Cross Checks: Jamie Benn
While nothing is finalized yet in terms of what GMs will discuss with the league’s hockey operations executives, there’s a very good chance fighting will be among the topics.
No formal rule recommendations are expected in the one-day meeting; more likely it’s about setting things up for the annual three-day March meeting in Florida, when the GMs have more time to dissect potential rule changes, break out into small groups and officially make recommendations.
But the seed in some part will be planted next Tuesday.
As I wrote over the weekend, the idea that goalies should be automatically suspended for going down the ice to fight another goalie will almost definitely come up after Ray Emery’s pummeling of unwilling combatant Braden Holtby. There is no current rule that would see Emery suspended, but GMs will discuss changing that.
The bottom line is: Most hockey people just don’t want to see goalies fighting.
I think the theme of the fighting discussion next week, if it is indeed held, will be along the lines of continuing to find ways to minimize some aspects of fighting in the game, just like the NHL's implementing the helmet rule this season in which fighters have to keep their lids on or else get an extra penalty for fighting without it. Calm down, fighting fans, the idea is not to completely ban fighting, but rather to get rid of some of the elements hockey people no longer want.
For example, Gabriel Landeskog's fight with Alex Chiasson last Friday night is what people still want to see: an emotional fight between two good hockey players that most hockey people feel strongly still has an important place in the game. But having two enforcers go at it in a staged fight? That has grown stale for many people.
One idea that could come up next week is the current rule that stipulates three fighting majors and you’re thrown out of the game; why not make it two fighting majors and you’re out, instead?
(By the way, four players have had two fights in a game so far this season.)
Just like the helmet rule this season, it’s about pecking away at the issue, rule change by rule change. Whether or not the majority of GMs want to continue down this path, however, remains to be seen.
As it is, fighting is down this season. Through Monday night, there were 109 fights in 216 games on the season, compared to 124 fights through the same number of games last season (down 12 percent). This is way down from the late 1980s, when the NHL averaged just more than a fight per game.
Meanwhile, the formal agenda hasn’t been finalized, but one can expect this among other things next Tuesday:
-- A hybrid icing discussion: There’s some concern about the new icing rule and how it’s working out so far.
-- NHL hockey ops’ Kay Whitmore is scheduled to have an update on the reduced goalie equipment/measurements and how his surprise spot checks on netminders are going so far this season. No goalie has been caught wearing illegal equipment (two-game suspension if anyone is caught).
-- If it’s like past GM meetings, Brendan Shanahan normally gives a presentation on supplemental discipline and how it’s gone so far this season, certainly a very busy opening month for him.
DEVILS DRAFT PICK
Most people are aware that the New Jersey Devils are forfeiting their first-round pick next June in the NHL draft as the final penalty from the league for the original, illegal contract given to Ilya Kovalchuk. All of which makes it harder to stomach for Devils fans, who see their team 26th in the NHL’s overall standings as of Tuesday morning.
The first round next June will have 29 picks instead of 30.
But what’s also intriguing is what the NHL will do with the draft lottery. No final decision has been made, but a source tells ESPN.com that should the Devils miss the playoffs, the league is leaning toward keeping New Jersey in the actual lottery for the purpose of figuring out the draft order.
Then, for example, if the Devils end up with the fifth overall pick out of the lottery draft, they will be removed from the draft order and all the teams beneath the Devils move up a rung.
Veteran Devils scribe Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger had an interesting story Tuesday, quoting Martin Brodeur about possibly being open to a trade later in the season if things completely fall off the rails in New Jersey.
Reached Tuesday evening by ESPN.com, Brodeur made it clear that it’s not something that’s really on his mind at this point. He was simply asked if he’d be willing to join a contender and potentially waive his no-trade clause in the event the Devils were out of it in March.
"I want to be in the playoffs with the Devils and nobody else," Brodeur told ESPN.com. "But if it doesn’t happen, maybe I would look at an opportunity, I guess. But that’s something for later in the season, if at all."
Further, Brodeur added he would consider it only if veteran Devils GM Lou Lamoriello approached him about it in the first place.
"It would have to come from Lou, not from me, I would never ask Lou that," Brodeur told ESPN.com. "He would have to ask me. I would do whatever Lou thought was right."
BENN ON RADAR
For many, Jamie Benn was perhaps the most surprising name not invited to Team Canada’s camp last August.
His strong play so far this season, however, has him right back on Team Canada’s radar from what we’re hearing.
For starters, his move from center to wing this season in Dallas can only help his Olympic case, as Canada is loaded at center but has perhaps the most question marks at left wing, where a few centers might end up playing out of position.
The fact that Benn actually plays left wing every night now and how impactful he’s been has done nothing but raise his Olympic stock and put him at least back in the conversation.
Center David Desharnais was made a healthy scratch by the Canadiens for Tuesday night’s game with the St. Louis Blues.
In other words, rock bottom for the 5-foot-7 forward who has been in the coach’s doghouse for most of the season.
That $14 million, four-year extension the Habs signed him to last March doesn’t look great right now, but a little perspective is also needed here.
Desharnais was coming off a 60-point season in 2011-12 and was putting up decent numbers again in the lockout-shortened season at the time of the signing; and he had salary arbitration rights. The thinking last season was that if Desharnais went to arbitration, he could easily get as much as $4 million a year. So the Habs decided to be proactive and sign him ahead of time. It sounded good at the time; now it obviously looks like an anchor of a deal.
What you can’t predict is how some players are going to react to their first real contract. Desharnais, who fought his way up from the ECHL to make it to the NHL, went from making $850,000 to $3.5 million, and frankly, almost to the day he signed the big contract, he hasn’t been the same player.
With just one assist in 15 games this season, perhaps sitting out a game or two now will provide him with a chance to reset mentally and perhaps learn something from watching the games in street clothes. Hopefully, he returns to the lineup refreshed and re-energized, because he’s a good story. But he needs to remember what made him so hungry to begin with in his journey to the NHL; he needs to find that edge again in his game.
KANE, BENN AND BRODEUR NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (Feb. 11, 2013) – Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane , Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn and New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur have been named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Feb.
FIRST STAR – PATRICK KANE, RW, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Kane led all skaters with five goals and added an assist as the Blackhawks picked up three wins to continue their torrid start to the season (10-0-2, 22 points). He began the week with two goals, including the game-winner, in a 5-3 victory at the San Jose Sharks Feb. 5. Kane netted another pair of goals and recorded his 10th helper of the season in a 6-2 win at the Phoenix Coyotes Feb. 7. He closed the week with his ninth goal of the year in 3-0 triumph at the Nashville Predators Feb. 10. The 24-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native has points in six consecutive games (7-3—10), including goals in five straight, and is second in the League with 19 points (9-10—19). In 411 career NHL games, all with Chicago, the former No. 1 overall pick (2007) has 135-253—388.
SECOND STAR – JAMIE BENN, LW, DALLAS STARS
Benn recorded six points (4-2—6), including two game-winning goals, in three games to help the Stars (6-5-1, 13 points) move into eighth place in the Western Conference. He opened the week with two scores, including the winner, and an assist in a 3-2 victory at the Colorado Avalanche Feb.
4. Benn then scored and assisted on the overtime winner in a 3-2 triumph at the Edmonton Oilers Feb. 6. He finished the week with a goal – another winner – in his third straight game, a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks Feb. 8. In seven games this season, the Victoria, B.C., native is second on the Stars with seven points (4-3—7). Benn has played his entire four-year NHL career with Dallas, totaling 74-93—167 in 229 games.
THIRD STAR – MARTIN BRODEUR, G, NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Brodeur went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .942 save percentage as the Devils moved into first place in the Eastern Conference (8-1-3, 19 points) with four straight wins. He recorded 24 saves in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers Feb. 5 and another 17 stops in a 4-2 triumph against the Tampa Bay Lightning Feb. 7. Appearing in his 1,200th career game, Brodeur closed the week with 24 saves as the Devils picked up the first of a pair of 3-1 wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 9. The 40-year-old has played in nine games this season, posting a 6-1-2 record with a 2.29 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. In 19 career NHL seasons, all with New Jersey, Brodeur leads all goaltenders with 662 wins and 120 shutouts.
• Anyone who isn’t taking the Anaheim Ducks seriously might want to start after the Ducks handed the red-hot San Jose Sharks their first regulation loss of the season, clipping them by a 2-1 count Monday night. Perhaps more interesting is that Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau went with 30-year-old first-year netminder Viktor Fasth in the big Pacific Division tilt as opposed to Jonas Hiller, who has struggled even as the Ducks have rolled to a 6-1-1 record. Fasth, twice goaltender of the year in the Swedish elite league, is now 3-0-0, and while no team playing as well as the Ducks wants to introduce the term "controversy" into its lexicon, the fact remains that Fasth is forcing the Ducks to re-examine their goaltending situation. Sheldon Souray, a key offseason acquisition by Ducks GM Bob Murray, scored the winner for Anaheim, which now heads off on a six-game road trip. One disappointing element of the big win was the announced crowd of just 14,324, several thousand short of a sellout at the Honda Center. The Sharks, meanwhile, can’t complain about their lot in life, as they still own top spot in the Pacific Division standings with a 7-1-1 record and are a point off the league lead, currently held by Chicago.
• Speaking of controversy, the goaltending saga in Vancouver continues to slide into the surreal, as Roberto Luongo, whom the Canucks are trying to deal, started his fourth straight and guided the Canucks to a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime victory over Edmonton. The Canucks, winners of three straight, trailed 2-0 midway through the game but rebounded with three unanswered goals. All three goal scorers for Vancouver -- Jannik Hansen, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev -- delivered their first of the season. For Tanev, who scored with 20 seconds left in overtime, it was his first-ever NHL goal. Luongo stopped 23 of 25 as the Canucks moved to 5-2-2 and into first place in the Northwest Division.
• Now, here’s a good illustration of what it means to have your best players on the ice. Recently signed unrestricted free agent Jamie Benn scored his first two goals of the season and added an assist as the Dallas Stars edged the Colorado Avalanche 3-2. These two teams have similar records around the .500 mark, are currently outside the playoff bubble and are looking for consistent offense to help support what has been good-to-great goaltending. Monday night, the Stars got that offense from Benn, who missed training camp and the first part of the season resolving contract issues. The Avs, meanwhile, continue to dither over a contract for unrestricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly, who led the team in scoring a season ago. The Avs were 1-for-5 with the man advantage Monday but overall rank dead last in the league on the power play. Tick tock.
• As for those who were counting out the Phoenix Coyotes after a tepid start, such pronouncements might have been a tad premature, as Mike Smith has returned from injury and appears to be recapturing his all-world form of last season. Smith stopped 21 or 22 to pace the Yotes to a 2-1 victory over goal-starved Minnesota on Monday. Smith is 2-0-1 in his last three games and has allowed just three goals as Phoenix has improved to 4-4-2. Just 9,508 made up the announced attendance in Glendale. Yikes. The Wild, meanwhile, have lost two in a row on the road and managed just two goals. They are 26th in goals per game in spite of the infusion of talent since last season.
• It might have taken longer than some expected, but the Carolina Hurricanes were able to produce a score sheet that featured goals from both Jordan and Eric Staal. Jordan Staal netted his first goal of the season (he’d collected six assists before and added a seventh Monday), and brother Eric continued his torrid pace with his seventh as the Hurricanes defeated Toronto 4-1 at the Air Canada Center. The win evened the Canes’ record at 4-4, and Cam Ward silenced doubters for at least one night, as he was terrific, turning aside 41 of 42 Leaf shots. The Leafs, 1-0 losers Saturday against Boston, were once again stymied offensively. Phil Kessel, for those keeping score at home, has now gone nine games without a goal. Ouch.
--It was an absolutely huge win for the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night -- their first of the season -- as they edged the New York Rangers 2-1. The Flyers have been ravaged by injury and signed veteran Mike Knuble Thursday to plug a hole in their lineup, pending Knuble's passing a physical. But it was a gutsy effort from a team that needed to help stem some of the panic around Philly as they limited the Rangers to 19 shots on goal while Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek scored their first goals of the season. Must admit it was a bit curious to see New York Ranger head coach John Tortorella go back to Henrik Lundqvist again in goal a night after a big win over Boston. Both teams are tied at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with 1-3-0 records.
--The Washington Capitals have taken over the "How deep is this hole I am digging for myself?" honors after being hammered at home 4-1 by the Montreal Canadiens. The Caps are 0-3-0 and have been outscored 14-6. Hard times for rookie head coach Adam Oates, who started Michal Neuvirth for the first time this season and got the same result. Another good night for the Habs’ Andrei Markov, who had a goal and an assist. P.K. who?
--After scoring just twice in their first two games, the Carolina Hurricanes took advantage of Buffalo backup Jhonas Enroth’s first start to break out offensively, beating the Sabres 6-3. The Sabres move to 2-1-0. Eric Staal scored the final three goals of the game for the goal-starved Canes, who moved to 1-2-0.
--Now that’s more like the Leafs that we know and love. After taking a 3-1 first-period lead, the Leafs allowed the New York Islanders to outscore them 6-1 the rest of the way en route to a 7-4 Islanders win. The collapse came at home, just 24 hours after the Leafs had manhandled the Penguins in Pittsburgh 5-2. The Isles moved to 2-1-0 on the season while the Leafs took a step back to 2-2-0. Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson each had a pair for the Isles.
--Those folks waiting for the Ottawa Senators to take a step back after their surprise run to the playoffs last season are waiting a while longer as they moved to 3-0-0 with their second win over the Florida Panthers. The Sens were again solid defensively in a 3-1 win and have allowed just two goals on the season. The Panthers, meanwhile, have dropped three straight and have managed just two goals in those three losses.
--The St. Louis Blues got back on the winning track with in typical style, this one by a 3-0 count over visiting Nashville. Jaroslav Halak stopped 13 Predators shots en route to the shutout and super rookie Vladimir Tarasenko notched his fourth goal of the season for the Blues, who moved to 3-1-0. The Preds, in the middle of a seven-game road trip, have managed just eight goals, which explains their 1-1-2 record.
--Without the injured Mike Smith, the Phoenix Coyotes let one get away in San Jose, blowing a 3-1 lead and losing 5-3 to the unbeaten Sharks. Patrick Marleau scored twice for the third straight game and leads the league with six goals. Linemate Joe Thornton leads all players with nine points as the Sharks have jumped out to a 3-0 start.
--The good news is that the Dallas Stars got top forward Jamie Benn under contract Thursday after the restricted free agent signed a five-year deal. The bad news is that the Stars blew a 2-0 lead in Chicago and lost 3-2 in overtime to the unbeaten Hawks. Patrick Sharp had three assists, including a helper on Marian Hossa’s overtime winner. It was Hossa’s fifth goal for the 4-0-0 Blackhawks. Kari Lehtonen was outstanding for the 2-1-1 Stars, stopping 38 of 41 shots.
--The Colorado Avalanche got another night of strong goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, who stopped all 33 Columbus shots he faced en route to a 4-0 victory. The win was the second in a row for the 2-1 Avs while the Blue Jackets, who looked good in games against Detroit and Nashville, have been outscored 9-1 in back-to-back losses to Phoenix and Colorado. Columbus is 1-2-1.
--After being shelled by San Jose in his previous start, Devan Dubnyk rallied mightily Thursday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, stopping 30 of 31 shots as the Oilers edged the Kings 2-1 in overtime. Rookie Nail Yakupov tied the game in dramatic fashion with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, setting the stage for Sam Gagner’s overtime power-play winner. Rookie defenseman Justin Schultz had two assists for the Oilers to keep the 0-2-1 Kings winless. The Kings have scored four goals in three games.
Of the three RFAs, my gut feeling says Benn will be the first of the three to sign. But that’s not sure thing.
I just don’t think they’re that far apart.
Look no further than the obvious comparables to see which deals are influencing this negotiation:
• John Tavares, six years, $33 million ($5.5 million average)
• Evander Kane, six years, $31.5 million ($5.25 million cap hit)
• Phil Kessel, five years, $27 million ($5.4 million cap hit)
Those are good comparisons because Benn is also coming off an entry-level contract and is a key offensive force on his team, just like those three players.
First off, the Benn camp won’t do six years. So there’s that. Benn has moved though from wanting three years to now being willing do to five years.
My guess is if the Stars were willing to sign off on something just north financially of the Kessel deal, then a deal will be done.
Also keep in mind, Benn's entry-level deal didn’t have any bonus money. So you can understand his desire to get paid now.
Meanwhile, the Subban and O’Reilly fronts are still very much in stalemate.
Colorado, I believe, has offered a two-year, $7 million deal to O’Reilly, which is the same deal teammate Matt Duchene signed. But O’Reilly led the team in scoring last season and that offer won’t cut it. He remains in the KHL, where he’s making good money, tax-free, so he’s got that leverage.
In Montreal, meanwhile, status quo on the Subban situation. There has been nothing there for a while between both sides. The offensive blue-liner wants a long-term deal while the Habs want to do a two-year contract. So until that philosophical divide is overcome, this thing isn’t going anywhere.
Leverage points: the Habs power play on opening night was brutal, which helped P.K.’s case.
However, the recent two-year deals signed by offensive blue-liners, also RFAs, Michael Del Zotto and Dmitry Kulikov help GM Marc Bergevin’s case.
Bergevin insists he’s not going to trade Subban but one can’t help but wonder if this thing drags on too long if he’ll have to reconsider.
One thing is clear, Montreal’s insistence on doing a short-term deal signals that the Habs just aren’t sure about what they have in Subban just quite yet.
As Luongo Waits
Eyebrows were raised Tuesday when veteran Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole quoted Canucks GM Mike Gillis saying there’s essentially a trade that could happen with an unidentified NHL team, but it depends on that team being able to move a player first.
Gillis confirmed the same in an email to ESPN.com Tuesday.
All I know is that that team is not Toronto, which remains the most logical destination, no matter what anybody says, given Toronto’s goalie issues. The Leafs and Canucks have had on-again, off-again dialogue since last June, although there’s been a detente in talks of late as both teams wait out the other early in this season, hoping wins and losses will change the leverage in that conversation.
And what of Philadelphia? My guess is that the Flyers’ only interest in Luongo would come in the summer and that’s only if A) Luongo is still in Vancouver and B) Ilya Bryzgalov had another brutal season. If Bryzgalov hasn’t rebounded, it wouldn’t shock me to see Philly use a compliance buyout on the goalie (which doesn’t count vs. the cap) and then try to trade for Luongo. A lot of ifs there and we’re talking about months from now. So much can happen in between, not the least of which is Bryzgalov having a good season and staying in Philadelphia, and Vancouver moving Luongo elsewhere during the season.
In the meantime, Luongo has been the ultimate pro about it all, waiting patiently for this to figure itself out.
For the Canucks, they are trying to get something in return that helps further their cause as a contender right now. And Canucks management shared that sentiment with Luongo last weekend, explaining that they’re trying to get something in return for him that will help his teammates in Vancouver take another run at the Cup.
So far, the Canucks have been offered good pieces, just not the right ones.
And so the waiting continues. This is a deal that could honestly get done this week, next week, next month or next summer. Be ready for anything.
Team Canada For Sochi
I traded emails with Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman on Tuesday, wondering about when he would announce his coaching staff for the Sochi Games.
Yzerman said he would wait until the NHL commits players to Sochi 2014 before announcing his coaching staff. Makes sense, of course.
Another source told ESPN.com that the Team Canada management staff hasn’t decided yet who for sure would be part of the staff. There has been internal discussion but no final decisions made.
Certainly, reigning Olympic gold medal coach Mike Babcock remains the favorite.
But there are certainly a lot of names you can throw in the mix as you figure out who could be part of the staff.
Dave Tippett, Claude Julien, Barry Trotz, Alain Vigneault, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock and the list goes on an on, Canada has no shortage of quality coaches to choose from.
Senators Still Looking
Off to a quick 2-0 start, the Senators still feel they need more depth on the blue-line despite the solid play of rookie defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit, who have dressed as the third pairing.
The broken finger to Mike Lundin and the season-ending hip surgery to Jared Cowen opened the door for the two AHL grads to make Ottawa’s roster.
But veteran GM Bryan Murray says he’ll continue to make phone calls, even if so far those calls have produced very little.
"Not much has presented itself. I’ve talked to a number of teams and I hear the same story from a number of general managers -- everybody is looking for depth on the blue-line," Murray told ESPN.com Tuesday. "I don’t know that there will be many quick deals made at this point. But that’s not to say we’re not talking. We’ll look and if we can find somebody that upgrades us, we will. We’d got Lundin coming back at some point, so we’re not in a panic, but if we can get a more experienced guy, we’re certainly going to pursue it."
Lundin is getting the pins removed from his finger later this week.
"And he needs a couple of weeks after that, I think," said Murray.
Out in Los Angeles, the Kings are also one of the many teams on the lookout for help on defense and that was even before losing Matt Greene to a long-term injury.
L.A. was among the teams that pressed hard in an effort to land Wade Redden last week but lost out to St. Louis.
If the Kings ever trade Jonathan Bernier, and there’s no guarantee they will, they’ll be getting a defenseman as part of the deal.
Two early-season contract extensions tell you that some agents are wisely weary of what next season might have in store for players in the form of escrow payments.
Each of the new extensions for Alexander Edler and Travis Zajac have compensation in the first season of the deal (2013-14), the lowest of any in the contract. This is because there’s fear escrow might be at its highest next season as the salary cap drops to $64.3 million, down from the $70.2 million teams can spend this season.
Edler’s new deal is worth an average of $5 million per season but his actual compensation next season is $3.25 million. It jumps to $6 million from 2015-16 through 2017-18 before dropping to $4.5 million in the last season.
Zajac, as I wrote last week, begins at $3.5 million next season in a deal that pays him an average of $5.75 million per season.
Smart moves by the agents in question, Kurt Overhardt (Zajac) and Mark Stowe (Edler).
Two names to keep an eye on: Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson.
Both are valued power forwards in the NHL and both are slated to be UFAs July 5.
The Sharks, I hear, have had preliminary talks with Clowe. Nothing yet between Clarkson and the Devils.
The restricted free agent was second in team scoring last season with 63 points (26-37) in 71 games and a pillar the Stars were building around.
But the deal has to make sense for both sides, and it doesn’t yet.
"I’m optimistic that we’ll have him back on the team, but it won’t be today," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com on Sunday morning. "We’ll focus on the guys we have here because it’s a short camp and we need to get ready. But in the meantime, certainly we’ll keep working away at trying to get Jamie re-signed."
The No. 2 name among unsigned players is blueliner P.K. Subban. Things can obviously change quickly with one phone call, but as of Sunday morning my understanding was that things were not close on that front; both sides were still far apart.
On the flip side, Michael Del Zotto was at Rangers camp Sunday as he agreed to a two-year deal worth an average of $2.55 million per season. That’s an important signing for the Cup-contending Rangers.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes were busy Sunday, first dealing veteran backup goalie Brian Boucher to Philadelphia and replacing him by signing Dan Ellis. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford hinted to ESPN.com in the morning that he wasn’t done, and he was true to his word, in the afternoon picking up tough guy Kevin Westgarth from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for winger Anthony Stewart, Carolina's 2013 fourth-round draft pick and a sixth-round selection in 2014.
Westgarth, of course, was a key player in the recent labor talks, but the Hurricanes are more interested in his toughness than his negotiating acumen.
More will happen, starting with the Roberto Luongo trade talks. More on that Monday.
But just where the North American-born stars will end up always provides more intrigue.
Eight years ago, during the previous NHL lockout, Joe Thornton enjoyed playing in Davos, Switzerland -- heck, he met his wife there -- and it should surprise no one that he’s headed there again.
"Yes, just because my wife is from there, she has a home there, we go there five weeks in the summer to see her family and I actually train with Davos when I’m over there," Thornton told ESPN.com over the phone Monday. "I know the team real well, and they know me. It’s a natural fit for me to go back there and play."
Thornton said he’s planning on flying to Switzerland by the end of the week and could play as early as this weekend.
"Hopefully the lockout ends sooner rather than later, but I have to go play," said the San Jose Sharks captain.
Rick Nash joined Thornton in Davos last time around and appears to be doing so again, sources told ESPN.com's Katie Strang. They both had a blast eight years ago, making the most of the lockout.
"If you find the right spot, it can be a real good experience, you meet some nice people and you get to keep playing hockey," Thornton said. "It worked out well for us I thought."
Other big names we checked on Monday:
- Of course, you have to start with Sidney Crosby, who told us last week playing overseas was something he was contemplating depending on how long the lockout lasted. Nothing new as of Monday. "Since the question is repeatedly asked about Sidney’s plan to play in Europe now that the lockout in is play, at this time Sidney will continue his training, however, if this status (lockout) continues, he may be exploring other options, but for the moment there is nothing to report," Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, told ESPN.com via email.
- Star center and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told ESPN.com via text that, yes, he’s thinking about Europe as a possible option but at this point no decisions have been made.
- Star center Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers told ESPN.com via text message that he’s unsure of his plans. "I just want to play hockey," Giroux said. "Hopefully the NHL is back very soon, if not I'll have to start thinking of another place to play."
- New York Rangers star Brad Richards, via text, told ESPN.com that playing overseas was unlikely at the moment, preferring to focus on his workouts on this side of the ocean. But obviously that can change depending on the length of the lockout.
- Sharks center Logan Couture told ESPN.com via text that he's likely headed to Geneva of the Swiss League. The deal wasn't done yet Monday but that's where he was hopeful to end up.
- Agent Jarrett Bousquet, who along with Kevin Epp at Titan Sports Management negotiated a whopping $110 million, 14-year deal for Shea Weber, told ESPN.com on Monday that playing overseas at this point was an unlikely option for his client, citing costly insurance. The good thing for Weber, by the way, is that his $13 million signing bonus is already in the bank and can’t be touched by the lockout.
- Weber’s old defense partner, Minnesota Wild star Ryan Suter, is also staying put for now. Suter’s agent, Neil Sheehy, said via email that Europe was an unlikely option at this point, although it was too early to call.
- Jamie Benn’s agent, Rich Evans, said via email that his client, the No. 1 center for the Dallas Stars, will stay here for now.
For so many of these high-end players, insurance is such a factor. For KHL-bound Evgeni Malkin, for example, a source told ESPN.com that he’ll need to pay about $250,000 per year for two years’ worth of coverage on his $9 million salary, although it’s believed the premiums will be paid monthly and can be cancelled without penalty once the NHL lockout is over.
Still, it’s a huge chunk of change and that’s why NHL stars will tread carefully before heading over. Remember, as I wrote in Friday’s blog about the rules of the lockout, an NHL team has the right to suspend a player without pay once the NHL season resumes until he’s fit to play if he injures himself while playing in another league during the lockout.
CUSTANCE: Hey, Pierre. Wow, where to start? I don't think it's overstating it to say that Tuesday night was the wildest the NHL has seen this season. At any one moment, you had teams on the cusp of clinching a playoff spot finding ways to lose and others so close to being eliminated finding ways to win. Even if your team wasn't playing, there were so many games with seeding and serious postseason implications that it was impossible to not watch. Let's start with the wild one in Buffalo. The Maple Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and Jake Gardiner's impressive goal in the third period extended Toronto's lead to 5-3. About that time the Florida Panthers were handling the Winnipeg Jets pretty easily and were getting ready to break out the Southeast Division champs T-shirts and hats. It was about that time the entire night turned. The Jets scored four unanswered on the Panthers, and the Sabres rallied to tie the Maple Leafs with a Jordan Leopold goal that will be hotly debated. There was a scrum in front of Ben Scrivens that lasted 10 seconds but must have felt like an eternity for Toronto fans, Washington fans and anyone else who wanted to see the Sabres lose. I couldn't believe there wasn't a whistle. Referee Mike Hasenfratz had a better view than I did from my living room, but, boy, that's a tough way to lose if you're a Toronto fan. Can you imagine the outrage we'd be hearing if that game had meant anything to Toronto?
LEBRUN: Instead, Leafs fans should be cheering that goal counted since they should be focused on trying to get into the bottom-five lottery pick and nothing else should matter to them. I think you can certainly debate whether Leopold’s goal should have stood but you can’t ignore what incredible magic was on display in Buffalo Tuesday night. Derek Roy’s overtime winner capped an electric night, and I’m thrilled for those loyal Sabres fans who have hung in there through a season that’s tested their emotions. The Sabres close out the season with road games in Philadelphia and Boston. The Flyers are three points behind the Penguins for home ice in their first-round series, so they will still want to play for something Thursday night against Buffalo. The Bruins have nothing on the line at all Saturday, but you wonder if they wouldn’t delight in knocking out the Sabres, who lose out on the tiebreaker with Washington by virtue of the Capitals having more ROWs (regulation and overtime wins). But back to Tuesday night, which for my money was the most entertaining evening of the NHL season. A game with gripping drama played out in Dallas, where you could argue the season hung in the balance for both the visiting Sharks and host Stars. Make it a home-and-home sweep for San Jose, which won 5-2 to pull back to within one point of Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles, ahead of a dramatic home-and-home between the Kings and Sharks to close out the regular season. The key moment in the game was when Antti Niemi thwarted Dallas star Jamie Benn on a clear breakaway with about five-and-a-half minutes to go in the third period. Moments later Sharks captain Joe Thornton crushed the hearts of Stars fans with a top-corner shot past Kari Lehtonen to make it 4-2. Game, set, match. The Stars are now three points out of a playoff spot with only two games remaining, and they’ll look back at dropping five of their six games with San Jose in the season series as a key factor in likely missing the playoffs.
CUSTANCE: Yeah, that was the Sharks team we've been waiting for all season long. The challenge for San Jose will be maintaining that high level in their final two games against the Kings, because they haven't been able to do that yet this season. You also can't help but notice that GM Doug Wilson's trade-deadline deal with the Avalanche is starting to even out after Jamie McGinn initially made it look pretty lopsided. T.J. Galiardi scored his first goal with San Jose and, based on his reaction immediately after, seemed to be pretty happy to get that off his back. Daniel Winnik opened the scoring for San Jose and he continues to provide some of the depth up front the Sharks were missing. This might be it for the Stars, but if you're a hockey fan in Dallas you have to be encouraged by what you saw this season. That's a playoff team next season. For my money, Benn is the league's most underappreciated young player. He's a superstar in the making and showed it again Tuesday night with his patience and poise in setting up Alex Goligoski's goal. The final score didn't necessarily show it, but Kari Lehtonen was pretty darn good for the Stars, too. "When they're on, they're a tough team to beat," said an NHL coach I recently asked about Dallas. "Really tough."
LEBRUN: I’m with you on Benn, in fact he was the fifth selection on my official Hart Trophy ballot I sent in to the NHL Wednesday. That’s how high I am on him. You make an excellent point on the Sharks-Avalanche trade. If you’ve watched Sharks games over the last two weeks, you will have noticed that Winnik is having a real impact on that fourth line for San Jose. He’s the kind of guy who is going to grind out important minutes in the playoffs, too. I don’t mind that trade at all for Wilson. But the Sharks remain eighth because the plucky Phoenix Coyotes picked up two points again with a home win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mike Smith stealing this one for the home team, setting an NHL record for saves in a regular-season shutout with 54 in a 2-0 win. Make it three straight shutouts for Smith, whose name came up with an NHL GM I spoke with Wednesday morning who plans to include him on his list of five names for his Vezina Trophy ballot. Smith is making people in Phoenix forget about Ilya Bryzgalov. That’s for sure. And credit Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, who continues to work his magic in the desert with netminders. But for the Coyotes, this was an ugly effort; they were lucky to win.
"We're going to figure some things out like lineup changes," coach Dave Tippett told reporters afterward. "When you give up 18 shots on your penalty kill, you're going to be under siege most of the night. By getting outshot the way we have, that means you don't have the puck enough, and that's what's happening."
Still, the Coyotes are tied on points with the Kings and one ahead of the Sharks and amazingly could win the division if they win their last two games and the Kings don’t sweep the Sharks.
CUSTANCE: Can you imagine if the Coyotes end up winning that division? That save Smith made Tuesday night on James Wisniewski brought back memories of Dominik Hasek. It was one of those highlights in which I called my wife into the room to show her, even if she couldn't care less. It's a light schedule Wednesday night, so we won't be enjoying the same kind of fireworks. But the Blues are back in action and need two points against Detroit if they want to try to catch the suddenly surging Vancouver Canucks, who won again Tuesday night. Vancouver has opened a three-point lead on St. Louis for that No. 1 seed in the West. For a team with 109 points, the Canucks have kind of flown under the radar, but the reality is we're all just waiting to see how they perform in the playoffs. And they know it. "You want to finish as high as possible and get home-ice advantage," Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman said when we chatted earlier this week. "They know, at this stage in our evolution, people are going to judge us by what we do in the playoffs, but you have to place yourself in the best position possible."
LEBRUN: The Canucks haven’t dropped a game since star winger Daniel Sedin went down with a concussion. In fact, they’ve won a season-high seven straight and are peaking at the right time, heading into the playoffs. And yet, there are still issues, as friend and colleague Ed Willies points out in his Vancouver Province column, notably that Ryan Kesler’s second line isn’t producing like it should. And I think we all know how Kesler’s line is critical to Vancouver’s playoff success. If the Sedin twins are going on the top line and Kesler on the second, opposing teams have a nightmare in trying to stop them. When Kesler played hurt in the Stanley Cup finals last year, it hindered his effectiveness and helped Boston really key on the twins. Something to watch for as the playoffs get under way next week.
Enjoy the remaining four nights of regular-season hockey, my friend. I’ll catch you on the other side.
BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. It was interesting to listen to Brendan Shanahan talk at the recent GMs’ meetings in Florida about how he would deal with suspensions in the playoffs, and how the postseason represents a different scale when it comes to supplemental discipline because each season essentially represents a seven-game season.
Well, for Shane Doan and the Phoenix Coyotes, it’s already playoff time, and Shanahan didn’t spare the rod in suspending the Coyotes’ captain for three games for a blatant elbow to the head of Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn earlier this week. It was the right call for Shanahan, as the hit was reminiscent of the Rene Bourque elbow on Nicklas Backstrom that sidelined Washington’s star center indefinitely. Benn wasn’t seriously injured, but Shanahan delivered harsh justice for a potentially dangerous play.
To his credit, Doan took the punishment without flinching. In a statement produced shortly after the suspension was announced Wednesday night, Doan said he accepted the league’s decision. "I am thankful that Jamie Benn was not hurt on the play. I recognize how bad it looked but there was no intent to injure him. Jamie Benn is a class act and I appreciate how he handled everything. I apologize to the NHL, my teammates and our fans for missing the next 3 games as we continue to fight for a playoff spot.”
Now the question is whether Doan’s absence costs the Coyotes what would be a third straight trip to the postseason. They are tied for eighth in points with Los Angeles, one point behind seventh-place Colorado, and the Coyotes host the Avs on Thursday night. No doubt Doan will be watching with more than a little nervousness, hoping his squad can hang on while he serves his sentence. The margin for error among those teams looking for the final two playoff spots means that this might be the tipping point for the plucky Coyotes.
LEBRUN: I give Doan a lot of credit for that statement Wednesday night. Most players don't say anything after being suspended, which is also their right, and certainly wise when they're enraged. But for some it's because they simply don't accept their actions were unacceptable. Seeing a veteran like Doan own up to his dangerous hit should be the model for all suspended players. I traded text messages with Doan later Wednesday night and I can tell you how crushed he is at missing games with his team's season on the line. But he knows he has only himself to blame. The good thing for Phoenix is that it's a team built -- by necessity -- without relying too much on one or two players like many other teams. They're a four-line, lunch-bucket crew under Dave Tippett. Doan will be missed because he's one of their better offensive forces, a physical force and, of course, their leader. But there's a resilience in that team's DNA -- some of it borne from their constant off-ice uncertainty.
BURNSIDE: Agreed that if there's a team that can overcome this kind of setback, it's the Coyotes. But let's move on, shall we? The Predators have announced that Alexander Radulov will play Thursday night, so lots of attention will be on the Nashville Predators, especially with their visit to Pittsburgh, where they’ll tangle with the smokin’ hot Penguins (the game will now be seen on the NHL Network). Watched Pittsburgh destroy Winnipeg 8-4 the other night with Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and a guy named Sidney Crosby combining for 13 points and, assuming this Penguin squad stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the East dislodging them through a seven-game series. The question as it related to Thursday night’s tilt is whether this is a Stanley Cup finals preview.
I know some hockey writers who wouldn’t mind shuttling between Pittsburgh and Nashville in early June, if that was the case. Radulov figures mightily into that equation one way or another, though. What’s his conditioning going to be like, how does he mesh with new teammates, most of whom have come to Nashville since he scurried back to Russia after the 2008 season, even though he still had a year left on his entry-level deal with the Predators? What is the ripple effect of his arrival in terms of ice time for other players and does that rock the boat internally? Valid questions. The Preds are coming off a disappointing home loss to Edmonton and are in a dogfight with Detroit (overtime losers to New York on Wednesday) and red-hot Chicago for home ice in the first round. This one should be a dandy.
LEBRUN: Preds head coach Barry Trotz discussed with me Wednesday evening the challenge of adjusting his lineup with Radulov, not to mention all the other faces his GM, David Poile, added before the trade deadline. It's a different team than the one that broke camp in September, a better one and a deeper one, but still a different one, which poses a challenge to Trotz to make it all fit in short time. Not that he’s complaining; far from it. It’s the kind of "problem" Nashville has wished to have for a long, long time.
The initial loser with Radulov's arrival appears to be trade-deadline pickup Andrei Kostitsyn, who gets knocked off his line with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist. But the key in Nashville is that the core group -- led by captain Shea Weber -- is totally supportive of Radulov's addition, and that's the only thing that really counts. The Preds and Penguins represent a delicious matchup Thursday night, with Pittsburgh needing to keep up with the Rangers in the race for first in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. I thought the Rangers looked terrific Wednesday night in beating Detroit, to me one of their most balanced efforts in a while. Perhaps the Penguins' recent surge has lit a fire under a Rangers team that might have been lolly-gagging just a bit in March.
Before we go, we should talk about Chicago's 2-1 overtime win over rival Vancouver. Both netminders, Roberto Luongo and Corey Crawford, were outstanding. The Hawks continue to win without concussed superstar Jonathan Toews. A lot of that has to do with Crawford's turnaround, but also his teammates tightening up in front of him. Unfortunately, the only talk from that game was Duncan Keith's elbow on Daniel Sedin. The Canucks star left the game. Keith is not a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination, but that was a dangerous play. Worth at least two games, in my book. The Hawks don’t play again until Sunday, so Shanahan has time to decide what to do here.
BURNSIDE: Yes, terrific game marred by what Canucks fans are hoping won’t be any kind of significant injury to their goal-scoring machine. The Canucks have been suffering from a little of what might have been afflicting the Rangers, a little lack of motivation after a long stretch of strong play. The Canucks have settled into the second seed in the Western Conference -- a little too far back of St. Louis to make a serious run at the top seed or the Presidents’ Trophy, and so far ahead of Colorado that there’s no push for the top spot in the Northwest. But Chicago always brings out the best in the Canucks, and they’ll need to see a lot better team play if they’re going to repeat last year’s long playoff run. With the overtime loss in Chicago, they have just three wins in their last 11 games and haven’t won back-to-back games in almost a month. As for Chicago, this is an impressive stretch for the Hawks. Doesn’t seem like all that long ago fans were clamoring for a new goaltender, yet Crawford has been dynamite, and all of a sudden the Hawks look like they’re for real. Where do you see them settling in that cramped Central Division?
LEBRUN: The Blues will win the Central. Then, I'll take Nashville followed by Chicago and then Detroit -- the Preds, Hawks and Wings all separated by two points and decided on the final weekend of the season. Exciting enough for you? Until then, two and a half weeks of crazed games with playoff and seeding implications. Love this time of year.
Until tomorrow, my friend.
BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. As the days dwindle down toward the end of the regular season, I am more and more convinced that there will be only room for either the San Jose Sharks or the Los Angeles Kings in the postseason dance. Shocking, really, given that I think most prognosticators liked both teams to easily qualify for the playoffs and battle tooth and nail for the Pacific Division title. Now, given the mediocrity in the Pacific, I suppose that’s still possible. But the schedule-makers have set up a dynamic that suggests only one will survive, and right now it looks like the talented Sharks will be on the outside looking in. In spite of getting Martin Havlat back into the fold, the Sharks continue to stumble around without a clue. Tuesday night they were mauled by the Kings in Los Angeles by a 5-2 count. They were outshot 42-22 as the Kings won their fifth straight and jumped into eighth place in the conference. The Sharks, meanwhile, languish in 10th place. Yes, they’re just two points out of eighth place but is there anything that suggests they’re capable of mounting a challenge to the teams ahead of them? The Sharks have won just three of their past 11 games and, perhaps worse for them, finish the season with a home-and-home against the Kings. Their goaltending has been shoddy, they can’t get timely scoring and seem to lack the kind of leadership needed to get over the hump. After two straight trips to the Western Conference final, this would be a huge setback, needless to say, but would it be the kind of setback that causes a dramatic change at the top?
CUSTANCE: There's no doubt that the Sharks missing the playoffs would be a colossal failure, and not just because I picked them to win the Stanley Cup. How you can get blown out 5-2 in an absolutely crucial game against the Kings is beyond me. That kind of effort is mystifying.
If this team misses the playoffs, some decisions in team construction will definitely be scrutinized. Hitching the wagon to Antti Niemi isn't looking like the smartest move. Since the All-Star break, Niemi is 7-10-4 with a 2.81 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. The deadline-day decision to send Jamie McGinn to Colorado for T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik isn't panning out either. McGinn has 10 points in 11 games for the Avalanche, while Galiardi and Winnik have combined for exactly one point. Playoff teams need secondary scoring and the Sharks aren't getting it.
But if you look at the big picture, there aren't many GMs who have put their teams in position to win in the playoffs more often than Doug Wilson has in his tenure with San Jose. I'd have a real hard time making any changes to the duo of Wilson and coach Todd McLellan considering they've made two consecutive trips to the West finals. And the playoffs are a funny thing. Let's say the Sharks manage to grab the No. 8 seed in the West and face the Blues in the first round. Which team would you bet the kid's college fund on?
BURNSIDE: Well, I don’t think the Sharks are going to make it so your excellent question of whether the Sharks could affect a major upset in the playoffs is going to be moot (and I’m not just saying that because you picked the Sharks to win the Cup, although I do kind of enjoy that part of it). One of the reasons the table is tilted against San Jose, beyond having two more games against the Kings, is that Dallas, Phoenix and Colorado continue to collect points. I watched that Dallas-Phoenix tilt Tuesday night and, with the Pacific Division lead on the line, the teams didn’t disappoint with an often chippy performance that had definite playoff intensity (ask Jamie Benn, who took a nasty Shane Doan elbow to the noggin). The Coyotes erased a 3-1 lead and then had three or four glorious chances to win it in overtime but Kari Lehtonen was superlative. You and I have saw Lehtonen up close in Atlanta during his formative years and I remain skeptical he is a franchise goalie kind of guy. But his play in the last month or so for a Dallas team that looked like it was a bubble playoff team has been impressive. He stopped 27 of 30 shots and then all three in the shootout. He has won eight of 10. I spoke with president Jim Lites Tuesday and the Stars’ strong play is translating into terrific crowds for the Stars after playing to an empty house for much of the first half of the season. Good news for the Stars. Bad news for the Sharks.
CUSTANCE: Oh, I think Lehtonen has done more than enough to earn the franchise label during the second half of this season. He's answered questions regarding his durability and the only question remaining is how he'll respond to the pressure of the playoffs. Last time I saw him get ready for the postseason, he dyed his hair Thrashers blue in a stunt that rubbed veteran teammates the wrong way. I think it's safe to say he's grown up considerably since 2007, when he gave up 11 goals in two playoff games against the Rangers. That kick save he made last night on Oliver Ekman-Larsson in overtime was absolutely phenomenal. Remember that one if Dallas wins the Pacific by a point. And Joe Nieuwendyk's quiet offseason addition of Michael Ryder continues to pay off. He had another two goals last night in helping the Stars hold off the Coyotes and now has 32 goals this season. He has 10 points in nine games this month. Unbelievable. You mentioned that Shane Doan elbow on Jamie Benn, I'm thinking that could be trouble for Phoenix. Doan was fined last week and Brendan Shanahan hasn't gone easy on players he's had to have multiple conversations with this season. Doan has a hearing with the league Wednesday and if he's out any length of time, that could crush playoff hopes in Phoenix. That team is remarkably resilient, but Doan is the Coyotes' heart and soul.
BURNSIDE: Ah, how fondly I remember that blue dye job during the Thrashers’ one and only playoff run (stumble?). One game I’ll be keeping an eye on Wednesday night will be Vancouver’s visit to Chicago. The Blackhawks are on a tear. Even without captain Jonathan Toews, whose continued absence due to concussion symptoms remains a major concern for Hawks fans, Chicago has turned in some of its best all-around performances in recent days. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane were impressive in 5-2 spanking of Washington on Sunday and they will put a four-game winning streak on the line tonight against the Canucks. A win could put the Hawks in a tie with Nashville and Detroit after it looked not so long ago that Chicago was destined for a fourth-place finish in the Central. Meanwhile, a fan asked during my chat Monday whether the Canucks’ tepid play of late was cause for concern, and I suggested that this is a team with little left to play for at this stage of the season. They’re too far behind St. Louis for a realistic run at the top seed in the conference or the Presidents’ Trophy and they’re miles ahead of Colorado in the Northwest. But their seeming inability to get ready for games, especially for games against lesser opponents like Minnesota, which beat them 2-0 on Monday, or Montreal has to be troubling for Canucks fans. Vancouver has won just three times in 10 games and one of those wins was against lowly Columbus. In short, one would imagine Chicago is a team Vancouver shouldn’t have any trouble getting up for. Should be a fun one.
CUSTANCE: It's always fun when those two teams go at it. I agree with you on the Canucks. Things are so tight in this league that if a group is even the slightest bit off or a step behind the opponent, it makes winning nearly impossible. A lot of the good teams have gone through stretches like we're seeing Vancouver endure right now and I think motivation plays a big part in that. The Canucks face a Chicago team that is clicking. You mentioned the strong play up front but I also think the Blackhawks are starting to reap the benefits of the Johnny Oduya trade that allowed Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith to reunite. Those two are playing well, with Keith putting up four assists in the win over Columbus. Seabrook led the team in ice time and was a plus-2. If those two are clicking and Toews can get healthy, that's an extremely dangerous team come playoff time. We joked about it on the podcast yesterday but they might want to ease up on the throttle. They're sitting comfortably in the No. 6 spot, which would mean a first-round series against the Pacific winner. To me, that's much more attractive than moving up to No. 5 and potentially facing a loaded Predators team that gave Chicago fits the last time they squared off in the postseason. Speaking of the Predators, time to get ready for the Alexander Radulov news conference. It's been fun Scott, enjoy the games.
GATINEAU, Quebec -- Tim Thomas would rather focus on the NHL All-Star Game, but the controversy surrounding his decision to skip the Bruins' visit Monday to the White House has followed him to Ottawa.
Following the NHL’s All-Star draft Thursday night, Thomas met briefly with the media and was asked about the reaction that followed his decision, including that of his teammates.
“They’ve given me their full and unwavering support, and I really appreciate that,” he said.
He declined to comment on another question with a firm "No comment," but paused for a long moment when he was asked whether avoiding the issue altogether only fuels the debate.
“I did address it,” he said. “Everything I said in my statement was what I believe to be the absolute truth. I don’t believe I need to revisit something I stated so clearly.”
-- Craig Custance
Datsyuk Thrilled To Be No. 1
Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk was perfectly content going last in the fantasy draft. "I want the car," he said last weekend.
But it was quite the opposite. Zdeno Chara made Datsyuk the first overall pick, bypassing teammates and fellow countrymen. Chara was going strictly on talent and production. One of the game's elite two-way players, Datsyuk has surged toward the top of the points race with 53 points in 49 games.
The honor of going first trumped winning a new car. Plus, it was a Honda, which probably wouldn't have gone over well in Detroit anyway.
"I'm just more happy. Surprised," Datsyuk told ESPN.com. "A car is a car but I want to be first, too."
He said he's excited to be reunited with former teammate Marian Hossa as well as fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.
"I don't play with Russian for a long time, same team," he said. "Now it's a chance. Who knows? We play good and Ken Holland see, [maybe he'll] bring in a Russian guy."
-- Craig Custance
Couture Goes Last
One wouldn’t know by looking at San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture after the draft that he had gone last overall.
You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
"Being the young guy here and playing on the West Coast, I knew it was a possibility," he said.
Hey, he got a car, right?
"A lot of my friends and my brother are blowing up my phone asking if they can have the car," Couture said, laughing.
Sharks captain Joe Thornton was among the callers. We also texted Thornton after the draft to ask him for his reaction to young Mr. Couture going last.
"Love it, his family will love the new car!" Thornton told ESPN.com.
-- Pierre LeBrun
Kessel Not Last
Tyler Seguin would have been an ironic last overall pick a year after Phil Kessel was, given their forever link to The Trade.
Just don’t tell Kessel that.
"I didn’t think about that until you just said that right now,’’ Kessel insisted afterward.
Really? Not sure we believe that one.
There was no car for Kessel this year, with the Leafs sniper going 15th overall. Although he keeps insisting he doesn’t care.
"Anything would have been fine," Kessel said, shrugging. "It’s an honor to be here. It’s not a big deal at all [to go last]. It doesn’t matter."
Any Maple Leafs reference got booed mercilessly Thursday night by rival Ottawa fans, so much that Kessel was taken off guard by it.
"I didn’t realize it was that bad, to tell you truth," Kessel said of the Senators fans’ venom for the Leafs. "When we play here, there’s a lot of Leaf fans at the games ... but we’re looking to have a good time here this weekend."
-- Pierre LeBrun
That Ol' Softie Zdeno
Zdeno Chara might be among the most imposing of players in the NHL but he definitely has a soft spot or at the very least a strong sense of fair play. Even though it was obvious Chara’s counterpart and former Ottawa Senators teammate Daniel Alfredsson was trying to corner the market on Senators in the draft, Chara allowed that to happen without disrupting the natural order of things by stealing a Milan Michalek or Jason Spezza.
"I think it’s fair enough to have the team guys kind of together especially, you know, for Ottawa fans and people in Ottawa. When they could have their home team players on the same team, I think it just makes it very special for them. Obviously, I didn’t want to interfere with that, and respect that," he said.
-- Scott Burnside
Campbell Close To Home
Lots of familiar faces for Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell this weekend in somewhat familiar surroundings. Campbell played his junior hockey in Ottawa, skating on the Rideau Canal during his leisure time, and he has a dozen family members either in town already or en route.
His inclusion in this All-Star weekend, his fourth All-Star appearance, reinforces Campbell’s decision to agree to a trade from Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup, to the Florida Panthers last summer. Campbell is second in the NHL behind Erik Karlsson in scoring among defensemen and is the lone Panthers representative here. But he did hook up with former Hawks teammates Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
"I think you’re always worried when you move to a different team and a different city, but for myself personally, it was the best decision," Campbell said.
He noted that he is getting a chance in Florida to showcase his skills in a way that perhaps he wasn’t able to do in Chicago. Still, he was quick to reinforce his feelings about his time in Chicago and specifically playing for coach Joel Quenneville.
"I loved my time in Chicago," he said. "The organization was great, and Joel, I learned a ton from Joel about how to play the game. Now that’s the past, and [you] take a lot of good things out of Chicago and you move forward."
As for the curious route of leaving the warmth of South Florida for the chill of an Ottawa winter during the break, Campbell is OK with that.
"There’s lots of time for the beach and all that. I know the boys are having fun I’m sure somewhere wherever they are, but I’m happy to be here," Campbell said.
-- Scott Burnside
Home Game For Perry
Corey Perry is actually from Peterborough, Ontario, but he has family and friends who live here in Ottawa, so this is an NHL homecoming of sorts.
"I’ve got a lot of cousins here; my dad’s side pretty much lives in Ottawa," the reigning Hart trophy winner said after the draft. "It’s going to be a fun weekend."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Ottawa Is Living Large
No doubt the Ottawa region and the Senators would have been pumped to host the All-Star weekend, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have the oomph this weekend stands to have if the team had been languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings as most believed it would be.
Instead, the surprising Senators hit the break in sixth place in the conference and looking forward to the final 30 games of the regular season.
"We’re looking forward to a lot of divisional games, a lot of important hockey games, and last year at this point of the year, we didn’t have important hockey games, so we’re excited to have important hockey games coming into this part of the season," Senators center Jason Spezza said Thursday.
And the team’s play has sure made taking part in the weekend’s celebrations more palatable for him and his teammates.
"Yeah, I think so," Spezza said. "We feel like we’re here on merit and because the team’s played well. You want to be a part of something like this but it’s nice when you’re having a good year and things are going well up to this point. Our fans are excited; we’re excited about it. I think because the club’s played good hockey, everybody’s really excited about hockey right now, and this is really just icing on the cake on it at this point."
As for teammate Erik Karlsson, with whom Spezza sat before being selected by teammate Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza agreed that no one seemed to be having as much fun as the young defenseman, who leads all NHL defensemen in points with 47.
"Erik’s a great kid. He’s a real light-hearted guy. I think the more and more people get to know him, the more and more they’re going to like him. He’s a confident kid that believes in himself and he’s a heck of a hockey player and he’s a great guy in the dressing room," Spezza said.
-- Scott Burnside
Dallas Stars center Jamie Benn won’t lie. He was sweating it just a little when it was down to him and Sharks center Logan Couture. But he insisted he was also having fun with it.
"A little bit of both," Benn said after Friday night’s All-Star draft. "We knew it would come down to the wire. It doesn’t matter. We’re all here to have a good weekend, and we might as well have fun with it."
You might argue being picked second to last is the worst possible outcome because there’s no car as a prize, right?
"Well, it was a little bit of a win-win before those final two picks, either picked or get a car," Benn said, laughing. "I’m happy I got picked."
Benn was activated from the Stars' injured reserve just before the All-Star weekend. We asked him whether he put a little friendly pressure on Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to do that.
"A little bit, yeah," Benn said, smiling. "He was nice enough to let me come here. He wanted me to come here; it’s a good experience for a young guy like me."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Kane Caught On Tape
It wouldn’t be an event without Patrick Kane making things interesting.
"That blonde’s unbelievable," Kane was caught saying on the telecast.
"It was a little blonde kid in front; that’s all I was talking about," a smiling Kane insisted afterward, in no way convincing any of the media on hand.
"I can’t believe they put that on," Kane said, knowing he was busted. "No more mic'ed up for TSN."
-- Pierre LeBrun
Goligoski, acquired from Pittsburgh last season for left wing James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen, is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $2.75 million this season. He'll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
"It's not far along at all, but we've discussed it and we'll initiate that," Nieuwendyk told Custance. "We'll have talks at some point here. We'd like to get that done. He's an important player for us. Jamie Benn, same thing."
Benn is in the final year of his entry-level deal and will earn $670,000 in 2011-12. He will be a RFA as well.
1. Will Goldwater let Coyotes' deal go through?Well, it looks like we'll finally find out whether the Goldwater Institute is all about the people or just all about the Goldwater Institute.
After throwing a giant bag of pucks into the mechanics of a lease agreement that would have seen the beleaguered team sold to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, thus ensuring the team's future in Arizona, the public watchdog group can claim victory after Hulsizer essentially took a knee Sunday night. In very public fashion -- appearing during the first intermission of the Fox Sports Arizona broadcast of the Coyotes' game against Chicago on Sunday -- Hulsizer agreed to cover any shortfalls in parking revenues the City of Glendale may have over the course of the lease.
The parking revenues are at the heart of Goldwater's concerns about the lease agreement and what prompted them to warn off potential investors in municipal bonds that are needed to generate revenue to close the deal. The group also threatened to sue the City of Glendale if the deal closed, creating uncertainty among investors and threatening to drive up the interest rate of the bonds.
All of this was done under the guise of protecting taxpayer interests in Glendale.
In the wake of Hulsizer's concessions and the very vocal support of the Coyotes by Sen. John McCain and former state attorney general Grant Woods, who also appeared on television Sunday, the deal now hinges on whether Goldwater will declare victory and move on or not.
One would assume this would be enough, but they are an odd bunch, those Goldwater folks.
They are funded through private donations, and the publicity they've received via the Coyotes saga has revealed rich fundraising soil. There are also other issues, like the agenda of the group given the connection between board members and the Arizona Diamondbacks -- the wife of D-backs owner Ken Kendrick, Randy, is a Goldwater board member.
Is it better for the Diamondbacks in a depressed economic market if another pro franchise disappears?
And then there are people like CEO Darcy Olsen, whose public profile has skyrocketed as a result of the process. Is it in her own best interests to keep the fight?
These are questions that will be brought into sharper focus if Goldwater doesn't let go of the bone on this one, ensuring the deal fails and the team leaves Arizona for Winnipeg.
After months of artificial deadlines and drop-dead points, it actually appears as though a resolution is at hand in the desert.
Regardless of which side of the fence one stands on, it's hard to argue that the people of Glendale -- and the people of Winnipeg, who have waited patiently in the hopes of a return of the NHL -- deserve an answer from the Goldwater people, and soon.
2. Predators' local kid makes goodYou could hardly have asked for any more drama than the final moments of Sunday's Nashville/Buffalo tilt in Buffalo.
The Sabres, chasing the New York Rangers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference while trying to hold off Carolina, Toronto and New Jersey, erased an early 1-0 deficit with three second-period goals. Then the Preds, desperate to get back in the top eight in the Western Conference, tied the game with two goals 1:04 apart in the dying moments of the third period. They completed the comeback with an overtime winner by Martin Erat just 27 seconds into the extra frame.
What made the game even more memorable for Preds fans was that Blake Geoffrion scored the first three goals of the game.
The grandson of Hall of Fame Hab Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, the great-grandson of Hall of Famer Howie Morenz and the first native Tennessean to play in the NHL has a flair for the dramatic, that's for sure.
Maybe more importantly, the homegrown Pred has a simple knack for scoring. In 11 games since being recalled from the AHL, Geoffrion has scored six times.
He is, GM David Poile told ESPN.com Monday, perhaps the opposite of his grandfather, who was known for his cannon-like shot, scoring mostly from in close.
"He has a knack for getting to the hard areas," Poile said.
While the team has always taken pride in drafting and developing its own players, Poile acknowledged there is something special about seeing Geoffrion succeed.
For all the kids playing high school or minor hockey, seeing a local kid make good with the hometown team is pretty special.
"You have to believe that there's some ripple effects throughout the community," Poile said.
The win, the third in a row for the Preds, vaulted them into seventh place in the Western Conference, although they are tied in points with fifth-place Chicago and sixth-place Los Angeles.
Has his heart rate gone down yet?
"Not yet," he said.
If Geoffrion keeps going it may not go down any time soon, either.
3. Canucks' special-teams successAs if you needed any other indication that the Vancouver Canucks are the odds-on favorites to win their first-ever Stanley Cup, let's take a look at the team's special-teams domination.
The Canucks are the only NHL team to boast a top-five ranking in both penalty kill and power-play efficiency.
The Canucks have the top-ranked power play and are second behind Pittsburgh in penalty killing.
Only two other teams, Tampa Bay and Montreal, have special teams that rank in the top 10 on both sides of the ledger. The Lightning are sixth in power-play efficiency and ninth on the penalty kill, while the Habs are just behind them at seventh and 10th respectively.
So does this mean anything?
Well, the common theory is that if your special teams are cooking in the playoffs, then playoff success won't be far behind.
At least that's the theory.
Funny, though, neither of last year's Stanley Cup finalists, Chicago and Philadelphia, boasted two top-10 specialty teams during the regular season.
The San Jose Sharks were the only team last season to ice special teams that ranked in the top five (their PP was fourth and PK was fifth), and they enjoyed some playoff success advancing to the Western Conference final, where they were swept by eventual Cup champ Chicago.
The only other NHL team last season to feature two special teams in the top 10 was Detroit, and they were iced by San Jose in the second round.
4. Measuring Subban's performanceThere is so much to like about Montreal's P.K. Subban. The rookie defenseman has been lighting it up lately, pounding three goals past Wild netminders Sunday and adding an assist, as the Habs routed Minnesota 8-1 at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis.
Subban leads all rookie blueliners with 35 points and leads all first-year defensemen with 11 goals. His 102 penalty minutes is also tops among first-year defensemen. His stock has gone up considerably as the season has gone along and the Canadiens have lost more and more key personnel to injury, especially along the blue line. He is averaging 22:09 a night in ice time over the season, third behind John Carlson and Cam Fowler among first-year defensemen, but his ice time regularly tops 24 and 25 minutes a night now.
But we must admit there is something more than a little off-putting about Subban's on-ice histrionics.
We watched closely replays from last week's hard-fought game against Tampa -- a potential first-round playoff matchup. Subban and Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier battled for position in front of the Montreal net in a great old-time hockey war of wills. As the two circled behind the net, Subban delivered a wicked two-hander to Lecavalier, earning him a two-minute minor for slashing, and as they returned to the front of the net Lecavalier responded with his own nasty two-hander.
Subban went down like a ton of bricks, and Lecavalier was ejected from the game.
Was Subban hurt? Maybe. Maybe not. He did not leave the game and the Habs ended up winning in a shootout.
Maybe the ends justify the means. But we have to admit, we'd rather Subban just suck it up and take what he dishes out. To us that is the greater measure of the man.
5. Benn indispensable for StarsYou can talk experience all you want, but if the Dallas Stars manage to complete their improbable run to a playoff berth this year, you can point as much to youthful exuberance as a catalyst. Specifically, we're talking about the play of 21-year-old Jamie Benn, whose contributions down the stretch have been exemplary. Benn, the 129th pick in the 2007 draft, has collected points in 10 straight games for the Stars. He has eight goals over that period and at one point had scored in six straight contests for a Stars team that was tied for eighth place in the Western Conference as of Monday morning.
"We have a ton of confidence in him. He's just so energized to be playing," head coach Marc Crawford told ESPN.com.
"Young legs are so important to the team when you're coming down the stretch and into the playoffs," the veteran coach added.
Benn was sidelined in Game 2 of the regular season with a concussion, but since about the 20-game mark, he has been asked to do more and more.
"That's when we started to really ramp up his ice time," Crawford said.
What has made Benn so indispensable for the Stars has been his versatility.
"He's played with just about every line," Crawford said.
Lately, with Brad Richards still trying to get back to 100 percent after his own concussion woes and with Loui Eriksson out for the past few games, Benn has taken on more responsibility, playing on the right side with Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro.
"He's been nothing short of terrific for us," Crawford said. "He's been a very, very important player for us."
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: Benn had a goal and an assist in the Stars' 5-0 rout against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night to stretch his points streak to nine games. The 129th pick in the 2007 draft has eight goals over that span and has stepped up nicely since the trade of James Neal to Pittsburgh in advance of the Feb. 28 trade deadline. The Stars, meanwhile, continue to impress. Their win over Chicago moved them into a tie with the defending Stanley Cup champs for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Christian Ehrhoff, Vancouver Canucks: When you think of the Canucks' blue line, you think injuries instead of point production. That's a function of having dynamic scorers up front like Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who are vying for Hart Trophy consideration, and Ryan Kesler, who will likely be a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist. But Ehrhoff has helped stabilize a blue line that has been ravaged by injuries this season, regularly logging more than 25 minutes a night in ice time in recent weeks. The former San Jose Shark has eight points (all assists) in his past seven games. The Canucks also have taken a stranglehold on the top seed in the Western Conference, as well as the Presidents' Trophy race.
Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes: If the youthful Hurricanes are going to reassert themselves as a playoff team in the final three weeks of the regular season, they are going to need to get offense from more than just captain Eric Staal. That means veteran forward Jokinen, always a bit of a streaky producer, will need to get back on track -- and soon. The forward has just two points in his past eight games and has not scored a goal over that period of time. The Canes have just one win in their past six outings and were in ninth overall in the East.
Alexei Kovalev, Pittsburgh Penguins: Hey, we know the Penguins didn't acquire the veteran scorer to put up points in relatively meaningless regular-season games, which we guess is good since Kovalev has managed to score just once and add two assists in nine games since coming over from Ottawa. The big winger has managed only 14 shots with the Pens and has had three shots in one game just once. None of this means anything if Kovalev can somehow find the range come playoff time, but it is mildly troubling given he is regularly averaging more than 17 minutes a night in ice time. Maybe he's just saving up.