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Islanders sign another depth player long-term, and it makes no sense

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You have to at least say this for the New York Islanders offseason: It has not been quiet, and it has definitely been interesting.

They continued making moves on Monday when they first announced a one-year contract for free agent center Jan Kovar after a successful career in the KHL. Kovar was an intriguing player that a lot of teams had interest in given his production in Russia, and he should get an opportunity to play a decent role in New York following the departure of John Tavares in free agency.

Is it a guarantee to work out? Not at all. But it is not a bad gamble for the Islanders to take on a one-year deal.

The move on Monday that raised some eyebrows was the announcement of a four-year — four years! — contract for restricted free agent Ross Johnston.

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the contract will pay him $1 million per season.

He has played in 25 NHL games (24 of them coming this past season) and has scored three goals and six total points. He has spent the past three years mostly playing for the Islanders’ American Hockey League team Bridgeport where he has totaled 14 goals and 30 total points in 139 games. He has also accumulated 327 penalty minutes in those games and is a regular when it comes to dropping the gloves.

So the question that needs to be asked here is this: Why the need for a four-year contract — a contract that at Johnston’s age will buy out two years of unrestricted free agency — for a player with that resume?

Also worth asking: Why do the Islanders keep giving long-term contracts to depth players like Ross Johnston?

With Johnston re-signed, and combined with the free agent addition of Leo Komarov, the Islanders now have 10 players signed for at least the next three seasons (some of them for longer).

That list includes…

That is an interesting list to make long-term commitments to.

It does not even include Matt Martin, re-acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs a week ago, who is signed for the next two seasons.

[Related: Islanders keep stockpiling fourth-liners, reacquire Matt Martin from Leafs]

Bailey is coming off a huge season and even if he does not duplicate it will at least be counted no to be a top-line forward. No problem there.

Ladd’s first two years in New York have been rough but he, too, was at least signed with the intention to be a top-six winger, while Leddy and Boychuk (who is already 34) were signed to be top-four defensemen. Boychuck and Ladd may not have worked out as planned long-term, and they may not have been great risks given the ages at the time of their signings, but they were at least hoping for top-of-the-lineup players. To be fair, Boychuck did give them a couple of years of that sort of play.

The rest of that group, though, is mostly depth players. Players the Islanders have acquired or signed with the intention of being bottom-six or bottom-pairing players. Just about all of them cost between $1.5 and $3.5 million against the salary cap, meaning they are not just significant investments due to their term, but also financially.

This is a bizarre strategy in the sense that almost no other team in the NHL has constructed their roster in this manner. This is not a statement of opinion, either. This is a statement of fact.

Look at it from a numbers perspective.

During the 2017-18 NHL season there were 154 forwards that played in at least 20 games and averaged under 0.30 points per game. Only four of those players logged more than 15 minutes of ice-time per game, and none of them played more than 16 minutes per game. They are all, for all intents and purposes, bottom-six forwards.

Your third and fourth lines have value. A lot of it. The NHL today is about being able to balance four lines that can score, contribute, and impact the game in all situations. As a group, they are important. They are not, however, players that tend to get significant long-term contracts from teams, or players that carry a ton of value individually. Their value is in the sum of their parts. Recent Stanley Cup winners in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Chicago have built their bottom lines with some combination of young players on entry-level contracts, or veterans signed to short-term deals. The latter group of players are usually the first ones to be let go when salary cap space gets tight at the top of the roster. The former group usually plays its way into a bigger role with the team.

Out of that group of 154 forwards mentioned above, only 10 of them are currently signed for at least the next three seasons.

That list, in order of how long their current contracts run: Antoine Roussel, Leo Komarov, Cal Clutterbuck, Jay Beagle, Ross Johnston, Ryan Callahan, Casey Cizikas, Marcus Foligno, Zack Smith, Carter Rowney, Brandon Dubinsky.

Four of those players (Komarov, Clutterbuck, Cizikas, Johnston) are under contract with the New York Islanders.

Two other players on that list (Roussel and Beagle) were signed this offseason by the Vancouver Canucks. Harsh as it may sound, if you are building your team in the same image as the Jim Benning Canucks … that is probably bad.

There are a handful of players on that list that are at the end of longer term contracts. Martin Hanzal, for example, has two years remaining on a three-year contract that he signed with Dallas. Matt Martin has two years remaining on a four-year contract he signed with Toronto (and as noted above, he, too, now plays for the New York Islanders).

This, again, is only looking at forwards and does not even take into account the five-year contract they gave a defenseman like Scott Mayfield.

And it’s not like this is just one general manager doing all of this.

Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Mayfield were all signed on Garth Snow’s watch.

Komarov, Martin, and Johnston were all signed/acquired this offseason following the hiring of Lou Lamoriello.

This is very obviously an organizational approach.

What makes this potentially damaging to the Islanders is they are not really saving any salary cap space or putting the team in a better situation by doing this. Objectively speaking, players like Cizikas, Clutterbuck, Martin, Komarov, and Johnston are not adding much — if any — offense to this team this year or in the future. Out of that group Komarov is the only player that for his career averages more than 0.30 points per game — he is at 0.37. In a league and era where four lines that can score is a necessity, they have five roster spots and nearly $14 million in salary cap space going to plays that are not providing any meaningful offense (and again, that does not include the salaries going to Ladd, Boychuk, etc.) for this season and beyond.

They could almost certainly get the same level of production — if not more — for less against the salary cap by just rotating in different free agents on short-term deals and entry-level players every season. Even if you generously say that each of those players is *only* overpaid by $500,000 or $1 million per season and on their own they are just little mistakes, but as I pointed out following the addition of Martin those little mistakes add up to a few million dollars when you combine them all together.

When you are a team that just lost your franchise player in free agency, has two of your best remaining players (Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle) up for unrestricted free agency after this season, and will have to sign your new cornerstone player (Mat Barzal) to a new contract in two years when his entry-level deal is finished, that can add up to a big problem.

Related

–John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs
–What’s next for Islanders with Tavares out

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.

Highs and lows for Garth Snow as Islanders GM

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When the New York Islanders promoted backup goalie Garth Snow to the position of GM in July 2006, you could almost hear the cackles from around the NHL.

It’s honestly a shame that Twitter only technically existed back then, sort of like how Snow technically wasn’t fired from the Islanders even though he was “relieved of his duties” as Isles GM on Tuesday. In retrospect, the decision to name Snow as Islanders GM wasn’t quite “laugh out loud” material; instead, his tenure stands as a mixed bag.

If you have to give a sweeping review? Yes, you’d probably deem it not good enough. Simply put, NHL teams need to strike quickly when they essentially hit the lottery, as they did by selecting John Tavares first overall in 2009. And, really, the Islanders failed to take advantage of another gift: Tavares’ second contract, which carried a ludicrously low cap hit of $5.5 million from 2012-13 until this past season.

Let’s take a look back at the mixed bag that was Snow’s 12-year(!) tenure as Islanders GM. Keep in mind this isn’t meant to be totally comprehensive, so feel free to comment on other moves and moments.

Steps in the right direction, just not enough

During Snow’s tenure as GM, the Islanders managed to make the playoffs four times (out of 12 attempts, which doesn’t feel redundant since, you know, lockouts).

In 2015-16, the Islanders’ most recent postseason run, they won their first series since shocking the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins (who were repeat champions). As you might expect, Tavares played a key role in eliminating the Florida Panthers during that competitive 2016 series.

At the time, it seemed like the Islanders were finally, truly ascendant. Instead, their progress stalled, as they failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the final two seasons of Snow’s tenure.

The good and bad news is that, relatively speaking, Snow leaves Lou Lamoriello with a relatively clean slate. Yes, there are some regrettable deals (looking at you, Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck), but Cap Friendly estimates the Isles’ cap spending at $46.74 million.

Of course, the ideal scenario is that John Tavares pushes that up closer to $60M. Either way, Lamoriello can put his mark on this team without spending too much time sending people to “Robidas Island.”

Peaks and valleys

The fascinating thing about Snow’s tenure is that you can look at various significant players and often see the good and the bad.

(Let’s go ahead and skate past most of his earlier moves, merely noting that some give him a pass for the notorious Rick DiPietro contract.)

Take Kyle Okposo, the last first-round pick selected before Snow’s watch.

On one hand, hindsight indicates that the Islanders probably made the right choice in letting him leave via free agency. Unfortunately, they essentially chose Andrew Ladd over Okposo, so it was still a situation they’d seek a mulligan for.

Travis Hamonic is another interesting example. He was a solid steal in the draft (53rd overall in 2008), and Snow waited through some drama to trade him when the time was right for the Islanders, landing some serious draft capital from the Calgary Flames. Hamonic struggled for a Calgary team that missed the playoffs, setting the stage for the Islanders to hold picks 11 and 12 for this upcoming draft.

Then again, even a struggling Hamonic might have helped them stop some of the bleeding on defense …

Trading away high picks

From a drafting perspective, Snow showed some ability to find some gems (Anders Lee, sixth round in 2009) and also was able to fix some mistakes by way of clever trades. OK, to be more specific, he bamboozled Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to help him turn Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome into Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anthony Beauvillier. Considering how the Reinhart/Barzal scenario looks, it truly is remarkable that Chiarelli took Snow’s call regarding Eberle.

(Snow also memorably offered the Columbus Blue Jackets a Mike Ditka sending everything for Ricky Williams-type deal to move up in the 2012 NHL Draft, yet was turned down. Now that was quite the “what if?” scenario.)

Granted, things didn’t always work out when Snow was guilty of a misstep.

Michael Dal Colle, the fifth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, has only played four games with the Islanders to this date. Masochists could scroll down that draft to see the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers (ninth), Dylan Larkin (15th), and David Pastrnak (25th) selected after him.

Now, sure, just about every NHL GM curses a bad-in-retrospect selection, but some of Snow’s biggest swing-and-misses do sting.

That’s especially true with the high draft pick trade that didn’t work out. While Cal Clutterbuck clutters the Islanders’ cap with a shaky contract, Nino Niederreiter is a key forward for the Minnesota Wild. Niederreiter only played 64 games for the Islanders before being shipped off in that one-sided trade.

That big summer and the breakthrough that never happened

While it didn’t produce the breakthrough many hoped for, October 4, 2014 remains Snow’s biggest and maybe best day as Islanders GM.

During that memorable afternoon, Snow landed Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leddy deal still looks pretty spiffy today, but either way, it was a prime example of an up-and-coming team leveraging contenders’ cap conundrums to get better. The Islanders simply didn’t improve enough.

One might attribute that inability to go from good to great (and eventually the malaise to slip from good to mediocre?) on Snow’s coaching choices. Snow stuck with Jack Capuano for quite some time, and the decision to promote Doug Weight ended up being a failure.

For all we know, a more experienced or innovative coach might have been able to optimize a group that, while imperfect, certainly boasted some talent. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins under Mike Sullivan vs. a similar Penguins team held back by Mike Johnston’s ill-fitting system if you want an example of what a difference that can make.

Snow frequently showed patience, something that paid off for similarly long-tenured Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Sometimes, too much of a good thing like patience can really be a detriment in sports. It’s fair to wonder if that was the case with Garth Snow.

***

You could kill hours pouring over the highs and lows of Snow’s days. Really, it’s a testament to how tough it can be to run an NHL team, especially one trying to shake a bad reputation like the Islanders fought.

Snow worked past the days of trading for a player’s negotiating rights, only to realize they wouldn’t sign with his team. He recognized under-the-radar talent on the waiver wire and boasted draft-day hits amid the misses.

Still, he was unable to get over the hump for a variety of reasons, including (wait for it) goaltending.

Of all the things that went wrong for the former NHL backup, that might be the factor that stings the most.

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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.

The Buzzer: Isles end eight-game losing skid; Bruins win streak stops at six

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Players of the Night: 

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Toews assisted on all three of Chicago’s goals. Two of his helpers were came on the power play and of the primary variety. Captain serious has picked up nine points in his last six contests.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: He scored the game-winning goal Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Bruins. He also assisted teammate Brent Seabrook‘s late tally. The 29-year-old has 25 goals and 66 points in 70 games this season. The ‘Hawks put an end to Boston’s six-game winning streak.

Johnny Boychuk, New York Islanders: The Isles blue liner finished Sunday’s game against the Flames with a great stat line. He had one goal, two assists and a plus-5 rating in 21:05 of ice time. They also managed to put an end to their eight-game losing streak.

Christopher Gibson, New York Islanders: Another day, another 50-shot performance against the Islanders. Gibson turned aside 50 of the 52 shots the Flames sent his way.

Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes: It wasn’t exactly must-see TV, but the Coyotes netminder managed to stop all 26 shots he faced in a win over the Canucks. This was his first shutout as a member of the ‘Yotes.

Highlights of the Night:

Alexander Radulov doing Alexander Radulov things:

Patrick Kane scored the go-ahead goal late:

Another mention for young Gibson:

Factoids of the Night: 

Another goal and an assist for Evgeni Malkin on Sunday. He’s rolling:

Christopher Gibson saw a lot of rubber tonight:

Patrick Kane is moving on up:

The Pens are rolling:

Scores: 

Blackhawks 3, Bruins 1

Islanders 5, Flames 2

Penguins 3, Stars 1

Coyotes 1, Canucks 0

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marc Savard and the art of taping your hockey stick

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“Take care of your sticks and they’ll take care of you.”

That’s the advice that Marc Savard stresses to viewers in his YouTube videos where he recreates how various NHL players tape their hockey sticks.

The long-time NHLer, who announced his retirement in January, is obsessed with the finer details of a tape job and was known to retape the sticks of teammates if he was displeased with how they prepared it for games.

This leap into the world of YouTube was inspired by Savard’s Jan. 23 appearance on the “31 Thoughts” podcast with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman. Savard told the story about how he would retape the sticks of former teammate Jason York. A few days later, he sent out a Tweet to his 57,000-plus followers asking if his they would want to watch a video of how he prepares his sticks.

There was plenty of interest, and “Taping Twigs with Savvy” was born.

“It’s amazing. We had no idea how this would ever go,” Savard told Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday. “Me and my wife just went upstairs in our game room one night and shot a video and 40,000 viewers later we decided to do another one. Now people are writing in what they want to see.

“It’s just kind of taken off. We’re having a lot of fun with it. We’re going to keep doing it until it runs out of steam, but right now there’s plenty more tape jobs to do so we’re looking forward to it.”

As of Friday, Savard has over 4,500 subscribers to his channel and has made eight videos featuring the tape jobs of current players like Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak and William Nylander, and ex-NHLers like Mario Lemieux and his former New York Rangers teammate Wayne Gretzky. The sticks used are from his personal collection, which were acquired during his career or through connections he still has in the hockey world. The McDavid, for example, he received from Milan Lucic and there’s an incoming John Tavares stick, thanks to Johnny Boychuk.

The increase in popularity has also earned Savard a sponsor in Howie’s Tape, who hopped onboard with the latest installment.

***

The videos are simple. Savard takes the viewer through every roll of the tape job, from the knob to the shaft to the blade, and explains in detail the how and why of it all. The obsession dates back to his youth street hockey days when he would play goal. It wasn’t odd to find him in the basement painting his pads to get the right look. He’d focus on every aspect of his equipment, and eventually that attention shifted to his sticks, which continued as his hockey career took him to the NHL.

(He’s so passionate about it that he used to tape the sticks of every kid on his son’s hockey team.)

Savard has two simple rules for a great tape job:

• Keep the tape nice and tight — a phrase you’ll hear him say often — as you go around the stick. Make sure there are no crevices or wrinkles.

• When you find yourself with excess tape around the toe, trim it neatly with sharp scissors. That can make or break a tape job, he stresses.

Some of the tape jobs Savard saw up close and in person, like the Gretzky or Phil Kessel. Others are based off what he sees from watching a game on television. He picks up the finer details and is then able to recreate it as close as possible on the sticks in his collection. “I’m not always bang on but I’m definitely always very close if you ask players,” he says.

It’s not just fans who are watching. Players check out Savard’s videos as well, according to some notes he’s received since his first video hit Jan. 29. The entire process is also a family affair. His wife films each episode while his son runs the YouTube channel.

***

So whose hockey stick tape job does Savard admire these days? For one, he’s a fan of Artemi Panarin’s look, which he featured in episode two. The Panarin, which is black tape along the blade and white tape on the toe, he also uses in men’s league. Then there’s Jamie Benn, whose tape job Savard likes because it’s simple, right on the middle of the blade, and Kessel’s for his candy cane look.

Which ones drive him crazy? For one, David Pastrnak’s — just look at it:

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Then there’s McDavid. “His tape job is not that bad it’s just that he continues to do the same tape job throughout the whole game, which is amazing to me how he doesn’t in-between periods to retape it because it starts peeling up at the bottom. I don’t know how he uses it, but he does it.”

***

When Savard announced his retirement in January, he also announced his desire to get into coaching, with junior hockey being his preferred starting point. There weren’t many gigs available in the middle of the season, so in the meantime he’s entered the world of broadcasting having appeared on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet, Fan590 radio and he has a weekly spot on SirusXM’s The Power Play every Wednesday.

“I’m kind of going in the broadcast direction right now in hoping that something jumps up for me in the coaching area,” he said.

For now, Savard will continue answering requests and tape sticks in the fashion of current and former NHL stars. Maybe down the line he’ll get into other hockey gear-related topics, but he’s happy to share this passion with others and educate players and fans on the dos and don’ts of a fine tape job.

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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.

NHL All-Star Media Day notebook: Karlsson, Tavares on futures; Klingberg’s Karlsson connection

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TAMPA — After dropping one of the season’s most memorable quotes in November, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is now trying to worry about the present day not jump ahead to the summer of 2019 when he could be an unrestricted free agent.

His quote of “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” raised many eyebrows around and the league and had various fanbases creating hypothetical trade scenarios should the Senators decide they can’t afford to keep him.

During NHL All-Star Media Day on Saturday, the Senators captain said he’ll wait until this coming summer before beginning to think about his future.

“Whenever I have to make a decision on what I need to do with my future and when we have to make those discussions, we will,” Karlsson said. “As of right now, it’s not something that I’m focusing on or worrying about. I’m just worrying about trying to get us out of the slump were in and trying to find a solution to the problems we do have.

“Whenever the summer comes around, I think the discussions are going to heat up a little bit more, and that’s when I’ll probably sit back and reflect on the things I want in my career. I’m sure Ottawa’s going to give me their perspective of things as well, and then were going to move on from there.”

Tavares talks future

In other superstar contract news, John Tavares reiterated his stance that he would like to stay with the New York Islanders. The 27-year-old forward is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and clarity around the team’s future with a new arena project by Belmont Park had many believing that an extension was imminent. That hasn’t been the case just yet.

“I’ve always stated that I’ve really enjoyed being there,” Tavares said. “I haven’t thought about anything but mostly focusing on this season and taking my time and being patient. When the time is right, I’ll make my decision. Anything that we’ve talked about I prefer to keep it internally between me and the organization. Talks are always open and they’ve been great so far. I’m not going to get into specific details.

“The way I look at is anything that affects my daily life, whether it’s at the rink or not at the rink, will go into my decision. Obviously you want to play for a team that’s doing everything it can to win, and the Islanders are certainly doing that. You can see a lot of the potential and the young talent we have, as well as guys who’ve been there for a while, like Josh [Bailey], Anders [Lee], Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the veteran guys we have. We’ve got a solid foundation there.”

Bloomberg reported on Friday that Tavares and his Islanders teammates may be returning to their old home for 12 games next season at Nassau Coliseum as the Belmont Park project is built with an eye to open in time for the the 2020-21 or 2021-22 NHL season.

Why Mike Smith landed in Calgary

The Calgary Flames wanted to go in a different direction after a year with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson didn’t work out. At the same time, Mike Smith was looking for a chance to move away from Arizona after six seasons and have a chance to win.

So just before NHL teams had to submit their expansion draft protected lists, the Coyotes sent Smith to the Flames for a package that included defensive prospect Brandon Hickey.

After spending time in Dallas and Tampa splitting goaltending duties or acting as backup, Smith became a full-fledged No. 1 with the Coyotes. His very first year was a successful one as he helped the team to the Western Conference Final. But after that it was downhill and the team failed to reach the postseason as issues around the club continued. He was ready to move on.

“Great people that I played with and teammates and training staff and all that. My three were born there so,” Smith said. “My time in Arizona was great for my career, but I think I was at the point, too, where I was really wanting a chance to be on a good team, a team that’s up and coming but has the core group to win now, and I think that was an important decision. Having Calgary on my list, there was a good chance that I’d end up there and it’s been a good transition so far.”

It wasn’t a tough decision for Smith to decide to waive his no-trade clause. The options were limited but the Flames are further along than the Coyotes and it was a situation he wanted to be a part of.

“There’s only so many spots for a goalie, right? So you can narrow that down pretty well on who needs goalies, who has one,” he said. “It makes your list pretty self-explanatory to say the least. There wasn’t too much thought process that went into it. I knew the teams that kind of were in need of a goalie and Calgary was one of them. Obviously, I’m thrilled to be a Flame.”

John Klingberg’s Karlsson connection

Coming up through the Frolunda system in Gothenburg, Sweden, Klingberg was able to watch a lot of a very young Erik Karlsson. The Senators captain was playing junior hockey a few years ahead of the Dallas Stars defenseman. Karlsson was a must-watch player and someone Klingberg looked up as a fellow blue liner.

“That was great for me because at that time I just switched to D and he was that offensive player in juniors that everyone wanted to be like,” Klingberg said. “I had the privilege to see him play a lot of junior hockey in Frolunda where I grew up. That was great for me.”

Get the goalies involved

The Skills Competition showcases the top talents of the league’s best players, but for goalies, their job is basically to be a prop and stop shots. Yeah, there’s been those few times — goalie race, Four Line Challenge — where they’ve actually been the focus of a specific event. But they’re just as eager to get involved.

“I wouldn’t mind shooting at the targets, seeing how my hands are,” said Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck. “It would be fun to be a little more involved, but we’re goalies. Our skills get in the way of things.”

Mike Smith, who provided one of the highlights from last year’s Skills Competition for sinking a full-length shot through a small hole during the Four Line Challenge, is keen on the idea, but a little hesitant.

“I wouldn’t want to skate,” he said. “I would want to stand still. I think Accuracy would be the one.”

When I asked him if he’d want something like the Four Line Challenge brought back, he simply said, “I couldn’t do that again.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are celebrating their 25th season, and the city of Tampa will host the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. The League’s midseason showcase will take place at AMALIE Arena and will include the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) and 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

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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.