Cross Checks: Shea Weber

Watch a game at the Bell Centre with a blindfold on and you'll know who has the puck by the buzz in the crowd. As the sense of anticipation grows, you picture people getting out of their seats, waiting to see what happens next.

By then, you know that defenseman P.K. Subban is on one of those rushes up the ice. It’s one thing to watch on TV, but it’s a different sensory experience to be in the rink itself.

When it's one of the better rushes that electrifies the crowd, the chants of "P.K., P.K., P.K." come cascading down from the rafters of the Bell Centre.

The reigning Norris Trophy winner, who once again leads all NHL defensemen in scoring early this season with 11 points (2-9) in nine games, has tried to tone down some of the antics that aggravated traditional hockey people when he entered the league. But at the end of the day, he only knows how to play the game one way.

[+] EnlargeP.K. Subban
Derek Leung/Getty ImagesP.K. Subban's work with the puck excites Montreal fans, but his style rubs some others the wrong way.
"I still play the same game that I played when I was 16 years old in Belleville [OHL]," Subban told ESPN.com this week. "The difference now is that I'm 24, not 16; I'm into my fourth NHL season, I have some experience under my belt, I've played for multiple coaches now, I'm just a little bit older and that helps you.

"But in terms of how I play my game, I haven't changed much. I've grown as a person, I think I've matured a little bit, and I still have more maturing to do just like most players, especially young players. But I still play the game like I always have."

He's a polarizing figure, to be sure. Bring up his name with hockey people around the league and you get two extremes in opinions. Some absolutely love his explosive game and the way he backs up opposing teams and impacts games, while some old-school folks don't appreciate what they believe is an over-the-top, "flamboyant" demeanor on the ice, as one scout put it to ESPN.com.

His Norris Trophy nod last season created mixed reactions around the league. There are people who believe Ryan Suter should have won, pointing out in particular that Subban didn't kill a lot of penalties last season and didn't have the kind of all-around season that Suter had in Minnesota.

On the other hand, it's hardly new territory that a blueliner with a big offensive season won the Norris; that's often been the case in the past. But there's no question the last thing Subban himself expected was a Norris Trophy so early in his career.

"You know what, I didn't [expect it], I have to be honest with you," 24-year-old Subban said. "Especially last year, the first game of the year comes and I'm sitting on my couch without a contract. The last thing on my mind was that I was going to come back and win the Norris. But when I look at it, and look at my preparation for last season, I believe I prepared better than most players.

"Even though I missed the first two weeks of the season, I was in tip-top shape," Subban continued. "I worked out twice a day, skating every day, throughout the whole lockout. I was in peak condition. When I hit the ice, I’m sure a lot of people thought I would be coming in out of shape because I was sitting at home waiting for my contract and that I wouldn't be sharp; they were wrong, I was sharp and I was ready and I was in good shape."

Subban tied for the NHL lead among defensemen with 38 points (11-27) in 42 games while sporting a plus-12 rating and playing 23:14 a game. He missed the first six games of the season because of a contract dispute with the Habs, one in which the dividing line was Subban wanting a long-term deal and general manager Marc Bergevin standing firm that Subban's second contract would be a short one, just like Carey Price and Max Pacioretty.

Both Price and Pacioretty signed two-year deals out of their entry-level years before getting longer-term security with their third contracts. In the end, Subban also submitted.

The flip side now is that Subban and powerful agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports will have a Norris Trophy under their belt when the two-year deal expires after this season. The Newport firm has negotiated long-term deals for other young blueliners such as Drew Doughty ($7 million per year), Erik Karlsson ($6.5 million) and Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million), so you can imagine where the conversation will begin when the two sides get serious in talks.

[+] EnlargeP.K. Subban
Tasos Katopodis/Getty ImagesWinning the Norris Trophy could soon give Subban millions more reasons to smile.
"To be honest with you, I'm just focused on playing hockey and not worrying about anything," Subban said. "I don't know what the plan is from the hockey team's perspective, I haven't heard much. But at the end of the day, it's something I don't really think about too much. I have more than enough trust in Donnie to make sure something is put in place that we’re comfortable with.

"But we've got lots of time for that. At the end of the day, my focus has to be on hockey. If Montreal comes to me with something, then we’ll sit and talk. As of right now, I'm just focused on hockey and I haven't heard much. And this is probably the most I've said about it all year. I'm just going to continue to play."

There’s another debate percolating around Subban, too, involving his potential place on Team Canada.

"Geez, he's an awful good player. I don't know how he’s not on that team," one Western Conference team executive said.

On one hand, how can you not want a player with his dynamic skating ability on the larger international ice? On the flip side, there's concern among some about Subban's high-risk style of play in a tournament where the smallest mistakes can be the difference between winning and losing.

At play as well is the ridiculous depth Team Canada has to choose from when it comes to right-handed defensemen: Dougthy, Pietrangelo and Shea Weber to start with, then Kris Letang, Dan Boyle, Brent Seabrook and Mike Green, among others.

Certainly, Subban fits right in that discussion near the top choices.

"It's a good problem to have if you're Team Canada," Subban said. "They have so many players to pick from. Obviously I want to be on the team, I've won gold medals while playing for my country before [world juniors], all I can do is hope for it. But there's a lot of great players to choose from."

All things being equal, it seems hard to imagine that if Subban is leading all NHL blueliners in scoring, or close to it, come mid-December, that he won't somehow be among the eight D-men in Sochi for Canada.

"At the end of the day, Steve Yzerman has played a long time in the NHL, he's one of the most respected players to play the game, he's had a great career, and he's a very smart and intelligent individual," Subban said. "All I can do is play my game, do the best that I can, and hope that I get the opportunity to represent my country.

"A lot of people will say to me, 'Well, P.K., you won the Norris Trophy, there's no way you can't be on the team.' Well, at the end of the day, I don't make those decisions, I don't look into those things. All I can do is help my team win every night and hopefully I get noticed. I don't pick the team."

And Subban insists it won’t affect his play one iota.

"I don't have many distractions," Subban said. "Would there have been a bigger distraction last year than coming in six games late with our team 5-1 and I'm back from a contract negotiation? I'm sure you can imagine what the distractions would have been in Montreal at that point. But it never bothered me.

"I highly doubt that the selection of Team Canada will bother me, either."

Subban does know for sure that there's nowhere else he'd rather be.

"It's a very special place playing in Montreal," he said. "It doesn't matter how my day went or how I felt coming to the rink. The moment we come out to start the game, it's like you're in a different world. It's unbelievable. It's a feeling you can only experience playing in Montreal. Every time I step on that ice it gives me energy."



CALGARY, Alberta -- Team Canada wrapped up its three-day Olympic camp with more "walk-through" practices Tuesday, and, while it has been unusual to see the players in ball-hockey mode on the covered ice, the innovative approach was a winner with the players.

Despite not skating for real, there was a sense of accomplishment at the end of it all.

“Being on the ice, going over video, getting to know some of the guys, I think we made the best of every situation," Sidney Crosby said after camp wrapped up Tuesday.

“A lot of information, details on the way we want to play. Just trying to grasp all that is important, because there isn’t a ton of time over there, so you make the most of having the time here together.”

Some people may snicker at a camp without actual on-ice practices, but Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman felt it was worth it, no question.

"The feedback from coaches and players is they think it’s been worthwhile,” Yzerman said. "They’ve spent a lot of time, even if they’re going on the floor, in meetings and video sessions. It just takes that one step further and they can walk through their positioning. Some guys learn different than others. Some guys tune out in video and meetings and whatnot. If we do this in a practical manner, it kind of drives the point home a little bit."

Head coach Mike Babcock spent a lot of time organizing the event and had specific goals he wanted to reach here.

"[The players] came here for three simple things. No. 1 was to get to know everybody better from players to coaches to management to trainers, to get to know them and have a comfort level," Babcock said.

"No. 2 is to understand the details of how we're going to play -- terminology, where to stand, how to play in your own zone, how to play on the power play, penalty kill. We've gone over and over that. The walk-throughs made it slow enough to really spend some time on it.

"The third thing I think was critical for them is the evaluation process. How do you get to Sochi? We've tried to explain it to each and every guy so when they leave here they've got three months to do their part. They're in control of whether they go."

Just how much the players remember in terms of their system teaching come four months from now remains to be seen.

“I’m sure guys will need to refresh a little bit, but as far as just getting an idea for a foundation, it’s great we’re able to do it here,” Crosby said. "Kind of an unconventional way of doing it, but I think nonetheless we were able to benefit from it.”

Countries have until Dec. 31 to name their 25-man rosters, Yzerman indicating Canada would name its team sometime between mid- to late December.

"At the start of the season, we’ll start with this group of 47 -- we’ll keep an eye on everybody -- but focus on particular teams, particular games, particular players that we’re deciding on,” Yzerman said of narrowing down the choices. "There was a few guys we don’t feel the need to watch. But we know what they can do and they’re going to be on this team, assuming they’re healthy. We’ll arrange our schedule over the next week or so to get ready for the start of the regular season. We’ll get together as a group early November to narrow things down a little bit and talk about what we’re seeing and make sure we’re all in constant communication and get organized from November to mid-December and make our final decisions at that point."

In 2010, Canada was criticized for some its selections despite winning gold. Only in hockey-mad Canada is winning gold not quite good enough to satisfy everyone.

Yzerman knows the Team Canada brain trust won’t please everyone with its decisions this time, either.

"In 2010, we won, could you have put six or seven different guys on that team and still have won? Probably, maybe?” Yzerman said. "But we’ll beat it to death and talk about it and try and put the best team together. There will be logic behind our decisions whether it looks like it or not."

Canada's captain


The naming of a team captain will wait for now.

“It will probably be similar to Vancouver. I think it would be wise to wait until the team is named before we announce a captain,” said Yzerman, who named Scott Niedermayer captain last time around. "We’ll talk to the coaching staff about it and collectively reach a decision on that."

Hard to think Sidney Crosby won’t get the "C," although there will be a number of great candidates given that most of these guys are captains on their respective NHL teams.

“It’d be an honor for sure,” Crosby said of whether he’d be named captain. "But it’s not something that’s on my mind a whole lot. We all want to be on this team and lead by example when we need to, but it’s an honor to be a captain on any team.”

Regardless, Crosby will have a bigger leadership role than he had in 2010 when he was a 22-year-old first-time Olympian.

“I think if I look back at last time, I was probably more in awe and trying to learn from those guys [more] than anything,” Crosby said. "I don’t think it's a conscious decision you make, I think its just a natural progression when you’ve played on a team before, you understand things a bit better. It’s a comfort level. It’s a difference between going to your first Olympic camp and your second one. It’s a mindset.

“I think it’s kind of a natural progression for all the guys who were in Vancouver to come here and be a lot more comfortable, but with the number of guys we have here who are captains or leaders on their team, I think you’ll see a lot of guys who are comfortable.”

Yzerman said it’s logical that some of the young stars from 2010 will step up in the leadership department this time around.

"Sidney, Shea Weber, those types of guys that played very well and are elite NHL players,” Yzerman said. "Four more years later, a lot has happened in their careers. They’ve learned a lot. They’ve matured a lot. The Scott Neidermayers, the Chris Prongers aren’t here. It’s up to those players to take a step forward. So, yes, I expect some of these younger players to take a step forward. Jonathan [Toews] or Sidney, for example, they’ve won gold medals, won Stanley Cups. They’ve accomplished a lot. They’re still young guys. But they’re leaders on their own clubs and we expect them to be here.”

Sharp's ready this time


Four years ago, Patrick Sharp arrived at the Canadian Olympic camp a little wide-eyed. But it’s a different feeling this time around for the Chicago Blackhawks star.

"Going back then, I think I was a different player,” Sharp said Tuesday. "I was 26 or 27. I don’t want to say I was star-struck, but I was excited to be here. But I don’t know if I really believed then that I belonged. I know that’s a bad thing to say as a player. This time around, I’m much more confident, I’ve played in a some pretty serious games. Since 2009 we’ve gone deep in the playoffs three times and won the Stanley Cup twice. So a lot has changed for my game since then, and hopefully, I can play well this year and show the coaches and Hockey Canada that I belong."

What does Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman say about Sharp’s opportunity to make the team?

"A very good chance," Yzerman said. "One, he can play all of the three forward positions, which is a great asset. He plays in all situations, power play, penalty killing. He has been on teams that have won Stanley Cups and been an important player. Teams that win, certain traits they have, their players play a certain way and can play in big games and play under pressure and know how to win. He’s got all those things going for him."

Sharp’s ability to play all three forward positions is an obvious asset.

"I hope so,” said Sharp, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario. "I know it’s tough putting these kinds of teams together and moving guys around in different positions. That’s something I’ve done my whole career in Chicago. If that helps my chances, that’s great."

You sense in Sharp’s voice how much it would mean to him to make this team. He was asked if making Team Canada would mean as much or even more than winning the Stanley Cup.

"That’s tough to answer,” Sharp said. "That’s like saying, 'Who do you like better, my wife or my daughter?' It’s two things that would be incredible accomplishments. And I’m jealous of Seabs and Duncs and Johnny who were able to win the Cup and the gold in the same year. I certainly want to be part of that and will do anything I can to make the team this year."

Marc Staal's recovery


Rangers blueliner Marc Staal says he’s ready to go after suffering a scary eye injury last season.

"It's good. Really good. I had a really good summer of training and I feel really good," Staal said Tuesday. "When I'm on the ice, I don't really notice it at all. I'm excited and anxious just to start the season up and get it going."

Staal said he has adjusted well.

"It was more of just adapting to the depth perception and things like that when I was coming back,” Staal explained. "It just wasn't clicking when I was trying to come back in the playoffs there. But with the time off and the training now, everything's back to normal and I'm feeling really good."

Many people believe Staal could make Team Canada as long as there are no signs he’s limited by what happened to his eye.

"I have no limitations at all. It's been a great summer of training,” Staal said. "Physically from the time I was cleared to start working out, there wasn't anything I couldn't do as far as physically getting ready. So that part of it has been really good this summer, just getting into shape, getting stronger and getting ready for the season."

Weber's game


Early in Canada’s trouncing of Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Shea Weber threw his body around and it set the tempo for the victory.

But that was on NHL ice. He has given some thought to how he’s going to have to adjust his game on the bigger ice in Sochi.

"Yeah definitely," Weber said. "I had the chance to play in the world championships in Russia and Switzerland, so I’m a little familiar with it. You can get caught out of position a lot easier. It’s wider and there’s more time and space for those guys to make passes through you. So you have to be conscious. You still want to play physical but you don’t want to take chances."

Weber is a lock to make this team again, but he certainly hasn’t tried to sit down and figure out the 25-man roster.

"No, that’s why I’m the player, there’s too many tough decisions,” said the Nashville Predators captain. "You go down the list and everybody deserves the chance. That’s why they’re here. There’s even guys that aren’t here that probably will get a good look during the season. We’re very fortunate in Canada to have a big selection, but definitely some tough choices."

Lucic is in shape


A lot was said last season about what kind of shape Milan Lucic was in. The topic reared its ugly head late in the regular season when he was a healthy scratch because of his ineffective play. He picked it up big time in the playoffs and was once again the player people in Boston were used to watching.

Good news, Bruins fans. One look at Lucic this week at the Olympic camp and you know he’s in excellent shape.

"I'm in a lot better shape than I was going into [last] year,” Lucic said. "I didn't take much time off; I maybe took a week off after we lost to Chicago just because I was feeling really good, how I ended off on a personal note and I kind of wanted to keep that going. I went back to how I used to always train. I had some things that were kind of bothering me that weren't allowing my body to train as hard as I used to and I rectified a couple of those problems and it's starting to feel better in the gym."

Iggy talk


Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is eager to see Jarome Iginla on the Bruins this season.

"For sure, it's going to be great,” Bergeron said. "I've had a chance to play with him and to meet him in Vancouver and he's an amazing guy and also player, very professional and a great leader as well. Very excited to have him with us and looking forward to getting to know him even more."

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the middle of a hotly contested playoff series and with a crucial game in the offing, individual awards may seem relatively inconsequential.

But when it was revealed Tuesday morning that Ryan Suter was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, it was a form of vindication for both the player who made the heartbreaking decision to leave the only team he'd known in the Nashville Predators for the franchise that wagered $98 million in salary and 13 years of term that Suter was the kind of player who could help transform an organization.

After a brief period of transition at the start of the lockout-shortened season, the Minnesota Wild's Suter has been the league's best defenseman. He led the NHL in total ice time per game at 27:16, was second among defensemen in assists and third in points.

With all due respect to Kris Letang and P.K. Subban, the other finalists for the Norris, if Suter does not win the award it will be a major surprise.

If you talk with Suter's coaches, teammates and opponents, you find a universal respect for his skill set. He is not a bruising force like Shea Weber, his former partner in Nashville, or Niklas Kronwall in Detroit. He may not be the game's swiftest skater -- both Subban and Letang possess explosive speed. But Suter is the complete package in a way both understated and impressive and reminiscent of former Detroit Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom.

One Western Conference GM spoke recently about the ease with which Suter plays as much as he does, almost always against opposing teams' top players. Earlier in the postseason, players in another series were marveling at Suter's performance in Game 1 of the Wild's series against the Chicago Blackhawks, when he played 41:08.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said it's a shame most Norris voters don't get to see Suter up close and appreciate how important he is to the Wild.

"You don't realize what a good person this is," Yeo said. "You don't realize what a tremendous leader he is, the character that he has. He's been a huge part obviously with his play, but as much with his attitude, his character and his personality in really helping our organization take a big step."

Suter and Zach Parise shocked the hockey world last summer when they signed identical 13-year deals with the Wild worth $98 million apiece. In making the move, Suter left the team that drafted and nurtured him and Weber, his longtime defense partner and a former Norris Trophy finalist himself. There were questions about whether Suter could assume the kind of leadership role that he did not necessarily have to play in Nashville given the large shadow cast by Weber.

Yet, as the season wore on, the Wild asked more and more of Suter, including partnering him with rookie Jonas Brodin. While he was not a finalist for the Calder Trophy, Brodin's evolution has been dramatic and much of it can be traced to his proximity to Suter.

Although Suter has yet to record a point in the series, he has been playing shift for shift against the Blackhawks' top line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and rookie-of-the-year nominee Brandon Saad and has helped stifled its point-production.

"When you play against him for a few years, you kind of see everything that he brings to the table," teammate Kyle Brodziak said. "He's strong, a good skater and very smart. He pretty much has all the elements you need to be a good hockey player. Can't say that he exceeded expectations, but they were pretty high coming in."

"He's very calm. It's good to have in the locker room," Brodziak added. "He's definitely a guy that doesn't get rattled, and that's important in a game where the emotions get so high. To have a guy that is able to stay composed in those types of scenarios, it's very important for your hockey team."

Not surprisingly, the low-key Suter was more interested in talking about Tuesday's Game 4 than individual honors.

"I'm really honored, I really am. But my focus isn't on that," Suter said. "Maybe someday looking back I say, 'Wow.' But it's preparing for tonight. It's going to be more intense than last game and the game before. Keeping my mind focused on the game is the most important thing."
A year ago at this time, the Nashville Predators entered the playoffs with legitimate title aspirations.

It was an exciting time, the club with one of its strongest regular seasons in history and GM David Poile adding parts before the trade deadline to help the cause.

A disappointing second-round exit to Phoenix left a sour taste for the Predators, but no one at that time could even pretend to predict what the landscape would look like just a year later.

Completely out of the playoffs?

"Without a doubt, it’s been a tough year for us, especially with some of our top guys going down," Predators captain Shea Weber told ESPN.com Wednesday. "We battled hard but in the end we obviously couldn’t pull it together and get in."

These have to be soul-searching moments for Weber, who last summer saw his star defense partner, Ryan Suter, leave for Minnesota, then almost exited himself after signing a $110 million, 14-year offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers only to see the Predators match.

As of Wednesday morning, Weber was 16th among NHL defensemen with 23 points (eight goals) while ranking sixth in ice time at 26 minute per game. It’s not a bad season at all, but under the specter of the contract he signed, it's likely not enough for some.

"Obviously, we didn’t get into the playoffs, that means it didn’t go well for anyone," Weber responded when asked to talk about his own performance. "You can say that guys did well personally all you want, but if you’re not in the playoffs, if you’re not playing for the Stanley Cup, then things didn’t go as well as they should have."

Hard to ignore what old pal Suter is up to in Minnesota, where his 32 points (4-28) are second only to P.K. Subban among NHL defensemen, and there’s much talk about Suter for the Norris Trophy.

Which further illustrates how much the Predators lost when he walked as a free agent last summer. But it’s a stretch to pin Suter’s loss entirely on why the Predators missed the playoffs.

"Losing him is obviously going to affect the team, I don’t think it’s the reason we didn’t make the playoffs," said Weber. "He’s obviously a very good player and he’s done well this year. But I think there’s obviously a lot of other reasons you can attribute to why we’re sitting on the outside looking in."

Reason No. 1: offense, or lack thereof. The Predators are dead last in the NHL in goals per game (2.23) just a season after placing eighth overall at 2.83.

"Yes, that’s one of the biggest things, compared to how many goals we scored last year," said Weber. "I have trouble comprehending why we couldn’t [score this season]. We didn’t really have a big roster turnover. The goal drop is tough to put a finger on."

Injuries up front to the likes of Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque and Patric Hornqvist certainly explain part of the offensive drop, but not all of it. More was expected from the likes of Craig Smith and Sergei Kostitsyn, too.

In the end, like many of the teams that won’t make the playoffs, there’s also the danger of overreacting to a lockout-shortened season, where strange things have happened.

"You don’t want to overreact, but you want to be realistic and sit back at the end of the year to see if maybe a thing or two could have made the difference in getting into the playoffs," said Weber. "Obviously, if there’s things that need to change and be fixed, then I think that’s when you make those decisions."

After the trade deadline, I was doing a hit on a Nashville radio station and got blindsided by a question when the host asked me if Martin Erat’s trade request was reflective of team disharmony in the dressing room.

I had no clue, I said.

But I shared that with Weber, who said the Erat situation was isolated and not representative of anything bigger.

"A lot of guys didn’t even know about that," Weber said of Erat, who was dealt to Washington for highly prized prospect Filip Forsberg. "He went about his business and obviously had a conversation with David Poile, he decided he wanted to go. If he doesn’t want to be here, then he has to move on. I don’t think there’s any issue in this locker room. You can talk to any of the guys, everyone likes each other here, it’s like a family. We come to play every night but obviously things didn’t go as well as we wanted this year."


My remote needed new batteries after flicking around a dozen games last night. Here’s what I retained:

•  In Glendale, Ariz., the hockey code was in full force. Coyotes winger Raffi Torres had to answer the bell for his vicious hit on Marian Hossa last spring. To Torres’ credit, he did. Just 2:35 into the game, he fought Chicago’s Jamal Mayers. And that was that. Again, credit to Torres for understanding the need to do this. We can all move on now. The Blackhawks? They then pummeled the rest of the Coyotes 6-2, and there’s no arguing who the best team in the NHL is right now. The 9-0-2 Hawks are now 3-0-2 on the season-long, six-game road trip.

•  A little more than a week ago, I spoke with Shea Weber about the Nashville Predators' struggling start: one win in six games (1-2-3). The Preds' captain said his team understood the urgency of the situation, not wanting to dig a hole it couldn’t get out of in a shortened season. The Preds faced road games next in Los Angeles, San Jose and St. Louis. No problem. The Preds swept those three and then came home Thursday night to shut out the Kings 3-0 and are now 5-2-3, fifth in the Western Conference. Tip of the hat to the Preds. It starts with star goalie Pekka Rinne, who allowed only three goals on that four-game road trip.

•  In Pittsburgh, the Penguins made it five in a row with a 5-2 throttling of the woeful Capitals. The win propelled the Pens into first place in the Eastern Conference at 8-3-0. The Pens have found their wings. But this night told you more about the Caps, and my colleague Scott Burnside summed it up perfectly in his column after witnessing the carnage. There’s no easy fix. There is no trade GM George McPhee could make this season that would be a cure-all. If I’m the Caps, I pull the plug at some point over the next few weeks if things don’t turn around and focus on one of the best NHL drafts in a long time coming up in June.

•  In Winnipeg, he scored, he scored, scored! You could hear the car horns honking on Yonge Street on Thursday night here in my home of Toronto. OK, I’m kidding. But Phil Kessel did indeed end a season-long goal drought, and what better way than by snapping home the winner in a 3-2 win over the Jets. Know this: Kessel will score a ton now. He’s unleashed. Meanwhile, that was a hard-working win by Toronto. It’s on nights like these that you can see what Randy Carlyle is trying to do. But this team doesn’t show up every night.

•  Speaking of 3-2 wins, the Hurricanes needed overtime, but it still counts, in a win over the Senators in Ottawa. Most noteworthy was that Cam Ward was terrific for a second straight start. Perhaps his early-season struggles are behind him now. After starting 0-2, the Hurricanes have gone 5-2 and look ready to challenge Tampa for the Southeast Division crown.

•  In St. Louis, the Blues were thumped 5-1 by the Central Division-rival Red Wings, a second straight win by Detroit over St. Louis within a week. Suddenly, the Blues have lost three straight, and have been outscored 11-2 over the past two games, including a 6-1 loss to Nashville. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his players were "cheating" all over the ice and he’s right, of course. From my vantage point on the couch, the Blues didn’t pay the price. They took lazy routes to pucks and didn’t make smart decisions when they had the puck. I’d love to be at the next Blues practice.

•  Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, it doesn’t seem to matter for Vancouver. The Canucks comfortably beat the Wild 4-1 in Minnesota as Schneider played for the first time in 11 days and stopped 22 of 23 shots for the victory. The goalie debate rages in Vancouver, but whenever coach Alain Vigneault flips his famous coin to determine his starter, he never makes a wrong decision. That’s because there isn’t one. But at some point, it would certainly be better for everyone involved if the Canucks finally found a new home for Luongo. For the Wild, meanwhile, despite shuffling the top two lines, it was still another loss -- a third straight -- to fall to 4-5-1. There were boos from the home crowd and the frustration is growing fast for a fan base expecting big things after the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings last summer. The Wild have 21 goals in 10 games, the 27th-ranked offense in the NHL. Pretty sure that’s not what owner Craig Leipold had in mind when he shelled out a fortune last summer. Something’s got to give in Minny.

•  Speaking of desperate teams, the Sabres were facing essentially a must-win and got it by the skin of their teeth, Thomas Vanek forcing overtime with less than two seconds left before being one of two Sabres to score in a shootout to beat the Montreal Canadiens in a gigantic 5-4 victory. Vanek (two more goals) keeps looking like Superman, but the guy who might have saved the game was agitator Steve Ott, who suckered Montreal’s Ryan White into a double-roughing minor 7:32 into the third period with the listless Sabres losing 4-2 at the time. Vanek scored on the ensuing power play, which energized the Sabres. It was also Ott who was parked in Peter Budaj’s crease with seconds remaining, making the goalie’s life hell before Vanek tied the game. Is this the turning point for Buffalo? Far too early to tell, but the Sabres needed this one big-time.

•  The Devils beat Tampa Bay 4-2 to move within one point of the Eastern Conference lead. I really hope the Devils keep this up; what a story it would be for New Jersey once again to prove its doubters wrong and make the playoffs despite the loss of Zach Parise. Pete DeBoer is my early-season pick for the Jack Adams.

•  The story in New York was rookie J.T. Miller scoring twice against the Islanders in his Garden debut, but to me it also underscored the Rangers’ lack of depth up front that they’re looking to a kid to help answer their secondary scoring problems. Most notably, captain Ryan Callahan returned and you could see his impact. No shortcuts in his game.

•  The Panthers beat the Flyers 3-2 in a shootout. What’s up with Philadelphia and shootouts? The Flyers were 4-7 in the trick event last season, and all-time (including last night) they are 23-42 in shootouts since the NHL adopted the event in 2005.

•  The Flames edged the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. Alex Tanguay scored the OT winner and, according to Elias Sports, became only the third active NHLer to have at least four regular-season OT winners all scored in visiting rinks. Dustin Brown and Brad Boyes are the others.

Anyone who doesn’t think the Boston Bruins have their eyes on the big prize after they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs last spring hasn’t been paying attention. With backup Anton Khudobin making his first start of the season to give Tuukka Rask a break, the Bruins got a goal from David Krejci with less than two minutes to go in regulation and went on to defeat Carolina 5-3. The win moved the Bruins’ mark to 4-0-1. They are one of two teams in the Eastern Conference without a regulation loss this season (New Jersey is the other). The win stopped a two-game win streak by the Hurricanes. The principle assist on the Bruins’ winning goal came from rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton who, to the surprise of no one, will not be heading back to junior hockey but remaining with the big club in Boston for the balance of the season.

• The Vancouver Canucks’ stutter start continued Monday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, as they blew a 2-0 lead and dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the defending Stanley Cup champs. Roberto Luongo was in goal for the Canucks (2-2-2). The Kings, meanwhile, have won two in a row after going winless in three to start the season. They tied Monday’s game with less than a minute to go on a goal by defenseman Slava Voynov. Jeff Carter was the only player to score in the shootout.

• Word out of Phoenix is that starting netminder Mike Smith is close to a return. But in his absence, the reeling Coyotes got a clutch start from former Rangers prospect Chad Johnson, who stopped all 21 Nashville shots to pace the Coyotes to a much-needed 4-0 victory. Phoenix had lost four of five and had given up 20 goals in its first five games before Monday’s victory. Defenseman Keith Yandle led the way with his first goal of the season and he also added two assists. As for Nashville, the offensive well is bone-dry as the Preds have scored just 10 goals in six games and are tied for 29th in the league in goals per game. For those keeping score at home, Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber has yet to register a single point in six games.

• How bad are things for Nashville? Well, Monday’s loss coupled with Columbus’ 2-1 win over Dallas dropped the Preds into last place in the Central Division. The Blue Jackets continue to get solid goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 24 of 25 shots. And while their offense remains anemic at best, the two goals the Blue Jackets sneaked past Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen were enough to give them the win and stop a 0-3-1 slide. Offense continues to plague the 2-3-1 Stars, who have just 12 goals in six games. On a positive note for the Stars, Monday did mark the return of Jamie Benn. The newly signed restricted free agent center added an assist and played 20:47 in his first game.

• Speaking of unrestricted free agents with Benn’s return and the announced signing of P.K. Subban by the Montreal Canadiens on Monday to a two-year deal worth $5.75 million, only Colorado’s Ryan O'Reilly remains unsigned of the big three post-lockout free agents. Given that Edmonton waxed Colorado 4-1 Monday, the pressure will continue to mount on Colorado GM Greg Sherman to get a deal done with the hard-as-nails center who led the Avs in scoring last season. The Oilers scored three power-play goals through the first half of the game to stake the Oilers to a 3-0 lead and Devan Dubnyk was again solid, turning aside 37 of 38 shots to move the Oilers to the top of the Northwest Division standings with a 3-2-0 record. The Avs, meanwhile, have lost two in a row and have scored just 10 goals through their first five games.
Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and a list of other Russian and European NHLers, as expected, have found temporary lockout homes in their home countries.

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.

Morning Links: Doan deal is (almost) done

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
11:25
AM ET


Morning Links: Grievances and concerns

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
10:48
AM ET


Video courtesy of PredsTV

Some snippets from today:

Shea Weber: "It is a very exciting time for the Predators organization and myself. It is a big step in the right direction. The ownership showed a commitment here obviously in the last week. Going forward, now I can focus on the important stuff: getting ready for the season and getting ready to go this year."

"I love the city of Nashville. I love the fans. I love my teammates."

Barry Trotz: "This is the biggest signing in franchise history. Going forward it was a huge message not only to our own team but to the rest of the league that we are serious about contending every year and we have the team to do that."

David Poile: "It was a very interesting four or five days. If anything, I think it brought our organization even more together than it was. At the end of the day, when we knew what we were going to do, I think it really galvanized our whole organization. Everybody thinks we made the right decision. I know we made the right decision."

"Every great team that's been competitive for a lot of years or won Stanley Cups always has had a top defenseman, and Shea is here. You pair that with Pekka Rinne, who's one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League, you have a chance every night, every year, to compete."

"The owners have been fabulous. Every time there's a tough decision to make, they've always made the right decision. They're making all of the decisions that are helping this franchise be successful on and off the ice. ... This year at the trading deadline we did more than any other team. Now this decision to sign Shea Weber for 14 years, their commitment is right there. This franchise is tracking as well as any franchise in the National Hockey League and that's because of our ownership."

Tom Cigarran: "Shea is our leader and we did what it took to keep him a Predator," Cigarran said. "The Predators are not here just to survive, but to be an elite franchise that competes for the Cup every year. Our players, players with other organizations around the league and those organizations can now see that the Nashville Predators will not be pushed around by teams from bigger markets."

You Make the Call: Is long term worth it?

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
4:47
PM ET
The Nashville Predators have Shea Weber locked up for 14 years. The face of the franchise is safe. The Predators' only concern now is writing the checks to add up to $110 million. Weber Watch is over (unless he demands a trade down the road, i.e., Rick Nash).

But 14 years is a long time. Weber will be 40 years old when the deal expires. The league will have been through multiple collective bargaining agreements. At least one realignment plan will likely have gone through. Even Justin Bieber will be 32 years old.

SportsNation

Are long-term deals smart business for teams?

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    22%
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    78%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,766)

As owners try to eliminate these long-term deals in the current CBA negotiations, they still keep handing them out like candy on Halloween. But are teams getting a treat with these deals or is it all a big trick?

Think about some of the names who have signed deals longer than a decade: Rick DiPietro, Alexei Yashin, Roberto Luongo, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Vincent Lecavalier.

Not much needs to be said about DiPietro and Yashin. The Flyers shipped Richards out of town. Carter pingponged from Philly to Columbus to Los Angeles. The Canucks are trying to get rid of Luongo. And don't you think Lighting GM Steve Yzerman would like to have Lecavalier's $7.7 million annual cap hit to work with?

Ilya Kovalchuk quieted his critics this season, but his 15-year, $100 million contract caused plenty of issues (and a summer of drama) in New Jersey. Alex Ovechkin is getting $124 million over 13 years, but the Capitals haven't gotten any closer to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Ilya Bryzgalov certainly hasn't solved the Flyers' problems in net with his nine-year, $51 million deal.

Yet none of these tales scared off teams this offseason.

It is hard to see what other moves the Wild can make in the future after doubling up with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for 13 years. The Penguins must have been certain that Sidney Crosby's concussion issues are behind him to give him a 12-year, $104 million contract. And the Hurricanes showed how important brotherly love is by signing Jordan Staal to a 10-year, $60 million extension.

Here is the question: Are long-term contracts smart business? Would you sign a player for longer than a decade?

Tell us what you think in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter @ESPN_NHL or @sarahgold8.
  • More than a month after being traded to the New York Islanders, Lubomir Visnovsky filed a grievance with the NHL players association contending his no-trade clause was still valid and the Anaheim Ducks did not receive permission to trade him, according to Newsday.
  • Shea Weber's agent Kevin Epp said he has no idea whether or not the Nashville Predators will match the offer sheet Weber signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Epp added that the process may be slowed down because of they size of the Predators' 10-person ownership group. Weber is said to be anxious to have this resolved and has not spoken to the Predators since signing the offer sheet, according to the paper.
  • The Winnipeg Jets offered Evander Kane a six-year, $29 million contract and the forward is thinking over the deal with his camp, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. Talks between the two sides have been "creative and flexible," according to the paper.
  • Mark Flood will play in the KHL next season, but he said he would prefer to be playing in the NHL, according the Winnipeg Sun. Flood told the paper he only signed with the KHL after realizing he wasn't going to get the deal he wanted in the NHL. “I haven’t been over there (to Europe) before and you hear some mixed reviews about it, so I thought I would try it out,” Flood said, according to the Sun. “We’ll see what happens and hopefully it works out. By no means am I shutting the door on the NHL."


  • New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer said he is in no rush to name a new captain now that Zach Parise had departed but he is happy for Parise, according the The Star-Ledger. "He’s such a great kid and he stands for all the right things. ... This league allows you to feel sorry for yourself for about two minutes then you have to pick yourself up and come up with a plan moving forward," the coach said, according the report.
  • Shea Weber's agent, Jarrett Bousquet, told TSN Radio 1050 that the price for Weber went up after Ryan Suter signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. Bousquet added that they had to be sure he was signing with a team he wanted to play for 14 years and that the Nashville Predators were set back a few years by Suter leaving. "He'd like to play with the Philadelphia Flyers because we all feel that he's just another piece in the puzzle to take them to the next level," Bousquet told TSN. "He doesn't want to go through a rebuilding process again."
  • Assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said the Vancouver Canucks were willing to go all-in for Weber but didn't see a scenario in which they would get him, so they never made a formal offer, according to The (Vancouver) Province. “We looked at it 16 ways to Sunday,” Gilman said. “But we couldn’t come up with scenario where we were going to get the player. And if you can’t get the player, what’s the point?”
  • The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs had so much interest that they scheduled two alumni games for the 2013 Winter Classic. Now Tie Domi confirmed to TSN Radio 1050 that he and Mats Sundin were asked to participate and will likely play.
  • Scott Gomez hit a hole-in-one at his own golf tournament in Anchorage to win a new $50,000 SUV, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Gomez said he doesn't know what he will do with the vehicle, but right now he is driving his sister's old car when he is in Alaska.


You Make the Call: Shea Weber's offer sheet

July, 19, 2012
7/19/12
12:35
PM ET
Shea Weber signed an offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers for 14 years and $110 million, sources confirmed to ESPN.com. Now the Predators have seven days to decide if they will match it.

SportsNation

Should the Predators match Shea Weber's offer sheet?

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    49%
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    51%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,268)

Weber would receive $80 million in the first six years of the deal, a source told ESPN the Magazine's Craig Custance.

Nashville GM David Poile released a statement saying: "Due to the complexity of the offer sheet, we will take the appropriate time to review and evaluate it and all of its ramifications in order to make the best decision for the Predators in both the short and long-term."

He added that they don't anticipate making any more statements on the matter.

If the Predators don't match the offer, they will receive four first-round draft picks from the Flyers.

What should the Predators do?
Statement from Nashville Predators general manager David Poile on Shea Weber signing offer sheet:

"We are in receipt of the offer sheet signed between the Philadelphia Flyers and Shea Weber. Under the rules pertaining to an offer sheet, the Predators have one week to decide whether to match or accept the compensation. We have stated previously that, should a team enter into an offer sheet with Shea, our intention would be to match and retain Shea. Our ownership has provided us with the necessary resources to build a Stanley Cup-winning team. Due to the complexity of the offer sheet, we will take the appropriate time to review and evaluate it and all of its ramifications in order to make the best decision for the Predators in both the short and long-term.

“We do not anticipate any further comments on this situation until we make our decision within the next seven days.”


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