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NHL Player Media Tour 2018 Notebook

CHICAGO — After six years away, James van Riemsdyk returns to the Philadelphia Flyers after inking a five-year, $35 million contract on July 1. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft spent three seasons with the team before being part a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent defenseman Luke Schenn to the Flyers.

So when it became clear that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be re-signing the 29-year-old winger, a reunion was in the offing. In making that happen, Flyers captain Claude Giroux and fellow forward Jake Voracek put in some calls to their former teammate, hoping to lure him back.

“Didn’t really try and sell him on anything, to be honest,” said Giroux. “Was just trying to see what he thought. He had some questions about the organization and the team and the players. I was just honest with him. I told him how I really feel. I think he liked that and we were able to get him. I think he’s very excited to come back to Philly and so are we.”

van Riemsdyk scored a career high 36 goals last season and has developed into a dangerous presence in front of goal, especially on the power play He’s already comfortable playing in Philadelphia and can possibly rekindle some chemistry with Giroux depending on how head coach Dave Hakstol juggles his lines.

Coming off a season where a number of young players took steps forward and the captain had a career season, the Flyers and Giroux can’t help but be excited by the addition.

“He’s a great player in front of the net — could be on the power play or 5-on-5,” he said. “He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s a great competitor. I’ve seen him play in the playoffs and dominate a hockey game against Boston. I was very impressed. We know and he knows he has that in him and for him to come in and help us out, it’s very motivating.”

Anders Lee on extension talks, Trotz’s arrival

It’s been a bit of a busy summer for the New York Islanders. They have a new head coach, a new general manager, and lost their captain in free agency. As Lou Lamoriello took over for Garth Snow, he’s done work to try and improve upon last season’s playoff-less spring.

A number of players are entering the final year of their deals, like Anders Lee. His agent hasn’t started negotiations with Lamoriello on an extension, but the 40-goal scorer understands why talks haven’t commenced just yet.

“They’ve been in contact. They’ve worked together before,” he said. “I think everyone knows we just have other things he has to worry about right now.”

One of those ‘things’ is getting new head coach Barry Trotz settled with his new team. After being unable to come to terms on an extension after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, they parted ways and three days later he was hired by the Islanders. 

Trotz’s ability to develop a winning culture is something that has Lee very excited for the season.

“Barry’s resume speaks for itself,” he said. “Where he’s been with Nashville and Washington and where he’s taken his teams, obviously winning the Stanley Cup last year is the ultimate goal and he’s done that. His experiences and who is he as a person, from what I’ve been told, I think is going to be great for us.”

McDavid felt weight of the ‘C’

In Connor McDavid’s first season as captain of the Edmonton Oilers, they made the playoffs. There was a sense of a arrival and that with an elite level talent like McDavid, the good times finally returned.

But last season was a disaster. As McDavid played out of his mind, the Oilers won 11 fewer games and dipped 25 points from the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t just a step back, it was a plunge back to the bottom.

As the season quickly slipped from their grasp, McDavid felt the crushing disappointment.

“I think anytime you’ve got a team that doesn’t make the playoffs the captain always feels it. Everyone feels it,” said McDavid. “It doesn’t matter who you are on the team. That’s the point of the team. When you do wear the ‘C’ you feel a lot of responsibility. You take a lot on yourself. You think that there’s some sort of magic thing that needs to be said or some sort of magic thing that needs to be done, but ultimately it’s all about the team.”

This summer general manager Peter Chiarelli didn’t make any drastic changes to his roster. Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak were brought in and defenseman Evan Bouchard was drafted No. 10 overall. The lack of change has the feeling that it’ll be another rough year in Edmonton. Just don’t tell that to McDavid.

“It’s kind of always been said if Peter could make a move he was going to and obviously nothing came up and that’s what we wanted, honestly,” he said. “I think everyone in the locker room believes in each other. We believe that we’re going to be a good team.”

Jack Eichel’s leadership lessons from Brian Gionta

It’s been two full seasons since the Buffalo Sabres have had a captain, but it’s a good bet that the 21-year-old Eichel will be donning the ‘C’ on a regular basis pretty soon. Taking on an extra responsibility like that won’t make the young center change anything about himself, however.

“It’s obviously a huge honor if that ever happened,” said Eichel. “There’s some good leaders on the team and there’s a good leadership group. There’s a lot of guys to rely on that make it easy for you to lead. 

“For me, it’s more or less just not changing. ‘C,’ no ‘C,’ ‘A,’ whatever. Try and be yourself, do what you do. That’s the mindset I try and take anywhere I go. Whatever I’ve done to get to my spot now, just try to be myself. Be the personality I have. But you get that obviously there’s more responsibility. You’ve got to continue to handle yourself the right way. [It’d be a] huge honor. There’s a lot of deserving guys, but it’d be cool.”

The Sabres last captain was Brian Gionta, who was there as Eichel entered the NHL in 2015. The way the veteran forward handled himself left an impression on the franchise’s young star — something that could be useful if he’s to succeed Gionta in the leadership role.

“The biggest thing with Gio was his professionalism,” Eichel said. “Gio’s the type of guy who was at the rink early every morning, he had his routine. He knew what he needed to do to prepare for practice, prepare for games, and he did every day, no matter what. Whether it was February or August or October, whatever it was, he was going to do his routine every day and prepare the same way. Big game, practice, morning skate, he prepared like a pro. 

“I was able to learn a lot about preparation, getting yourself ready, getting your body ready, doing the right things in order to be at your best.”

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SHORT SHIFTS

“Begrudgingly. They brought in a BC assistant coach, so it evens out.” – A joking New York Rangers forward and Boston College alum Chris Kreider on if he’ll be able to play for a Boston University product in David Quinn.

“It’s tough. It’s really intense. I think the biggest thing I never really understood was how much of a mental battle it is, how intense it is. You think about every little play after a game, what you could have done better, what you wish you would have done. The mental battle is something I learned a lot about something that I’m definitely better off for [experiencing].” – Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele on what he learned during the grind to reach the Western Conference Final last season.

“No, absolutely not. I think that’s the worst thing I can do. I just have to play my game and yeah, I’d like to score more and create more offense, but you also have to be good defensively.” – Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings on if he’ll change anything should he be given added responsibility in the absence of captain Henrik Zetterberg.

“I think our young guys are going to keep getting better and better. [Alex] Kerfoot, [Tyson] Jost, [J.T.] Compher, all those guys are just going to continue to develop. That’s kind of like adding players when those guys get better, it’s like adding scoring. The three of us — [Gabriel] Landeskog, me and [Mikko] Rantanen — are going to have to be really good this year. I think our goalies are set. We have [Philipp] Grubauer and [Semyon] Varlamov — that’s a great 1-2. We feel good. It’s going to be a tough division, the Central, but we’re ready.” – Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche on improvements for this season.

“He’s very repetitive with what he believes in and the system that he follows. He started at the beginning of the season with what he wanted us to do and what he wanted in our organization. He was very adamant on continuing to tell us what he wanted. He didn’t stray off if we didn’t listen, saying right away he would make sure he would beat it into us. Very intense, but at the same time very laid back guy. It’s tough to explain. He’s an awesome guy, easy to talk to and very serious when it comes to the game of hockey. He’s just your typical hard-nosed [coach], like he played; he’s that kind of coach. He’s extremely intense and his love for the game and his want to win and hate to lose attitude makes you want to win for him and have that same attitude.” – Vincent Trocheck on Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner.

MORE NHL MEDIA TOUR COVERAGE:
Kane, Toews ready to turn page on playoff-less 2017-18 season
Tavares hopes for ‘positive’ reception when Maple Leafs visit Isles
Taylor Hall not expecting complacency from Devils after playoff return
Eric Staal eager to stay with Wild, ready for Central Division battle
Tyler Seguin on extension talks, new Stars head coach

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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.

Contract request led to breakup between Barry Trotz, Capitals

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Barry Trotz’s desire for a big salary raise and five-year extension was the beginning of the end of his tenure with the Washington Capitals.

Trotz, who resigned on Monday after earning a two-year extension that was triggered by the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory, wanted to be paid as one of the NHL’s top coaches, but the team was hesitant to make that kind of commitment. It was reported that Trotz was earning $1.5 million per season and the new deal would have only increased his salary by $300,000 a year.

The money and the term requested was a little too much for the Capitals.

“There are probably three, four guys that are making that money, so it’s the upper echelon. It’s the big-revenue teams,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said, referring to the salaries of coaches like Mike Babcock, Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville.

“I don’t think all teams pay that type of money and years. Certain teams are open to it and the rest of the league isn’t,” he added.

MacLellan described the five-year contract ask as a “sticking point.”

“You have a coach that’s been here four years, you do another five, that nine years,” he said. “There’s not many coaches that have that lasting ability. It’s a long time and it’s a lot of money to be committing to a coach.”

[Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach]

If you look at the Capitals’ head coaching history over the last 16 years, they haven’t gone out of their way to open up the checkbook to pay for a big-name, high-priced coach. Before Trotz arrived in 2014, you had Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Cassidy all getting their first NHL head coaching gigs in D.C.

MacLellan said he was hopeful that both sides could work out a short-term deal, but Trotz clearly wanted security and to rightly use the leverage of a Cup victory to cash in. The GM did note that he accepted Trotz’s resignation so he’s free to pursue offers from other teams to coach next season.

As for where the Capitals go next, Todd Reirden is the front-runner to replace Trotz. Bumped up to “associate coach” in 2016, the organization values him and has been grooming him to become a head coach, either with the franchise or elsewhere. MacLellan said Reirden will get a formal interview.

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and then we’ll make a decision based on that,” he said. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. If it doesn’t, then we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MORE:Where does NHL’s coaching carousel stop after Trotz resignation?

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly once again embraces the big stage

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WASHINGTON — Why does Devante Smith-Pelly play some of his best hockey in the playoffs? If you ask him, there’s nothing different; it’s just that the spotlight is bigger.

“The things that make my game successful are magnified at this time of year. All season I try and play physical, try and block shots and do those kind of things,” he said. “Obviously, this time of year it matters a whole lot more. It’s the most fun time to play. This is what you dream of. This is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and making it to the Final and scoring that goal in the big game — I think I just really enjoy the big stage in games that matter and games that are fun.”

Smith-Pelly has scored a couple of big goals for the Washington Capitals during their run to the Cup Final, like the insurance tally in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final that forced a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His most recent one, his fifth of the playoffs, was during Game 3 Saturday night that served as the dagger to the Vegas Golden Knights’ comeback hopes in the third period.

This isn’t the first time he’s been a big scorer beyond the regular season. As a member of the Anaheim Ducks four years ago, he scored five times during the 2014 playoffs. He has 40 career regular season goals in 341 games. Through Game 3, he now has 11 goals in 46 career playoff games.

“I love playing in the playoffs. It’s fun,” he said. “It just so happens maybe I’m scoring goals at the right time. I don’t know. I love playing in the playoffs. That’s really the only way I can kind of explain it.”

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Last June 30 Smith-Pelly was informed his time with the New Jersey Devils was over. He would be waived for buyout purposes and the first few days of free agency would be spent finding a fourth NHL team in four seasons. He would sign a one-year deal with the Capitals in early July and have to prove himself to make the team out of training camp. Initially, head coach Barry Trotz had low expectations about the move.

“I wasn’t sure on him, to be honest with you,” Trotz said in January via the Washington Post. “Just because of not seeing him enough and not knowing him, I knew there was something there, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan.”

After arriving in D.C., Smith-Pelly and Trotz sat down for a conversation where the head coach gave his opinion of the forward’s game from an outsider’s perspective. Trotz obviously wanted the signing to work and the two discussed areas of Smith-Pelly’s game that were strong and what areas could be built upon. 

That was the start of Smith-Pelly finally feeling at ease. As a player who thrives with confidence, with Trotz being forgiving about certain mistakes, the 25-year-old forward’s comfort level with his new environment continued to grow.

“Roller coaster,” said Smith-Pelly, describing his season. “Starting from the summer and signing here, having to make the team out of camp, it’s been a roller coaster but at the same time I’ve had a lot of fun too.”

One of Smith-Pelly’s strengths is his versatility. He plays a physical game, can block shots, play on the penalty kill and chip in offensively. And when needed, he can move up and down the lineup, as shown when he played along the Capitals’ top line during Tom Wilson’s suspension earlier in the playoffs (even if it didn’t work out that great.)

Smith-Pelly is part of a Capitals’ secondary scoring group whose contributions have helped them to this point: two wins away from the franchise’s first championship.

“His career’s gone up and down a little bit like a lot of guys in both series,” said Capitals forward Brett Connolly. “He’s stepped up huge for us and we’re going to need him to keep doing what he’s been doing for sure.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Alex Ovechkin ready for first Stanley Cup Final home game

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — “I want to win the Stanley Cup. I want to be the best, just the best. I must work. I must learn. Help my team. Play hockey, that’s all. Hockey is my life, you know. If I do not play hockey, I do not know what I do.” – Alex Ovechkin, October, 2005, via the Washington Post.

When Alex Ovechkin stepped on to the T-Mobile Arena ice ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, he could feel how much of an atmosphere change it was compared to the previous three rounds of the playoffs. There was a different energy in the air and the stage was even bigger than he had ever experienced.

On Saturday night, Ovechkin will hit the Capital One Arena ice for his first home game ever in a Cup Final. It’s been 20 years since the Capitals have played host to one, which means more of that different atmosphere and energy the Washington captain talked about, but unlike the scene in Vegas, the support will be behind him and his teammates.

“I’m excited. I think everybody’s excited in Washington,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be hard — but that’s why we work so hard to be in this spot and be in this moment.”

Even through the numerous playoff disappointments, Ovechkin has always kept a loose mentality. No matter the situation, he’s tried to keep his teammates upbeat, even when times have been bad. He’s taken the losses hard, but that’s because he wants to win so badly.

Jay Beagle is one of the longer-tenured Capitals and has seen that regular season success turn into playoff disappointment. Through it all, he says, Ovechkin has remained the same.

“He’s always had a calming presence because he always keeps it loose and is a lot of fun to be around,” said Beagle, who’s neighbors with Ovechkin in the team’s dressing room. “He’s steps up in the big moments, says things when he needs to, but also keeps it loose when the time is right, too.”

Ovechkin has done his part in helping the Capitals reach the Cup Final. He’s second in the NHL in playoff scoring with 13 goals and 24 points, his most in the postseason since 2009. There’s growth in all players year-to-year, but Beagle says that this year is different.

“All of us grow every year — you grow as a player, you grow as a person,” said Beagle. “He’s been outstanding. Every time we’ve gone into the playoffs, he’s been our best player. But I really think he’s taken over the team. He’s really taken this as his team and he’s stepped his game up even more than he has in the past, which is very hard to do. He’s our leader. We follow him. He’s been unreal. He’s been unreal ever since I’ve been here, but he’s also growing like everyone else is growing, as a player and a person. He’s stepped up huge this playoffs.”

Since Ovechkin was drafted in 2004, he’s wanted to deliver a Stanley Cup to D.C. This is the closest he’s ever been to it, and the Capitals are three more wins away from delivering.

“He’s made a promise to himself to get his game to the next level and bring our team with him. I think he’s done that,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “I think he’s delivering on a lot of aspects. I think he’s grown as a player and our captain.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Capitals confident in ability to continue road advantage vs. Lightning

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The Washington Capitals may have dropped two games at home to allow the Tampa Bay Lightning to even the Eastern Conference Final at two games apiece, but a 7-1 road record this postseason will allow for some confidence as the series becomes a best-of-three.

“There’s nothing we can do. We’re not going to look back, we’re just going to look forward,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. “This group of guys have been in different situations all year and we fight through it. It’s a huge test. We’re still going to have fun, we’re still going to enjoy it. We’ll see what happens. We’re going to Tampa to play our game, try to get a victory and come back home.”

Head coach Barry Trotz used the word “resilient” several times in his post-Game 4 press conference to describe his team, and it’s appropriate They dropped the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round only to reel off four straight wins. They dropped Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins after blowing a third period lead, then allowed their opponent to tie the series at two before winning Games 5 and 6 to advance. Now they wasted a strong start to the conference final and have given the Lightning a lifeline, even as they dominated at even strength through four games.

“We know how we have to play,” Trotz said afterward. “We’ve played well in three of four games; we played one stinker. We’re comfortable going on the road. We would have loved to have gotten this one tonight. We didn’t. We’re going to go to Tampa, and our intention is to go win a game in Tampa. We’ve already done it twice.”

[Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals]

Two dominant road victories already in this series won’t allow the Capitals’ confidence to wane or for old memories of previous playoff choke jobs to creep into their heads just yet. It’s about replicating their success in Games 1 and 2 while trying to be smarter about discipline (Hey, Lars Eller!) and not allow a Tampa power play that’s capitalized 42.9 percent in this series to continue winning that battle.

A lot of the credit for Tampa’s two wins in D.C. can go to goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 36 shots in both victories and allowed only four goals. Some of those chances were of the high-danger variety, but the Capitals couldn’t find the back of the net.

“He didn’t play great in the first two. He played well in the second two,” said Tom Wilson about Vasilevskiy’s play. “It’s our job to make him look more like the goalie the first couple of games. We’ll keep going to the net. We’ll make it hard on him. Hopefully the bounces will go in.”

“We had pretty good chances. We just [didn’t] execute,” added Ovechkin.

The old saying goes it’s not a series until a team loses at home. Well, the home team hasn’t had any luck in this conference final, but you have to imagine at some point over the course of these final three games a breakthrough will occur. In the meantime, the Capitals will look to continue to the home-ice non-advantage trend Saturday night in Game 5 (7:15 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream) at AMALIE Arena.

“Nothing’s come easy for this team,” said Trotz.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.