Scott Hartnell on transitioning to media, his outdoor game experience, Gritty (PHT Q&A)

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Retirement has been good for Scott Hartnell. The 17-year NHL veteran announced his retirement in October and has been using the time away from the game to spend it with his family. He certainly doesn’t miss the traveling or the grind of an 82-game season, but definitely misses being around his teammates on a daily basis.

“But when you know, you know,” Hartnell told Pro Hockey Talk this week about retiring. “It was time for me to walk away from the game. I’ve just really, really enjoyed my time away.”

Following a few on-air stints in the off-season, Hartnell joined NHL Network this week as a studio analyst and will debut during this weekend’s coverage of the Stadium Series game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins from Lincoln Financial Field.

While still playing, Hartnell said he would run into on-air personalities who told him he would be great on TV. Since then, trying TV out was in the back of his mind and he’s eager for the opportunity.

“Right now, it’s just kind of me getting my feet wet here with NHL Network and looking to do more shows, get more involved and feel more comfortable,” he said.

We spoke with Hartnell this week about the balance of being a former player and using criticism in his new role, his outdoor game experience, Carter Hart, and, of course, his new pal Gritty.

Enjoy.

Q. As you were nearing the end of your playing days, did you start thinking about what you wanted to do post-hockey?

HARTNELL: “Yeah, I remember somebody asked me after my first year ‘What are you after hockey? It’s not going to last forever.’ I was like, oh, I’m going to play until my mid-30s, and chances were that wasn’t going to be the case. Fast forward 17 years and that was the case. Reality is I’ve got a good support system around me, still have talk to my agent, still have some good friends that are still playing and some friends that retired. You just kind of lean on all of those people and your friendships over the years. Obviously things work out and you kind of go in the direction where some things are interesting for you.”

Q. How do you think you’ll be able to balance your relationships in the game and sometimes having to be critical of friends, ex-teammates and teams you played for?

HARTNELL: “I don’t think I want to be one of those guys where you just absolutely bury a guy for not taking a hit to make the play, where if I was a teammate I probably would have said something. I don’t want to be that guy on TV; you kind of ruin some friendships along the way. There’s a fine line where I think you can constructively criticize and to get your point across without hurting anybody’s feelings.”

Q. How did you view the role of the media as a player?

HARTNELL: “I’m not going to lie, some days it’s more annoying than other days. Some days you’ve got to face the music when there’s a bad play or a bad turnover. Some days are fun, like when you’ve got a hat trick or scored a big goal or made a play that made a difference in the game. It all depends day-to-day. When you’re losing hockey games the media sucks. When you’re winning hockey games it’s let them come in early, right? There’s so many different scenarios.

“To be on the other side of a microphone, thinking of questions, asking questions, it’s very different, very uncomfortable right now.”

Q. You were able to play in two outdoor games with the Flyers in your career, one at home, one away. From your experience, would you say that being the home team is a little tougher going into it compared to the road team where it’s like a business trip with fewer distractions of family and people hitting you up for tickets?

HARTNELL: “Yes and no. Obviously you have some friends that are asking for tickets, you don’t want to say no. The one I played on the road [2010 Winter Classic in Boston], I had some family come in for that. It was standard. You want to take care of the tickets a couple days before the game so you’re not thinking of who I have to leave passes for and those kind of things. That was my kind of rule. If you ask the day of the game, I won’t even answer my phone. 

“It’s fun when it’s a big rivalry like with Pittsburgh. Flyers have made a great push, it’s at the Linc. It’s going to be a wonderful atmosphere.”

Q. Having played in Philadelphia, knowing the history of the franchise, are you amazed at how Carter Hart has come in, especially when he was called up, and helped lead a turnaround?

HARTNELL: “It’s exciting. I think fans were getting sick and tired of the losing, the uncompetitive play. One kid and obviously a couple of changes behind the bench and in the front office, it’s totally turned the mentality of the team. Talking to guys, the room is fun to be in now. Those first few games when Hart was in net, you felt like they were playing better defense, they were stepping into shots, they were not trying to get out of the way of a shot. It’s really fun to see that fire back in the dressing room and that correlates to the ice.”

Q. Finally, what was it like to spend a day with Gritty?

HARTNELL: “That guy is my best friend. He’s awesome. He’s quite the personality. I didn’t think it would go over as well. I was thinking, ‘Oh, boy, can’t wait to see this one fail.’ It’s been hilarious. The personality of him is great, how he’s up there skating with kids and running them over. I’m a big fan and enjoy him.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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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.

No big moves needed as Predators primed for another Cup run

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Another summer is here, and the warm months wouldn’t be complete without hearing fresh P.K. Subban trade rumors.

This isn’t exactly all that surprising, of course. The Nashville Predators’ defenseman is one of the league’s premier rearguards and comes with the possibility of quite the haul in return in any deal swung for him. And he just seems to have this knack for working his way into the rumor mill

Case and point: he’s on TSN’s Trade Bait board this year, and he’s inside the Top 10, just for good measure.

But while it might not come as a shock to the hockey world to see Subban’s name being thrown around in the trade winds again, there’s absolutely no reason why the Predators would want to trade one of the league’s top defenseman away from a team that remains so well-positioned in the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL as a whole.

Let’s review: Subban is a great defenseman that’s sound in puck possession, shot suppression and putting up points.

Naturally, Predators general manager David Poile has subsequently shot down the rumors regarding Subban, who has four years remaining on a seven year, $72 million deal with an annual cap hit of $9 million.

“You see tweets from different places, but that’s not happening,” Poile told The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun. “P.K. played terrific this year. He played really well. He’s a really good player. He’s one of the three candidates for the Norris Trophy. I really don’t know where this comes from.”

We’ve seen this song and dance before.

But while Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t ultimately be believed in the end, there’s no reason to think Poile would drop that bomb in his defensive corps, one that is largely staying the same aside from Alexei Emelin becoming a unrestricted free agent.

That vaunted core on the back end — arguably the best in the NHL with Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis (a UFA after next season) — is all under contract

Let’s not forget that the Predators are one year removed from the Stanley Cup Final, and that they lost a tight series to the Winnipeg Jets in second round this season. And most importantly, let’s not lose track of the fact that Nashville is still in prime position to make another run this upcoming season.

Scott Hartnell is gone, but the Predators only have two other players searching for new deals — Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki, both restricted free agents and filler pieces rather than key cogs. Everyone else is under contract and the Predators can look forward to Eeli Tolvanen entering the lineup next season.

Juuse Saros is an RFA in goal (and you’d have to think the Predators will want to square that one away ASAP with 35-year-old Pekka Rinne set to become a UFA next offseason) but their lineup will look quite similar to that of this past season, one which led the Predators to the 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.

The Predators are sitting pretty, too, under the cap, with $7.5 million to give in its current state — a number that is expected to rise with next season’s cap being projected in the $78 million to $82 million range.

If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. And that cliche certainly applies to the Predators this summer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Predators haven’t found answer for Jets’ quick-strike offense

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After reaching the Stanley Cup Final a year ago the Nashville Predators went all in on adding to what was already a top-line championship contender. They signed Nick Bonino and Scott Hartnell in free agency, traded for Kyle Turris early in the year, and then added at the deadline by paying a steep price for Ryan Hartman from the Chicago Blackhawks and bringing Mike Fisher back out of retirement.

All of those additions to a team that already had Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and what is probably the best defense in the NHL made them a team that was not only the NHL’s best during the regular season, but one that was probably the favorite to reach — and potentially win — the Stanley Cup Final.

The latter point could still very well end up happening, but they enter Monday’s Game 6 (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) in Winnipeg facing a must-win situation, needing to win back-to-back games against a Jets team that has given them fits in their second-round series.

The big story for the Predators has been their inability to figure out a solution for the Jets’ offensive attack, having already allowed 22 goals in the first five games of the series. There is always that debate of what wins in the playoffs: Offense or defense, and so far in this series the team with the best offense has the upper hand.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The easy thing to do from a Predators perspective is point the finger sharply in the direction of starting goalie Pekka Rinne given his .898 save percentage for the postseason, a number that drops down to an even worse .886 in this series alone. Simply put, he has not been great.

Rinne was spectacular for the Predators through the first three rounds of their Stanley Cup Final run a season ago before getting lit up at the worst possible time against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He came back this season with a spectacular regular season performance that made him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, but has again run into some issues against a high-scoring team with a dynamic offense that moves the puck well.

The Predators, however, are not pointing the finger at their goalie and ahead of Monday’s Game 6 were putting more of the responsibility on the team in front of him.

“They will get better as soon as we get better in front of him,” said head coach Peter Laviolette on Monday, when asked about Rinne’s numbers this postseason.

“If you can go back to last game and tell me which one you’re really faulting Pekka Rinne on, then I’ll be happy to sit down and watch it with you. You can go through an awful lot of them where the same things happened. When we’re good in front of him, he’s a great goaltender. I feel like the onus is on us as a team to make sure there we’re complete with our game, and again, because of the opponent, it has to be that way.”

One of the problems for the Predators in this series has been an inability to slow the Jets down once their offense gets rolling. One goal has been quickly followed by a second goal and then things completely start to unravel for the Predators.

“It starts as a group,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. “We never ever look at our goaltender. When we’re allowing the goals we’re allowing, it’s as a group, it’s not one specific individual. It’s all of us. And it’s not like it’s happening over a full 60 minutes. It’s a matter of three or four minutes where these things are happening. For us, like I said, the focus has to be on a full 60 minutes. If we do that, we’re going to like the result at the end of the night.

The Predators have had a couple of stretches in this series where they have given up goals in bunches to completely change the direction of a game, and perhaps the series as a whole. In Game 1 they gave up two goals in an eight-minute stretch in the second period that proved to be the difference in a game the Predators absolutely dominated on the shot chart.

In Game 2 they gave up two goals in less than a minute, but were able to come back and win in double overtime.

In Game 3 they allowed what was a three-goal lead to evaporate when they allowed the Jets to score three goals in the first six minutes of the second period on their way to a come-from-behind blowout win.

In Game 5 it was four goals in 10 minutes, including three in a five-minute stretch in the first period.

The thing about all of this is that it is very similar to how the Predators ended up losing the Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins a year ago when they had similar short-term meltdowns in three of their four losses.

Two things can be true here: The Predators can absolutely clean things up in front of their goalie and not play a game that has structural breakdowns that give the Jets opportunities to get their offense rolling. If you have the best defense in the league, you can be better.

Rinne can also be better. Saying that is not the same as putting all of the blame on him, either. It is just a statement of fact. He can be better.

Given the way this matchup has gone — both through the regular season and the playoffs — it seems unlikely at this point that the Predators are going to find a way to completely shut down the Jets offense. They are going to get their chances, they are going to generate shots. This is what they do and what they have done all season against every team.

But it is not like the Predators have not been able to do the same. The shots on goal in the series are virtually identical (the Predators actually have a 188-179 edge), and it’s not like the Predators haven’t had their Grade A chances in what has at times been a back-and-forth, run-and-gun matchup. The biggest difference at the end of the day, though, is that Connor Hellebuyck in the Jets’ crease has been able to put a .925 save percentage on the board.

If the Predators are going to move on they are going to need Rinne to at least come close to matching his counterpart at the other end of the ice. If he doesn’t, they may not have a chance to win. That is not necessarily a slight on him as much as it is a testament to how good the Jets’ offense has been and currently is.

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.

Rinne, Predators rebound to tie series vs. Jets

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Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators needed this one.

Game 4 wasn’t technically a must-win game for the Predators, but few teams are equipped to fight back from a 3-1 series deficit against the imposing Winnipeg Jets. Nashville avoided such a predicament by holding on to tie the series 2-2 instead thanks to a 2-1 win on Thursday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Patrik Laine finally broke a goal-scoring drought to keep Rinne from technically having a perfect night, yet the Vezina finalist was splendid nonetheless. Rinne stopped every shot he faced at even strength (29 out of 29), only allowing that Laine power-play marker with 51 seconds remaining in the third period. Rinne had turned aside some golden opportunities, including moving laterally well enough to stop a high-quality Mark Scheifele opportunity – before Laine made things interesting. Ultimately, Rinne made 32 out of 33 saves.

His most memorable one came when he somehow succeeded in desperately stopping a first-period chance with his stick. That was good enough to earn its own post.

One cannot help but wonder if Laine would have even scored if P.K. Subban was on the ice. Subban took a penalty late in the third to open up the chance for that power-play goal, which must have been agonizing for the elite defenseman.

Subban was splendid for much of the contest beyond that slip-up, putting up nice possession numbers in demanding situations, and scoring what would stand as the game-winning goal with a howitzer on the power play. This extends Subban’s goal streak to three games (and he pitched in an assist during that hot streak).

While it’s always easier on the nerves to cruise to victory, there were a lot of heartening signs for the Predators in tying this series at 2-2.

  • Again, Rinne was fantastic in this game.
  • While the last minute caused some serious nail-biting for Predators fans, the team did manage to protect a lead this time around. They did so by mostly slowing the Jets’ high-powered offense down, at least about as much as any team reasonably can. It wasn’t just about Rinne, even though he was brilliant.
  • Despite rambunctious players like Scott Hartnell and Ryan Hartman being in the lineup (and Kevin Fiala being a curious omission), the Predators learned from Game 3 and maintained sound discipline. Both teams scored on the power play in Game 4, but each squad only received two power-play opportunities. Maybe that comes down to officials choosing to “let them play” or other factors, yet on paper, that seems like a very promising development.
  • Hartman also added a goal, so Nashville continues to receive production from supporting cast members.

Through four contests, this second-round showdown is more or less what we expected. The two teams have flexed their muscles at times, and we’ve also seen some back-and-forth thrillers, nasty moments, and a double-overtime treat.

Now this series boils down to a best-of-three, continuing a theme of the second round (if the Bruins win Game 4 of their series, all four series will at some point be tied 2-2).

With each team getting one road and one home win so far, it’s unclear if this will matter, but the Predators would get two of the three contests in Nashville if the series goes the distance of seven games. For all we know, this matchup of two juggernauts could come down to smaller advantages, especially if the key figures are all peaking at the right time.

Few things seem to come easily for the Jets and Predators, which could make things for even more fun as the stakes rise.

Game 5 takes place on NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

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.

Bruins’ Donato, Predators’ Tolvanen begin playoffs as scratches

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Hype won’t always protect you from being a healthy scratch.

When it comes to some prominent late-season additions to potential Stanley Cup contenders, a spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed. That’s something Ryan Donato is experiencing with the Boston Bruins, and the same can be said of prized Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen. While NHL coaches are prone to throwing fastballs, it sure looks like those two young scorers will sit out Game 1 for their respective teams.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Donato the bigger surprise?

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Donato won’t be in the lineup, with Brian Gionta and Nick Holden also being out.

Donato probably has more reason to be irritated by the snub than Tolvanen. For one thing, Donato’s a little older at 22 (Tolvanen is just 18, he’s turning 19 on April 22). Donato’s already shown serious potential by scoring nine points in 12 games despite sometimes-limited ice time.

Also, Riley Nash is unable to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, so one might argue that the Bruins could find a spot for Donato. Take a look at the B’s projected bottom two lines, via Haggerty:

Danton Heinen / Noel Acciari / David Backes
Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Overall, the Bruins deserve a lot of credit for diving in feet-first with young players. They didn’t hesitate to put Charlie McAvoy in a prominent role right off the bat during last season’s playoffs, and guys like Heinen have been given opportunities to prove themselves.

Maybe this is a bit of a correction in that area, especially since the Bruins will face a team that can really exploit mistakes in the high-powered Maple Leafs. (Of course, the natural counterpoint is that you’d want more firepower on the ice to out-gun Toronto, in which case Donato would make a ton of sense).

For what it’s worth, Donato seemed to take a healthy attitude toward a healthy scratch, according to what he told Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald.

“I’m just going to keep working hard, and whenever they need me and my number is called, I’ll be ready to go,” Donato said. “I don’t really take it as an insult. I’ll just take it that the team has been good all year.”

Tolvanen a work in progress

While Donato’s been scoring at an impressive rate, things haven’t “clicked” yet for Tolvanen in the NHL.

The young Finn failed to score a goal or an assist through three regular-season games before getting scratched during the final two contests. Tolvanen’s only logged 36:20 of ice time so far at this level, generating his three shots on goal in his third game. In his first two contests, he didn’t even get a puck on net. To little surprise, his possession stats have been putrid over that tiny sample.

Tolvanen has only been with the Predators since late March, and this Nashville team was loaded without him. Consider that Scott Hartnell and a Calle Jarnkrok joined Tolvanen as potential scratches for Game 1 (though it’s worth noting that it seems like Jarnkrok is a little banged-up). Do note that, while Donato’s confirmed to be out, there’s an outside chance Tolvanen does play. It just seems improbable.

[Morning Skate: how will Predators deal with Nathan MacKinnon?]

In an ideal world, Tolvanen would have been able to gain more traction before the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs began, but considering the fact that they lost Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala during last year’s run, Nashville can attest that injuries could open the door for the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” Peter Laviolette said, according to the Tennessean’s Adam Vignan. “If anything, last year proves that more than ever. … We’re probably going to need everybody.”

***

These aren’t the easiest calls regarding Donato and Tolvanen. These aren’t just rookies vying for time; these are players who haven’t been with the Bruins and Predators for very long.

Still, the fears of them making mistakes against attacking opponents like the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche could be countered by the perks of getting more talent on the ice. Ultimately, their coaches will probably end up deploying them, especially if each squad enjoys deep playoff runs.

Thursday’s schedule

Lightning vs. Devils, 7 p.m. ET – NHL Network
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET – USA
Predators vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Ducks vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET – USA

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.