Justin Williams free agency: Drawing interest as productive veteran

Justin Williams is going to get a ton of money, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

At 35 years old, Williams is on the final years of his NHL career. With the way he played last year, one wouldn’t know he’s on the wrong side of 30.

Last season, the 16-year veteran tallied 24 goals and 48 points in his second season with the Washington Capitals. According to Hockey Reference, he had his highest career shooting percentage at 14.4 percent. His Corsi and Fenwick ratings were both above 50 percent, signaling that the Caps possessed the puck well with Williams on the ice.

Williams’ contract with Washington expired, and with T.J. Oshie and Dmitry Orlov signing deals, it is unlikely the right winger reunites with them in the nation’s capital. And so, he hits the open market, presenting a quandary for front offices: how many years and how much money do we give an aging player who’s still producing?

Justin Williams’ Value

Justin Williams free agency

Williams won two of his three Stanley Cups with Los Angeles. Photo by Victor Decolongon, Getty Images.

He has the most value in his overall experience in the postseason. In 140 playoff games, he’s notched 94 points while winning three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe trophy in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

During that postseason, Williams scored nine goals and 16 assists. Even as the elder statesman with the Capitals this past year, he recorded nine points in 13 games. As perplexing as it is to outsiders, players and fans know that Justin Williams is reliable in the playoffs.

Justin Williams can help any team that needs a championship-caliber player with his playoff expertise. Combine his resumé with need and teams should fork over the dough to sign him.

Justin Williams’ Cap Hit and the RW Market

Looking at the rest of the free agent market, he can sign at about any time that he wants. Williams is the second-best right wing on the block. Alexander Radulov is the top name on the right side, but they’re both different players at different points in their careers.

Radulov enjoyed a breakout campaign with Montreal after a stint in the KHL. At 30 years old, he still has a handful of good years left. Teams are likely to ink him to a longer deal than Williams. Radulov will go to a team that wants him for the long haul. Williams should sign around a two to three-year deal.

The Capitals paid Williams a modest $3.25 million the past two seasons, per CapFriendly. He hasn’t made more than $4 million in his career. Based on his overall recent production, he should achieve that milestone. Justin Williams can use his play at an old age as leverage to raise the monetary value. Teams will balk at 35 years old. Anything more than three years is excessive. Two or three years, until his skating and his scoring declines, are the fairest lengths for both sides.

Justin Williams free agency prospects

Justin Williams has his own list of coveted places. His list is reportedly down to three, though it is unsure what those teams are. Yesterday, TSN’s Darren Dreger listed Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and the New York Islanders as teams interested in him (he said the quoted tweet is incorrect so it has nothing to do with his commentary).

The Islanders are looking to add another productive scorer as they look to return to the playoffs. CapFriendly says they have $9 million to play with in cap, so they won’t pursue another big free agent if Williams signs there. Plus, they’d have to shuffle their lineup to accommodate him. Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Josh Ho-Sang and Cal Clutterbuck are all right wingers. Williams would have to slot elsewhere or the Isles have to swap someone on the roster.

Justin Williams free agency

Justin Williams may join the orange and white next year instead of roughing them up. Photo by Rob Carr, Getty Images.

Would Justin Williams return to the city where he made his NHL debut? The Flyers have slightly more cap room than the Islanders, but still less than $10 million. However, Williams is a great fit for a team that needs to replace Brayden Schenn’s output. Williams can fit on the second or third line and help a team with postseason potential. Philadelphia is an up and coming team. With Williams’ veteran leadership, he can push them over the top in a daunting Metro Division.

Of these three teams, Tampa Bay makes the most sense. Williams would be their best winger not named Nikita Kucherov. With over $20 million in cap space, the Lightning can afford to overpay him while not restricting their budget. If that’s what it takes for Tampa to replenish their forwards, then they should’ve already been on the phone when midnight struck today.

Justin Williams, at 35 years old, is still a capable NHL player and is one of the better free agent options. Word is he wants to stay in the East, though it’s unknown what teams he is interested in playing for. Whichever team he signs with, they will pay big bucks to land him, but receive a valuable piece for it.

 

Feature image by Nick Wass, AP/Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

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Capitals GM sheds light on Alex Ovechkin’s future

For the past 12 years, the Washington Capitals have written the same story. Since drafting main character Alex Ovechkin in 2004, the Caps have been a perennial playoff team, only to fall short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

After another Presidents’ Trophy season and another quick exit in the postseason last year, general manager Brian MacLellan wants answers. Rumors are floating about the improbable: trading the NHL’s leader in goals since 2005 in Ovechkin.

The thought of trading Ovechkin seems abominable based on his track record. He’s the all-time Russian-born leader in NHL goals and is third amongst active players with 558 scores. He’s the captain of the team and is the face of the franchise. However, he hasn’t taken his team to the Stanley Cup Final in his tenure. The team has only reached that spot once in 42 seasons.

Yesterday, MacLellan offered his thoughts on trading Ovechkin, per AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno:

“People are looking for a major solution to what we have going on. I think part of it is they watch certain things in this game and then it shows up and they say, ‘That’s not acceptable.’ But he’s a big part of our franchise, a big part of our history. He’s been a big part of where we’re at as an organization and just to casually say, ‘Let’s trade him for what or who?’ I don’t think it makes sense from an organizational point of view. Maybe at some point if there’s a legitimate hockey deal that came available, but I don’t know that that’s where we’re at right now. I just think he’s got a history here, he’s a big part of our franchise and he’ll continue to be going forward.”

Capitals GM Brian McLellan wants to keep Alex Ovechkin, but could trade him in the right deal.

Capitals GM Brian Brian MacLellan. (Photo courtesy of USA Today/Photo by Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

If there’s anything to admire about his comments, it’s that he is incredibly loyal to his cornerstone player. Fans may argue that Ovechkin hasn’t taken his team to the next level, but they also would not compete in the playoffs almost every season.

He’s ranked in the top ten in jersey sales across the NHL every year, and his community service with Ovi’s Crazy 8s has brought joy to underserved children and military personnel in the D.C. area. Trading the face of the Capitals may be easy for the fans, but not for the man pulling the trigger.

On the other hand, it’s stunning for MacLellan to even admit shipping Ovechkin to say the least. Most general managers will always say that no player on their roster is ever unavailable.

Despite that, there are players that logically, would never move from another team. Pittsburgh would ideally never trade Sidney Crosby at this juncture. Toronto is not moving Auston Matthews and neither is Edmonton with Connor McDavid. The latter two players are at a different point in their careers than Ovechkin, but they are just as important to their respective franchises. Ovechkin’s earned the right to be on that same level based on his career.

While MacLellan’s comments shed light on a shocking development, it shows Washington’s management and fans’ patience is waning. Ovechkin struggled to generate shots against the Penguins in this year’s playoffs. His play was so ineffective that head coach Barry Trotz called out his “star players” and booted Ovechkin to the third line.

This comes after a season where he endured long stretches without scoring. He played his fewest full-season minutes and posted the third-lowest point total of his career, just four more than the lockout season. Alex Ovechkin did not have a great season according to Alex Ovechkin standards.

If the Capitals still performed well this season with a slumping Ovechkin, is he more expendable? It isn’t that simple. Washington received more contributions than expected from T.J. Oshie’s career-high 33 goals and 48 points from 35-year-old Justin Williams. Both are unrestricted free agents.

The Capitals will have to replace their production or resign them, which is uncertain at this juncture. To say that Washington can afford to move Ovechkin and still contend in a stacked Metropolitan division is naïve.

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), from Russia, celebrates his goal in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Will Alex Ovechkin celebrate goals the rest of his career with Washington? (Photo courtesy of The Washington Times)

Even if MacLellan says that Ovechkin can be traded for a legitimate deal, the odds of finding one is unknown. It’s not impossible; Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks, and $15 million. Ovechkin may not earn the same value, but it could float towards that territory.

For 12 years, the story in D.C. has been Alex Ovechkin becoming a historic player in the NHL for Washington. However, the Capitals want to write a different ending than the one they’ve written in the playoffs. The front office does not wish to move their cornerstone player, but if nothing changes, then a new story, without the main character for its saga, may come to fruition.

 

Feature image via CBS Sports/USATSI

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Unpacking the NHL’s Concussion Controversy

Time stopped for Sidney Crosby on Monday night in Pittsburgh for the fourth time in his career.

Crosby, known as one of the best skill forwards in the NHL, sustained a concussion after a hit from the Capitals’ defenseman Matt Niskanen in the first period of Game 3 of the Penguins-Capitals playoff series. Crosby did not return for the rest of the game and missed the next one.

There is mounting concern for Crosby, who has four reported concussion-related injuries in his 12-year NHL career. There also could be more unreported injuries that went unnoticed. Crosby’s career length and well-being after hockey are up for debate.

Many former players with concussion histories have struggled with health issues in retirement. However, both the players and the NHL haven’t helped each other enough to combat the issues. From players’ hesitancy to report concussions in the past, to Gary Bettman’s denial of a link between concussions and CTE, the NHL has a concussion controversy.

This season, at least 13 players across all 30 teams were listed on injury reports with a concussion or a head injury. Concussions aren’t a recent issue in the league either. In 2011, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study that found 559 concussions amongst NHL players from 1997-2004. Pat LaFontaine, a talented forward in the 1980s and 1990s, suffered six in his career and ultimately retired at 33.  Eric Lindros had seven across 15 years.

Exported.;

Courtesy of NY Daily News/Photo by Chris Gardner, AP

The difference for Crosby, LaFontaine and Lindros though, is their overall ability. While they missed considerable time with concussions, their place on rosters was never in doubt. That wasn’t always the case for Bryan Muir.

Muir played with seven different NHL teams and constantly rode the shuttle to and from the minor leagues. He also suffered from multiple concussions, even reporting instances of vomiting on the bench after a hard hit. During his playing days, concussion tests weren’t as expansive. If x-rays couldn’t find his injury, he wouldn’t report it to the team for fear of being sent down.

This is the concussion culture in the NHL. Fringe players don’t want to admit they’re hurt because of their tenuous grip on an NHL roster. Many of these players sacrifice their health because of it. This leads to long-term health effects after their careers are over. While it’s understandable for players to feel this way, they’ve harmed themselves from doing it. Muir has mentioned he misses his playing days, but he also notices changes in his mood. He has a short temper and mood swings, and he’s unsure if it’s due to the concussions.

For others, like Dale Purinton and Dan LaCouture, substance abuse, depression, and memory loss riddled their post-career days and led to strains in their personal lives. Both were arrested at one point, and LaCouture lost his wife and custody of his kids. Athletes these days have to be aware of what their bodies tell them when sustaining heavy injuries.

Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador each suffered concussions during their playing days in the 2000s. Boogaard officially had three, and it led to impaired memory and depression later in his life. He accidentally overdosed on painkillers and died in 2011.

Montador retired shortly after a hit to the head in 2012. He died in his home in 2015 without a clear cause of death. Both had CTE, a brain injury that is only detectable after death. Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, depression and issues with impulse control.

These symptoms line up with injuries from concussions. Despite this, the NHL isn’t certain of a link between concussions and CTE, leading to dissent between the league and former players.

Last October, Commissioner Gary Bettman wrote to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that the speculation of a link between head trauma and neurodegenerative diseases is unproven. He mentioned the gaps in the research of CTE as additional proof.

The Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences found recently in early testing that there isn’t a strong correlation between concussions and cognitive functions. Retired players, including a participating Muir, actually do well with it. Despite the early conclusions in that study, it doesn’t match what the players feel. Bettman’s stance is alienating the former players who have noticeably changed since their days in the league.

Previous athletes began to take action against the league for it. Over 126 former players who’ve had concussions are filed a lawsuit against the NHL. The suit claims the league did not do enough to protect them from head injuries and resulting health issues. It’s reached as far as the federal courts as the NHL maintains the absence of a causal relationship.

The former players and the league are taking the same path as the NFL.  The league denied the relationship too, and former players sued. Eventually, the two sides reached a settlement in 2015.

Courtesy of The Sarnia Observer/Photo by Shaun Best, Reuters

The NHL is fulfilling its duty now to prevent concussions.  Hybrid icing, concussion spotters and fines for violating protocol are important for preventing future head injuries. At the same time, they have an obligation to aid the former players that are suffering through the aftereffects of hockey. Likewise, the players have to be honest with doctors and coaches if they are suffering through injuries. Even if it’s a player fighting for his roster spot or a postseason game, the ramifications of the game have to take a backseat.

Sidney Crosby is skating with his teammates in practice. He is still questionable for Game 5 tonight, but if he’s healthy, he’ll likely play. If there’s even the slightest issue with his health, he must sit. As history has proved, the NHL and its players have to address the issue head on. Delicately, of course.

 

Featured Image by Drop Your Gloves

 

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Rivalry or Not, Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin is NHL’s Best Battle

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled for the MLB’s home run title in the 90s. Basketball pitted Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the “Golden Age” of the NBA back in the 80s. These rivalries combined talented athletes with powerful teams looking to one-up the other for the ultimate goal.

The NHL has experienced its share of all-time greats facing each other. However, none have come close to the fanfare of Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

They’re arguably the two best forwards since entering the league in 2005. Ovechkin is an 11-time All-Star and collected three Hart trophies. Crosby has two Hart wins, six All-Star nominations, 1,027 career points and two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. Ovechkin’s 558 goals since 2005 are the best in the league, with Crosby right behind him at 382. Their superstardom sets the scene for their intense battles, but they don’t see it that way.

(Photo courtesy of Washington Post, taken by Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

Rivalries occasionally have the connotation that bad blood between the players is crucial. Even though there was a mild spat in 2009, the two have expressed respect for one another.  Ovechkin was more vocal of their relationship, saying at the 2017 All-Star Game that they aren’t “best friends.”

There is no strife between them. Instead, there’s an appropriate balance of respect and understanding that they are fierce competitors who are vying for the same goal. Some may argue Ovechkin and Crosby’s blasé attitude towards each other eliminates the notion of a rivalry.  However, that’s not the reason why fans and the media hype it up.

The Capitals and Penguins have combined for 21 winning seasons since Crosby and Ovechkin joined the NHL. Both teams were under .500 in 2005-06, while Washington’s last losing season was the following year. The Capitals and Penguins are amongst the best in the NHL and play in the same division. It’s one of the top rivalries in all of hockey, and the two superstars make it that much more enticing.

It’s safe to say Crosby and the Penguins have the edge in the rivalry. Pittsburgh has won two Stanley Cups with Crosby, while Ovechkin has never seen his team reach the Conference Finals. In 2009 and 2016, the Penguins dispatched the Caps in the playoffs en route to those championships.

The Penguins have won 106 games against Washington compared to 95 for the Capitals against the Penguins.  This can make the rivalry more one-sided towards the Penguins, but it’s not exactly a landslide either.

In the 217 games in the rivalry, the Penguins have scored just 15 more goals. For years, these games have been close, and that was apparent on Thursday when Ovechkin and Crosby squared off for the 14th time in the playoffs.

Since it’s appropriate there’s history being made, this year’s playoff meeting is the first time in the shootout era that the top two regular season teams are meeting in the postseason. Crosby did not disappoint in the second when he notched two goals in 52 seconds in the second period. Just as Pittsburgh started to gain ground with a 2-0 lead, Ovechkin answered with a wrist shot to make it 2-1. The Capitals came back to tie it before Nick Bonino tallied the game-winner in the third and the Penguins took Game 1.

No matter the result, Crosby and Ovechkin were sharp once more against each other. Ovechkin has 22 points against the Penguins in the playoffs, while Crosby has 17. The two are tremendous in the postseason, but they always step it up against each other under the brightest lights.

(Photo courtesy of CBS Sports Radio, taken by Harry How, Getty Images)

We’ve witnessed plenty of exciting individual matchups in the NHL throughout the years. Like Crosby and Ovechkin, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux contended for the pinnacle of hockey’s top player in the late 80s and early 90s. However, Gretzky was on the West Coast while Lemieux was with Pittsburgh. Despite entertaining games between the two, their matchups were too infrequent to establish a long-standing individual rivalry.

The Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry has what Gretzky/Lemieux missed and blends traits of the classic rivalries of other sports. It’s the race for dominance that McGwire and Sosa had, and the magnitude of the matchups like Bird and Johnson in the NBA Finals.

Thursday’s game was a microcosm of the Penguins and Capitals rivalry since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL.  Both players shine, but the Penguins end up ahead. Nonetheless, that game showed that these two have created a rivalry that has made their battles must-see hockey.  It may not be a heated rivalry based on their indifferent thoughts of one another, but their play on the ice and their teams capture the essence of a legendary clash.

 

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Division Rivalries, Top Goaltenders Highlight NHL Conference Semifinals

Still recovering from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?  That’s understandable, considering 18 of the 42 total games played went to overtime.  But now, the spotlight shines on the eight remaining teams.  The Conference Semifinals feature three series with divisional rivals as well as some of the league’s best goaltending.  Here’s a preview of the four series ahead.

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

(Courtesy of espn.com)

2017 Season Series: Ottawa 2-1-0/Getty Images

While it may not be a divisional battle nor have the playoff history of its Eastern Conference counterpart, this matchup features two teams with huge star power.  Henrik Lundqvist was stellar in helping the Rangers dispatch the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.  His 195 saves were two shy of Braden Holtby for most in the first round.  His .9466 save percentage in the series was three ten-thousandths shy of his career postseason mark against Washington in 2013.  The victory over Montreal wasn’t perfect, however.  Chris Kreider and JT Miller didn’t score, while Nick Holden and Marc Staal had costly turnovers and mental lapses at times in their own zone.  Lundqvist carried the team this far, but the Blueshirts play better when they get a more consistent effort on offense and defense.

The Senators enjoyed production from all units in their 6-game series win over the Boston Bruins.  Former Ranger Derick Brassard exploded for eight points, while Bobby Ryan added two game-winning goals.  Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and the blue line held the Bruins to just 13 goals in the six contests, making it easy for goalie Craig Anderson.  Karlsson showed why he’s a Norris Trophy candidate, leading the Sens in ice time while bearing two fractures in his left heel.  Ottawa received needed contributions from their top players, but do they have the depth to make a deeper run in the postseason?

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

(Courtesy of japersrink.com)

2017 Season Series: Washington 2-0-2

This is the series you’ll want to tune in to every game for, and the NHL knows it.  They’ve played up the tensions between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the spots they run during commercial breaks.  The Presidents’ Trophy winner versus the runners-up.  Two division rivals with the two aforementioned superstars and both teams top five in the regular season on the power play.  Need I say more?

The Capitals had to fend off the budding Maple Leafs in six.  Braden Holtby’s 197 saves were tops among goalies in the first round as he neutralized Auston Matthews and company just enough.  Ovechkin was his usual self with two power play goals and three total.  But he has options around him that Washington hasn’t seen in quite some time.  TJ Oshie had seven points, Justin Williams shined in the playoffs again, and 11 other players recorded two or more points.  On paper, Washington is as stacked as they come on all sides.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they run just as deep on offense.  Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are the notable names.  But Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust tormented Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets all series. They benefited from their linemates and pressured up front to outplay their expectations.  Marc-Andre Fleury performed admirably in net filling in for the injured Matt Murray.  With Murray still not skating as of the weekend, Fleury still sits between the pipes.  Can a Pens defense missing Kris Letang cover up the holes they had in Round 1?

 

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Predators Blues Hockey(Courtesy of stltoday.com)

2017 Season Series: Nashville 3-2-0

The Predators being here is one shock.  The way they did it is another.  Pekka Rinne allowed a measly three goals in a four game sweep while making 123 stops in net.  The blue line was a force physically on the boards and in open ice as they neutralized Chicago’s stars.  What didn’t get enough credit, however, was the offense.  Down two goals in Game 3, Filip Forsberg and company outhustled Chicago to win in overtime.  The Blackhawks’ radio team noted in that game Nashville was energetic on both sides of the puck while Chicago was exhausted.  That sustained pressure should help them in this series too.

Netminder Jake Allen and the Blues dispatched a middling Minnesota Wild team in five games.  Allen’s .956 save percentage and eight goals allowed were second-lowest in the league only to Rinne.  He took the pressure off of the offense, which was quiet, if not tempered.  The Blues perform well across the board, but they don’t overpower you in one exact area.  Their penalty kill ranked third in the regular season at 84.8%.  Will it make a difference facing a Nashville team that produces better on even strength?

 

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks

(Courtesy of nhl.com)

2017 Season Series: Edmonton 3-2-0 (Anaheim lost 2 overtime games)

Penguins/Capitals gets the attention because of the history, but this can be just as entertaining of a matchup.  These are two Pacific rivals that vied for the division title until the final week.  The Ducks and Oilers are also second and sixth in hits, respectively.  There are skill players that draw you to this matchup, but the physicality potential spices it up further.

The Oilers showed they’re the real deal after taking care of defending West champion San Jose.  Connor McDavid scored four goals in his postseason debut.  But here were the goal scorers in the last two games: Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, Oscar Klefbom, David Desharnais, Leon Draisaitl, Anton Slepyshev and McDavid.  That’s tremendous diversity on offense.  They won’t always get that production from some of those 3rd and 4th line guys, but this team doesn’t have to rely on McDavid to score.  Their success, however, relies on netminder Cam Talbot.  He had two shutouts in Games 2 and 3, but allowed five goals in Game 4.  They need Talbot to be on top of his game every night.

The Ducks are the NHL’s hottest team right now.  Following their four games sweep over Calgary, they’ve won 13 of their last 15.  The special teams unit is dangerous both on the man up and the man down.  Their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL and they accrued the second-most penalty minutes in the regular season.  They have playmakers at almost every forward position on their top three lines.  Defenseman Cam Fowler may return this series now that he’s resumed practice.  Their challenge is getting good goaltending.  John Gibson took a step forward as Anaheim’s leading tender.  However, this is his first full postseason.  What can we expect from him?

 

Predictions

New York-Ottawa: Derick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad play well against their former respective teams, plus we get another good matchup in net.  But the Blueshirts are just a little deeper on offense. Rangers in 6

Pittsburgh-Washington: We get another postseason classic from these two.  The Caps push Fleury to the brink, but the Pens survive thanks to secondary contributions and speed. Penguins in 7

Nashville-St. Louis: Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are talented, but they have to show up for the Blues.  The Preds employ the same gameplan they had against Chicago to prevent the Blues to get to the net cleanly.  Peter Laviolette knows how to win here. Predators in 5

Edmonton-Anaheim: Fowler can make all the difference on defense for Anaheim.  However, if Edmonton plays physical, but smart on the boards, they have the talent to overcome a veteran Ducks team.  Oilers in 7

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Alex Ovechkin, NHL, IIHF, IOC, Olympics, 2018, Korea, NLHPA, Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, Hockey, Wayne Gretzky, Washington Capitals, National Hockey League, International Ice Hockey Federation, 2018 Olympic Games, 2014 Sochi Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Olympic Hockey

Olympic Hockey: The NHL Abroad

Olympic hockey as you know it may never be the same again.

Players badly want to represent their countries in the upcoming Olympics, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL owners see no benefit in allowing their players to compete overseas. It is now up to Bettman to find a suitable solution to this problem.

But how did we even get here?

Alex Ovechkin, NHL, IIHF, IOC, Olympics, 2018, Korea, NLHPA, Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, Hockey, Wayne Gretzky, Washington Capitals, National Hockey League, International Ice Hockey Federation, 2018 Olympic Games, 2014 Sochi Games, PyeongChang, South Korea, Olympic Hockey

Gary Bettman (left) and Donald Fehr (right). Photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski, USA Today Sports

For the past twenty years, the NHL has participated in the Winter Olympics without interruption: Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin, Vancouver, and Sochi. This young tradition may soon be coming to an end.

With the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang a little over a year away, the NHL has not yet decided whether or not they will allow their players to travel to South Korea and represent their respective countries.

The main actors at play here are the International Olympic Committee, the NHL, and the NHLPA (Player’s Association).

The whole question of whether or not the NHL should participate in the upcoming Olympics began when the IOC announced that they would no longer front the bill for travel and insurance costs. The estimated cost to cover these was over $10 million. This left a sour taste in the mouths of many NHL owners.

 

According to Bettman

There is a “strong negative sentiment” among NHL owners towards halting mid-season and allowing their elite players to compete overseas in 2018. Their concerns primarily revolve around the almost certain revenue losses, which inevitably come with an Olympic break, and potential player injuries. Both pose serious problems for owners routinely responsible for hundred million dollar payrolls. For Bettman, the solution was a matter of compromise, but not between the NHL and the IOC. Instead, Bettman and the NHL approached the NHLPA with a deal.

In return for the NHL fronting the travel and insurance bills, suffering the revenue losses, and risking their most valuable players to injury, the NHLPA was asked to extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, thereby waiving their opt-out clause in 2019. This would have extended the current CBA well into the future, ensuring players the opportunity to participate in international hockey for another two Olympics. It was, however, categorically rejected by the NHLPA.

And so here we are

Everyone is waiting for a decision to come down from the NHL’s top brass about whether or not we will see the world’s top talent compete in Korea in 2018. Some aren’t waiting though.

Washington Capitals star, and NHL icon, Alexander Ovechkin has repeatedly stated that his will to compete in the Winter Olympics is greater than that of the NHL’s to abstain. Even if the NHL refuses to participate, Ovechkin has said that he “and other players will definitely come [to the Olympics]” in 2018 and represent Russia. He made similar statements when the NHL’s participation was up in the air prior to the 2014 Sochi games.

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky gave his two cents, stating that he happens “to love everything about the Olympic Games.” Gretzky knows, though, that his love of the games does not necessarily mean that the NHL has to participate. “I like the Olympic Games, but does that mean that the NHL is going to go? I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t tell you,” he said.

While Gary Bettman and the NHL hope to reach a decision by early January, they continue to appear rather pessimistic in their potential participation, or lack thereof, in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea.

 

In the meantime

 

 

The League’s top super stars of past and present have spoken out against the NHL’s proposed divestment from Olympic hockey. Their representative, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, recently released a statement to the public on Sunday.

I’m more optimistic now than I have ever been, at least as far as we’re concerned, that we’ll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go.

The problem is that this sentiment is not felt by the other parties involved. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has told the NHL that they will find a way to bridge the $10 million gap, but the NHL remains weary of their ability to do so.

The IOC has stoically remained silent on the subject.

The NHL has yet to release any more information other than the fact that they are no more inclined to send their talent to Korea in 2018 than they were before Fehr’s statement on Sunday.

This leaves us fans, sitting here, waiting patiently. Wondering what our respective teams will look like without their NHL talent on board. Wondering, perhaps, who will be willing to follow the likes of Ovechkin and company if the NHL does indeed pull their support for the games and what that will mean for the NHL, the NHLPA, and the IOC.

 

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Three Down, One to Go

With three of the four quarterfinal series over we take a look back at each series and what to watch for in game seven for the Sharks and Predators.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders (4-1)

Defenseman Victor Hedman came up big in the second round for the Lightning (finanace.yahoo.com)

The Lightning took care of the Islanders swiftly. Tampa Bay might have up to a week of rest, and it will be interesting to see how they play in their first game back. Will they come out slow, or will they come out with tons of energy built up from sitting around for a while? What is certain for Tampa Bay is goaltender Ben Bishop. The Lightning know any given game they can win because Ben Bishop is net. Bishop currently owns a 1.89 goals allowed per game alongside two shutouts.

Also good news moving forward for the Lightning is the possible return of defenseman Anton Stralman and superstar forward Steven Stamkos. Initially Stamkos was out a month to three months after his blood clot surgery, this past Monday was a month since, but he doesn’t quite look ready. Stralman on the other hand could be ready any game now which would be a huge upgrade at the blue line.

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (2-4)

Phil Kessel (fansided.com)

The Lightning will be taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins who just beat the Stanley Cup favorites. Phil Kessel who was somewhat quiet in the first round really heated up this round. The veteran now has 12 points in just 11 games.

This Penguins’ offense is on fire, leading the playoff teams with 3.36 goals per game and they also have an outstanding 27.5% power play. The Penguins power play is lethal with goal scorers all over the ice from Sidney Crosby to Phil Kessel to Evgeni Malkin to Patric Hornqvist, anyone can score at any given moment.

Matt Murray has come out of no where. Murray went from back-up goaltender to one of the best in the playoffs in a couple weeks. This 21-year old kid couldn’t have wished for a better playoff start after outplaying the Braden Holtby who just tied the record for wins in a season by a goalie.

St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars (4-3)

Blues celebrating after Robby Fabbri’s goal (gettyimages.com)

After the Blues lost game six many experts had the Stars winning at home in game seven. The Blues did not skip a beat though, center Robby Fabbri kicked off the scoring early and the Blues didn’t slow down scoring the first five goals. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with this Blues team, as some games they look like a well oiled machine scoring six and five goal games. Then the next day they can not get a goal to save their life. That aside this team looks like a serious threat for the Cup and is a complete team with an outstanding forecheck and great defense.

Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks (3-3)

Tonight these two teams that were the underdogs in the first round, look to advance to the Western Conference finals. The Predators are heading into the “shark tank” and in the previous six games the home team has won all six in the series. Behind Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns I like the Sharks in this one. In that loud environment if the Sharks can get a quick goal early I think the rest will be history. Pekka Rinne has had a great season and playoff run, and Colin Wilson has emerged as great hockey player but I don’t think it is enough.

Nashville Predators @ San Jose Sharks/ Game 7/ May 12th 7:00 CT

Tampa Bay Lighting @ Pittsburgh Penguins/ Game 1/ May 13th

What to Watch for in Round Two

With only one more series to wrap up the first round, the Anaheim Ducks will face off against the Nashville Predators in game seven. We will take a look at the round two match-ups.

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin takes on Sidney Crosby. Two of the greatest players in the NHL face off in this second round match-up. All hockey fans cannot wait to see these two go at it. Alexander Ovechkin, the hard hitting, hard shooting Russian, verses the quiet playmaker from Canada. Both captains of their respected teams are backed by hot goalies. Matthew Murray is normally the backup goalie to Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins, but Fleury is currently out with a concussion. Murray has not missed a beat only allowing two goals a game in the Rangers series. Braden Holtby, the goaltender for the Capitals, had two shutouts in the Flyers series and never gave up more than two goals in a game. Although these are two of the hottest goalies in the league, these are two high powered offenses that can score at any moment.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders

John Tavares (Extratime.uol.com)

Captain Clutch takes on the best playoff line in hockey. Are Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn for the Tampa Bay Lightning the best line in hockey right now? I think so. All three are +6 while on the ice, as they had three of the four game winning goals, and they are first, second, and third in points for their team. The Islanders upset the Florida Panthers in the first round on the back of John Tavares. In game six of the first round, JT scored a late goal to tie the game and then scored the game winning goal in OT. Anyone that follows the Islanders was not surprised by this, JT is as clutch as it comes.

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues

Brian Elliot (Bleedinblue.com)

The St. Louis Blues took care of the former Cup champions in the first round, and goaltender Brian Elliot can take some credit for this. Elliot posted a .929 save percentage, not letting the Blackhawks get into a rhythm. Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko had the most goals for the Blues in the first round with four, and he always does great against the Hawks. Let’s see if he can do the same against the Stars. With the loss of Tyler Seguin, the Stars needed other players to step up, step up they did. Left winger, Jaime Benn, has scored 10 points for the Stars which tops the NHL. The Stars used two goalies in the first round, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen. I hope they use Kari Lehtonen for the rest of the way, as I like the way he has looked.

San Jose Sharks vs. (Anaheim Ducks or Nashville Predators)

The Sharks played really well against the Kings in the first round. I was waiting for the Sharks to fall apart towards the end of the series but it never happened. Whoever wins between Anaheim and Nashville has a tough series to come. Joe Pavelski scored five goals in as many games while shooting an astounding 35.70%. In net Martin Jones out played his former teammate Johnathon Quick. Since Frederik Anderson has taking over in net for the ducks they are 3-1 with his .955%. This is something to watch for in tonight’s game.

4/27 Games

New York Islanders @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7:00 ET

Nashville Predators @ Anaheim Ducks 10:00 ET

NHL Playoffs: 1st Round wrap up

As the first round nears its end, the playoffs have really heated up. With only one series over the others are coming down to the wire. The Red Wings came up short again against the Lightning, and the Ducks are right back in it.

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3-1)

Washington failed to end the series in just four games but, is in a good position to finish off the series at home in game 5. Braden Holtby is only averaging one goal allowed per game, with the power play working so well for the Capitals I think the series ends tonight.

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders (2-2)

Each teams with one win at home and one away a tight series goes back to Florida for game 5. At this point leader for the Panthers Jaromir Jagr has started out slow only has one assists in the first four games. Jonathon Tavares for the Islanders is back to his great offensive plays with seven points in the series.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers (3-1)

Evgeni Malkin (zimbio.com)

The Penguins look to end the series on Saturday at home. With a commanding 5-0 win in New York the Rangers find themselves in a tough spot. Henrik Lundqvist was pulled from the net for the Rangers, will he be ready to go on Saturday? Center, Evgeni Malkin, scored two goals and two assists for the Penguins who just recently came back from an injury. I initially had the Penguins winning in 6 games but I think it will end a game short of that mark.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings (4-1)

This is the only series that is finished with Tampa Bay Lightning winning in five games. When back up goaltender Petr Mrazek came in and won the third game of the series taking Jimmy Howard’s spot. Mrazek was not enough to control this Lightning offense though. Tampa Bay’s right winger Nikita Kucherov  has five goals in as many games and has really found his playoff groove.

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild (3-1)

A series that I predicted to end in four games has extended to at least five games. On Wednesday the Stars got back to their winning ways. The Wild are in a do or die situation going back to Dallas for game 5. I’m trying to not count the Wild out but they’re just not up to the Stars level of play.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3-2)

Patrick Kane (windycitizensports)

One of the most intense sporting event scenarios is 5 on 5 overtime playoff  hockey. We have already seen two overtime games in this series and I feel another one coming. The Hawks star Patrick Kane, won the game in double OT last night after the Blackhawks blew a 3-1 3rd period lead. The next game is back in Chicago, one can only hope to see the Blackhawks force a game 7.

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (1-3)

The Kings are coming back home for game 5 looking to bring this series a little closer in reach. The Sharks have looked great, forcing the L.A. defense into turnovers and taking plenty of shots. Every game has been decided by one goal so these games can really go either way. Keep in the back of your mind the 13-14 playoffs when the Kings came back down (3-0) to the Sharks, anything can happen in the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (2-2)

Heading into Nashville the Anaheim Ducks had lost the opening two home games and were entering an almost most win. Now the Ducks have tied the series and have outscored the Predators 7-1 in the past two games. In the first two games, Nashville looked like a true contender winning on the road. I can not wait to see how this series turns out.

 

 

 

2016 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan

(1) Washington Capitals (56-18-6-2, 120 pts) vs. (wild card) Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-6-8, 96 pts)

Pick: Washington Capitals in 5

Key Players: WSH- G Braden Holtby, LW Alexander Ovechkin; PHI- RW Wayne Simmonds, D Shayne Gostisbehere

The Flyers story is awesome. From looking like they were not going to make the playoffs, the Flyers have been hot and now find themselves up against the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals. The story is great but the road ends here. Look for this to be a bruising series with the Philadelphia Flyers being one of the teams that hits the most. Braden Holtby will shut down the Flyers forwards who lack multiple goal scorers. Alexander Ovechkin is known for being one of the best regular season scorers, but usually starts out slow in the playoffs. If the Ovechkin heats up, watch out, this game will be over in four if he is ripping one timers for the slot.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins (48-26-4-4, 104 pts) vs. (3) New York Rangers (46-27-7-2, 101 pts)

Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6

Key Players: PIT- D Kris Letang, C Sidney Crosby; NYR- G Henrik Lundqvist, LW Kris Kreider

Two similar teams facing off with plenty of veteran players on the ice. Kris Kreider shocked a lot of people last year in the playoffs showing off his speed blowing past defenders with ease. If you are going into a game with King Henrik in net you always know you have a chance to win so don’t be surprised if this game goes to game seven. Kris Letang is a great goal scoring defenseman that will come up big for the Penguins power play. Coming off an injury, Evgeni Malkin looks to get back to his usual ways with fresh legs he can be a big contributor for Pittsburgh.

Atlantic

(1) Florida Panthers (47-26-6-3, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) New York Islanders (45-27-5-5, 100 pts)

Pick: Florida Panthers in 7

Key Players: FLA- G Roberto Luongo, RW Jaromir Jagr; NYI- CnJohn Tavares, LW Brock Nelson

44 year-old Jaromir Jagr (miami.cbslocal.com)

One of the harder series to predict, the Islanders can surprise people with some really talented forwards. With probably the best fourth line in the league the Islanders are a serious threat. Roberto Luongo gets to face off against the team that drafted him and has the daunting task of stopping Jonathon Tavares. JT was near the top of the league in scoring last year and is heating up. What is there to say about Jaromir Jagr? At 44 years-old the Czechoslovakian is leading his team in points and is the leader they need to make a playoff run.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (46-31-2-3 97 pts) vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings (41-30-6-5 93 pts)

Pick: Detroit Red Wings in 7

Key Players: DET- C Pavel Datsyuk, C Dylan Larkin; TB- C Steven Stamkos, G Ben Bishop

It’s Pavel Datsyuk’s final call as he goes for his third Cup, he will return to his home country Russia after the playoffs. Most likely stepping into his 1st line center position next year is rookie Dylan Larkin, who looks to use his speed to launch a successful playoff series. 6′ 7” Ben Bishop is hoping to have another great playoff performance after last year making great saves look easy on a daily basis.

Western Conference

Central

(1) Dallas Stars (50-23-7-2, 109 pts) vs. (wild card) Minnesota Wild (38-33-9-2, 87 pts)

Pick: Dallas Stars in 4

Key Players: DAL- LW- Jaime Benn, D- John Klingberg MIN-LW- Zach Parise, LW- Thomas Vanek

The state of hockey won’t be happy about this one but they are just not quite there yet. The Dallas Stars are an all-around good team, I see the Stars taking care of the Wild quickly. Jaime Benn is an elite offensive player. When Zach Parise gets in the action the Wild can beat good teams and will catch some people’s attention. Thomas Vanek is not the most well-known players but he is a lethal sniper that can score goals with the best of them.

(2) St. Louis Blues (49-24-5-4, 107 pts) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-7-2, 103 pts)

Pick: Chicago Blackhawks in 7

Key Players: CHI- RW- Patrick Kane, LW- Artemi Panarin, STL- C- David Backes, RW- Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin (zimbio.com)

Growing up in the Chicago area, it is hard for me to root against my Blackhawks. They are going up against a Blues team that was a win away from the lead in points in the Western Conference. The Blues though have struggled in the first round in the past two years. With the best one-two punch of Panarin and Kane the second line of the Blackhawks is deadly and will be the reason why the Hawks advance or lose. A long series is to come for these rivals only separated by 300 miles.

 

Pacific

(1) Anaheim Ducks (46-25-7-4, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) Nashville Predators (41-27-12-2, 96 pts)

Pick: Anaheim Ducks in 5

Key Players: ANA-RW Corey Perry, C  Ryan Getzlaf; NSH- G Pekka Rinne, D Roman Josi

The best power play, penalty kill, and goals against per game in the league resides in Anaheim. The team I have picked to win it all is the most all-around team. Grinder Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler will be spending most of their playoff time in front of the goalie always in the way making Pekka Rinne’s job as hard as possible. The Predators are lacking an edge, if they go down two goals in a game I would not have the confidence they could come back.

Offensive Defenseman Brent Burns (milehighsticking.com)

(2) Los Angeles Kings (48-28-3-3, 102 pts) vs. (3) San Jose Sharks (46-30-3-3, 98 pts)

Pick: Los Angeles Kings in 6

Key Players: LA- G Johnathon Quick, LW Milan Lucic; SJS- C Joe Pavelski, D Brent Burns

San Jose has some great players that turned it around this year from a disappointing year in 2014. The caveman look-a-like Brent Burns is a talented left winger turned defenseman. Quick is known for being one of the better goalies in the league and has proved it in prior playoffs. Milan Lucic was acquired by the Kings in the off-season and the locomotive is ready to be roll deep into the playoffs. The Kings have stars in their lineup up and down their roster, and have too much for talent for the Sharks in this California brawl.

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