Meet your 2019 Stanley Cup champs…the Winnipeg Jets

Ken Campbell
Jets

All right, let’s get one thing out of the way. It gets cold in Winnipeg. Ten months of winter and two months of bad skating. Heh-heh. The day this piece was written in mid-February, it was forecasted to go down to minus-38. Don’t bother with the Celsius to Fahrenheit calculations. When it’s that cold, they’re pretty much the same.

There are bigger cities in the NHL (about 25 of them) that play in bigger arenas (about 29). There are other places where a star can slide right under the radar if he wants. There are places with lower taxes and places where your Bentley won’t get wrecked by road salt. There are places with a few more entertainment options. Read more

Survey says…sight matters! Visor usage continues big climb

The Hockey News
Jordan & Eric Staal (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Rachel Villari

An historically sharp rise in visor users suggests the NHL and the NHLPA’s decision to grandfather-in face shields may be doing the league some good.
In the past year alone, visor wearers have grown five percent, with all but four teams increasing in usage. Toronto, Calgary, Columbus, Chicago, Vancouver and Carolina all increased over 10 percent each.

Of the 640 players league-wide with more than 20 games this season, 549 of them wear visors. The Canes were tops in eye safety with all 20 of their eligible players. Read more

The Russian NHL trailblazer you’ve probably never heard of

Viktor Khulatev (THN Archives)

By Denis Gibbons

If all Soviet players who died before their time or under tragic circumstances had been spared, the statistical history of hockey would have to be rewritten.

Evgeny Belosheikin, named best goalie at the 1986 World Junior Championship, took his own life after battling the bottle. Anatoly Fetisov, the younger brother of legendary national team captain Slava Fetisov and a prime prospect for the 1985 draft, was killed in a car accident. New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov died from a heart ailment during a game in 2008.

Perhaps the best talent of all, Viktor Khatulev, was found dead at the age of 39 in 1994. It’s believed he was murdered, but the case was never solved. Read more

Why the AHL is becoming the new breeding ground for young Euros

Ryan Kennedy
David Pastrnak. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Czech Republic came into the 2015 world juniors with high expectations thanks to its deepest lineup in years. But glory wasn’t to be had.

The Czechs struggled throughout their stay in Toronto, and everything ended with a dispirited quarterfinal loss to a much more game underdog squad from Slovakia. One player who didn’t disappoint, however, was David Pastrnak, the Boston Bruins first-rounder who had been playing in the AHL.

Had his team gone further at the world juniors, Pastrnak would have garnered more consideration for the tourney’s all-star team because of his combination of talent and drive. But even in the midst of the event, he knew his time in the AHL had been valuable so far. “It’s definitely different hockey,” he said. “I try to do my best, but sometimes it doesn’t go well and you feel bad. I have to get better with everything. I’m not satisfied right now.” Read more

How advanced stats are changing NHL contract negotiations

Justin Williams. (Getty Images)

It started like any contract negotiation. 
Agent Allan Walsh, who represents Jonathan Drouin, David Perron and Antoine Vermette, among many others, sat across from an NHL GM and assistant GM. The group was hammering out a deal for one of Walsh’s clients. They spent 45 minutes discussing staple statistics like points per game, goals, assists and ice time. Walsh, though, wasn’t satisfied. He told the executives they were omitting a crucial criterion.

It just so happened, Walsh explained to them, the player in question was tops on the team in almost every major possession metric, including Corsi and Fenwick. Walsh had his own advanced stat booklet prepared. He fished out two copies.

“I saw them open the first page, and I saw the GM and the assistant GM lock eyes with each other,” Walsh said. “And the look on their faces was, ‘Oh s—, he knows.’ ”

Read more

UFA Decision Day looms for Mike ‘Motorcycle Gang’ Green

Stu Hackel
Mike Green (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Green (Washington Capitals Photography)Mike Green’s shock of dark hair – which has ranged from a Mohawk to a mop that pointed in all directions – has given way to a clean, stylized look. He’s moved from a two-story urban bachelor pad with a hot tub on the balcony to a spacious suburban home. His numerous tattoos run down his arms and onto his fingers, but since last summer, one of those fingers now wears a wedding ring.

And he’s no longer the run-and-gun, gambling defenseman labelled “mistake prone” in his own zone.

If maturity has transformed the Capitals two-time all-star, a bigger change could come this summer. Unless his Newport Sports representatives and Washington GM Brian MacLellan hammer out a new contract, Green will become the biggest name on the free agent market and perhaps pull another team’s jersey over his head.

The Capitals are the only NHL team Green, who turns 30 in October, has played for. He has literally grown into manhood in the D.C. area, even marrying a local girl, photographer Courtney Parrie, last summer, breaking hearts among those who swooned over his boyish good looks. He’s been a fan favorite since blossoming into a dynamic offensive force in 2007-08, his third NHL season, when Capitals TV voice Joe Beninati gave him the nickname ‘Game Over Green’ after a string of late game-winning tallies. Read more

Behind the scenes of NHL free agency: how deals get done

Mike Brophy
Sabres GM Tim Murray & Penguins GM Jim Rutherford (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The opening of free agency July 1 isn’t what it used to be, mainly because most of the league’s star players get signed to lucrative long-term extensions and never make it to market. If you look at the numbers – almost 100 players signed as free agents last July 1 – you might think all 30 teams’ front offices are a beehive of activity, and for some of them that may indeed be the case.

But a number of GMs insist that while July 1 is a big day on the hockey calendar, it’s not as frantic as some might expect. “Everyone has different needs, and you have to decide if free agency is the way to go or if you are you better off to make a trade,” said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. “We’re all locking up players, deciding what the core of the team is. The core is six to eight players, and we are locking them up to four-to-eight-year contracts.”

How active a team is when the free agency officially opens depends on a number of things. If a team thinks it can win the Stanley Cup, it may fine-tune its roster with a few moves. Or it could be a significant makeover, as Rangers GM Glen Sather did after a Cup final loss in 2014. New York led all teams with eight signings (seven from different organizations) July 1. Three others – the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, and New York Islanders – signed six. Read more

Short supply of righty D-men will mean big bucks for Mike Green, Cody Franson

Matt Larkin
Mike Green (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

A tidal wave of inevitability followed Matt Niskanen into free agency last summer. It seemed the entire hockey universe knew he played over his head in 2013-14, when he obliterated career highs with 10 goals and 46 points. Niskanen did so at 27 in his seventh NHL season. Everything about the performance screamed outlier.

Yet none of the red flags mattered. Niskanen was going to get paid, enough to price him right out of Pittsburgh. After all, he was a right-shot, unrestricted free agent defenseman, which is hockey’s equivalent of a left-handed starting pitcher. The low supply and high demand drive up the market value. Niskanen cashed in with a seven-year deal paying him $5.75 million per. Not bad for a guy who’d eclipsed seven goals and 35 points once before.

In order to quantify the NHL’s thirst for righty D-men, we compiled the cap hits of every NHL defenseman’s contract active through the end of 2014-15. We excluded entry level deals but not players who lost time to injury (unless they were on Long Term Injured Reserve at the time), as what mattered was how each player was valued the day he signed his deal. We counted 138 left-shot defensemen and 88 right-shot defensemen, for 226 altogether on active rosters. Righties make up just 38.9 percent of rearguards, hence the high demand. Read more