Free vodka for life billboard gets Panarin’s attention

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Time will tell if the Columbus Blue Jackets will be able to convince pending free agent Artemi Panarin to stick with the team, but if nothing else, locals are getting creative to entice him.

High Bank Distillery caused a stir with a billboard offering free vodka for life if Panarin re-signed with the Blue Jackets, even getting agent Dan Millstein to offer a winking response on Tuesday.

The viral marketing campaign made such an impression that Panarin acknowledged it himself on Wednesday, including taking a photo with the billboard, which the Blue Jackets tweeted out:

Wonderful.

Panarin expressed his gratitude for the sentiments on his Instagram page with this message:

Columbus, you keep amazing me. Thank you for your brilliance. Now I have a new spot to dine at. @highbankdistillery 💪💪💪💪💪

Amusingly, High Bank Distillery is a partner with the Blue Jackets, so they’d really be backing things up if they claim to be the team’s official vodka. You have to wonder if the hashtag #StayThirstyPanarin might draw a grumble from Dos Equis and The Most Interesting Man in the World, though.

This isn’t the first time that a) Columbus sports fans did something creative to try to avoid a devastating exit or b) a local company used a free agent situation for some brilliant, mostly-free publicity.

As this SBNation deep dive recounts, a #SavetheCrew campaign helped keep MLS team the Columbus Crew from relocating.

A starchier, more hockey-related connection happened when “The Bagel Boss” offered John Tavares bagels for life (every morning, apparently) to stick with the New York Islanders, then brilliantly offered bagels for Tavares jerseys once he passed. There were even T-shirts.

To Columbus’ credit, the campaign to keep Panarin around hasn’t been bread-related, nor has Panera Bread been involved. Although there’s time.

This could end up merely being a cute memory before Panarin leaves, yet either way, it’s a boon for High Bank, and they’re reveling in the attention.

That got us to thinking, actually: what are some other silly genius marketing strategies for some of the biggest could-be unrestricted free agents? Let’s dish out some free advice, then. Absolutely share your ideas in the comments, too.

(No RFAs, which is why you won’t see #MargarineforMarner.)

Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators: Let’s begin with a bummer. Marble Slab seems to dominate the elaborate ice cream preparation genre in Ottawa, so we can’t go with “Cold Stone for Mark Stone.” This brings me great sadness.

Maybe macarons for Stone? That will have to do, because I’m still sad about the Cold Stone thing.

Matt Duchene, also Ottawa Senators: With that loss accounted for, how about free Beavertails, the increasingly popular pastry? You could probably incorporate “Don’t leave” plus “Beave(r),” but be careful with that.

Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks: Back in 2015, Puck Daddy (including PHT’s own Sean Leahy!) covered favorite junk foods, with Karlsson mentioning pizza as a favorite in a nondescript way.

A different Shark’s name works better for that foodstuff, however, so why not celebrate Karlsson’s incredible 14-game assist/point streak by going with free apple fritters or apple pie for life? Maybe anything apple-related on a business’s menu, including hard cider?

Joe Pavelski, also San Jose Sharks: Going to venture a guess that Sharks fans no longer call the American forward “Joe Pa,” for obvious, uncomfortable reasons. But what about “Unlimited Za for Pa?”

Honestly, considering how long he’s been in San Jose, Pavelski likely has better ideas than we do.

Sergei Bobrovsky, also Columbus Blue Jackets: Things could really start to get out of control here, gang, as shishkabob is just sitting there on a plank, waiting for us to snare that low-hanging fruit.

Apparently Dublin, Ohio is only about 30 minutes from Columbus, and that’s where Wendy’s was founded. Perhaps the Blue Jackets should find out if Bob really loves their iconic spicy chicken sandwich?

Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres: Now here is where the cheese flies wonderfully.

Dinner for Skinner? Wings for a winger? Some take on “winner, chicken dinner?” OK, some of these ideas are so bad that they might actually scare Jeff Skinner off, but Buffalo really has little choice but to play into its history of chicken wing innovation.

Granted, there are other options. Via Paste, non-wing-options include sponge candy and maybe even Cheerios?

Nah, let’s go with wings.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: Apologies for leaning on rhyming, but “Let Jake Eat Cake” is as irresistible as, well, cake. Bobbette & Belle seems too fancy for a hockey player, but the name is pretty amusing, so let’s get them on the case.

The Maple Leafs face a tight squeeze in trying to fit their bounty of young talent under the salary cap in 2019-20 and beyond, so free cake for Jake might be their greatest hope.

It’s unclear if any of these ideas beat free booze, but admit it: you want some wings and/or pizza now, don’t you?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Backstrom, Kopitar, Laine, Skinner highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote

The players representing the four divisions in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game been announced, but the full rosters are still to be determined.

New this year is the “Last Men In” vote where fans will be able to select another forward or defenseman for each division. There are plenty of worthy names who did not make the initial list, so here is another shot for the likes of Brayden Point, Jeff Skinner, Nicklas Backstrom, Patrik Laine, and Anze Kopitar to find their way to San Jose.

Voting opens Thursday at 12 p.m. ET and closes Jan. 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Fans able to choose as few as one player and a maximum of four players per ballot. Maximum number of ballots casts in a day for each fan is 10. (Fans can vote at NHL.com or on a mobile interactive ballot on the NHL App.)

[NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters]

Atlantic Division
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron
Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov
Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber
Ottawa Senators: Mark Stone
Tampa Bay Lightning: Brayden Point
Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno
New Jersey Devils: Kyle Palmieri
New York Islanders: Anders Lee
New York Rangers: Mats Zuccarello
Philadelphia Flyers: Jakub Voracek
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang
Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom

Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog
Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise
Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg
St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko
Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine

Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf
Arizona Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano
Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl
Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture
Vancouver Canucks: Brock Boeser
Vegas Golden Knights: Jonathan Marchessault

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE: Ovechkin chooses rest over 2019 All-Star Game

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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 reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters

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The NHL has revealed the rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game, which will take place at SAP Center in San Jose on Jan. 25-26.

Last week it was announced that Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan), Auston Matthews (Atlantic), Nathan MacKinnon (Central), and Connor McDavid (Pacific) were voted in as division captains. Ovechkin has since pulled out of the event, so the Metropolitan Division will need a new captain.

Given the format of the event where every team is represented and only 11 players per division get to go, it’s tough to use the “snub” word when talking about someone who’s having an All-Star worthy season but isn’t listed below. But there will likely be a few swaps over the next three weeks as injuries pop up.

[Backstrom, Kopitar, Laine, Skinner highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote]

On to the rosters!

Atlantic Division
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Captain)
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
D Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
G Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
G Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Potential injury replacements: Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jaroslav Halak

Metropolitan Division
F Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
F Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Potential injury replacements: Phil Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom, Artemi Panarin, Evgeni Malkin, Kyle Palmieri, Chris Kreider, Kris Letang, Zach Werenski, Robin Lehner

Central Division
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Captain)
F Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
F Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
D Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
G Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Potential injury replacements: Gabriel Landeskog, Alex DeBrincat, Patrik Laine, Ryan Suter, Ben Bishop

Pacific Division
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Captain)
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Potential injury replacements: Leon Draisaitl, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Timo Meier, Mark Giordano, Jacob Markstrom, David Rittich

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Matthews’ lethal shot; Will Seattle excel in first year?

Premier League
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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 Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, Alan Shearer, attended New York Rangers practice. He’s in New York because of the NBCSN Premier League festival that’s going on on Saturday. (Top)

• With the salary cap potentially rising next season, Leafs center Auston Matthews could become the highest paid player in the NHL. (National Post)

• Speaking of Matthews, the release on his shot is absolutely incredible. “It’s obviously extremely hard to defend. You envy it a little bit, in a way. People basically (put him) in a telephone booth, and the way he’s able to release it and be as accurate — it’s just on top of the goalie so fast, and he puts it where he wants it, just extremely hard to stop. It’s hard to feel there’s anyone as lethal as him right now.” (Toronto Star)

• Chuck Fletcher has a number of things to tackle now that he’s GM of the Flyers, but the first thing on his list is sorting out the goaltending situation. (Philly.com)

• Even though NHL teams have a better understanding of the expansion process, Seattle could find a way to replicate the success Vegas had in their first year. (The Hockey News)

• On the flip side, NBC Sports Bay Area argues that it’s going to be pretty tough for Seattle to have the same kind of success as the Golden Knights. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• The Seattle group has hired Mari Horita to build a community around the game of hockey in the city. (Sonics Rising)

• The Senators have to find a way to keep pending unrestricted free agent Mark Stone in Ottawa for years to come. (TSN.ca)

• The Long Island Rail Road is looking to help Islanders fans get to the new Belmont site once the arena is completed. (The Sports Daily)

• It’s time for the Boston Bruins to honor some of the legendary goalies that have come through their organization. (Featurd)

• Carter Hart is one of the better goaltending prospects in the NHL, but he’s still not ready to make the leap to the big leagues just yet. (Trentonian)

• Yes, the Sabres have Jack Eichel down the middle, but their overall depth as center is lacking right now. (Die by the Blade)

• Jordan Kyrou got a brief stint with the Blues earlier this season, but he didn’t end up playing. Now that he’s back, the Blues have to find a way to get him in the lineup for every game. (Bleedin Blue)

• Next year’s World Hockey Championship will have a new overtime format. (IIHF.com)

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.

PHT Power Rankings: 10 players helping themselves in contract year

In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we will be taking a look at 10 players in contract years (both potential restricted and unrestricted free agents) that have done the most to help themselves this upcoming summer.

The summer of 2019 is going to be a fascinating one because some of the league’s best young players will be eligible for new contracts, including Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche), Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets). All of them are in the middle of massive seasons that could no doubt make their financial demands increase even more.

They are not the only players helping their own bottom line.

To the rankings!

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche have what might be the NHL’s best line in Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. The latter two are both signed for at least the next three seasons at a combined salary cap hit of less than $12 million, an incredible bargain given what they produce and how important they are to the success of the team.

Rantanen might end up making nearly that much by himself.

Currently playing in the final year of his entry-level contract, he will be an RFA and has set himself up for an absolutely massive payday. How good has he been? As of Monday he is the NHL’s top scorer, and since the start of the 2017-18 season is fifth in the league in total points, trailing only Connor McDavid, MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov and Claude Giroux.

Even if Rantanen is able to get somewhere in the neighborhood of $8-9 million (or more) out of the Avalanche that will still keep their big trio under $25 million total against the cap, and they should be absolutely ecstatic about that.

[Related: What Will Rantanen’s next contract look like?]

2-3. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. If you thought the William Nylander saga was something, just wait until this summer when the Maple Leafs have to do it again — times two! — with players that are better and more important to the franchise.

When the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares as a UFA last summmer it sent everyone in the NHL into a panic wondering how they’ll keep all of their top young players around his contract. The team’s company line is that they will need some of their core players to take less money in order to stay, and while the Nylander deal has been met with some skepticism (and even criticism) for how much he ended up getting, you could make an argument that he probably did take a little less than he could have. At the very least, if he continues on his current career path it will probably end up being a bargain by the end of it.

Given the years that Marner and Matthews are having, combined with what they have already done in their careers before this season, they are both going to be able to command top dollar on their next contracts.

The Marner hype coming out of Toronto is a runaway freight train at this point, but once you dig below the hyperbole and absurd comparisons he is a really good player and a legitimate top-line playmaker in the NHL. There is no reason he will not be able to get at least the same salary cap hit that Nylander got, if not more.

Matthews, on the other hand, is the big one. He is the franchise player, the one that this entire rebuild has been centered around. He will be — and should be — the most expensive of them all.

You will hear talk of offer sheets (no one in the NHL is bold enough to do that) and you will hear people argue the Maple Leafs will have to trade one of them. But you should ignore all of it, and so should the Maple Leafs. Keep your superstars, even if you can’t get them to “take less for the good of the team” and subtract around the edges. Maybe it costs you a Kasperi Kapanen or a Jake Gardiner or a Connor Brown in the long run, but it is a hell of a lot easier to find players like that than it is to find players like Matthews, Nylander, or Marner. And those are the players you need to win.

4. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. Oh, and then there is this guy, the player that looks to be the heir to Alex Ovechkin‘s goal-scoring throne. Since the start of the 2016-17 season Laine and Ovechkin are tied atop of the NHL with 101 goals entering play on Monday, while Laine has played in nine fewer games. He is leading the league in goals entering play this week and should be able to name his price with the Jets.

5. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. Skinner has a lot going for him right now. Not only has he been a top-tier goal-scorer throughout his entire career, but he is having what might be his best goal-scoring season to date — in a contract year! — and he still does not turn 27 years old until May.

He has been a huge part of Buffalo’s turnaround this season and should be one of the most attractive players on the open market (assuming he gets there) given his production, skill, and age.

[Jeff Skinner has been just what Sabres needed]

He already makes $5.75 million on his current deal and there is no reason he should not be able to top the $8 million figure this summer. Just for comparisons sake, James van Riemsdyk, who is a couple of years older than Skinner and offers similar goal-scoring value, got $7 million this past summer.

6. Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets. In his two seasons with the Blue Jackets Panarin has shown that he can carry a line on his own and that his production in Chicago was not just the result of playing next to Patrick Kane. In 106 games with the Blue Jackets he is better than a point-per-game player, an elite possession driver, and one of the league’s overall best offensive players.

It seems all but certain he will be hitting the market after this season, while a report over the weekend surfaced that his former team — the Blackhawks — will be “all in” in trying to sign him. Given that one of the arguments in defense of trading him in the first place was the concern over what his next contract might look like, management would have to find a way to shed some of those undesirable contracts currently on the books in order to create the appropriate space for him.

7. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. Another restricted free agent, and even though he is not on the same level as Rantanen, Matthews, Marner, or Laine, he is still turning into an excellent player for the Flames. Given his ability to cause havoc on the ice and annoy the crap out of everyone he comes across, while also producing points at a top-line rate, he is basically a younger, western Canada version of Brad Marchand.

[Related: Tkachuk brothers proving they are not just pests]

8. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are going to be in an interesting position this summer as Pavelski, Erik Karlsson and Joe Thornton will all be UFAs, while they also have to deal with the end of Timo Meier‘s entry-level deal. Thornton will probably keep coming back to San Jose as long as the Sharks want him (and as long as he can still play), so he’s probably not even worth discussing. While Karlsson has been better than his box score numbers might indicate, Pavelski is probably the pending free agent on the roster that has done the most to help his bank account this season.

Pavelski was one of the league’s top goal-scorers during the five-year stretch between 2011-12 and 2015-16, but saw his goal totals drop a bit the past two years. Only a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season he is now just five goals behind his total from last season.

9-10. Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators. The Senators have shown some flashes this season of being a better team than anyone expected them to be, but they are still on track to finish near the bottom of the standings this season.

That of course is good news for the Avalanche, owners of the Senators’ first-round draft pick as a result of last year’s Matt Duchene trade.

Speaking of Duchene, he is making the best of a bad situation in Ottawa while having a great individual year just before he hits the open market. And there is absolutely zero reason to believe the Senators are going to re-sign him, given everything owner Eugene Melnyk has said about the short-term and long-term future of the team. He and fellow free agent-to-be Stone are both averaging more than a point-per-game this season and should both be among the most attractive players on the UFA market, right after Skinner and Panarin.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.