Teravainen, Johns on rookie tourney roster

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Powers By Scott Powers
Chicago Blackhawks prospects Teuvo Teravainen and Stephen Johns shouldn’t have to worry about knocking any rust off their games when training camp opens on Sept. 19.

Teravainen and Johns, who are both expected to compete for NHL roster spots in training camp, were among the 23 players named to the Blackhawks’ 2014 Rookie Tournament roster on Thursday. The team will play three games in London, Ontario from Sept. 13-16.

The roster also includes Blackhawks forward prospects Mark McNeill, Alex Broadhurst, Matt Carey, Phillip Danault, Dennis Rasmussen, Ryan Hartman, Garret Ross, defenseman prospects Dillon Fournier, Viktor Svedberg and Trevor van Riemsdyk and goaltender prospect Mac Carruth. Former Blackhawks defenseman prospects Justin Holl and Kiril Gotovets, who are now signed to AHL contracts with the Rockford IceHogs, were also named to the roster.

Free agents Chadd Bauman, Cody Caron, Cory Thorson, Ryan Van Stralen, Brett Welychka, Jamie Wise, Paul Swindlehurst and Ken Appleby complete the Blackhawks rookie roster.

The Blackhawks rookie team will play the rookie teams of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sept. 13, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sept. 14 and the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 15. The team will be coached by IceHogs head coach Ted Dent and associate coach Mark Osiecki.

Book closes on Blackhawks, Hayes

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Powers By Scott Powers
The Chicago Blackhawks officially lost out on Kevin Hayes, their 2010 first-round pick, Wednesday as he agreed to a contract with the New York Rangers, and there was nothing they could have done differently to change their fate.

Blackhawks general manger Stan Bowman will undoubtedly be disappointed in losing Hayes to another team, but this isn’t something he’ll be kicking himself over even if Hayes develops into a NHL star.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hayes
Richard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesKevin Hayes left the Blackhawks organization, opting to sign with the Rangers.
Sometime during the winter, Hayes decided he was going to look at all of his NHL options. Hayes had told ESPN Chicago in January he envisioned himself signing with the Blackhawks once his season ended, but his mind changed before that time came around.

Hayes can’t be criticized too much for exploring his possibilities and eventually signing elsewhere. He took advantage of the rules in place. Because Boston College’s season went into April, it wasn’t a big deal for him not to sign with the Blackhawks then. He skipped the chance to play in just a couple of AHL games. After that, he didn’t miss out on anything by not having a contract in place from April until Aug. 15, the last day the Blackhawks had exclusive rights to him. Aside from prospect camp, something he had already attended four times, it’s not as if he was a no-show for team workouts or meetings.

(Read full post)

Top prospects by team: Central

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19

As part of the prospect rankings series this summer, we've looked at the Top 100 overall prospects, Top 10 goalie prospects and the ranking of all 30 NHL teams in order of their prospect pipelines.

We continue with a deeper look at the state of each team's pipeline, as I identify the top 10 prospects for each organization. Included in the analysis is an overview of the system, what kind of an impact will be made by the prospect group in 2014-15, and a particularly noteworthy player from each system.

A reminder that my rankings are determined by conversations with scouts, coaches and executives, as well as my own viewings. My assessment of forwards leans toward puck possession skills, and I tend to favor those players more than defensemen or goalies, whose development is harder to project.

The tour around the league continues Wednesday with the seven teams in the Central Division:

Top 10s by team: Atlantic | Metro | Central | Pacific

Roenick sees big things for Kane, Toews

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
Strang By Katie Strang
Former Chicago Blackhawks star Jeremy Roenick remembers what it felt like to sign his first long-term deal. The pressure melted away, the sense of anxiety about contract negotiations dissipated and Roenick was allowed to channel all his energy onto the ice.

He suspects current Hawks superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who inked matching eight-year, $84 million deals this summer, will experience the same.

If that’s the case, watch out.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Roenick
J.D. Cuban/Getty ImagesFormer Chicago star Jeremy Roenick thinks the team's current dynamic duo is set up for success.
"When I signed my contract, the pressure that was released off of me was immense," Roenick told ESPN.com, detailing his thought process after the ordeal. "'Now I can play for my team. They took care of me, now I can take care of them.' It’s going to be really fun to watch [Kane and Toews] flourish and play with a free mind and confidence."

Getting the two players under contract until 2023 was a huge coup for a team that has won two Stanley Cup championships in the past five seasons and is among the select few for which the D-word -- dynasty -- can be thrown around in the salary-cap era.

"I think it was very important," said Roenick, who now works as an NHL analyst for NBC Sports. "Two quality players like that, most teams do not possess that luxury. Pittsburgh has [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin, and Anaheim has [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry, but [most teams] don’t really have those elite star players that can change the course of the game like they have."

Having those players to build around for years to come -- Kane and Toews are 25 and 26, respectively -- will ensure that Chicago is a perennial contender. In fact, Roenick sees no reason that Chicago won’t be the favorite once the preseason projections roll in for 2014-15.

"I think they’re one of the strongest-built teams in the league," said Roenick, who played eight seasons for the Blackhawks and scored 513 goals in his 21-year NHL career. "With them, they have amazing star power surrounded with good quality core players. The addition of Brad Richards coming over there as a role player who can help on the power play and be a good leader brings another experienced guy into a locker room of winners."

"I think the team has done a very good job of putting together the pieces, and with Kane and Toews signing these megadeals, they’ll be playing with so much confidence. There’s no competition between the two. They are both top-five players getting paid like it, and it shows the loyalty that the Blackhawks have become known for and [for] building championships."

That said, the Blackhawks will likely be forced to make some sort of trade to move salary out, given the cap constraints facing the club. According to Capgeek.com, the Hawks are $2.26 million over the cap for next year with 23 roster players.

That won’t be the only challenge facing the team, which will square off against stiff competition in what promises to be a stacked Central Division.

Last year’s race was a tight one, and Roenick expects that to be the case this season as well, with one team in particular with something to prove.

He still thinks the Blackhawks are the team to beat but anticipates it being a dogfight.

"I think the St. Louis Blues are gonna come out extremely angry and embarrassed about bowing out early," Roenick said about the Blues’ first-round exit last spring after losing a six-game series to the Hawks.

"I know how Hitch [Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] is, and those two teams are gonna be battling tooth and nail again. I don’t see anyone else really challenging either of those teams.”

Blackhawks sign Michael Leighton

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18

Goaltender Michael Leighton expects he may have to endure some good-natured ribbing from his new Chicago Blackhawks teammates.

Leighton, who signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks on Monday, was in net for the Philadelphia Flyers when Chicago forward Patrick Kane scored the game-winning, series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. The goal gave the Blackhawks their first championships since 1961.

"I think it'll be a little bit of a have-fun-with-it kind of a thing," Leighton said during a teleconference on Monday afternoon. "That was 2010. It was a great season for me. That year really made my career. I can't say I'm disappointed on how the whole turnout went. Obviously, I would have liked to win, but it didn't turn out that way.

"Since then, I've moved on, played some more hockey with different teams. Back in Chicago, it's going to be a couple jokes thrown around the locker room, but I'm over it and looking forward to being a part of the Chicago Blackhawks again."

Leighton, 33, returns to the Blackhawks after being drafted by them in the sixth round in 1999 and spending two seasons with them in the NHL. He was traded by the Blackhawks to the Buffalo Sabres in 2005 and has been bounced around to a variety of teams since then. He has a 35-41-14 record with a 2.97 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 105 career NHL games.

Leighton's last stop was in the KHL playing for Donbass Donetsk in the Ukraine last season. He went 20-15 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

(Read full post)

Kevin Hayes becomes free agent

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
[+] EnlargeKevin Hayes
Richard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesKevin Hayes, who finished his senior season at Boston College in April, was unable to agree on a contract with the Blackhawks. He is now an unrestricted free agent.

Kevin Hayes, the Chicago Blackhawks' first-round draft pick in 2010, became an unrestricted free agent after he and the team were unable to agree on a contract prior to the league's 5 p.m. ET deadline Friday.

Hayes, a 22-year-old forward, was selected by the Blackhawks as the No. 24 pick of the 2010 draft, and the team held his exclusive rights until Friday. He had been eligible to sign with the Blackhawks since completing his senior season at Boston College in April. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to the NCAA's top player, and finished second in the nation with 65 points last season.

The Blackhawks will be compensated with the No. 24 overall pick in the second round of the 2015 NHL draft because they did extend an entry-level contract to Hayes.

"We offered Kevin what we believed was a generous and fair contract," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement Friday. "Unfortunately, he felt it was in his best interests to become a free agent. We are looking forward to the compensatory draft pick we are receiving and are focused on the excitement surrounding the start of training camp next month."

Hayes' agent, Robert Murray, would not disclose Friday why the player decided to become a free agent.

(Read full post)

Kane wins title, MVP in hometown league

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
Powers By Scott Powers
Patrick Kane has a knack for scoring clutch playoff goals regardless of the jersey he's wearing.

The Chicago Blackhawks star and Buffalo native led Milli Vanilli to the Fattey Hockey League title by scoring five of his team's 10 goals in back-to-back wins in a best-of-three series in his hometown earlier this week. He was named the championship MVP.

"It's basically the best Buffalo players," Nik Fattey, the league's founder and a Buffalo Sabres scout, explained of the league in a phone interview on Thursday. "It's not like a bar league. It's a competitive league. It's kind of like a Rucker Park sort of thing, NBA summer league."

Fattey said the 25-year-old Kane, a three-time All-Star who just signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Blackhawks this summer, has been playing in the league for the past five years.

"I think he loves hockey is what it comes down to," Fattey said. "It's where he was born and stuff. No different than a guy who returns to Toronto or Montreal to train and play. Again, lots of guys do play. It's a pretty high level.

"The game's changing. Guys used to take the summer off. They want to keep active now. Guys didn't skate in the past, now they do. It's been really good for the skating. It's games. It's not practicing. Where else can you get a skate and not just glide along? Plus, guys love scoring goals. I don't care where it is."

Kane, of course, does love to score goals. Fattey said the two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner treated fans to a special one in the league's semifinals.

"In the semifinals, he scored just an unbelievable goal," Fattey said. "He came up on the wing and threw up a backhander and it got under the bar. Everyone got their oohs and aahs in."

Kane talked recently about what motivates him to play when he returns to Buffalo.

"When I go back home, it's exciting for me and my buddies to play hockey," Kane said Aug. 4 in Crestwood, Illinois. "It's something we do for fun. By no means if we're playing a game like that, do you think it's going to get out to the media or you think it's going to be a big story or anything like that. You're just going to have fun. That's exactly what we were doing.

"I love the game. I love playing it whether it's in the NHL or in a little men's league during the summer. It's obviously not all the same, but it's still the game of hockey. You can enjoy that way."

Blackhawks nix 'The Stripper'

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
[+] EnlargeIce Girl
Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty ImagesChicago fan Marissa Miller also is petitioning for appropriate attire for the women's Ice Crew members.

The Chicago Blackhawks will no longer play "The Stripper" during their Shoot the Puck contest after hearing from fans who found the song demeaning to women, a team spokesperson said Wednesday.

Blackhawks fans recently have been voicing their opinions about the song and a few other Blackhawks practices they deem sexist. The push for change picked up after Marissa Miller, 31, of Chicago, started gathering online signatures Aug. 6 for a petition for the Blackhawks to treat their female fans the same as their male ones.

Miller said Wednesday she has accumulated nearly 900 signatures since posting the petition. She also created a hashtag movement on Twitter of #BanTheStripper, which has frequently been tweeted to the Blackhawks' Twitter account in the past week.

Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough said Wednesday that the organization has been paying attention to its fans.

"We have to listen," McDonough told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday. "We have to be aware. We have to react when appropriate -- not overreact, but react. We take all of this very seriously. We have had to take a look at every single element, every aspect of our operation, our hockey business from A to Z. I certainly have read the stories, and I understand the sensitive nature of all of that."

(Read full post)

NHL prospect pipeline rankings

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13

When I ranked prospect pipelines last year, the No. 1 system was the Tampa Bay Lightning, who produced two Calder Trophy finalists and had many young players throughout the team playing noteworthy roles en route to being a top team in the Eastern Conference. This year's top system, the Buffalo Sabres, are unlikely to do the same this upcoming season, especially the latter component, as they are about three years away from making the jump to playoff contention.

Strength of an organizational pipeline is considered as the totality of the players they have, however, additional value is given to teams with the very best prospects. Depth is considered, but it's depth in terms of quality prospects -- players who could project as a top-nine and preferably a top-six forward, a top-four defenseman or a starting goaltender.

These organizational rankings are done as a snapshot in time. They are not meant to rank team's draft and development abilities, there is no adjustment for prior draft successes or success from current young players at the NHL level, and they can change significantly by midseason due to graduations and player development. The profiles of the organizations are meant to be summaries of the farm systems and not detail every major prospect in the pipeline. Omission of particular names does not mean they were not considered, and remember to check back next week, as we'll have in-depth write-ups on the top 10 prospects for each organization.

As with any of my prospect files, the criteria for a prospect to no longer be eligible are more than 25 regular-season games played in any season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

Here is my ranking of all 30 NHL team pipelines as of this summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies

1. Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres were tough on the eyes this past season. But at the prospect level, they have the best system in the NHL. With Rasmus Ristolainen graduated, eight of Buffalo's top 10 prospects are forwards, to go along with an elite defenseman prospect in Nikita Zadorov. In addition to the balance of forward positions, there is a balance of different playing styles. For instance, Sam Reinhart and Mikhail Grigorenko play different types of games than graduate Zemgus Girgensons. Hudson Fasching, J.T. Compher and Joel Armia are all different types of players, as well, yet are still top prospects. The future is bright in Buffalo, and not just because it's August.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Chicago's hockey people: Gino Cavallini

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
Powers By Scott Powers
Gino CavalliniCourtesy of Gino CavalliniGino Cavallini is in his fifth year as hockey director for the Chicago Mission Youth Hockey Club.
This story is the second of a new series which will feature people in Chicago's hockey community

Former St. Louis Blues forward Gino Cavallini supports the Chicago Blackhawks, just don’t let his players on the Chicago Mission Youth Hockey Club find out.

“I did give a lot of blood for the Blues,” said Cavallini, who was involved in nine fights against the Blackhawks according to hockeyfights.com. “I cheer for the Hawks as much as anyone around. I wouldn’t admit that to the kids. They like to play up the Chicago-St. Louis rivalry.”

Whether it’s the Blues, who he played 454 of 593 career NHL games for, the Blackhawks or any other NHL team, Cavallini just enjoys watching good hockey these days. His only true allegiance lies with the Chicago Mission, the Woodridge, Ill.-based club, where he has been the hockey director for the last four-plus years.

“After going to college and turning pro, my brother [Paul Cavallini] and I always had hockey schools,” the 51-year-old Cavallini said. “I was always around hockey. We ran summer clinics and camps. I enjoyed giving back.

“This level of hockey, especially at our club at early ages, you can start projecting out what potential the kids have. I was fortunate to step into a position where we were trending up upward. It’s fun. It’s gratifying as director and coach myself to see the kids grow throughout the years.”

(Read full post)

Top 100 NHL prospects: 51-100

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 regular-season games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks running this week, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are prospects Nos. 51 through 100 for the 2014-15 season, listed with the highest-level team for which they played this past regular season. Previous ranking here refers to the ranking the player was given last summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies

51. J.T. Compher, C, Buffalo Sabres (Previous ranking: 91)
2013-14 team:
Michigan (NCAA)
2013-14 stats: 35 GP | 11 G | 20 A | 22 PIM

Unfortunately, Compher missed out on the IIHF World Junior Championship this past season due to injury, but he was great as a freshman for Michigan, leading the team in scoring, which is quite unusual for a frosh. J.T. is a good all-around center who isn't dynamic in either end, but plays at an impressive level. His hockey sense is very good as a playmaker and reading the game without the puck, and he possesses a nice wrist shot.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Four Blackhawks highly rated in NHL 15

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
Powers By Scott Powers
EA Sports released its top five players at each position throughout this past week for its upcoming NHL 15 release, and the Chicago Blackhawks' talent was again respected by the game’s makers.

Jonathan Toews tied with Pavel Datsyuk and Steven Stamkos for the second-highest-ranked center. All three players received a 93 overall rating and were just behind Sidney Crosby and his 96 rating.

EA Sports wrote of Toews, “Although the nickname Captain Serious holds up for Jonathan Toews, Mr. Everything is a better descriptor of what he actually brings to the ice every night. Whether it’s (95) rated Faceoffs, (93) Puck Control, or (89) Speed, Acceleration, and Agility – he really does do it all.”

Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa both landed in the game’s top-5 ratings for right wingers. Hossa was second with a 91 overall rating, and Kane was fourth with an 89 overall rating.

“Hossa might not have the same star power as the other players on this list, but make no mistake, he is arguably the best all-round right winger in the game,” EA Sports’ description included. “With five-star ratings in Puck Skills, Senses, Skating, and Defense – Hossa does it all.”

Kane’s offensive game was also shown some love.

“Kane possesses one of the highest skill sets in the entire league with five star Puck Skills, Shooting, Skating, and Senses,” the description included. “His Puck Skills are elite with (94) Passing and Puck Control, (95) Hand-Eye, and (96) Deking. The only thing lacking in his game is Physical ability – coming in at only two and a half stars.”

Duncan Keith finished second with a 92 overall rating behind Shea Weber's 93 rating among the game’s defenseman ratings.

“Last year’s Norris Trophy winner lacks that huge physical element to his game, but makes up for it with 5 star Puck Skills, Senses, Skating and Defense attributes,” the game’s description included.

The Blackhawks had six players in the game’s top-50 ratings last year, with Toews (92 rating) at No. 7, Keith (90) at No. 12, Hossa (89) at No. 24, Brent Seabrook (89) at No. 31, Kane (88) at No. 35 and Patrick Sharp (88) at No. 45.

NHL 15 will be released on Sept. 9.

Top 100 NHL prospects: 1-50

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are prospects Nos. 1 through 50 for the 2014-15 season, listed with the highest-level team for which they played this past season. Previous ranking here refers to the ranking the player was given last summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies

1. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous ranking: 1)
2013-14 team:
Halifax (QMJHL)
2013-14 stats: 46 GP | 29 G | 79 A | 43 PIM

After the Lightning elected to not keep him on the NHL roster for 2013-14, Drouin had another elite season in the QMJHL, torching the league in terms of point production. He led the QMJHL playoffs in points (41 in 16 games) despite Halifax not advancing to the final round. His skill level and hockey sense are both off the charts, he's a very elusive skater and he has the ability to create a scoring chance at will. When you combine all of his offensive elements (all of which are high-end), Drouin is the clear best forward prospect outside the NHL. He converted to center this season, showing pretty effective play in the defensive zone, which was previously a weakness. With a good summer from a physical development standpoint, he should be a player to watch for next year's Calder Trophy.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Justin Holl excited for chance with IceHogs

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
Powers By Scott Powers
All Justin Holl sought after finishing his collegiate career at Minnesota was an opportunity to prove he could play professional hockey.

Holl, a defenseman, was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the 2010 draft and remained their prospect throughout his four seasons with the Gophers. When Holl became eligible to sign with the Blackhawks after his college season ended in April, the Blackhawks didn’t offer him an entry-level deal because they weren't completely sold on his development.

An agreement was finally worked out earlier this week, and Holl signed a one-year deal with the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate. It gives Holl a chance to further prove himself and the Blackhawks a chance to further evaluate him while having him under contract.

"It's a weight off my shoulders," Holl said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "The season ended, and we weren't really sure what type of contract was going to be offered, if any. It was a waiting game. It turned out well. I’m happy about it."

Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver said in March he wasn't sure if the organization was going to sign Holl. Maciver described Holl's senior season as solid and said Holl's defensive awareness had improved.

Holl helped the Gophers to a runner-up finish in the Frozen Four this past season. He had one goal, 12 assists, 63 blocks and had a plus-10 rating in 39 games during his senior season.

"I think they were happy where I was at," said Holl, who has been working out with Minnesota hockey alumni this summer. "I still have progress to make. They don’t think I'm most likely an NHL-caliber player now but still a good prospect.

"I think I’ve progressed. I think I had a good season last year. I’m happy about it. I can’t wait to get down to training camp for the Blackhawks. I just want to prove to myself and prove to everybody I’m good a player. It’s not just for them, but for myself. I enjoy doing well and playing well."

Holl's goal is still the NHL, but he's taking it one step at a time.

"My focus is to have a good year and see where it goes," Holl said.

Holl was among six players the Blackhawks took in the first 90 selections of the 2010 draft. Kevin Hayes, their first-round pick, will not likely sign before the Aug. 15 deadline and will become an unrestricted free agent. The Blackhawks chose not to sign forward Ludvig Rensfeldt, the No. 35 overall pick. Holl was selected at No. 54.

Goaltender Kent Simpson, who was drafted at No. 58, is under contract with the Blackhawks and played most of last season with the IceHogs. Defenseman Stephen Johns, who was drafted at No. 60, signed with the Blackhawks in March and finished the season with the IceHogs. Forward Joakim Nordstrom, who was drafted at No. 90, is also under contract with the Blackhawks and played in 16 NHL games last season.

Sharks, Kings to play Feb. 21

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are going to take their rivalry outdoors next season.

The NHL announced Wednesday that the Pacific Division foes will meet at the 49ers' new home in Santa Clara on Feb. 21. The $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium beat out the San Francisco Giants' cozier confines at AT&T Park for the game, which is part of the NHL's growing Stadium Series.

This will be the second straight year the NHL has staged an outdoor game in California. The Anaheim Ducks beat the Kings 3-0 at Dodger Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 54,099 on Jan. 25.

Sharks Chief Operating Officer John Tortora expects the game at Levi's Stadium to attract a capacity crowd of 68,500 for a scintillating spectacle of ice in Silicon Valley.

"We think this will be one of the bigger sporting events the Bay Area has ever seen," Tortora said.

The NHL's first outdoor game in Northern California features a fierce and fan-pleasing matchup.

In the latest and perhaps most dramatic chapter of the playoff history between these franchises, the Kings eliminated the Sharks in the first round last season to become the league's fourth team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. Los Angeles went on to win its second Stanley Cup in three years.

"The growing excitement around NHL hockey in California, the intensity of last season's playoff series between these teams and the state-of-the-art setting at Levi's Stadium will bring a thrilling new dimension to the Kings-Sharks rivalry," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

The NHL has been taking its game to iconic outdoor venues more and more over the last decade.

(Read full post)