"I love Oprah!"
- Theoren Fleury on the possibility of going on Oprah to promote a book chronicling his off-ice troubles as an NHL player.
"I love Oprah!"
- Theoren Fleury on the possibility of going on Oprah to promote a book chronicling his off-ice troubles as an NHL player.
The breakaway challenge is gone, replaced by a long-distance target shooting competition. But wouldn't it be more fun if the players used their shots to break stuff?
The NHL All-Star festivities are fast upon us and there will be change again this year. Gone is the breakaway challenge, which, let's face it, ran the gamut from uplifting to supremely awkward. You could see the pained expressions on some of the players who took part and it's fine to blame humble hockey culture as the problem, but it was never going to be the NBA's slam dunk contest anyway.
The new event this year in Los Angeles will be a the four-line challenge, which invites players to hit targets from the blue line, center ice, the far blue line and the far goal line. Goalies can take shots from the far goal line too, in search of extra points.
This sounds OK to me, particularly if the players are winging the pucks at the target (imagine someone taking a slapshot from center ice and hitting a bullseye?), but I actually had another idea the other day, which I humbly present to you, the fan.
Let the players break stuff.
"it was really fun," Matthews said. "You don't get an opportunity to do that all the time. It was a blast – we were shooting at veggie trays and chocolate fondue and cameras."
For me, the random objects are fun, but what I'd really like as an event is for the divisional all-stars to have a competition in which they see who can do the most damage to a car, just by shooting pucks at it. Yes, Gen Xers, I am proposing that the NHL adapt the bonus level from Street Fighter II:
Now, I don't expect the competitors (two guys per team, shooting at the same time) to actually take apart the car like our good friend Ryu, but I bet they could do some pretty good damage in, let's say, one minute of shooting. Obviously you'd have tarps on the ice to catch any broken glass and obviously it would be an old car with no fluids in it (we don't want it to blow up…or do we?). And hey, we can even toss in a charitable element – like whichever teams wins, they get to donate 10 new cars to the cause of their choice. Admit it: you're a little curious about what Shea Weber or Dustin Byfuglien could do to an old Volkswagen Jetta.
Because most Toronto writers flocked to Frankie Corrado this morning (#FreeFrankie), I wasted a minute of Matthews' time by asking him what he thought of my All-Star car smash challenge. Would it be fun for players?
"I guess so, I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I hit my car a few times growing up – my parents weren't too happy about it – but I guess if it was a car no one cared about, it would be fun to do some damage to it."
Sounds like a resounding "yes" to me. And if the NHL needs a judge for a damage panel? I'm willing to volunteer.
Brian Elliott hasn't worked out in Calgary. Jake Allen hasn't worked out in St. Louis. Would it benefit everyone for Elliott to rejoin his old team?
That elusive grass on the other side could not look greener. The Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues can only stare longingly.
The Flames really thought they needed Brian Elliott last summer, and for good reason. They were fresh off finishing dead last in the NHL in save percentage, and all their NHL-level netminders were unrestricted free agents anyway. It made too much sense to make a trade. General manager Brad Treliving also knew the price for Elliott, never a bellcow starter but an elite platoon goaltender, would pale in comparison to what the Tampa Bay Lightning wanted for Ben Bishop or the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted for Marc-Andre Fleury.
Elliott for a 2016 second-round pick and a conditional 2018 third-round pick? Sure. Huge upgrade for the Flames in net. Advanced statistics such as 5-on-5 save percentage suggested Elliott was as effective as any goalie in hockey last season. Why not give him a chance to start at 31?
But if Treliving could get a do-over today, he’d probably take back those picks. Not all of what’s transpired in 2016-17 has been Elliott’s fault. Chad Johnson, signed supposedly to back up Elliott, has simply played too well not to be Calgary’s starter going forward. And it didn’t help that Elliott struggled so mightily out of the gate, with an .882 save percentage in his first 12 appearances. The Flames really thought they needed Elliott, but now it really seems they don’t.
About 1,700 miles away, the Blues just might be pining for their old stopper Elliott. And they, too, likely never felt they’d be in this position. Elliott served them faithfully for five seasons but, as great as he often was, he was never quite good enough or clutch enough to separate himself from his high-profile partners, from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Jake Allen. Elliott had just one season left on his contract, and the Blues were ready to give Allen his shot. He was always their long-term project, and it was time for St. Louis to let him flourish as a real No. 1. Given coach Ken Hitchcock struggled with flip-flopping between goalies during countless early playoff exits since taking over the bench in 2011-12, the idea of relying on one true starter seemed ideal for a Stanley Cup contender like St. Louis. General manager Doug Armstrong inked a capable backup in Carter Hutton for a bit of insurance.
Who knew Hutton would end up important enough to recently appear in six straight games, twice in relief and four times as a starter? There’s no point trying to spin it: Allen has been a huge disappointment. His .900 SP is easily the worst of his four-year career, and he’s posted an .887 mark across 15 appearances since the start of December. He’s been bad enough that Hitchcock publicly challenged him last week to take responsibility and be better.
Is the problem Allen’s workload? His career high in starts is 44, making up 53.6 percent of St. Louis’ games. He’s started 33 of 45 this season, which is 73.3 percent. Maybe Allen’s body hasn’t yet adjusted to the extra minutes.
Hutton’s past week was a microcosm of his career. He entered Tuesday’s start having allowed just seven goals in his past five outings with a .939 SP – then promptly got lit up for five goals on 23 Ottawa Senator shots. Hutton is who we thought he was: a solid backup goaltender who can perform well in short spurts but lacks the talent to succeed as a starter or even a platoon goalie. Even if Allen isn't the answer, Hutton isn't either.
That’s where, believe it or not, Elliott might come in handy. What if Armstrong explored reacquiring Elliott? It might work for several reasons.
1. Elliott is a pending free agent. That benefits both teams. If Calgary knows Johnson is its starter now and plans to re-sign him, might it want to get something for pending UFA Elliott rather than lose him for nothing in free agency? If the Flames needed a backup in return and didn’t feel prospect Jon Gillies was ready for promotion from the AHL, perhaps the Blues could include Hutton along with a low- to mid-round draft pick. Seems fair enough.
2. Elliott has turned around his game just enough. Elliott isn’t outplaying Johnson, so it doesn’t appear Elliott will wrest the job back anytime soon, but he does have a .913 SP over his past nine appearances. It’s a start.
3. It would benefit Elliott twofold. Not that he would have an official say, as his contract has zero movement restrictions. But rejoining the Blues, not necessarily as a starter but at least as a platoon partner to spell Allen, would help Elliott’s wallet immensely. He’s done nothing but lose money since 2016-17 started. If the season ended today, Elliott would be viewed on the open market as a goaltender who had a shot to show he’s a No. 1 and flopped. He won’t earn anything close to starter’s money or term as a UFA. But a redemptive performance with the Blues might at least nudge his value back to what it was a year ago. Secondly, Elliott hasn’t lived in Calgary long. He called St. Louis his hockey-season home for five years. Transitioning back to Missouri less than a year after leaving wouldn’t be the most difficult of moves in theory.
The Blues have the worst save percentage in the NHL at .892, which is a shame given the team’s overall depth and talent. They were first in SP last year at .919. The Blues should be thinking about playing meaningful hockey into June but are instead barely clinging to a Western Conference playoff spot. They have plenty of promising young regulars, from Colton Parayko on defense to Robby Fabbri up front, but their contention window is now. Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo are in their primes. Veterans Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny and Jay Bouwmeester are exiting theirs. Hitchcock will step down as coach after this season. The Blues can’t afford squandering 2016-17, especially when the Western Conference looks like anyone’s to win. Allen’s ego may have to suffer for the sake of one good push for glory.
Elliott, then, would be a nice affordable stopgap, as opposed to Bishop or Fleury, who would command roster players and/or good prospects in a trade. Reversing last year’s swap with the Flames might be the best thing for all parties involved.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Ondrej Pavelec stops Radim Vrbata
Ondrej Pavelec made his season debut one day after getting the call up to the Jets, and he brought the crowd to their feet with an awesome stick save that stole a sure goal from the Coyotes.
Ondrej Pavelec spent 99 days with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, and in his one day with the Winnipeg Jets this season, Pavelec already went out and made arguably the best stop any Jets goaltender has made this season.
Wednesday’s outing against the Arizona Coyotes started shaky for Pavelec, who was taking his first turn in goal since closing out the 2015-16 campaign with a victory over the Los Angeles Kings on April 9. Pavelec was beaten on the first shot he faced, a low wrister from Josh Jooris, and it seemed like it could be again one of those nights.
Pavelec corrected his play, though, and made a spectacular save in the second period. After the Coyotes flipped the puck in on goal, Tobias Rieder was able to beat Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien to the loose puck and cut towards the corner, spotting a trailing Alexander Burmistrov. The pass isolated Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in a 2-on-1 situation, which led to Burmistrov faking a shot on goal before sliding the puck across to a wide-open Radim Vrbata.
Pavelec, who had committed to the fake shot, was down and out when Vrbata received the pass, but the Jets netminder stuck out his paddle, turning aside what should have been Vrbata’s 11th goal of the campaign.
It was the best stop Pavelec made on the night and one that came at a big moment. Had the Coyotes scored, the Jets would have entered the third period protecting a one-goal lead instead of entering the final frame with a comfortable two-goal cushion. The Jets gave Pavelec some extra room to work with in his return to the NHL, too, by netting two goals less than a minute and a half apart midway through the third for a 6-2 lead.
In a way, the first-shot-first-goal followed later by an awesome save perfectly encapsulates Pavelec’s time in Winnipeg. He has been shaky at times and had some difficult outings along the way, but his highlight reel is long, including a number of saves that, realistically, he had no business making.
Regardless of the victory, the Jets are still likely going to be looking for more from their starters down the line, be it Pavelec, Connor Hellebuyck or Michael Hutchinson. The three goals allowed by Pavelec marks the fifth-straight game and sixth in seven outings that the Jets have surrendered three or more goals against.
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The Blackhawks think they can help Jonathan Toews out of his scoring funk by getting him a proven left winger.
The Chicago Blackhawks are jockeying with the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the Western Conference, but there is some worry over their scoring this season. After 47 games, the Blackhawks have only scored 12 more goals (132) than they have allowed (120).
Center Jonathan Toews' offensive struggles are an area of concern. With 22 points in 38 games, the Blackhawks captain is on pace for 42 points. That's well below last season's 58-point output and his 66-point effort of 2014-15.
A back injury that sidelined Toews for nine games earlier this season could still be nagging him. However, the lack of a proven scorer on his left side is also an issue. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, and Brian Hedger The Athletic.com believe addressing that issue should be a priority for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.
In recent years, Bowman's displayed a willingness to swing deals near the trade deadline to bolster his roster for the playoffs. He'll have over $3.3 million in cap space to work with by the March 1 trade deadline. If he can bank a little more, he could have room to bolster Toews' left side.
Haugh, Lazerus and Ledger believe there's no shortage of possible options. They note James van Riemsyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado Avalanche have surfaced of late in the rumor mill. Both are young and under contract beyond this season. Potential rental players include Landeskog's teammate Jarome Iginla, Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes and former Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who's now with the Dallas Stars.
Given Bowman's trade-deadline history, he'll likely be busy again this year. Taking on long-term options such as van Riemsdyk or Landeskog will be expensive, both in salary and return. With the Blackhawks hosting the 2017 draft, Lazerus doubts Bowman will part with his first-round pick. He also claims the GM is reluctant to move his current young roster players.
Bowman could go the more affordable rental-player route. Earlier this month, he was rumored to have interest in Iginla. He also has a trade history with the Coyotes, having acquired center Antoine Vermette prior to the 2015 deadline. And of course, there's the connection with Sharp.
WHY THE DEVILS SHOULD SHOP SCHNEIDER
Should the New Jersey Devils lose ground in this year's playoff chase, GM Ray Shero could consider getting an early start on his off-season roster plans.
Offense remains a persistent issue for the Devils. Despite the addition last summer of left winger Taylor Hall, their goals-for per game average is a paltry 2.22. Only the Arizona Coyotes (2.02) and Colorado Avalanche (2.05) are worse.
Defense and goaltending, once among the Devils' strengths, are also suffering this season. They've given up too many shots-against per game (31.2). Starting goalie Cory Schneider is having an off-year, with a 2.69 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
The New York Post's Larry Brooks suggests Shero consider shopping Schneider. Though the 30-year-old netminder has a no-trade clause, Brooks speculates he might waive it to join a team with a more immediate future. He wonders if the Devils could get a young puck-moving defenseman from the Dallas Stars, provided Shero agrees to take back one of the Stars' current goalies (Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi) in a package deal.
Unless Schneider demands a trade, Shero won't move him. Still, the Devils GM was willing to make a bold move last summer by acquiring Hall. He might not land a big fish at the trade deadline, but he'll likely be busy again this summer searching for a significant deal.
The Devils also carry considerable salary-cap room this season (over $17 million) and have depth in draft picks. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun believes Shero has room to take on a bad contract or two from a cap-strapped club if some good prospects are included. Unless those prospects are top-notch, however, Shero's unlikely to waste his cap space.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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