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Sorry, Seattle: NHL GMs learned from Vegas expansion draft

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By STEPHEN WHYNO (AP Hockey Writer)

Hindsight is 43/35 for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That’s how many goals and assists William Karlsson put up for the Vegas Golden Knights after the Blue Jackets let him go in the most recent NHL expansion draft. They also sent first- and second-round draft picks to Vegas to unload David Clarkson‘s contract and hold on to forward Josh Anderson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.

”I think we’ve looked at probably 100 times already that, ‘Could we have done something different the last time around?”’ Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. ”Probably not. You’re going to make some mistakes and you might let the wrong guy go. You do your studying, you do your evaluation of your players and you do your projections and it’s not an exact science.”

Maybe the second time’s the charm.

NHL teams face another expansion draft in 2021, when Seattle enters the league. And the Seattle GM, whoever that turns out to be, probably won’t receive the same kind of windfall George McPhee picked up in 2017 to help the Golden Knights make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final because some important lessons have been learned.

”We might get to a situation where we’re like, ‘Boy I don’t want to lose any of these guys,’ so a team may have to do it again,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. ”But we’ve lived it now and I think we’ll have a better understanding of it. And if you’re going to (make a trade), you’re going to make sure it’s for the right person. You’re going to be like: ‘I’m giving up a lot of assets here. Is this the right thing to do?”’

McPhee held all the leverage that summer, and he stockpiled talent as a result. Because only seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender (or seven skaters at any position and a goaltender) could be protected, a lot of deep teams were stuck with core players unprotected and willing to do almost anything to keep them.

Just some of the ”fear factor” moves: The Wild traded prospect Alex Tuch and let center Erik Haula go to Vegas to keep Matt Dumba. The Panthers traded Reilly Smith and lost Jonathan Marchessault. The Islanders traded a first-round pick to get rid of Mikhail Grabovski’s contract. The Ducks traded Shea Theodore to clear Clayton Stoner’s salary and keep Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson. The Penguins even sent a future second-round pick to ensure Vegas would take goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Chuck Fletcher, who was Minnesota’s GM, figured out the hard way that expansion means every team loses something. Now with Philadelphia, his approach will likely be to lose as little as possible to Seattle.

”No matter what you do you’re going to lose a good player,” Fletcher said. ”You either let them make the choice for you or you try to help them out by making sure you’re keeping the things you want to keep. It was a great process to go through and I’m sure there were some lessons learned, but at the end of the day, if you have too many players than you can protect, you’ve got to pick your poison.”

A popular choice last time? Teams giving up players to clear salary-cap space. That was the impetus for the Fleury move and others, but so much time to prepare could reduce the need for those trades in the summer of 2021.

”That’s just one thing that I see could happen, that if the teams aren’t financially strapped against the cap then they don’t have to make those sacrifices of young players to get the cap relief,” Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning said.

With two full offseasons until Seattle can plunder 30 NHL teams (Vegas will not participate), a lot of GMs are already planning ahead. Offices in Columbus and Dallas have already been the scene of some long-range preparation while acknowledging a lot can change between now and then. Nill said teams will likely need to decide whether someone is a ”core player” or someone who isn’t going to be around in the future.

All GMs will need to grapple with the impact of no-movement clauses in player contracts that the NHL decreed must be protected in any expansion draft. Ottawa lost defenseman Marc Methot, in part, because Dion Phaneuf wouldn’t waive his no-movement clause. Now that GMs know the rules, deals through 2021 could be affected.

”You’re reluctant to give no-move clauses at any time, but certainly with knowing what your expansion protected list is going to be, I think that will make teams a little more cautious,” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said.

According to PuckPedia , there are already 36 players with no-movement clauses for 2021-22. The Penguins, Stars and Blackhawks lead the league with four players each. Don’t be surprised if GMs attempt to change some of those situations to put themselves in a better spot.

”You don’t want to fill your protection list with guys that you have to protect because of the clauses in their contract,” Kekalainen said. ”You want to fill it with the guys you want to protect, so you want to leave that option to yourself.”

DE-IMPROVED PENGUINS

After sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference on Nov. 20, Pittsburgh is 6-2-2 in its past 10 games to surge up the standings. Backup goaltender Casey DeSmith, who has stepped up for injured starter Matt Murray, is a big part of that with his 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over that time.

”I’m not surprised,” Rutherford said. ”Casey took the long road to the National Hockey League. He worked at it. He’s worked very close with Mike Buckley, our goalie coach, and he’s a goalie that really worked on his fundamentals.”

The Penguins activated Murray off injured reserve Wednesday. Even with Murray’s return, don’t expect Pittsburgh to keep DeSmith on the bench for long.

”You have to have two goalies because if you want to have a long run in the spring, you can’t wear your No. 1 goalie out,” Rutherford said.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The top two teams in the Atlantic Division face off Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Tampa Bay Lightning.

LEADERS

Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 25; Assists: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 39; Points: Rantanen, 52; Ice time: Seth Jones (Columbus), 26:29; Goals-against average: Pekka Rinne (Nashville), 1.91; Save percentage: Rinne, 9.32.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed from Vancouver.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

The Buzzer: Phil thrills with four-point night; Smith wins fifth straight with shutout

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Three stars

1. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

Kessel’s name was all over this game. He assisted on the first of two goals by Kris Letang, scored twice himself in the second period to give the Penguins a comfortable 5-1 lead and then grabbed his fourth point of the night on Sidney Crosby‘s 15th of the season in the third period.

With the Penguins reportedly “testing the market” when it comes to Phil the Thrill, performances like this one only raise the price. More importantly, it gives the Penguins less and less of a reason to trade him. He simply makes the team betters, as PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote on Thursday.

2. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames

Talk about a resurgence. Smith has won five straight starts now after dropping six of his previous.

His latest victory comes in the form of a 31-save shutout in a 2-0 win against the Minnesota Wild. Smith is slowly starting to repair a horrible start to the season. He entered the game with a .884 save percentage and left with a .892, which just goes to show that he still has a ways to go if he wants to own some respectable numbers by seasons’ end.

Still, a five-game heater is nothing to scoff at and it’s helped the Flames open up a three-point lead atop the Pacific Division.

3. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jones’ overtime winner was the fastest in Blue Jackets history after he potted it 10 seconds into the extra frame for his second of the game.

In doing so, he also helped John Tortorella become the first coach in a long time to win a game behind the bench while wearing a tracksuit.

But back to Jones… his first goal extended his point streak to five games with three goals and four assists in that span.

Other notable performances:

  • Brayden Point continues to light the lamp, scoring his 21st of the season to tie Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for the NHL’s top scorer.
  • Elias Lindholm scored both goals for the Flames in their win. He’s on a five-game point streak and has at least a goal in his past three games.
  • Gustav Nyquist had a goal and two assists to help the Red Wings to a 5-4 OT win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. His second assist sprung Dylan Larkin in on a breakaway to win it in the extra frame.
  • Travis Sanheim‘s first two goals of the season weren’t enough for the Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to Jones and the Blue Jackets in OT.
  • Paul Byron scored twice in a 5-2 win for the Montreal Canadiens against the Ottawa Senators.
  • Alex Ovechkin‘s goal helped the Capitals secure a 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes and put him into a tie with Laine and Point on 21 goals.
  • Reilly a three-point effort (a goal and two helpers) as the Golden Knights came from behind in the third period to win 4-3 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Highlights of the night

Crosby doesn’t care about your tight angles:

This kid is far too good:

Larkin’s OT winner highlight by this head fake:

Factoids

Scores

Red Wings 5, Maple Leafs 4 (OT)

Avalanche 5, Panthers 2

Blue Jackets 4, Flyers 3 (OT)

Penguins 6, Islanders 2

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Lightning 3, Bruins 2

Capitals 4, Coyotes 2

Flames 2, Wild 0

Canucks 5, Predators 3

Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 3

Devils 6, Kings 3


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

PHT Time Machine: Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Flyers blockbusters

Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the Paul Holmgren’s busy year as Flyers general manager.

The Philadelphia Flyers, at least for now, are back in the hands of Paul Holmgren following Monday’s dismissal of general manager Ron Hextall. Until a more permanent solution is found — something Holmgren is hoping takes “weeks” and not “months” — that means he is the one in sitting in the general manager’s seat with his finger on the button when it comes to the roster.

This is exciting. This is very, very, very exciting. For purely selfish reasons I am hoping he just decides to keep the job for himself because it might mean the Flyers become interesting again.

Who doesn’t love a completely unpredictable team that could totally change directions at any moment?

When the Flyers made Monday’s announcement, Holmgren said in a statement the franchise and Hextall “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”

During a press conference discussing the move on Tuesday, the team seemed to double down on that when Comcast-Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the team was looking for someone that has a “bias for action” in its new general manager.

You do not really need to reach very far in all of this to come to the conclusion that upper management did not care for Hextall’s patient, methodical approach to handling the construction of the roster, especially when it was producing mediocre results year after year.

[Related: Hextall’s patience failed to move Flyers forward]

This brings us back to Paul Holmgren.

During his tenure as general manager there was not a more aggressive team in the league when it came to trades and blockbuster roster transactions. Everything was on the table, no player was untouchable, and you should have always been willing to expect the unexpected.

One of his first moves as Flyers general manager during the 2006-07 season was to trade Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, and a first-round draft pick. That offseason, not even six months later, he sent that first-round draft pick back to Nashville for pending free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, and then promptly signed them both to long-term contracts.

A few years later he also traded Parent back to Nashville for the free agent rights to Dan Hamhuis, and upon realizing he would not be able to sign Hamhuis, traded him to Pittsburgh for a third-round draft pick.

In the summer of 2009 he pulled off the most impactful trade of his tenure when he acquired Hall of Fame defender Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks, a move that would ultimately lead to a Stanley Cup Final appearance the next season.

But none of these transactions hold a candle to the madness that happened between June 23, 2011, and July 18, 2012.

That was when all hell broke loose in Philadelphia and this series of transactions took place.

Let’s try to break this down here because my goodness that is an entire career’s worth of blockbusters in one year.

Splitting Up The Core For Ilya Bryzgalov

In the summer of 2011 the Flyers were coming off of a second-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins (a sweep) and still trying to answer the long-standing goaltending question that has hounded the organization for decades.

Despite the disappointment of that postseason defeat, and even with the unsettled goaltending questions, this was still a very successful franchise. They were just one year removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they had won another playoff round that season, and were simply beaten by a better team (one that would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year).

That was still not good enough, and in the eyes of the Flyers the one thing that was still holding them back was a franchise goalie.

So they tried to address it.

It all started on June 23, 2011, when Holmgren completely blew up his core of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (both of whom were signed to mega-long-term contracts) and traded them within an hour of each other.

Richards was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, while Carter went to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks, one of which would be used to select Sean Couturier.

At the time speculation was raised in Philadelphia that the “partying” lifestyles of Richards and Carter off the ice prompted the trades, speculation that Holmgren immediately wrote off as “preposterous.”

Really, though, it was probably just about not settling for anything less than a championship and doing whatever it took to land the goalie they thought would get them one.

That is where Ilya Bryzgalov comes in.

The trades of Richards and Carter coincided with the acquisition of Bryzgalov from the Arizona Coyotes. Upon acquiring his free agent rights the Flyers made him the highest paid goalie in the league — and by extension the new face of the franchise — by giving him a nine-year, $51 million contract.

These moves turned out to be a mixed bag that for a short period of time completely altered the balance of power in the NHL.

First, for as bold as the Richards and Carter trades seemed to be at the time the Flyers did end up getting great value in return as Simmonds, Voracek, and Couturier are all still outstanding players for them today.

Bryzgalov was also a really good goalie at the time and was coming off two outstanding years with the Coyotes where he finished in the top-six in the Vezina voting each year, including one year where he was the runner up.

Once he arrived in Philadelphia, though, his game almost immediately collapsed on itself resulting in a buyout just two years in to the massive contract.

Following that buyout he would only play 40 more games in the NHL.

The real gut-punch here for the Flyers isn’t just that Bryzgalov failed to fix the goalie situation, it’s that he failed to fix the goalie situation while Carter and Richards were ultimately reunited in Los Angeles later in the 2011-12 season (Columbus traded Carter for defenseman Jack Johnson) and won the first of their two Stanley Cups together.

The other gut-punch, in hindsight, is that one year after signing Bryzgalov they traded his backup, Sergei Bobrovsky, to the Blue Jackets for three draft picks.

All Bobrovsky has done since then is win two Vezina Trophies in Columbus and become one of the best goalies in the league.

It was a wild year.

The James van Riemsdyk saga

Just a little more than a month after trading Richards and Carter to make room for Bryzgalov, the Flyers made another huge move that summer by signing James van Riemsdyk to a long-term contract extension that, in theory, made him a significant part of their core going forward.

That contract was set to kick in at the start of the 2012-13 season.

He would never play a game in Philadelphia on that contract.

Following the 2011-12 season (which was another second-round exit) the Flyers traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a one-for-one swap for defenseman Luke Schenn.

If we’re being honest here, this trade seemed like a bad idea from the start and it would never get any better as van Riemsdyk would eventually go on to become a top-line goal-scorer for the Maple Leafs.

Schenn’s contract became one of the albatross deals in Philadelphia that Hextall would have to jettison early in his tenure as part of his initial organizational clean-up.

What’s amazing about this series of transactions is that van Riemsdyk’s exit from Philadelphia was nearly identical to Carter’s. Just like van Riemsdyk, Carter had signed a long-term contract to remain with the Flyers only to be traded just months before it was set to start.

Bringing van Riemsdyk back to Philadelphia in free agency this past summer was one of Hextall’s last moves in charge of the Flyers.

The Shea Weber Offer Sheet

Every summer we look at the list of restricted free agents and like to pretend one of them might actually sign an offer sheet. It almost never happens. In the salary cap era only eight players have actually signed an offer sheet, and all but one was matched (the Anaheim Ducks did not match Edmonton’s contract for Dustin Penner).

The most notable of the offer sheets that did get signed was Philadelphia’s decision to go after Shea Weber on July 18, 2012, signing him to a gargantuan 14-year, $110 million contract.

This was a delicate time for the Predators because they had just lost Ryan Suter in free agency to the Minnesota Wild, and losing Weber would have been a crippling blow to the franchise. So they matched it, setting off an incredible chain of events in the years that followed.

Had the Predators not matched it, they would not have P.K. Subban today (Weber was traded for Subban a few years later).

They also may have never traded Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen because they would not have had the depth on the blue line to pull it off.  As a result, they may not have been a Stanley Cup Final team or a Presidents’ Trophy team the past two years.

It also may have left the Flyers, and not the Canadiens, as the team that is left trying to deal with the remaining years of Weber’s contract today.

And none of this takes into account what Columbus would look like today if it didn’t get involved in all of this.

In the end that is a lot of “what ifs” and is nothing more than a fun discussion. But it just added to the unpredictable madness that was the Paul Holmgren era in Philadelphia.

Did any of it make the Flyers any better? Tough to say because some of the moves worked out great, while some of them failed spectacularly.

They were certainly a far more interesting team thanks in large part to a general manager that had an extreme “bias for action.”

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.

Fight: Jamie Benn’s vicious bout with Josh Anderson

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In the rare moments when a star player fights, you usually grade them on a scale. You don’t really need to do that with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars.

The big winger isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, and he’s done so with some big names – and big humans – such as Dustin Byfuglien. Benn engaged in another frightful fight on Monday, as Benn and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson were throwing bombs.

(You can watch that fight – which seems like it’s going to end quickly, but then just keeps going – in the video above this post’s headline.)

Earlier this season, Benn fought with New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood. Benn’s already matched his two fights from 2017-18 (vs. Byfuglien and Corey Perry). Considering we’re not even halfway through November yet, this could be an awfully ornery season for Benn.

You have to wonder if he’s tempting fate a bit – you’d call Benn’s hands soft when they’re not landing haymakers – in risking injuries with these fights. You can’t debate that by losing his temper, Benn’s leaving the ice for long stretches (decisions that can be especially onerous if he gets additional penalties).

On the other hand, hockey’s a rough sport, and perhaps being so physical helps Benn stay engaged?

Selfishly speaking, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him keep up this habit, as it’s quite the spectacle. Nothing will top his fight with Joe Thornton from many moons ago, which set the stage for a photo that would make for a great Fathead-style wall-sized poster:

via Getty

Classic.

Despite playing in different conferences, this game has had the nastiness of a heated divisional rivalry. You could see it in moments beyond Benn’s fight, particularly when Seth Jones was whistled for a nasty hit on Jason Dickinson.

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.

Racism lingers for NHL players 60 years after O’Ree landmark

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WASHINGTON — Devante Smith-Pelly got up from his seat.

The Washington Capitals forward had heard the unmistakably racist taunts from fans from inside the penalty box. As a black hockey player, he knew exactly what they meant by yelling, ”Basketball, basketball, basketball!”

”It’s just ignorant people being ignorant,” Smith-Pelly said.

That scene unfolded in Chicago in February, 60 years after Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier and paved the way for more minorities to play the sport and reach its highest level. O’Ree is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday for his pioneering career, and yet incidents like the one Smith-Pelly went through show how much more progress needs to be made, in a league that’s 97 percent white and beyond.

”It’s come a long way, but there’s still a lot of things that still need to change,” Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse said. ”That just comes through minorities as a group working together to try to eliminate those things from this game.”

Those things just keep happening.

In 2011, Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds had a banana thrown at him during a preseason game in London, Ontario.

In 2012, then-Washington forward Joel Ward was the subject of racist social media posts after he scored a game-winning playoff goal.

In 2014, then-Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban was the subject of racist social media posts after he scored a game-winning playoff goal.

In April, Detroit prospect Givani Smith was subjected to threats and racial taunts and messages after a junior game in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. His team had a police escort the next time they went to the rink.

”(O’Ree) had to go through a lot, and the same thing has been happening now, which obviously means there’s still a long way to go,” Smith-Pelly said. ”If you had pulled a quote from him back then and us now, they’re saying the same thing, so obviously there’s still a long way to go in hockey and in the world if we’re being serious.”

Through his work as an NHL diversity ambassador over the past 20 years, O’Ree has tried to work toward more inclusion and better minority representation. He is eager to tell kids at YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and schools that hockey is another sport they can play.

USA Hockey and Hockey Canada don’t keep participation statistics by race, though there are fewer than two dozen black players currently on NHL rosters. The NHL celebrates ”Hockey is for Everyone” month each season and quickly condemns racist behavior.

”A lot of it’s basically on your parents and how people raise their kids,” said San Jose forward Evander Kane, who acknowledged being the subject of racist taunting as the only black player on his minor league teams in Vancouver. ”You can have all the awareness that you want, but at the end of the day, it’s really up to the individual and how they act and how they want to treat other people.”

O’Ree, 83, still remembers how he was treated in the ’50s as hockey’s Jackie Robinson. He did his best to drown out the noise by listening to his brother Richard.

”I heard the jeers and some of the racial remarks, but it kind of went in one ear and out the other,” O’Ree said. ”He told me, ‘Willie, names will never hurt you unless you let them.’ He said, ‘If they can’t accept you for the individual that you are, just forget about it and just go out and do what you do best and don’t worry about anything else.”’

Nurse said black players still have to worry about racist jeers and remarks.

”I had a lot growing up and my brother had the big one too last year,” said Dallas forward Gemel Smith, Givani’s brother. ”How we were raised, nothing really bothers me. That stuff doesn’t really get to me and things like that. My dad always taught us just to try to close it out, block it out.”

Like Smith-Pelly, Simmonds is quick to say racism isn’t an issue unique to hockey or sports in general. His solution is a zero tolerance policy, which is what happened to the four fans in Chicago who were thrown out and banned from all home games by the Blackhawks.

”I think what could be done to keep these types of incidents from happening would probably be to ban those people who are doing those lewd acts,” Simmonds said. ”I think if you set a strong example right from the start, you won’t have too many people acting like clowns.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman, who is going into the Hall of Fame with O’Ree as part of the class of 2018, considers it important to make clear to fans and players what’s expected and what’s not tolerated and said: ”Even if it’s only one incident, it’s one too many.” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said creating and cultivating an inclusive environment and building diversity are significant league priorities.

There has been incremental progress. In the aftermath of Smith-Pelly’s incident, fans in Chicago raised $23,000 to donate to the Fort Dupont Ice Rink in Washington, helping hundreds of children.

”When you see the reaction and the way that people rally around moments like that and try to make a positive out of it, I think that’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Nurse said.

For some players like Seth Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, hockey has been a safe place. The Blue Jackets defenseman said he has so far never been on the receiving end of race-based taunts or messages and said, ”I was just like everybody else playing hockey, which is what everyone wants.”

Most black players haven’t been that fortunate. And while Jones is optimistic that people can change, Smith-Pelly wasn’t sure exactly how that will happen.

”It’s tough,” he said. ”I don’t really know a plan to stop it. That’s how people are.”