Alexei Yashin

PHT Morning Skate: Preds need spark; 2020 IIHF Hall of Fame Class

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 Winnipeg Jets players react to Dustin Byfuglien‘s departure. (Winnipeg Sun)

• The Leafs have so much firepower, but they might not make the playoffs. (Toronto Sun)

• Should the Blues spend the assets to acquire Chris Kreider? (St. Louis Game-Time)

• The Predators are still searching for some kind of spark. (Tennessean)

• Can the Lightning get over last year’s epic playoff loss to Columbus? (FiveThirtyEight)

Cam Talbot is now on the cusp of a Gordie Howe hat trick. (Sportsnet)

• The Bruins’ win over the Jets reminded them of a Don Cherry Hardest Hits video. (NBC Sports Boston)

Adam Fox is having a strong rookie season for the Rangers. (Sports Illustrated)

• The Ducks appreciate having Ryan Miller as a back up netminder. (OC Register)

• Is this the end of the line for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau? (Featurd)

• How is every player on the Caps living up to their contract? (Nova Caps Fans)

Jimmy Vesey isn’t focusing on the upcoming trade deadline. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Ryan Smyth, Alexei Yashin, Kimmo Timonen, Mark Streit and others make up the IIHF Hall of Fame Class of 2020. (IIHF)

• Seattle area scout Ulf Samuelsson has left his position with the team to return to coaching. (Seattle Times)

• It’s important for the Islanders to treat their alumni right. (Light House Hockey)

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.

Nichushkin selection to Team Russia causing rift in leadership

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When Team Russia announced their roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Valeri Nichushkin’s name being on it was a bit of a surprise.

After all, he’s just 18 years old and he doesn’t have a long history of international experience. According to a report from Russia, his selection has caused a bit of a rift between Team Russia’s coach and GM.

Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said Nichushkin’s inclusion was “an advanced payment” that he “must justify.” In other words, it’s a risky selection that had better pay off.

Team Russia’s GM Alexei Yashin (yeah, him) views it differently.

“It’s hard to talk about an advance payment. It’s the wrong word,” said Yashin, who played 850 career NHL games. “Nichushkin has earned the call to the Olympics with his game.”

Nichushkin has nine goals and 22 points in his rookie season with the Stars. Yashin says his performance is reminiscent of rookie seasons from John Tavares and Sidney Crosby. You can’t say he’s not going to the wall for the guy he picked.

There’s a lot of pressure for Russia to win big at the Olympics. They last won a medal in 2002 (bronze) and they were embarrassed by Canada when they were knocked out in 2010. Now that they’re playing host, they want gold badly. If Nichushkin helps them do that, Yashin will look like a genius.

Yashin named GM of Russian women’s national team

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While he hasn’t officially announced his retirement from playing, Alexei Yashin seems to be moving on with a new chapter in his hockey career.

That was the word out of Russia on Friday as Yashin was hired as GM of the Russian women’s national team.

“I think for the ladies it’s a great gift for the new year,” Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak told IIHF.com. “Alexei is a fine man who did a lot for our country. The solution will benefit both our coaching staff and give new challenges to the General Manager.”

The Russian women are currently ranked sixth in the world by the IIHF, behind Canada, the United States, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden.

Yashin, the second overall pick at the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, scored 781 points in 850 NHL games before jumping to Russia in 2007. He’s spent the last five years playing for Lokomotiv, SKA St. Petersburg and, most recently, CSKA Moscow.

Off the ice, Yashin has maintained a long-term relationship with former supermodel Carol Alt, who used to be married to ex-New York Rangers captain Ron Greschner. (From the PHT Page Six files)

Best and worst sweaters of all-time: Ottawa Senators

It’s tough being the Ottawa Senators. Your team has been successful for the last ten-plus seasons, aside from a couple of recent headache years. You’ve had tremendously talented players there as well (Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, uh… Alexei Yashin) as a Stanley Cup finals appearance yet no one seems to respect you. Don’t suppose that’s got anything to do with how you look on the ice now does it?

Best: When the Senators came to be out of expansion in 1992 they showed up with a unique logo and typical early 90s color scheme of red, black, and white. What they did with their sweater was something classical, however. With the large logo emblazoning the front and with simple stripes on the sleeves and waist as well as a curious shoulder logo that made you wonder if the team was sponsored by Sheraton, it was a good looking sweater.

When they added white stripes to the sleeves in 1995, the sweater really popped and became one of the better looking ones in the league. It’s a classy look that I’m disappointed they went away from to look more modern.

Worst: Yet again, a terrible third sweater gets the call as the worst one. This time around, it’s their most recent black third sweater that indescribably decided a diagonal word mark was the way to go. Instead of it saying “OTTAWA” or “SENATORS” they decided to shorten things up to be edgy going with “SENS.” Instead of being edgy it was just stupid and on top of it all, it just looks bad.

Old-Timey Goodness: These modern-day Senators have absolutely nothing at all to do with the team that existed in the early days of the NHL in the 20s and 30s, but that won’t stop us from digging out my favorite barber pole sweater from the days of the original Senators. It’s all the same colors the modern Senators use but with a large “O” on the front and everything in striped glory. This is as old-timey as old-timey gets and I can’t get enough of it. Here’s to hoping the Senators 20th anniversary vintage-inspired sweaters that are on the way this year will indeed take enough of a nod from these beauties.

Assessment: The Senators’ current array of sweaters is not inspiring in the least. Switching from their Roman era logo that they started with to the cartoony Senator to a similar-looking style they have now doesn’t do much for me at all. Going to a red sweater was a nice move, but the color swirls and dumb logo are disheartening. It’s not a bad sweater, it just… Is. If that doesn’t sum up the Senators’ run in the NHL, I don’t know what does.

Alex Kovalev bashes Ottawa media, hints at possibility of eventual NHL return

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If any player knows how tough the Canadian hockey media can be, it’s Alex Kovalev. The mercurial Russian winger spent parts of seven seasons with two Canadian teams: the Montreal Canadiens (2003-04 to 08-09) and the Ottawa Senators (09-10 to 10-11). Fair or not, media members have criticized the talented winger’s perceived lackadaisical nature for much of his career, but that scrutiny reached new heights north of the border.

Kovalev will be far away from those watchful eyes now that he signed a two-year contract to play in the KHL with Atlant Mytischi alongside fellow “enigmatic” forward Nikolay Zherdev. It’s a nice chance to put those things behind him, but if an interview translated by Puck Daddy’s Dmitri Chesnokov is any indication, some of those wounds still fester.

That candid interview covered a wide array of subjects, but the splashiest comments revolve around Kovalev’s critiques of former Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston and the Ottawa media. Here’s the funniest bit for your meme-creating pleasures.

“And the fact I am criticized… There are different journalists. My opinion of Ottawa journalists is that they don’t watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through the [metal detector] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer. You realize right away what these people do when they write about the NHL.”

(Note to self: 1. Find these Ottawa journalists with bags full of beer; 2. Befriend them.)

Going beyond that hyperbolic and hysterical quote, Kovalev spoke about more tangible things, like the far-from-automatic adjustment of going from the NHL to the KHL. Is he worried that his fate will be similar to Evgeni Nabokov’s aborted 2010-11 season?

The move from America to Russia is not always easy.

“That’s the whole point. I don’t agree with those who say ‘He was a cool guy in America, that’s why he will now beat everyone in the KHL wearing just one skate.’ When you have played almost your entire career on small rinks, it’s not that easy to move to the big ice. The game is absolutely different in Russia, a different mentality.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway is that Kovalev might still have a hunger to return to the NHL. Could he pull a Jaromir Jagr and attempt a retirement tour after a brief sojourn in Russia? It certainly sounds like something he might consider.

“I want people to understand me correctly. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the Russian league. I like the KHL, hockey is improving in the country. It’s all great. But I have played in the NHL my entire life. Yes, right now it is interesting for me to play in Atlant. God-willing I will spend not two but four years in Russia. But in the future I would like to end my career in America. At least one more season and to put a full stop.”

Kovalev would be 40 years old by the summer of 2013, the next time he would be a free agent (unless he follows Nabokov’s example by terminating his contract). Who knows if a team would want him back – you can’t say never when the New York Islanders flirted with Alexei Yashin’s return – but the hockey world should root for a comeback for the chance to watch him speak with those beer-drinking Ottawa journalists one more time.