Author: Greg Wyshynski

Farewell, Puck Daddy readers

NHL

After nine incredible years, I’ve decided to leave Yahoo Sports for new challenges. So today is my last day as Puck Daddy editor. Which is really, really weird to write.

The blog will continue on. Ryan Lambert will still write five times a week. A talented staff from Yahoo Canada will run the site. Puck Daddy is a destination for insight and news you can’t find elsewhere.

Even if I’m elsewhere.

So I thank you for contributing to the unfathomable success of this site. For every day you went to the blog, and for every friend you told about it. For every post that started a bigger conversation in other parts of the web. For every Jersey Foul or goofy Photoshop contest entry you sent in. For every Twitter follow or Facebook ‘like’ or video view that we earned. For every chat we did, or every meet-up we held on the road. For supporting three podcasts and two books I was blessed to create. For supporting every TV appearance and radio hit. For giving us incredible traffic and other metrics, which knocked down walls and got hockey more attention at Yahoo Sports than I ever dreamed it would. For celebrating our accomplishments, and for calling us on our B.S.

I’ve always said that it didn’t matter if you loved reading us or hate-read us, as long as you found it interesting to read us. I mean every word of that: From the person who participated in every contest to the person who dragged me in every comments section during every article, thanks for taking the time to care. Seriously. It’s what kept us going.

As an editor, I’ve never been one for longwinded farewell columns in publications, because the work continues no matter whose byline is on it. If you’re interested in reading more about my decision, and share some giggles about the last nine years, please check out the aforementioned longwinded farewell column on my personal blog.

The Puck Daddy email remains open for any questions or comments, and I’m on Twitter @wyshynski. Thanks as always for reading. See you at the next place.

Puck Daddy’s 2017-18 Western Conference predictions

NHL

The 2017-18 NHL season is upon us. Which means it’s time to figure out what the hell is going on in the Western Conference, which is slightly less confusing than explaining the symbolism in Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” while on a morphine drip.

The Central Division is a collection of flawed, unpredictable teams. The Pacific Division has an actual expansion team (Vegas) and one that’s been basically stripped down to one (Vancouver). How many points will their division mates snag from them?

Here are our picks for the Metro and Atlantic divisions in the Eastern Conference.

And now, our picks for the Central and Pacific divisions, such as they are.

CENTRAL DIVISION

1 – Minnesota Wild

Fun fact: When given a full season of games, Bruce Boudreau has never coached a team to less than a 100-point pace in the standings. So yeah, we’re playing the percentages here.

But we’re also enamored with a four-lines-deep roster with two sturdy defensive pairings, in front of Devan Dubnyk, who was fifth for the Vezina last season. This is the right balance of players just in the twilight of their primes and burgeoning young standouts.

2 – Dallas Stars

The essential question about the Dallas Stars is how much Ken Hitchcock and Ben Bishop can paper over an unexceptional group of defensemen (Klingberg excepted). They’re going to be better than that 3.17 team GAA they posted last season. How much better could be entirely contingent on The Hitchcock Effect. And in Year 1, it’s always good to err on the side of Hitch. Before, you know, they tune him out.

3 – St. Louis Blues

I made this pick before the Robby Fabbri injury, and before I really considered the totality of the Blues’ injuries at the start of the season. But the pick is made, and there’s no going back. There’s plenty to still like about a team that posted 99 points and seems to have found goaltending stability in Jake Allen (finally). But I’m a little concerned about them being the Team That Gets Off To The Horrific Start And Then Can’t Recover. They’re going to ask a lot from the kids in the lineup, to be sure. Oh, and Sign Jagr.

4 – Chicago Blackhawks

Yeah, I’m not quite willing to write off Chicago quite yet, which I know is the major trend in preseason predictions. On paper, this might be the worst Blackhawks team in over a decade, especially on the backend. But I like the reacquisition of Saad, I think Alex Debrincat is going to star across from Kane and I’m hoping Joel Quenneville can figure out a way to bring this all together. This could easily be a massive dose of denial that the Blackhawks’ reign is either done or interrupted, but then they have a funny way of surpassing those dire expectations.

5 – Winnipeg Jets     

In theory, this is the season when the Jets miss the playoffs and fire Paul Maurice, but it seems like he might still be the coach there when Patrik Laine retires. This is an interesting team: One incredible line, a pretty darn good blueline and the Steve Mason experiment in goal. It’s a team you root for, because getting the Jets back into the playoffs would be fun from a personnel and atmospheric standpoint. I just don’t know if they have enough to make it there.

6 – Nashville Predators

Yeah, this.

Look, I’ve seen a multitude of predictions that have the Predators winning the division. I pray they’re right and that I’m wrong. But recency bias is a hell of a drug, and we just saw this team gut it out for four rounds and play some spectacular hockey after being a 94-point bubble team. We saw a lot of guys at the height of their powers, and we’re expecting them to do that again for 82 games.

This is the roster of a division champion? Subtract Mike Fisher and James Neal and Ryan Ellis (for four months) and it just feels different. And a post-Stanley Cup Final hangover can be just as achy for the runner-up.

Again, this is hunch. Well, an educated guess, given some of the modeling I’ve seen on the season. I want to be wrong. I quite enjoyed that hot catfish during last year’s playoffs.

7 – Colorado Avalanche

I still have no idea where this team is going, what this team is doing and what the prevailing philosophy behind the roster is. So, in summary, Free Matt Duchene.

NHL

PACIFIC DIVISION

1 – Anaheim Ducks

I’m still trying to figure out how they managed to keep this defense together despite the expansion draft outside of some sort of sensitivity blackmail. It’s an outstanding group, arguably the best in the conference, in front of a goalie battery of John Gibson and Ryan Miller. They were third in team GAA last season (2.40) and there’s no reason they can’t be again. Hence, there’s no reason they can’t add another division champions banner to the rafters.

2 – Edmonton Oilers

The points predictions for this team are all over the map, but it’s safe to say that with a healthy Connor McDavid, the same effort from Cam Talbot and Leon Draisaitl establishing himself as a second-line anchor there’s no reason they can’t be over 100 points again. Especially in this division.

3 – Los Angeles Kings

Yeah, I’m the guy with the Blackhawks and Kings in the playoffs. “Speed game, stop living the past, yadda yadda” … look, did you see those grosses for Stephen King’s “IT”? Nostalgia is huge right now.

This is a pick that says the removal of Darryl Sutter from the bench helps these guys find their smiles again. I’m fond of John Stevens, and happy to see him get another crack at it. I believe in the Kopitar bounce back and the stabilizing presence of Jonathan Quick. They’re still possession monsters. They just need their horrific shooting percent to improve.

4 – San Jose Sharks

There’s still way too much to love about this roster to read last rites for the Sharks, just because Marleau is gone and Joe Thornton is an elongated whisker away from retirement. This is a playoff team, and if things break the right way, one that could make significant noise. And is there a more underrated player in the NHL right now that Logan Couture?

5 – Calgary Flames

This breaks my heart, because there’s so much to love about this roster, and I want nothing more than my sweet boy Johnny Gaudreau to dazzle in the postseason. I want to see Matthew Tkachuk pissing off people on the big stage. All the pieces are there … except in goal. Ask the Carolina Hurricanes how a promising roster can be undercut by below average goaltending. Hell, ask the Flames.

6 – Arizona Coyotes

There’s every chance this team surprises everyone and makes a strong playoff push, what with the incredible collection of young players and some smart additions in the offseason (Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson). They might be a year away from the big jump, but I don’t begrudge anyone that has jumped into the saddle on this dark horse.

7 – Vancouver Canucks

It’s really a time for celebration in Vancouver, as the Canucks have finally dropped the pretense and gone into a rebuild. There’s fun to be had in this forward group, less so on the blue line. Whatever happens, it will all of course be Loui Eriksson’s fault.

8 – Vegas Golden Knights

Yeah, it’s not going to be pretty, but it’s also never going to be boring. They could have been competitive straightaway, but that’s not the plan. Here’s hoping some of their 25 defensemen find suitable homes.

WESTERN CONFERENCE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF TEAMS: Minnesota, Dallas, St. Louis, Anaheim, Edmonton, Los Angeles.

WESTERN CONFERENCE WILD CARD TEAM: Chicago, San Jose.

WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Anaheim

 

Puck Daddy’s 2017-18 NHL Eastern Conference predictions

NHL

The 2017-18 NHL season is upon us, and it’s already a weird one. Unless you’ve been in a coma since 1997.

Consider that we have the possibility of a Stanley Cup three-peat for the first time in 20 years. Consider that the Olympics are happening during the NHL season, and NHL players aren’t participating in them. Consider that Gary Bettman is still the commissioner, and Jaromir Jagr is still an active players. (Side note: Sign Jagr.) Really, the only jarring aspects for those in a 20-year slumber are teams in Las Vegas and Winnipeg, that a then-unborn child is now NHL MVP and that the Red Wings and Devils suddenly suck.

Here are my predictions for the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. I lack confidence in the wild card portion of these prognostications, as much as I believe the top three in both divisions are rather solid.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1 – Toronto Maple Leafs

No one is this division dazzles me. Once again, we’re looking at a division that probably has one 100-point team, and I’m wagering that team is the Leafs. Three really strong lines, bolstered by the last productive season of Patrick Marleau, and what I’m expecting to be two decent defense pairings in front of capable goaltending.

It’s a speed game and a depth game, and the Leafs have them both. They’re going to roll teams at even strength. And they’ll have the division, ahead of schedule.

2 – Montreal Canadiens

I’m as confident about their backend as I am wary of their center position. Jonathan Drouin is a special player, and well worth the cost of your best defensive prospect for an offensive dynamo that young. I just don’t quite understand trying to Ville Leino him. (OK, looking at the center depth chart, I understand it’s out of necessity, but still.) Carey Price gets them second in the division, but not much else with this donut of a lineup.

3 – Tampa Bay Lightning

What I wouldn’t give to see a full season of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov making magic. Or, at least enough magic to overcome some depth issues and the giant honking question mark that is Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal. Although the Peter Budaj insurance plan is a good one. The Lightning are basically an MLB slugger that’s going yard or whiffing this season.

4 – Ottawa Senators

I know everyone expects a precipitous drop for the Senators this season, and there’s no way I’d expect 98 points and a playoff spot again. But this is a collection of players in their primes, in front of what I expect to be stout goaltending again. This is also a team that smells of a Duchene-level trade at some point if their results are middling.

 5 – Boston Bruins

Like the Flyers (spoiler), this is a transition year to much bigger and better things ahead. Play the kids, hope the top line carries of the offense and give Zdeno Chara his victory lap. This shouldn’t be viewed as a disappointment if the Bruins miss the postseason, but rather a step back before a leap forward.

6 – Buffalo Sabres

Coaching makes a difference. This is meant to be less an indictment of Dan Bylsma as it is an endorsement of Phil Housley. They were two wins away from exiting the basement last season in the Atlantic, and with some smart additions in the offseason (like that Marco Scandella deal) it’ll finally happen.

7 – Florida Panthers

The hockey gods should smite them for their treatment of coaches and Jaromir Jagr, but honestly: This team is like a container of spicy hummus. Brilliant, vibrant young players at its core surrounded by beige muck. (Goaltending excepted.)

8 – Detroit Red Wings

Little Caesars Arena is the dawn of a new era in Detroit hockey. Alas, that will also be reflected in the standings.

METRO DIVISION

1 – Pittsburgh Penguins

This is under the assumption that Evgeni Malkin plays close to 70 games, that the Washington Capitals take a slight step back in the standings and that GM Jim Rutherford swiftly addresses any issues with the No. 3 center position should they arise. (Even as the Penguins are nudged up near the cap.) These are not safe bets, but ones I’m willing to make in picking the Penguins to win their first division title since 2014, despite these bottom six concerns.

2 – Washington Capitals

The splitting of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin is the kind smart, bold move that probably gets thrown in the trash if Ovechkin starts slowly. But still, it’s an indication that Barry Trotz knows he needs better balance in the lineup. This isn’t the strongest Capitals team on paper, but still a divisional contender with another Braden Holtby Vezina campaign. Speaking of goalies …

3 – Columbus Blue Jackets

The last five times John Tortorella has coached a team to the playoffs, he’s had either Henrik Lundqvist or Sergei Bobrovsky as his goaltender. Which is to say that great goaltending can overcome many of the inherent foibles of a Tortorella team. (And, as is tradition, help win coaches Jack Adams Awards.)

What’s interesting about the Jackets is what they’ll look like without a torrid power play carrying them for the better part of a month, when they basically lost none games. It settled in at 19.9 percent, for No. 11 in the NHL, and that seems about right. They scored an impressive 168 goals at 5v5 last season. It’ll be interesting see where that number is after the Saad/Pararin swap. Overall, a playoff team.

4 – New York Islanders

Yup. The Islanders have been 94 points or better for the last three seasons, and the coaching change to Doug Weight last year showed the potential for this group. Yes, the arena is a distraction. Yes, John Tavares is an enormous distraction. But perhaps the Islanders take a nihilistic approach to both and push further, bolstered by better-than-ever expected goaltending and the spark of young talents like Matthew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang.

5 – Carolina Hurricanes

Scott Darling is not a miracle worker. His addition stabilizes the Canes on the backend, behind a deep and young defense core. What will make or break the Hurricanes is an offense that generated only 145 goals at 5v5 last season, putting them No. 16 in the NHL. They have a speedy and talented forward group that’s capable of improving that number, so this season becomes a referendum on whether Bill Peters’ system can generate goals.

6 – New York Rangers

If the Canadiens are a donut, the Rangers are a bagel. Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, David Desharnais, perhaps Filip Chytil … this is a capped out team is a serious need at center. Factor in a suddenly less reliant Henrik Lundqvist without a suitable backup safety net, and I’m putting the Rangers outside the playoff picture. Landing Kevin Shattenkirk and finishing outside the money would be very Rangers.

7 – Philadelphia Flyers

Patience, young Skywalker. The youth movement in Philly – Gostisbehere, Provorov, Patrick, Lindblom – is about a year away from meshing with the remaining vets to start something special. Also, I have no confidence in Lehtera and Filppula to bolster this lineup at even strength, after they scored 128 goals at 5v5 last season.

8 – New Jersey Devils

Every time I think about Cory Schneider rebounding or Nico Hischier winning the Calder, I look at that blue line and are reminded why the Devils are likely going to spend another year in the basement. Either that, or I don’t have the stones to admit that I think my favorite team is going to be much better than expected, and simply don’t want to duck the slings and arrows of homerism accusations that would come my way.

NHL

EASTERN CONFERENCE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF TEAMS: Pittsburgh, Washington, Columbus, Toronto, Montreal, Tampa Bay.

EASTERN CONFERENCE WILD CARD TEAM: New York Islanders, Carolina.

EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Tampa Bay Lightning

Puck Daddy’s 2017-18 NHL Eastern Conference predictions

NHL

The 2017-18 NHL season is upon us, and it’s already a weird one. Unless you’ve been in a coma since 1997.

Consider that we have the possibility of a Stanley Cup three-peat for the first time in 20 years. Consider that the Olympics are happening during the NHL season, and NHL players aren’t participating in them. Consider that Gary Bettman is still the commissioner, and Jaromir Jagr is still an active players. (Side note: Sign Jagr.) Really, the only jarring aspects for those in a 20-year slumber are teams in Las Vegas and Winnipeg, that a then-unborn child is now NHL MVP and that the Red Wings and Devils suddenly suck.

Here are my predictions for the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. I lack confidence in the wild card portion of these prognostications, as much as I believe the top three in both divisions are rather solid.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1 – Toronto Maple Leafs

No one is this division dazzles me. Once again, we’re looking at a division that probably has one 100-point team, and I’m wagering that team is the Leafs. Three really strong lines, bolstered by the last productive season of Patrick Marleau, and what I’m expecting to be two decent defense pairings in front of capable goaltending.

It’s a speed game and a depth game, and the Leafs have them both. They’re going to roll teams at even strength. And they’ll have the division, ahead of schedule.

2 – Montreal Canadiens

I’m as confident about their backend as I am wary of their center position. Jonathan Drouin is a special player, and well worth the cost of your best defensive prospect for an offensive dynamo that young. I just don’t quite understand trying to Ville Leino him. (OK, looking at the center depth chart, I understand it’s out of necessity, but still.) Carey Price gets them second in the division, but not much else with this donut of a lineup.

3 – Tampa Bay Lightning

What I wouldn’t give to see a full season of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov making magic. Or, at least enough magic to overcome some depth issues and the giant honking question mark that is Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal. Although the Peter Budaj insurance plan is a good one. The Lightning are basically an MLB slugger that’s going yard or whiffing this season.

4 – Ottawa Senators

I know everyone expects a precipitous drop for the Senators this season, and there’s no way I’d expect 98 points and a playoff spot again. But this is a collection of players in their primes, in front of what I expect to be stout goaltending again. This is also a team that smells of a Duchene-level trade at some point if their results are middling.

 5 – Boston Bruins

Like the Flyers (spoiler), this is a transition year to much bigger and better things ahead. Play the kids, hope the top line carries of the offense and give Zdeno Chara his victory lap. This shouldn’t be viewed as a disappointment if the Bruins miss the postseason, but rather a step back before a leap forward.

6 – Buffalo Sabres

Coaching makes a difference. This is meant to be less an indictment of Dan Bylsma as it is an endorsement of Phil Housley. They were two wins away from exiting the basement last season in the Atlantic, and with some smart additions in the offseason (like that Marco Scandella deal) it’ll finally happen.

7 – Florida Panthers

The hockey gods should smite them for their treatment of coaches and Jaromir Jagr, but honestly: This team is like a container of spicy hummus. Brilliant, vibrant young players at its core surrounded by beige muck. (Goaltending excepted.)

8 – Detroit Red Wings

Little Caesars Arena is the dawn of a new era in Detroit hockey. Alas, that will also be reflected in the standings.

METRO DIVISION

1 – Pittsburgh Penguins

This is under the assumption that Evgeni Malkin plays close to 70 games, that the Washington Capitals take a slight step back in the standings and that GM Jim Rutherford swiftly addresses any issues with the No. 3 center position should they arise. (Even as the Penguins are nudged up near the cap.) These are not safe bets, but ones I’m willing to make in picking the Penguins to win their first division title since 2014, despite these bottom six concerns.

2 – Washington Capitals

The splitting of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin is the kind smart, bold move that probably gets thrown in the trash if Ovechkin starts slowly. But still, it’s an indication that Barry Trotz knows he needs better balance in the lineup. This isn’t the strongest Capitals team on paper, but still a divisional contender with another Braden Holtby Vezina campaign. Speaking of goalies …

3 – Columbus Blue Jackets

The last five times John Tortorella has coached a team to the playoffs, he’s had either Henrik Lundqvist or Sergei Bobrovsky as his goaltender. Which is to say that great goaltending can overcome many of the inherent foibles of a Tortorella team. (And, as is tradition, help win coaches Jack Adams Awards.)

What’s interesting about the Jackets is what they’ll look like without a torrid power play carrying them for the better part of a month, when they basically lost none games. It settled in at 19.9 percent, for No. 11 in the NHL, and that seems about right. They scored an impressive 168 goals at 5v5 last season. It’ll be interesting see where that number is after the Saad/Pararin swap. Overall, a playoff team.

4 – New York Islanders

Yup. The Islanders have been 94 points or better for the last three seasons, and the coaching change to Doug Weight last year showed the potential for this group. Yes, the arena is a distraction. Yes, John Tavares is an enormous distraction. But perhaps the Islanders take a nihilistic approach to both and push further, bolstered by better-than-ever expected goaltending and the spark of young talents like Matthew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang.

5 – Carolina Hurricanes

Scott Darling is not a miracle worker. His addition stabilizes the Canes on the backend, behind a deep and young defense core. What will make or break the Hurricanes is an offense that generated only 145 goals at 5v5 last season, putting them No. 16 in the NHL. They have a speedy and talented forward group that’s capable of improving that number, so this season becomes a referendum on whether Bill Peters’ system can generate goals.

6 – New York Rangers

If the Canadiens are a donut, the Rangers are a bagel. Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, David Desharnais, perhaps Filip Chytil … this is a capped out team is a serious need at center. Factor in a suddenly less reliant Henrik Lundqvist without a suitable backup safety net, and I’m putting the Rangers outside the playoff picture. Landing Kevin Shattenkirk and finishing outside the money would be very Rangers.

7 – Philadelphia Flyers

Patience, young Skywalker. The youth movement in Philly – Gostisbehere, Provorov, Patrick, Lindblom – is about a year away from meshing with the remaining vets to start something special. Also, I have no confidence in Lehtera and Filppula to bolster this lineup at even strength, after they scored 128 goals at 5v5 last season.

8 – New Jersey Devils

Every time I think about Cory Schneider rebounding or Nico Hischier winning the Calder, I look at that blue line and are reminded why the Devils are likely going to spend another year in the basement. Either that, or I don’t have the stones to admit that I think my favorite team is going to be much better than expected, and simply don’t want to duck the slings and arrows of homerism accusations that would come my way.

NHL

EASTERN CONFERENCE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF TEAMS: Pittsburgh, Washington, Columbus, Toronto, Montreal, Tampa Bay.

EASTERN CONFERENCE WILD CARD TEAM: New York Islanders, Carolina.

EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Tampa Bay Lightning

Jagr Watch: Blues GM leaves door open after Fabbri injury

NHL

Jaromir Jagr, 45, is preparing to lace up the skates for Kladno, the Czech team he owns, this weekend. His agents have set an early October timeframe for a decision on his next hockey destination.

Jagr, to this point, doesn’t have an NHL contract. It’s seemed like the only way that would happen before the season starts on Oct. 4 is through some unforeseen changing circumstances for a team. Like, for example, a significant injury that might open the door for Jagr to slide into their lineup.

An injury like the one Robby Fabbri of the St. Louis Blues suffered in camp, requiring surgery on his ACL and ending his 2017-18 season.

So with the St. Louis Blues missing Fabbri and Patrik Berglund at the start of the season, is Jagr now a possibility for what’s suddenly, and potentially, an offensively challenged team?

GM Doug Armstrong wouldn’t deny that Jagr is an option.

Armstrong, at a press conference on Fabbri’s injury on Thursday, revealed that the Blues have had internal discussions on Jagr after the team “lost a third of its top nine” forwards since the summer. (Forward Alex Steen is also out of the lineup.)

GM Doug Armstrong says Blues have discussed Jagr.

“He’s a great player. Certainly someone that we’ve talked internally about, as we’ve talked about a number of players,” said Armstrong. “We’re going to have to really dig deep into how our style of play is and what type of players can come in and compliment our style.”

Fabbri played 51 games last season with 11 goals and 18 assists, skating 15:37 per game.

“There’s not a player out there available right now that’s an 18-20 minute player that’s available,” said Armstrong.

This is true. Jagr played 17 minutes a night for the Panthers last season. But isn’t that, like, pretty good, given the Blues’ needs?

He’s a fit in St. Louis, given their style and the sudden holes in their lineup. And the fact that Armstrong didn’t close the door on this is intriguing.

This has been Jagr Watch.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Jagr Watch: Blues GM leaves door open after Fabbri injury

NHL

Jaromir Jagr, 45, is preparing to lace up the skates for Kladno, the Czech team he owns, this weekend. His agents have set an early October timeframe for a decision on his next hockey destination.

Jagr, to this point, doesn’t have an NHL contract. It’s seemed like the only way that would happen before the season starts on Oct. 4 is through some unforeseen changing circumstances for a team. Like, for example, a significant injury that might open the door for Jagr to slide into their lineup.

An injury like the one Robby Fabbri of the St. Louis Blues suffered in camp, requiring surgery on his ACL and ending his 2017-18 season.

So with the St. Louis Blues missing Fabbri and Patrik Berglund at the start of the season, is Jagr now a possibility for what’s suddenly, and potentially, an offensively challenged team?

GM Doug Armstrong wouldn’t deny that Jagr is an option.

Armstrong, at a press conference on Fabbri’s injury on Thursday, revealed that the Blues have had internal discussions on Jagr after the team “lost a third of its top nine” forwards since the summer. (Forward Alex Steen is also out of the lineup.)

GM Doug Armstrong says Blues have discussed Jagr.

“He’s a great player. Certainly someone that we’ve talked internally about, as we’ve talked about a number of players,” said Armstrong. “We’re going to have to really dig deep into how our style of play is and what type of players can come in and compliment our style.”

Fabbri played 51 games last season with 11 goals and 18 assists, skating 15:37 per game.

“There’s not a player out there available right now that’s an 18-20 minute player that’s available,” said Armstrong.

This is true. Jagr played 17 minutes a night for the Panthers last season. But isn’t that, like, pretty good, given the Blues’ needs?

He’s a fit in St. Louis, given their style and the sudden holes in their lineup. And the fact that Armstrong didn’t close the door on this is intriguing.

This has been Jagr Watch.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

KHL player gets 8-game suspension for monster hit (Video)

NHL

Stepan Zakharchuk doesn’t shy away from the physical aspect of the game.

The KHL defenseman gained infamy in 2016 when he broke the collarbone of Slovan sniper Radek Smolenak on a check. That hit was brutal, but reasonably clean. Especially within the context of his hit on Alexander Budkin of Metallurg in a game on Tuesday

No, this was not clean. At all. It was brutal, it targeted the head and it earned Zakharchuk a considerable suspension.

From the KHL:

In the 31st minute of the match between Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Ak Bars Kazan, visiting defenseman Stepan Zakharchuk was sent to the locker room after being called for charging. After reviewing the incident, the KHL Disciplinary Committee ruled that the foul was one of injuring an opponent by checking to the head and neck area. As a result, the major plus game misconduct penalty (5+20 minutes) remains in force, but Zakharchuk has also been fined and suspended for eight games.

As the video shows, Budkin couldn’t get a handle on a (suicide, it turns out) pass, and Zakharchuk takes advantage of his prone position and puts his shoulder into his skull. The impact left Zakharchuk flying in the air, just in case the optics weren’t bad enough.

Zakharchuk, 30, has played his entire career in Russia, in including the last nine seasons with Ak Bars Kazan.

s/t DVA Experta

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

P.K. Subban says he’ll 'never' protest during national anthem

NHL

P.K. Subban said on Tuesday that he will “never” kneel during the national anthem to protest something politically.

Subban performed at a fundraiser on Tuesday night at Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville, to benefit Comedy Cares. He told the audience that he would “never” take a knee during the national anthem, because he has too much respect for the American flag. His comments were sent to us by two eyewitnesses, and confirmed by the Predators.

Earlier in the day, the Nashville Predators announced that, as a team, they would not engage in any protests during the national anthem. This came less than two days after hundreds of NFL players, coaches and executives showed solidarity in rebuking President Donald Trump’s comments that players who protested police brutality against African-Americans during the national anthem were “sons of bitches” who deserved to lose their jobs.

Said CEO Sean Henry, to the Tennessean:

“When this all came about, we wanted to get together with our team because everything we do is collaborative. When we say what we’re going to be doing, it really is a ‘we.’ Everyone had input on it. We are honoring the anthem and the flag and the country by standing during the anthem. We invite our fans to do so with us. “It is also our way of honoring what else it stands for, and it does provide for the freedom for others to express their views and protests in a manner in which they feel comfortable doing. We just think there’s proper forums for all. Our games have become this unifying celebration, so we have decided that we’re all going to stand together to honor the country and all that comes with it.”

According to Seth Dean, a Predators fans who attended the comedy fundraiser event, Subban took the stage and said “he will continue to stand, respect, and sing along with U.S. anthem.” At one point, he pointed out a friend of his in the crowd who was a law enforcement officer from Boston.

From Dean:

“He also addressed why he always shuffles his feet during anthem. He first said it could be ADD but he was never tested. Then he mentioned just being pumped up by crowd and excited to support USA even as a Canadian. He even jokingly suggested we should all stand and sing anthem there at Zanies (which didn’t happen). He obviously wasn’t going to go against Lavy’s proclamation that players were going to stay standing, especially with his coach in the room, but he made his support for anthem as unequivocal as he possibly could.”

In an email to Yahoo Sports, Hailey, another attendee, described the scene in more detail:

Tonight was a comedy fundraiser at Zanies in Nashville, for which Ryan Hamilton was the headliner. As my attendance was spontaneous, I was pretty excited when PK Subban was the first “comedian”. Much to my surprise, his allegedly “impromptu” set ended with a tense promise from PK that despite his previous dancing antics during the national anthem, he would NEVER kneel during the national anthem, followed by a long rant about his “respect” for the American flag.

Obviously, it’s totally PK’s prerogative on how reacts to the national anthem, but I couldn’t help but feel frustrated by the whole incident. I saw that Joel Ward, who had, like PK, been subject to some good old Boston racism during his playoff run against the Bruins, spoke favorably about the NFL protests in the past couple days. As the event was a fundraiser and had a lesser-known comedian, the majority of the audience tended to center around older, white Tennesseans. No cameras or phones are allowed, yet PK’s stance against the NFL protesters certainly was an uncomfortable one for me and my fellow young Predators’ fans. His awkward shout out to Peter Laviolette, who was in attendance, right before proclaiming his “respect” for the American flag certainly did not help matters.

So no, P.K. Subban will not be the guy who takes the knee and makes the stand. P.K. Subban is the guy who decided, with his team, not to do so, and then told a room without cameras rolling that he would never protest during the anthem.

Sorry if this let you down, because you believed an outspoken player like Subban would stand in solidarity with other pro athletes, or would symbolically share your political beliefs through his actions.

Sorry if this let you down because you’ve been tweeting about Sidney Crosby’s meek, corporate response to the Pittsburgh Penguins accepting an invitation to stand with President Donald Trump at the White House, and tweeting about how Subban would be different.

He’s not.

Before we get to what that means, let’s remember how we got here.

***

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced they would keep their invitation with President Donald Trump and visit the White House as Stanley Cup champions to celebrate with him.

It was an announcement made on the same day as the NFL player protests.

It was an announcement made on the same weekend that Trump “disinvited” the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors and star Steph Curry from the White House, after they already said they didn’t intend on going based on their opposition to the president and his policies.

It was an announcement made after the reigning NCAA men’s basketball champion North Carolina Tar Heels indicated they would not attend a White House ceremony either, due to, ahem, “scheduling conflicts” that we’re sure had nothing to do with coach Roy Williams’ scathing comments about Trump in March.

It was an announcement that placed the NHL, with its 93-percent Caucasian makeup and conservative-leaning player pool, in contrast with these athletes and in alignment with a sport like NASCAR, whose powers that be announced they would punish any drivers that protested during the anthem; and in alignment with Trump, who celebrated the Penguins’ decision with a gracious tweet.

More than anything, it was an announcement that began an investigation of where NHL players stood on the issue.

Some, like David Backes of the Boston Bruins, treated the protests during the anthem as an affront to the military. “If I’ve got beef with a social justice issue or something else-wise, I’m going to find different avenues that are not disrespectful, especially to those that are military men and women that give me the freedom to do what I do,” he said.

Joel Ward of the San Jose Sharks, meanwhile, announced on Tuesday night that he would consider taking a knee during the anthem. Like Subban, Ward is one of the NHL’s most prominent black athletes, and said his dealings with racism throughout his career influenced his stance.

“It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into [Colin] Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s going to the mall or whatever,” he told the Mercury News.

But most players simply sold the company line, whether that company was the NHL – who has told players to be “apolitical” at the rink – or their teams, like the Penguins. Witness Sidney Crosby’s comments after Pittsburgh reaffirmed their attendance at the White House:

“I still feel like we look at it as an opportunity,” Crosby told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday. “We respect the office of the White House. I’m pretty aware of what’s going on. People have that right to not go, too. Nobody’s saying they have to go. As a group, we decided to go. There hasn’t really been a whole lot of discussion about it.”

This put Crosby in the crosshairs. Fans wrote impassioned letters urging him to take a stand against the invitation. Activist El Jones of Halifax blasted Crosby in a column to Vice Canada, “Crosby’s choice to prioritize a photo opportunity with Trump doesn’t only harm those protesting in the United States. For black Canadians it is yet another reminder that we are not included in Canada, that white Canadians can safely ignore us and be excused for doing so.”

Personally, I thought this targeting of Crosby was misguided. Sure, he’s the captain. And yes, it’s difficult to see the biggest stars in the NBA speaking from the heart about the U.S. President while having the biggest star in the NHL leading his team to the White House with nary a critical word.

But what did you expect, exactly? Crosby is a milquetoast hockey automaton who treats controversy like it’s radioactive. He’s a company man, a team guy; even if he stands in opposition to Trump’s policies or the man himself, he’s not going to be the one to engage in it now. A third straight Stanley Cup means more to Crosby than commenting on another sport’s political unrest. An avoidance of distraction means more to Crosby than being a leading voice on social issues – which is, of course, his privilege.

But more than that: These players that are selling the company line are doing so because they’ve been given that line to sell.

Some find comfort in that – ‘hey it’s above my pay grade’ – while others are clearly getting the message that the NHL and their teams don’t want divisive protests and social politics inside their arenas.

(Unless of course it’s an ongoing campaign for gay rights or using the military as a way to rally fans in the third period or having Sarah Palin drop the puck at Flyers and Blues games …)

Which brings us back to Subban.

***

Look, P.K. Subban is a blessing. His ability, his joy for hockey, his love of the game, his personality, his philanthropy, his way with the media, the way he sold that “bad breath” joke in the Stanley Cup Final … all of it. His existence is, without question, one of the things we like best about the current NHL.

But for years, we’ve assigned him extra import as the league’s most prominent black player, and P.K. isn’t looking to be that standard-bearer. “I never look at myself as a black player. I think of myself as a hockey player who wants to be the best hockey player in the league. I know I’m black. Everyone knows I’m black. But I don’t want to be defined as a black hockey player,” he told ESPN earlier this year. And it’s not the first time he’s downplayed his race with regard to his career.

There’s a lot to unpack in that stance, and as a white American hockey writer I’m probably not the one to open the trunk. But I will say that part of that decision on Subban’s part, and any decision by players to downplay their racial or sexual identity as professional hockey players, is to avoid being ostracized. Avoid being “the other.” Conforming to the dogma of the dressing room, the organization and ultimately the NHL. Fitting into “the hockey culture.”

This aspect is, in my travels, quite unique to hockey. Other sports preach it, but the NHL players are the only ones that consistently seem to embody this “not the name on the back!” aesthetic.

Subban, to his credit, has bucked that notion throughout his career through his personality and actions, but even he has his limits.

Perhaps he truly believes in the sanctity of the anthem and the flag with regarding to staging protests during it.

Or perhaps he wants to stand arm-in-arm with black athletes from other sports, but other factors make that untenable: Hockey culture or turning off fans in a red state (even if the city is much more moderate) or even his more selfish aims – a guy who has a high-powered Hollywood marketing firm getting him on the Nickelodeon Kids Sports Awards probably knows it’s better for business not to be the black militant in a lily-white sport.

Whatever the motivation, know this: P.K. Subban says he’ll never kneel during the anthem.

He said this at a comedy club on Tuesday night. But the joke’s on everyone who assumed Subban would be the antithesis of Sidney Crosby on this issue, because in the end they both play in the NHL, and for teams that have been emphatic in not joining the fight the NFL and NBA have.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

NHL players that are no longer among Top 50 best

NHL

TSN released its list of the Top 50 players in the NHL for 2017-18 on Tuesday, and it had all the hallmarks of TSN’s list of Top 50 players in the NHL for 2017-18:

* Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, after one season, is No. 10, ahead of Nicklas Backstrom and John Tavares. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, after one season, is No. 50, ahead of … everyone not on the list, especially Willie Nylander, who is better. This is all just in case you needed a primer on where TSN is located and who owns them. Although kudos for showing enough restraint to keep Marleau off.

* Only five of the top 50 players are goalies. Which is usually how these things go.

Leon Draisaitl is No. 23, ahead of Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron, who have demonstrated a prowess at their position rather than riding Connor McDavid’s wing to a huge contract. (I love Leon Draisaitl, but c’mon, give it a year.)

And so on. But as a new list comes out, that means names from the old list must be jettisoned for bad seasons or aging out or because it’s no longer cool to consider them among the Top 50 players, like Matt Duchene, apparently.

Here are the Top 12 Players To No Longer Rank Among The Top 50 Players.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. (Last year: No. 31)

His lowest point production season since 2010 has prompted the Flyers to consider him for the wing, which is why he’s gone from being ranked ahead of Evgeni Kuznetsov to off the list, putting his “best player in the world” title in serious peril. 

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks (Last year: No. 33)

Thornton was actually off the poll in 2015 but returned in 2016 because he was so charming at the World Cup of Hockey. (OK, and a point per game player.) But time’s up, grandpa.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils (Last year: No. 37)

TSN reports that Hall is No. 51 in their balloting, but simply couldn’t overcome the Hall of Fame trajectory of Mitch Marner.

Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers (Last year: No. 38)

Ekblad battled injuries, an embarrassing season from his team and some bad puck luck (dat shooting percentage) to somehow become inferior to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan Suter, behind whom he now ranks off the board.

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks (Last year: No. 39)

This is fine, actually, given the poll’s tradition of precipitous drops for aging goal scorers. (see also: Ovechkin, Alex).

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (Last year: No. 40)

Off the list for the first time in five seasons. Why? Not Mitch Marner, obvi.

Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils (Last year: No. 41)

Completely justifiable, as any Devils fan who saw him wave to pucks flying by him last season can attest.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (Last year: No. 42)

Six more years!

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche (Last year: No. 43)

The way this guy has been discussed over the summer’s Free Matty campaign, one would assume he’d be top 10. In reality … this is fine.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (Last year: No. 45)

Hey, he’s 35 and coming off a .910 save percentage season, so this is understandable. Top 50 most beautiful people, on the other hand…

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Last year: No. 46)

MacKinnon didn’t actually make the ranking in 2015-16, but made it in 2016-17, because we were all like “see, he’s totally not a 38-point player” after getting 52 points in 72 games in the previous season. And now we’re like “uh, apparently, he’s a 53-point player” and he’s back off the list.

Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres (Last year: No. 49)

This might be a good place to mention that Jack Eichel didn’t make the list last year after a 56-point rookie season. He’s No. 21 now.

The full new TSN list is here. Spoiler: Connor McDavid is where Sidney Crosby should be.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

 

USA Hockey coach looking to Europe for 2018 Olympians

NHL

It must be hard for Tony Granato, head coach of the 2018 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, not to dip into the well at Lake Placid too many times.

There isn’t easier shorthand for what an NHL-less Olympics looks like for an American player: The rag-tag group of underdogs looking to overcome insurmountable odds to win gold, just like they did in 1980.

(Oh and, of course, under the tutelage of a charismatic coach.)

“I think we have lots of players in our country and in our talent pool that will give us the same kind of excitement we had in Lake Placid. I thought [the NHL in the Olympics] was great for our game. But this is a great opportunity for these guys,” said Granato at an Olympic media summit, via the Star Tribune.

We won’t know the exact makeup of the team until January 1, 2018, when the first roster is expected to be released. (Although, due to the NHL vs. IOC pissing match, not likely at the Winter Classic.)

We can expect some young college stars like Jordan Greenway of Boston University (above) and Troy Terry of the University of Denver to make the cut – after all, they participated in the media summit – but who else is headed to Pyeongchang?

From the Star Tribune:

Granato views the Europe-based pros as a good base for the team, because they already are playing on Olympic-size ice for teams whose schedules will not wear them out before February. A group of those players — along with Granato and his Olympic staff — will represent the U.S. at Germany’s Deutschland Cup in November, the only pre-Olympic tournament the Americans will play.

“We’ll get a pretty good idea at that tournament of what we have,’’ Granato said. “From that tournament, we’ll probably have a pretty good chunk of our team that will be with us moving forward, then we’ll fill in with the college players and players here in the minors.”

He echoed that to the LA Times:

“We will have NHL-caliber players on our team. We will have players that play on our team that will advance to the NHL and be stars in the NHL after,” Granato said at the Team USA media summit. “We’re looking for a confident and energized group of players that we believe will give us the best chance to win.

“I think there’s an elite group of players that are playing professionally in Europe that we’ll kind of build our team around from the standpoint of they’re playing on the big sheet right now and they’re playing a relatively friendly schedule compared to our NHL schedule. It’s not quite as grinding and they should be a little bit fresher as they head into the month of February. But we’ll look for character players. … We’re going to have a team that I think the American people and the American hockey fan will be proud of.”

In a tournament like this, the success or failure of the U.S. squad will be all about execution of systems and quality of goaltending.

On that first aspect, Granato told Craig Custance of The Athletic:

“You’re not going to have a ton of practice time. The system we put in is going to be simple. Simple systems usually are the best systems anyways. Everybody has played the way we’re going to teach and coach.”

Which is the best thing to hear.

But as far as goalies … well, who knows?

Cal Petersen seemed like a likely choice, but the Notre Dame goalie is now in the Los Angeles Kings’ system. As an AHL player, he won’t be able to go.

Ryan Zapolski, 30, a former ECHL and AHL farmhand? Potentially, given he’s played in Europe for the last five years, and has played well for Jokerit (1.39 GAA, .943 save percentage) so far this season.

Bottom line: Granato and Team USA have some hasty decisions to make.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.