babcock particularly enjoyed sidestepping shortly after Toronto and forward William Nylander ended a lengthy contract dispute this month.

”Well, I think you’ve got to talk to a manager about that,” said Babcock, referring to general manager Kyle Dubas.” I just coach the players.”

Babcock was so pleased with his response, he winked and added: ”I bailed on that one, eh?”

Funny, sure, but it doesn’t make the issue go away.

Nylander signing a six-year, $41.4 million contract was merely a prelude to what will be a busy 2019 for Dubas, who will have to be creative in keeping the young core of his team intact within the constraints of the NHL’s projected $83 million salary cap. With $55 million in salary already on the books for next season, the Leafs have little wiggle room with 2016 first-round draft pick Auston Matthews and forward Mitchell Marner, the team’s current leading scorer, both completing the final years of their contracts.

Matthews, who followed up his 40-goal rookie season with 34 last year, is expected to command a contract similar to the eight-year, $100 million deal Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid signed in the summer of 2017. And Marner, the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, likely won’t be far behind because he is on pace to top the career highs of 22 goals and 69 points he had last season.

”I don’t think any of our group and our whole organization should forgo the enjoyment of the season because we have good players that need contracts,” he said. ”I think it’s a fortunate position that we’re in.”

Dubas is not the only one in this fix.

In Winnipeg, forwards Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and defenseman Jacob Trouba are eligible to become restricted free agents. With an eye on the future, the Jets were unable to retain Paul Stastny, who elected to sign a better offer with Vegas last summer.

In Buffalo, newly acquired forward Jeff Skinner‘s asking price goes up with each goal he scores. Skinner has 25 already to match last season’s total and ranks second in the NHL behind only Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. Skinner will be an unrestricted free agent this summer if the Sabres can’t re-sign him.

Buffalo will have money to spend, but has to be cautious with center Jack Eichel in the first year of his eight-year, $80 million contract. And the team will also have to keep open a large portion of cap space once No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin‘s entry-level contract expires in three years.

The question becomes how teams retain their young stars while keeping enough money aside to fill the remainder of their roster.

”The philosophy is simple, and you’re seeing it around the league. The only way you can keep a lot of your top-end players is if you have other players coming up through the system,” Sabres GM Jason Botterill said, placing an emphasis on scouting and player development.

Botterill saw that firsthand working in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins complemented their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang by filtering in younger players on cheaper entry-level contracts.

Still, it can get complicated once a team’s high-priced core starts aging.

The troubles are apparent in Chicago, which won three Stanley Cups from 2010-15 with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews but is now a team in transition with some big contracts in place. It’s no different in Los Angeles, where the Kings have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and missed the postseason three times since 2014, when they won their second Cup in three years.

”It’s not a perfect business,” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. ”You make decisions and you may wake up two years later with different information, but it’s too late and you have to manage around that decision.”

What’s changed over the past decade? Teams are spending more money on retaining players over adding them in free agency.

It’s a philosophy that places an emphasis on evaluating potential at a younger age and determining whether they can perform to the value of their contract. Otherwise, a team could be stuck with a player with a high-priced guaranteed contract that handcuffs future decisions.

”I don’t think there’s any easier answer to it. I mean, you just have to make the right decisions on the player,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. ”One bad contract and it knocks everything out of line.”

Poile has done an adept job in maintaining a competitor on a roster that features six players taking up a combined $40.25 million in salary cap space this year.

Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said keeping a team’s payroll structure in line also requires making unpopular decisions.

”You’ve got to be willing to say, ‘You know what, the guy that doesn’t quite fit in that core, we may need to make a decision that you have to move him,”’ Nill said. ”I know sometimes fans are going to say, ‘Whoa, why are they doing that?’ You’ve got no choice.”

The Maple Leafs are among the exceptions in trying to build through the draft and free agency, after signing John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract last summer.

Dubas insists retaining the team’s young talent is ”of vital importance.” Re-signing Nylander was the first step.

BUFFA-LOVE

After missing the playoffs during each of his eight seasons in Carolina, Skinner is enjoying the buzz the Sabres have created in Buffalo, a year after finishing last for the third time in five years.

”I haven’t really been here before and realized how much they love the Sabres. It’s been fun,” said Skinner, who waived his no-trade clause to approve the Hurricanes dealing him to Buffalo for prospect forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks in August. ”Hopefully, we can keep giving them something to be proud of.”

Skinner was reminded of how those same fans want him to stay in Buffalo beyond this season.

”Ha, ha, I’ve heard,” Skinner said. I’m having a lot of fun, too.”

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Points: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 56; Game-winning goals: Skinner and Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), 6; Rookie goals: Elias Petterson (Vancouver), 17; Goals-against average: Pekka Rinne (Nashville), 2.07; Shutouts: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 5.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to face Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals on Wednesday night.

AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage and Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.

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

Connor McDavid betting favorite to win MVP, even though he’s still on Oilers

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Connor McDavid was the best player in the NHL during the 2017-18 season.

He won the scoring title for the second year in a row (the first player in more than 15 years to win it in consecutive years), he topped the 100-point mark for the second year in a row, he was voted by his peers in the league as the most outstanding player for the second year in a row, and had he played on a team that was anything other than a raging season-long dumpster fire he probably would have been a lock to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP for the second year in a row.

At the very least he would have a finalist.

But because he did play on a team that was a raging season-long dumpster fire, we were treated to another season-long debate on what value means and he ended up finishing fifth in the MVP voting behind Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Claude Giroux.

Even though the Oilers are bringing back largely the same roster that finished with the fourth worst record in the Western Conference and was nearly 20 points out of a playoff spot, McDavid is set to enter the 2018-19 season as the odds-on favorite to win the MVP award this upcoming season.

The folks at Bovada issued some preseason MVP betting odds on Thursday, and McDavid at 10/3 was at the top of the list.

As long as he stays healthy he is probably going to be the best player in the league once again and, quite honestly, the only thing that can probably stop him from winning the MVP is if the Oilers stink again.

Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby is second at 13/2, while Toronto Maple Leafs teammates Auston Matthews and John Tavares and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin round out the top-five, each at 10-1.

The reigning MVP winner, New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall, has the sixth best odds at 15/1.

Here is the complete list that Bovada released on Thursday:

Connor McDavid — 10/3
Sidney Crosby — 13/2
Auston Matthews — 10/1
Alexander Ovechkin — 10/1
John Tavares — 10/1
Taylor Hall — 15/1
Nikita Kucherov –15/1
Nathan MacKinnon — 15/1
Mark Scheifele — 15/1
Anze Kopitar — 18/1
Evgeni Malkin — 18/1
Patrick Kane — 20/1
Claude Giroux — 25/1
Brad Marchand — 25/1
Steven Stamkos — 25/1
Vladimir Tarasenko — 25/1
Jack Eichel — 33/1
Jamie Benn — 40/1
Patrik Laine — 40/1
Nicklas Backstrom — 50/1
Filip Forsberg — 50/1
Johnny Gaudreau — 50/1
Ilya Kovalchuk — 50/1
Evgeny Kuznetsov — 50/1
Artemi Panarin — 50/1
Tyler Seguin — 50/1
Blake Wheeler — 50/1
Logan Couture — 66/1
Phil Kessel — 75/1
Joe Pavelski — 75/1
Aleksander Barkov — 100/1
Jonathan Marchessault — 100/1
David Pastrnak — 100/1
Alexander Radulov — 100/1

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.

Capitals trying to keep focus on Game 5, not potential Cup party

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LAS VEGAS — There could be a party Thursday night in Las Vegas that the city has never seen. Should the Washington Capitals win Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena, they will have closed out the 2018 Stanley Cup Final and won their first ever championship, setting off celebrations in Sin City and back home in D.C.

But if you’re the Capitals, you aren’t thinking that far ahead. At least, you’re trying very hard not to think that far ahead as one more victory stands in the way of you and having your name engraved on the Cup.

“It’s a dream come true, but I have to worry about the steps to get me there and not the end result,” said defenseman John Carlson. “It’s easy to let your mind stray a little bit. That’s all natural, but there’s enough on my plate ahead of me that my focus needs to be on in order to enjoy that.”

[Only one team has erased 3-1 Final deficit, and it was madness]

The sports cliche is that the fourth win in a series is the hardest to earn. The Capitals will face that prospect in Game 5 against a Vegas Golden Knights team that has played strong at home. With their season on the line and no more losses to spare, Vegas will look to give Washington their best game of the series Thursday night.

“You work so hard to get to this point and you want to make it happen,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “We talked about just having make sure that we’ve got focus on one game. There’s a very proud team on the other side. They’re well coached, they got a lot of pride they’re going to come with their best game. We’re not going to beat them with anything less than our best game. It’s not going to be three-quarters of our roster. It’s going to be everybody. And we’re going to have to match their work ethic we’re going to have to match the detail.

“I can’t tell what’s going to happen [Thursday], but I can tell you you’re going to need your best game if you want to get this done.”

After dropping Game 1, the Capitals have won the last three games and are on the cusp of franchise history. They also have history on their side in that only one NHL team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Cup Final and won, and it hasn’t happened for 76 years.

The Capitals will prepare for a potentially historic night in the same way they have for the previous 105 games this season. Try and get a normal night’s sleep, have your usual breakfast, visualize about that night’s game, try and get in a pre-game nap if you can and go to work and do your business.

Easier said than done, of course. As much as they want to make it such, it won’t be a regular game Thursday night and the Capitals understand that.

“To be honest, I think most of us have never been in this position. For me personally, I don’t try to think about it too much and just try focusing on different things,” said Alex Ovechkin. “But it’s hard.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule

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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.