New Jersey Devils

Home sweet home: NHL execs flock back to familiar franchises

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NEW YORK (AP) — Martin Brodeur has been back with the New Jersey Devils for eight months and only walked by his statue once. It’s harder to avoid his banner hanging from the arena rafters.

Brodeur returning to the place he spent the majority of his career sparked a recent run of executives going home to work for organizations they’re synonymous with. Steve Yzerman last month went back to Detroit as Red Wings general manager. In the past week, John Davidson became New York Rangers president and Mike Modano went back to his Minnesota playing roots as Wild adviser.

Yzerman, Davidson and Modano don’t have to avoid statues but do have to balance being beloved by their respective fan bases with the new pressure of succeeding in the front office. There are plenty of recent examples of fan favorite homecomings that didn’t work out: Pat LaFontaine in Buffalo, Ron Hextall in Philadelphia, Trevor Linden in Vancouver, Ron Francis in Carolina and Patrick Roy in Colorado are among them.

Still, the lure of going home is always strong.

”All the things with my banner in the rafters and my statue, this is what I did as a hockey player, but now I’m trying to leave my mark in a different way,” Brodeur said. ”I came back because I care about the success and the fans and the area. Regardless, you still feel the pressure because you want to do well. I’m a proud guy. I’m investing my time in this organization and I want to see them do well.”

While Brodeur and Modano are business-focused now, fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Yzerman and Hall-honored broadcaster Davidson are right in the fire of trying to rebuild proud franchises into championship contenders.

Yzerman won the Stanley Cup three times as Red Wings captain and is back in Hockeytown after eight years as Tampa Bay Lightning GM and another as an adviser. His family still lives in Michigan, he was tired of commuting and he considers the link to his playing days ”irrelevant” in undertaking this challenge .

”What I did as a player is done,” said Yzerman, who will work in the shadow of his No. 19 banner. ”I can’t do any more, good or bad. It really has no bearing on whether I’m a good general manager or not. I have a job to do.”

Davidson understands he has a tough job ahead to try to deliver the Rangers’ first title since 1994. After 13 seasons in St. Louis and Columbus gave him executive experience, parts of eight seasons as a Rangers goaltender and two more decades as team broadcaster before all that drew him back.

”I was here 28 years in a lot of different areas and that makes it a whole lot easier,” Davidson said after his introductory news conference Wednesday. ”I wouldn’t have left Columbus had I not been here originally and had a sense of home, a sense of people welcoming myself and our family back. …. It’s just this is a unique opportunity at a very unique time.”

When Davidson and wife Diana walked the streets of New York on Tuesday night, she turned to him and said, ”Doesn’t this just feel like we didn’t leave?” Thirteen years after leaving the broadcast booth to embark on a journey that has made him one of hockey’s most respected executives, he felt the same way.

Davidson was welcomed home like a conquering hero.

”There’s a lot of good feeling because John is a beloved person here in New York,” longtime broadcast partner Sam Rosen said. ”He was loved when he was a player, he was loved as a broadcaster and people now respect that he’s been a lead executive in the National Hockey League for more than a decade.”

Minnesota is in Modano’s blood after he was the North Stars’ first overall pick in 1988 and played there until the team moved to Dallas in 1993. Post-retirement, Modano spent three seasons as a Dallas Stars adviser, and while this isn’t the same franchise he played for, he’s excited to get back to where his NHL career started.

”It’s always been obviously a real sentimental thing for me, an emotional thing for me to start my career in Minneapolis and St. Paul back in the North Star era,” Modano said Thursday. ”I have a lot of fond memories with fans and friends and everybody involved in the hockey community there.”

Modano will work with owner Craig Leipold, who heralded the Hall of Fame center as ”an important part of our hockey culture in this state.”

The same is true of Brodeur in New Jersey after he backstopped the Devils to the Stanley Cup three times. His job as executive vice president of business operations is about as far away from the pressure cooker of tending goal as Brodeur can get, and it follows three hands-on seasons as Blues assistant GM.

”I went from my playing career right into hockey operations as an assistant GM, so the pressure and the day to day operations was always big,” said Brodeur, who sold his old house to Devils coach John Hynes and rents while traveling back and forth to St. Louis. ”You figure from the first day I walk into the NHL to last year, for me, every game, you get the mood swings, you got everything. I was kind of looking forward to kind of sit back and just kind of look at the big picture instead of the daily grind. It’s been a great change for me and for me family to be able to handle that.”

Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch, who won the Cup with the 1994 Rangers and returned as an adviser, isn’t worried about the heavy expectations on Davidson or Yzerman to make the most of a second act.

”Steve Yzerman, John Davidson – any of these people that are in these positions that are successful, they put the pressure on themselves to be successful and to have a positive impact,” Leetch said. ”As much as there is outside pressure from media and the big city and fans, it’s really internal.”

AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed.

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

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Canada escapes; U.S., Sweden fall at IIHF World Championship

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KOSICE, Slovakia (AP) — Damon Severson and Mark Stone helped Canada escape to the world hockey championship semifinals while the United States and defending champion Sweden dropped out.

Canada beat Switzerland 3-2 in overtime Thursday night. Severson tied it with 0.4 seconds left on a goal confirmed by video review. Stone ended it at 5:07 of the 3-on-3 overtime off a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois.

”In these elimination games, you need to have guys step up. (Severson) stepped up for us to get the game tied, and then Dubois makes a ridiculous play to get it finished for us,” Stone said. ”Pretty big goal. It sends us to the semifinals, but I didn’t really have to do much. I just put my stick on the ice, went to the net and Dubois makes that winning goal happen.”

The tying goal came with goalie Matt Murray off an extra attacker. Severson’s shot from the point dribbled over the goal line after it hit goalie Leonardo Genoni’s pad and blocker.

”It’s one of those things that you can’t really make it up. We were very fortunate to get that late goal,” Severson said. ”It was a 2-1 hockey game the entire third period and the goalie was playing great. We got a lot of chances but we just couldn’t seem to sneak one by him. With under a second left I just took a shot and it ended up bouncing in. To score a goal like on a big stage like this is definitely very exciting.”

Stone had a goal and an assist in regulation. Nico Hischier and Sven Andrighetto scored for Switzerland.

In the semifinals Saturday, Canada will face the Czech Republic, and Russia will play Finland.

In Bratislava, Nikita Gusev and Mikhail Sergachyov each had a goal and two assists in Russia’s 4-3 victory over the United States. Kirill Kaprizov and Mikhail Grigorenko also scored. Brady Skjei, Noah Hanifin and Alex DeBrincat scored for the Americans.

”It’s disappointing because we had high expectations, so we’re not happy our tournament’s done so quickly,” Skjei said. ”You know, they’re a really good team. We know that, but we’ve got a good team, too, and we thought we could beat them, and I still think that we could have.”

Finland beat Sweden 5-4 in overtime in Kosice. Marko Anttila tied it for Finland with 1:29 left and Sakari Manninen won it in overtime.

”We always believed,” forward Juho Lammikko said. ”We had a lot of chances to put the puck in the net. You never quit until the final whistle. The game before us, you saw Canada score the tying goal with less than a second. It’s a 60-minute game. We didn’t let it bother us when they had the lead. Good things happen when you never give up.”

The Czech Republic topped Germany 5-1 in Bratislava. Jan Kovar scored twice for the Czechs.

”It’s good that we were able to score some goals and, in the end, we were able to put some space between us, but it wasn’t a one-sided win and we all know that,” Kovar said. ”We’re glad that we won, but we’re not really all that excited about the way we played for the most part. We can play better and we’ll need to play better.”

Kaapo Kakko has made his case to be top pick at 2019 NHL Draft

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If the IIHF World Championship is a last-chance-hotel of sorts for a few lucky youngsters looking to lift their draft stock, Finland’s Kaapo Kakko certainly hasn’t checked out yet.

If anything, he’s given the New Jersey Devils brass a headache leading up to the NHL Draft on June 21.

A good headache, of course.

Jack Hughes, the American prodigy who’s set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program ablaze, has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for most of the year, and the year leading up to this draft, and perhaps sometime before that, too. He’s a special player who, in 50 games this season with the program’s U-18 team, put up 34 goals and 112 points, 20 more at the U-18 world championships and four assists in four games at the world juniors.

Thus, Hughes is rated as the top prospect in North America from NHL Central Scouting, and the top prospect in the world by several pundits. When you average 2.24 points per game, these things come pretty naturally. When you put up 228 points in 110 games with the USNTDP — a 2.07 point-per-game clip — you become one of the best, if not the best, to ever emerge from the program.

Hughes has earned his stripes heading into Vancouver, but has his reputation warded off Kakko’s rise at the Worlds?

Kakko hasn’t exactly flown under the radar. Not at all, but he’s lived in Hughes’ shadow. At least, he did.

While both are playing at Worlds right now, it’s Kakko who’s getting the big minutes playing on a Finnish team that isn’t nearly as star-studded as the U.S. So while Hughes has a lonely assist in the tournament, and has only really featured in spurts, Kakko has launched a full-on assault on the minds of Devils general manager Ray Shero and his scouting staff.

Kakko has six goals and one assist in seven games played now at the tournament. He’s shown he can take over games with his hat trick vs. Slovakia, and he’s shown his sublime skill.

That’s two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray between the pipes.

Kakko cares little. Just like he didn’t when he slotted home the game-winning goal to give Finland a gold medal against Hughes’ Americans at the the IIHF World Junior Championship in January.

Kakko is another link in the chain that’s been Finland’s golden years of young prospects who are remarkable. Whatever was in the water 18 to 22 or so years ago should have been bottled.

And it has to make the Devils think.

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds already, Kakko comes ready for the NHL game in size. He’s played with men in the Finnish Liiga and is having no issues at all against NHLers at the Worlds either.

In his first full season with TPS, Kakko put up 38 points in 45 games, including 22 goals.

The recent Finnish lineage has included the likes of Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, Arturri Lehkonen, Mikko Rantanen and Miro Heiskanen, among others. Neither of those guys were first overall picks, yet all of them are making massive impacts of the teams they play on.

Hughes probably still goes first in June, and that might just be alright for the New York Rangers, who sit in the second hole knowing they get one or the other.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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

It was the Kaapo Kakko show vs. Canada at IIHF World Championship

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Kaapo Kakko will likely wind up with the New York Rangers as the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. On Friday, he showed why New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero should have second thoughts about going with Jack Hughes with the top selection.

During Finland’s 3-1 win over Canada in their opening game of the 2019 IIHF World Championship, the 18-year-old forward scored twice, including this highlight-reel goal in the first period.

Kakko’s profile on Elite Prospects tells you what we saw on that goal. 

“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing.”

As soon as the Thomas Chabot turnover lands on Arttu Ilomaki’s stick, Kakko takes off up ice as he sees how the play is developing. Toni Rajala’s touch pass then sends Kakko through Chabot while Brandon Montour takes a penalty in an attempt to stop him. Then the young Finnish forward shows off his edge work and smoothly beats Matt Murray for the opening goal.

The top prospect was later out on the ice as Finland defended their 2-1 lead late in the third period. Kakko, who was named “Player of the Game,” created a turnover and then finished off Canada with an empty-netter to complete his memorable night.

Kakko is eyeing history during the 2019 Worlds. If Finland wins the tournament, he would be the youngest player to ever win gold at the U18, U20 and senior World Championships.

2019 NHL DRAFT FIRST-ROUND ORDER
1. New Jersey Devils
2. New York Rangers
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators)
5. Los Angeles Kings
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Edmonton Oilers
9. Anaheim Ducks
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Philadelphia Flyers
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Florida Panthers
14. Arizona Coyotes
15. Montreal Canadiens
16. Colorado Avalanche
17. Vegas Golden Knights
18. Dallas Stars
19. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets)
20. New York Rangers (from Winnipeg Jets)
21. Pittsburgh Penguins
22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
23. New York Islanders
24. Nashville Predators
25. Washington Capitals
26. Calgary Flames
27. Tampa Bay Lightning
28. Conference final losing team with fewest points
29. Conference final losing team with most points
30. Stanley Cup Final losing team
31. Stanley Cup winner
————

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.

Devils legends Stevens and Daneyko together on TV

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SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — The familiar red-and-black uniforms are gone, replaced by suits and ties, and lapel microphones and pens are in place instead of skates and sticks. On a nearby wall is a reminder of their successes over the years – their names, inscribed with others who have won the Stanley Cup.

Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko sit beside each other on set at the NHL Network and it feels like the good old days when they played for the New Jersey Devils and won the Cup three times. After 12 years of playing together and developing on-ice chemistry at hockey’s highest level, the two retired defensemen are reprising their relationship as television analysts.

”On the ice, we could beat people up a bit, and that was a lot of fun,” Stevens said as Daneyko sat a few feet away and laughed along. ”It’s different. Now we’re doing a different thing. We played hard together and we had a lot of good years together killing penalties and were fortunate to win Stanley Cups, but it’s fun to work on TV. I think we both love the game, we love to talk about the game and watch hockey.”

They are both 55 now and long enough removed from the game to appreciate how much it has changed since their halcyon days of delivering bone-crushing hits, some of which would be suspension-worthy today. Their chatter on the air is cleaner now – maybe not so much during pre-show meetings – but the dialogue is much the same as when Stevens and Daneyko manned the blue line and killed penalties together for the Devils dynasty.

”We talk more like analysts when we’re looking at a play, but we did that in the (locker) room,” Daneyko said. ”That’s why our team had some success: We had great leadership, we had guys that understood the game.”

More than anything else, Stevens and Daneyko understand each other as they finish their second season together at the network. Daneyko calls Stevens a ”coach at heart” – evidenced by his stints as an NHL assistant – but thinks he’s probably too intense to be a coach. Stevens lauds Daneyko’s broadcasting skills from years of experience as the Devils’ color analyst.

”I paid him to say that,” Daneyko chirps.

NHL Network senior coordinating producer Josh Bernstein said his two former players have ”almost a ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ kind of chemistry,” though the network likes to mix up the pairings, so it is not always Stevens-Daneyko.

”But when we do and it’s the two of them, it’s certainly special just because of their great history together,” Bernstein said. ”They’re a great team.”

It’s 90 minutes before air time and the team heads upstairs to look at video of plays that will be broken down on the show. This particular night, it’s Matt Duchene‘s Game 2 overtime winner for Columbus against Boston and a handful of goals from the Colorado-San Jose series.

Stevens points to the screen and motions like he’s drawing on the screen, showing where Boston’s Sean Kuraly should have been and what Zdeno Chara was trying to do. The two go back and forth.

”I just think the one guy’s got to be a little lower, Scotty,” he said. ”Maybe I’m nitpicking. That’s probably good execution.”

The former teammates look as comfortable on set next to host Scott Braun as they did in front of Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. Braun opens the show and declares, ”The champs are here!” before Stevens and Daneyko debate everything from the likelihood of a team winning a series when up 2-1 to whether an MVP has to come from a playoff team.

Equipment repairs are necessary here, too. Instead of a dull skate or a broken stick, Stevens’ earpiece has echoing audio problems and Daneyko jokes during a commercial break that his pops out of his ear when he gets animated.

They get plenty animated, too, especially at playoff time.

”Sometimes when we get into it or it gets intense watching a playoff game or commenting, doing analysis of the game, it’s like when we were playing because we’d talk in the dressing room or we’d talk on the ice and you get that feel again of that intensity,” Daneyko said.

The intensity is measured for a TV audience, of course, and the comfort level for two is clear. Just as they learned how to know where the other would be on the ice, a familiarity that made New Jersey such a hard team to score against, they are now trying to perfect their latest collaboration.

”We’ve been through a lot of wars and battles together,” Daneyko said. ”But now we talk about the battles and try to relay our insight on what those teams are going through, players are going through situations and certainly what it takes to win.”

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

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports