Mitch Marner

PHT Morning Skate: Lundqvist’s routine; No time for Bruins to panic

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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.

Henrik Lundqvist‘s game day routine keeps him in top shape. (Men’s Health)

• Even though they’ve lost three games in a row, there’s no need for the Bruins to panic. (WEEI)

• Here are six players the Habs could trade for to help out their defense. (Sportsnet)

• The Flyers’ power play was a strength that has now become a weakness. (Broad Street Hockey)

• How serious are the Leafs about reducing Freddie Anderson’s work load? (Toronto Star)

• Penguins defender John Marino is incredibly underrated. (ESPN)

• The way the Stars handled the Jim Montgomery situation will have a greater effect than the NHL’s code of conduct. (The Hockey News)

• Brendan Shanahan openly discussed the Mike Babcock, Johan Franzen and Mitch Marner situations. (TSN)

• Should the Rangers be sellers at the trade deadline? (Blue Seat Blogs)

David Perron has been a vital part of the Blues’ success this season. (St. Louis Game-Time)

• The Preds are officially in survival mode right now. (Predlines)

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.

Bargain star MacKinnon says he’d take less money again to help Avalanche win

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If you could choose one active NHL player to build a team around, who would it be?

In a vacuum, the answer should be obvious: Connor McDavid. Yet, when you consider salary cap realities, the choice gets fuzzier thanks to the absolutely ludicrous bargain the Colorado Avalanche are enjoying with Nathan MacKinnon.

With all due respect to the steals teams like the Bruins enjoy with David Pastrnak, you can’t really beat the bang for the buck the Avalanche get for MacKinnon (unless you try to cheat with rookie contracts, which: tsk, tsk).

MacKinnon, 24, is currently in the fourth season of a contract that carries an outrageously team-friendly AAV of just $6.3M, and delightfully for Colorado, that deal won’t expire until after the 2022-23 season. That cap hit is barely more than half of the $12.5M AAV McDavid carries, and frankly, McDavid is worth every penny of the league maximum. (And MacKinnon likely deserves something in that range, too.)

You have to wonder if MacKinnon must want to fire his agent after seeing players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner cashing in on their second deals, but the speedy Avalanche center mostly shrugged it off — though with some humor — telling Forbes’ Jordan Horrobin that, in the grand scheme of things, MacKinnon has “no regrets” about signing his contract.

After all, MacKinnon is doing just fine, with Cap Friendly estimating his career earnings at $27.025M so far. Yes, MacKinnon deserves more, but unless Elon Musk or Bill Gates is reading this post, you’d agree that it’s a good problem to have.

Even so, fans of teams with stars on less team-friendly contracts likely feel jealous when they see MacKinnon ripping through defenses at a cut rate. Those fans may grit their teeth, then, while Avs fans may want to throw up confetti when they realize that MacKinnon indicated to Horrobin that he’d sacrifice some dollars on his next contract if it helped the Avalanche win big.

“We have guys that we wouldn’t (otherwise) be able to bring in,” MacKinnon said. “On my next deal, I’ll take less again. Because I want to win with this group.”

Now, sure, “less” is likely to be a relative term. Maybe it would mean that MacKinnon would “settle” for a bit less than whatever the maximum salary would be. The league’s salary structure and revenues could really blossom by 2022 (the first summer where MacKinnon could sign an extension) or after 2022-23, when his deal expires. Or maybe MacKinnon would follow his buddy Sidney Crosby and give the Avalanche another extreme sweetheart deal.

And, obviously, things can change fast. The Avalanche could fall off the rails compared to their current seemingly skyrocketing upward trajectory, or MacKinnon could clash with management, making the prospect of leaving even more money on the table far less palatable down the line.

But the concept of getting another value contract with MacKinnon is ultimately extremely promising for the Avs.

After all, this bursting group of young talent figures to become pretty costly down the line. Cale Makar is already flirting with superstar status, and he’ll need a second contract after 2020-21. Philipp Grubauer only has two more years on his active contract, too, and could prove he’s worth far more than his current $3.33M AAV. Gabriel Landeskog‘s contract expires during that same offseason.

You can see how the belt could really tighten for the Avalanche down the line, and while MacKinnon should command a huge raise whenever he inks his next contract, it sounds like he might be willing to compromise to try to win a Stanley Cup (or, perhaps if he parallels Crosby in more than just taking less money for the team, winning multiple Stanley Cups).

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.

Marner to play first Leafs game since Babcock drama (and Tuesday’s mini-meltdown)

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When it comes to a team’s 30th game of an 82-game regular season, you couldn’t ask for much more sizzle than what the Toronto Maple Leafs could provide against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

The Maple Leafs activated winger Mitch Marner, setting the stage for the crafty winger to play since Nov. 9, when Marner suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Philadelphia Flyers.

An eventful month

To put things mildly, a lot happened since Marner’s unpleasant-looking injury:

That 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers began what would be a six-game losing streak for the Maple Leafs, and represented the end of the Mike Babcock era in Toronto. It wasn’t, of course, the end of Babcock-related drama, however, as reports surfaced about Babcock playing mind games with Marner during his rookie season, and all that “hardest working players list” entailed.

Since then, there have been a wave of stories about coaches exhibiting abusive behavior (either physically, verbally, or sometimes a mix of the two), with the Calgary Flames parting ways with Bill Peters, Marc Crawford placed on leave from the Blackhawks, and plenty of other reverberations.

Akim Aliu stated that he expects “big changes” around hockey (and the NHL in particular) following a meeting with the league, but time will ultimately tell.

Either way, Babcock’s firing and that rookie-year story should fix even more eyes on Marner than usual, which is saying something considering all of the attention his offseason contract negotiations received.

A fuller view of the new-look Maple Leafs

Sheldon Keefe won his first three games as coach of the Maple Leafs, but the Buds have since stumbled in their last three games, going 1-2-0. Things ended on an extremely sour note on Tuesday, as the Maple Leafs experienced a bit of meltdown late in a 6-1 loss against the Flyers.

Auston Matthews said “we can’t fold like that,” while Keefe agreed that the Maple Leafs let Frederik Andersen out to dry, stating that “hopefully it is the shakeup that we would need.”

It doesn’t figure to be easy. The Avalanche are on a three-game winning streak, boast players like Nazem Kadri who will be pumped to play against his former team in Toronto, and are rested (their last game was on Saturday) while Toronto is closing out a back-to-back. The Maple Leafs have struggled lately in such back-to-back sets, at least stemming from Babcock’s days.

Watching Marner himself

Pension Plan Puppets points out that Marner is coming back basically as early as possible (assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks before Wednesday’s game).

Getting Marner back should be a thrill, and again, a nice opportunity to get a better picture of what GM Kyle Dubas truly envisions as his team now that he doesn’t have to clash with Babcock’s competing style.

But how close to 100 percent will Marner be? While his most treasured ability is his world-class playmaking, Marner is also known for outstanding edgework and agility, using his elusiveness to thrive as a smaller player (rather than Nathan MacKinnon-class speed). You have to wonder if recovering from a high-ankle sprain might at least hinder some of his skating strength.

That said, Marner will still have the vision and anticipation that makes him such a great passer. Jake Muzzin pointed out the way Marner processes the game, and while there could be a bit of rust there, chances are he’ll give Toronto another gear.

“His reads without the puck,” Muzzin said when asked where Marner’s hockey IQ really shines. “I feel like he’s one step ahead of the puck out there when he’s on. He’s got great vision with the puck, but picking guys and reading passes before they happen, he’s right up there with the best.”

Maybe the Maple Leafs will be a little tired on Tuesday, and maybe Marner won’t be quite there physically, but it still feels like we’ll get a better idea of what this team (and player) is capable of now that Babcock is no longer in the picture.

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.

Marc Crawford on leave from Blackhawks following Sean Avery’s allegations

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The Chicago Blackhawks announced that assistant coach Marc Crawford “will be away from the team” while they investigate “recent allegations that have been made regarding his conduct with another organization.”

To cut through the legalese that’s becoming common as stories of abuse have surfaced (or resurfaced) over the past few weeks, the Blackhawks are referring to Sean Avery’s claims that Crawford kicked him during a Dec. 23, 2006 game stemming from their time with the Los Angeles Kings.

Avery’s details were pretty vivid to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

Avery explained that he messed up a drill during a practice, and his errant puck caught Crawford on the head, forcing Crawford to get stitches. Brooks asked Avery if Crawford then kicked Avery because of the mistake during the drill, but Avery said that it was because of a penalty:

“No, he kicked me after a too-many-men-on-the-ice call I took,” Avery said. “He didn’t have me serve it, we got scored on, and he let me have it.”

“You know how I stand at the end of the bench? He came down and gave me an ass kick that left a mark.”

If you’re familiar with Avery’s career as a profound pest, you’d probably not be too surprised that he believes that the rump-kicking wasn’t what got Avery traded out of town. Instead, Avery stated that he nearly got in a scuffle with an assistant named Mark Hardy.

(The candidness is really worth a read.)

Anyway, Avery’s claims surfaced from Brooks on Nov. 30, and the Blackhawks made this move on Monday (Dec. 2).

Here are the two tweets, again heavy on careful wording:

Allegations surfacing from around the NHL, and hockey world in general

To recap, reports of Mike Babcock asking Mitch Marner to put together a list of the Maple Leafs’ most and least hard-working young players inspired others to share their own experiences.

Akim Aliu spoke up about racist remarks made by Bill Peters about a decade ago, when the two were part of a Blackhawks affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs. Following Aliu’s tweets, Michal Jordan also accused Peters of being physically abusive during their time with the Carolina Hurricanes (claims that were backed up by others, including Rod Brind’Amour). The Flames eventually parted ways with Peters after he offered a carefully worded statement, a statement that was criticized by many, Aliu included.

There’s been a back-and-forth between former Hurricanes owner Peter Karamanos and former Hurricanes GM Ron Francis stemming from how allegations of Peters’ abuse was handled.

Additional details regarding Babcock’s treatment of players have also come about, including troubling details about how Babcock allegedly treated Johan Franzen, both from Franzen and from Chris Chelios.

Former NHL player Daniel Carcillo has also gone into (sometimes graphic) detail about allegations of abuse in the hockey world.

Crawford, then, is another person in a position of power who is being accused of abusive behavior.

***

Will this series of accusations (which isn’t comprehensive, and may just be the beginning) result in big changes for the culture around the sport, overall?

Some, such as The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek, believe that this is the start of a “reckoning.” Others, including Jashvina Shah for The Globe & Mail, believe that hockey culture will never change.

Whatever the larger impact might or might not be, we know that Peters is out as Flames head coach, and Crawford is at least on temporary leave from the Blackhawks.

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.

NHL investigates allegations Flames coach used racial slurs

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL said Tuesday it is investigating allegations Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters directed racial slurs toward Akim Aliu when he and the Nigerian-born player were in the minors a decade ago.

The NHL called the alleged behavior ”repugnant and unacceptable.” The league added it will have no further comment until it looks into what happened more thoroughly.

Aliu tweeted Monday that Peters ”dropped the N bomb several times towards me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.” Aliu said he ”rebelled against him,” and Peters responded by asking Chicago Blackhawks executives John McDonough and Stan Bowman to send Aliu to a lower minor league level.

The tweet did not name Peters specifically, but referred to a ”protege” of fired Toronto coach Mike Babcock’s who is now in Calgary. Babcock has been a mentor to Peters since Babcock coached him in college.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving said the team is investigating the allegations Aliu raised during Calgary’s overtime loss at Pittsburgh. Peters was not made available following Monday night’s game.

”I haven’t had the chance to sit down with Bill or our people internally to talk about this and get to the bottom of it,” Treliving said. ”We take these matters very, very seriously.”

The Blackhawks issued a statement saying nothing had previously been brought to their attention regarding Peters and Aliu before Monday. The team added it had no affect on any player personnel decisions involving Aliu.

Email and voice messages left with Aliu have not been returned to The Associated Press. The Flames were scheduled to practice Tuesday in Buffalo, where they close a four-game road trip Wednesday night.

The timing of the allegations come with the Flames slumping. They’re 1-5-2 in their past eight a year after Calgary won a franchise-record 50 games in Peters’ first season as coach.

Peters was hired by Calgary after spending four seasons coaching the Carolina Hurricanes. The 54-year-old made the jump to Rockford after leading the Western Hockey League Spokane Chiefs to a Memorial Cup championship in 2008.

Aliu played under Peters during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. He was demoted to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL during the 2009-10 season. Aliu, who was born in Africa but raised in Ukraine and Canada, later played seven NHL games over two seasons with Calgary. The 30-year-old Aliu has had a transient career since being selected by Chicago in the second round of the 2007 draft.

He’s not playing this season after appearing in 14 games with Orlando of the East Coast Hockey League last year. The Solar Bears were Aliu’s 11th team over a six-year span, which included stops in Russia, Sweden and Slovakia.

Aliu’s tweet were prompted after reports surfaced of how poorly Babcock dealt with his players in Toronto. Forward Mitch Marner confirmed that during his rookie season Babcock asked him to rank Maple Leafs players in order of hardest to least-hardest working. Babcock then shared Marner’s list with numerous players.

UPDATE:

1:15 p.m.

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving says coach Bill Peters remains on the staff but wasn’t certain whether he’d be behind the bench for the next game.

The team and the NHL are both investigating an allegation the Peters directed racial slurs at a player 10 years ago when the two were in the minors. Akim Aliu, a Nigerian-born player, says Peters ”dropped the N bomb several times” in a dressing room during his rookie year.

Peters has not commented on the allegation. Treliving apologized for not having many definitive answers at practice in Buffalo on Tuesday, a day before the Flames play the Sabres.

Peters was not at the arena while his players were on the ice. The GM says he had stayed at the team’s hotel. Flames associate coach Geoff Ward oversaw practice, which included a brief huddle with the players at center ice.

Treliving understands the seriousness of the allegations and called them ”repugnant” if true, while adding it’s his responsibility to find out exactly what happened.