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Burke, O'Connell feud over Thornton trade
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Brian Burke, Mike O’Connell feud over claims about Joe Thornton trade talks

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Hockey fans have fond memories of Brian Burke’s feud with Kevin Lowe, and now it seems we have a sequel. Burke and former Bruins GM Mike O’Connell are in a war of words over alleged Joe Thornton trade talks. The biggest winners? Us.

Consider it a very short three act play or … boxing match, maybe more appropriately?

Round 1: Burke recalls trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks, “babysitting” O’Connell

Burke provided refreshingly candid answers to fan questions during an April 2 Twitter Q&A. The thread is worth your time, as Burke discusses the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Phil Kessel, Roberto Luongo, and Gary Bettman.

But it was a two-part bit about Burke trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks that got the ball rolling.

Burke explained that he’s “still bitter” that the Ducks didn’t land Thornton, and believes he offered O’Connell a better deal than the Bruins ultimately received from the Sharks.

Most fascinatingly, Burke even gave specifics about what he was willing to offer. Now, one can speculate about who would have been in the Ducks top five in 2005. Would Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry possibly been available for Thornton?

But either way … wow.

As a reminder, the Bruins ended up receiving Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart for Thornton. As Bruins fans would like to forget, Thornton continued to be a star for the Sharks, including winning the 2005-06 Hart Trophy.

[PHT Time Machine: The Eric Lindros trade that didn’t happen.]

Round 2: O’Connell says Burke’s Thornton claims were a “fabrication”

Things got juicier between O’Connell and Burke on Tuesday.

O’Connell told The Athletic’s Joe McDonald (sub required) that Burke’s hypothetical offer didn’t happen, and that the details were a “fabrication.”

“The details surrounding this story are fabricated and I can confirm that no such offer was made to me as I never informed Anaheim of my intentions to trade Joe Thornton,” O’Connell said. “Unfortunately, certain personalities never let the truth get in the way of their ultimate goal, self-promotion.”

Whew! (Shakes hand to indicate serious heat emanating from this rivalry.)

Round 3: Feud sizzles to a new level as Burke counters

Not to be outdone, Burke responded to O’Connell’s claims in a fiery appearance on ESPN on Ice with Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. Burke made a key point by noting that current Ducks GM Bob Murray was in Burke’s office when he made the offer(s).

Burke also revived memories of wanting to battle Kevin Lowe in a fabled barn over the Dustin Penner offer sheet, saying “I wish we were in the same room, if you’re calling me a liar.” You really need to hear the entire clip, which Wyshynski posted:

*Ponders putting on oven mitts, this is all too hot to handle*

So obviously, this is a he-said, Burkie-said situation. We can only take each hockey executive’s word for it, and one could even argue that Murray might feel loyal to Burke.

But, considering the specifics of Burke’s claims, it seems feasible that the Ducks made some sort of offer for Thornton.

Theories

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It’s also crucial to realize how much a person’s memory can be altered by time. This happened in 2005, and sometimes the seeds of trades are planted far before a deal is consummated. It’s possible that O’Connell flat-out doesn’t remember Burke’s offer(s).

Not only has time passed, but O’Connell also took a ton of heat for the trade. McDonald notes this anonymous reaction from a Bruins player at the time of the trade:

“Are you kidding me? We traded Joe Thornton for three guys who can’t tie their skates.”

The Bruins fired O’Connell in March of 2006, and the Thornton trade undoubtedly served as a catalyst. Such events can leave you a bit scarred, and maybe even prompt you to forget certain details. Maybe phrasing like “babysitting” bothered O’Connell, even if I took it to mean that Burke was checking up on the situation quite often.

Or maybe O’Connell is right in claiming that Burke is making those Thornton trade claims with the “ultimate goal” of “self-promotion?”

One thing’s clear: this is fun

We can only really guess, and perhaps spend this coronavirus quarantine time imagining “What if?” scenarios. Could Thornton have pushed the Ducks into mini-dynasty status, as this was during their Chris Pronger – Scott Niedermayer era? Would the Bruins have landed blue chips rather than “guys who can’t tie their skates?”

(That’s totally unfair to Primeau, Sturm, and Stuart, as they all had lengthy NHL careers. Though I admit I have not received definitive proof of how adept they are with laces.)

The one thing we do know is that Thornton landed with the Sharks and had a great run. And that O’Connell (currently director of pro development for the Los Angeles Kings) and Burke (Sportsnet personality) probably aren’t best buds.

Hey, it’s a lot more fun than talking about escrow though, right?

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Eddie Lack retires; Progress post-pandemic?

Eddie Lack retires from hockey Morning Skate
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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.

• William Douglas mourns Marlowe Stoudamire, who passed away at age 43 because of COVID-19. Stoudamire made a big impact in Detroit, including helping to create the “Learn, Play, Score” program. That $1M program helped bring the sport to about 30,000 children in Detroit. Heartbreaking for sure, but Stoudamire clearly made a big impact on the sport and on his city. (NHL.com)

Eddie Lack retires

• Eddie Lack announced his retirement from hockey with a really wonderful four-part series of videos. For one thing, there’s plenty of humor involved. Kudos to Lack for poking fun at himself for allowing a long-distance goal from Brian McGrattan (!), and Roberto Luongo for poking fun at Lack for a stain.

The thread is particularly worth your time for Canucks fans and/or Swedish hockey fans:

It’s sad to see Eddie Lack retire, being that he’s only 32. As Lack said, though, hip issues weren’t making life any easier, so he’s moving on to a career in real estate.

Eddie Lack last played for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils in 2018-19, and his final NHL action came with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. So, yeah, it’s fair if your immediate reaction was: “Wait, didn’t Eddie Lack already retire?”

Other NHL/hockey headlines

• The Globe & Mail’s Morgan Campbell takes a look at how the NHL and other leagues might approach things post-pandemic. Could there be some silver linings? Campbell wonders, for instance, if leagues use this as a catalyst to improve ways of experiencing events even while de-emphasizing the in-arena experience. Organizations/leagues who are spry might be most adept at “taking lemons and making lemonade.” (The Globe & Mail)

• Kevin Fiala was never as happy or confident in hockey as he was late in 2019-20 — until the coronavirus pause happened. Even so, he believes that red-hot player we saw wasn’t merely an aberration. Instead, Fiala believes that’s simply what he is now. (Star-Tribune)

• Claude Giroux explains that the Flyers are trying to be positive, rather than frustrated, with the pause. (The Hockey News)

• High-end 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield is only 17. Yet, despite his age and the interruption, Byfield aims for an immediate jump to the NHL next season. He certainly has the size to play with the big boys at 6-foot-4. (TSN)

• In hindsight, Seth Jones made a wise decision in undergoing surgery rather than leaning on natural healing. Thanks to the hiatus, Jones won’t need to rush back, either. This situation is especially advantageous for 2019-20, but maybe also overall? The Blue Jackets can take heart in at least one thing working out well for them with this pause. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Projecting where the Penguins would be at if the season didn’t get paused. (Pensburgh)

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.

Roberto Luongo’s jersey set to be retired by Panthers

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SUNRISE, Fla. — When the Florida Panthers were deciding whether the time was right to retire Roberto Luongo’s number, the initial vote was not unanimous.

Luongo was the holdout. He needed convincing.

Odd as this sounds for someone who has been in hockey’s spotlight for more than half his life, Luongo shuns attention. Doesn’t need it. Doesn’t want it. And that was the primary holdup in this process of deciding when the Panthers were going to send Luongo’s No. 1 jersey to the rafters and make him the first player in franchise history to receive that distinction.

On Saturday, whether he likes it or not, it’s all about Luongo — as it should be.

“I’m extremely honored, don’t get me wrong,” Luongo said. “It’s a great honor and being the first player, all that stuff, is great. And in the last week it’s gotten a lot more real to me with people getting here and getting tickets and going over my speech and all that. I’m going to make sure that I embrace it because it is special.”

The Panthers are going all-out: They picked a game against Montreal, Luongo’s hometown team, for the ceremony. The ceremony to retire Luongo’s number will begin two hours before Saturday night’s game, the Panthers will warm up for the game all wearing No. 1 jerseys, the team is even selling a drink named for him throughout the night.

“It’s going to be pretty emotional,” Panthers forward and fellow Montreal native Jonathan Huberdeau said.

Luongo’s 489 career victories are third in NHL history behind only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, and Brodeur is the only goalie to have appeared in more games or made more saves than Luongo. Among the seven goaltenders to appear in at least 900 games, Luongo’s .919 career save percentage is the best.

He never won the Stanley Cup; Luongo played for one in Vancouver during the peak years of his career after leaving Florida, returned to the Panthers and wound up retiring as their all-time leader in wins and popularity, and is a lock for enshrinement one day in hockey’s Hall of Fame.

He had character and is a character. Luongo wrote two retirement announcements last summer, one of them funny to go on his Twitter page, the other an open letter to fans where he bared his soul and revealed how hard the decision was to step away from the game.

And his poignant pregame speech after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two years ago — the school is in Parkland, Florida, the place where Luongo and his family make their home — remains one of the most-talked-about moments of his career. He didn’t write a speech that night, just took the ice with some talking points. His speech for Saturday is written, and it’ll be emotional for different reasons.

“Special player,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said, in remarks aired in an episode of the team’s Territory Talk podcast. “He won a lot of big games. With a couple of organizations, he was the signature player. … He’s a battler. He’s a competitor. He’s a great guy away from the game as well. He’s great for the community, he’s great for the league, he’s entertaining with his, what is it, tweets? It’s well-deserved and a great honor.”

Luongo could have played again this season. He was under contract for three more years when he decided that his body was telling him enough was enough and retired. He’s had his skates on only twice since, once for some Christmas laps with his kids, the other in the last few days to tape something related to this weekend’s celebration.

His pads have not been on since he retired. He’s not sure if he’ll wear them again.

“I don’t think so,” Luongo said. “At least not for a while.”

But he’s still with the team and didn’t wait long to transition to the next phase of his hockey life. Luongo is the Panthers’ special advisor to general manager Dale Tallon, his hope being that he remains with Florida for many years to come.

“I want to be a part of this organization,” Luongo said. “I want help them win. But more importantly I want to help them be a consistent franchise that year after year is always competitive and in the mix and fighting for a Cup more than anything.”

In other words, his goal will be the same with his No. 1 swaying over Florida’s ice as it was when he was wearing it on the ice.

“I’m as invested in this team as I’ve ever been,” Luongo said.

Canucks treat Sedin twins to great jersey retirement ceremony

The Sedin twins received fantastic treatment — and some razzing — during their jersey retirement ceremony. Naturally, the Canucks paid a wonderful tribute to their careers, and even the Blackhawks did their part.

Plenty of memorable Canucks showed up for this great jersey retirement ceremony. Kevin Bieksa provided the light bit of roasting. Contemporary Canucks worse Henrik Sedin’s 33 or Daniel Sedin’s 22 before the game. Roberto Luongo, Markus Naslund, Mason Raymond, Mike Gillis ranked among those at hand. Really, it’s tough to think of anything that was missing from the Sedin twins jersey retirement ceremony.

(Canucks fans even “forgave” Kesler with a rousing ovation.)

The Sedins began their speech sharing their thoughts for Jay Bouwmeester. From there, they hit the high notes, and sprinkled in cliches about best fans in the world. They also acknowledged their rivalry with the visiting Blackhawks, “even Duncan Keith.”

Odes spanned beyond the Blackhawks and Canucks, with fellow Swedes paying respects to the Sedins:

The ceremony presents a golden opportunity to look back at what may end up as a truly one-of-a-kind combination.

 

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.

My Favorite Goal: Jarret Stoll completes Kings’ upset over Canucks

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers, personalities and NHL players remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Jake Abrahams, the Managing Editor of NHL Content at NBC Sports and a Los Angeles native, takes us back to one of the best memories from the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup run.

If there was one team most likely to breeze through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was the Vancouver Canucks. They had experience, having made it to the previous year’s Cup Final, as well as momentum, having closed the season on an 8-1-0 tear to claim their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

Their first round opponent, the No. 8 seeded Los Angeles Kings, made a midseason coaching change, didn’t clinch a postseason spot until their 81st game, scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL, and hadn’t won a playoff series in over a decade.

Canucks in four, or five at most, right?

***

Dean Lombardi took over as Kings general manager in 2006, and one of his first major moves was acquiring center Jarret Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene from the Edmonton Oilers two years later.

Both were classic Lombardi types: rugged, hard working glue guys that every championship team has in its lineup. Stoll excelled in the faceoff dot, and was one of LA’s best penalty killers. Importantly, he also had a wicked shot. He only had six goals in 2011-12, the fewest of his career to that point, but his quick release could be difficult to deal with.

For example, the year prior, he converted on nine of 10 shootout attempts. No one has ever gone 9-of-10 or better, before or since. And he pretty much always shot top shelf, on the glove side. Goalies knew where he was shooting, and still couldn’t stop it.

The Kings won Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver, prompting the Canucks to bench Roberto Luongo and start Cory Schneider in Game 3. He held his own, but LA won 1-0 to go up 3-games-to-none. Schneider only allowed 1 goal again in Game 4 – a Canucks victory this time – and then played well in Game 5, which went to overtime with the score tied 1-1.

At that point, a Vancouver win would have made things interesting again. Two in a row against the inexperienced Kings, with Schneider breathing new life into the defending conference champs, and perhaps things turn out differently.

But all Stoll needed was one chance.

Early in OT, the Canucks were a bit too casual breaking out of their own zone. Trevor Lewis forced a turnover at the blue line, springing Stoll towards the goal on his off wing. With his traditional leg kick, Stoll fired and beat Schneider top shelf – on the blocker side.

Game. Series. Kings in 5.

LA carried that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup, going 16-4 in the postseason. That dominance was hardly predictable considering the Kings’ best 20-game stretch during the regular season saw them produce only 13 wins.

They remain the only team in the salary cap era to win the Cup in 20 or fewer games. They are the only 8 seed to ever win the Cup.

Stoll didn’t score another goal that postseason, but it didn’t matter. That OT winner on April 22 in Vancouver was the first sign that nothing was going to stop this team.