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This week on the podcast:
-The latest on the NHL's efforts to play in the Olympics
-What Shane Doan can offer a Cup contender
-Are streaking Capitals the best team in the league?
-Potential breakaway challenge replacements at the All-Star Game
-Was he a Ranger?
[Music: Metz-Headache; Quicksand-Omission]
The NHL and NHLPA still have yet to reach a conclusion when it comes to discussions about Olympic participation, but the good news is the International Olympic Committee has said there’s no firm deadline for the league to make a decision.
After months of concern about an impending mid-January deadline for the NHL to reach a decision on whether the league will send its players to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, it appears the International Olympic Committee is willing to give the NHL the time it needs to reach a conclusion on Olympic participation.
In an October interview with the Associated Press, Christophe Dubi, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, pointed out the positives of the NHL coming to check out the proposed site of the tournament and indicated that mid-January could be the deadline for the league to choose its course of action when it came to PyeongChang.
“Until (Jan. 15) it will be work between all parties involved to make sure that we get the participation of the very best, and that's for both Pyeongchang and Beijing,” Dubi told the Associated Press.
However, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, that deadline is no more. A spokesperson for the IOC told LeBrun that “no agreed final deadline” exists for the league to come to a decision on Olympic participation, and the spokesperson continued by saying the IOC would continue to “work towards a positive outcome” with the league.
In response to the IOC’s comments, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told LeBrun that it was “interesting to hear” given the league hasn’t heard from the IOC regarding the NHL sending players to the game. Daly continued by telling LeBrun that “there does not appear currently to be anywhere near the requisite support from our clubs that would be necessary for the league to commit to Olympic participation in 2018.”
That there’s no deadline in place is a major positive for fans wishing to see the league participate, as it gives both the NHL and NHLPA more time to work out a potential agreement that would allow the players to go to PyeongChang. A number of players, from Alex Ovechkin to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, have made clear their desire to play at the tournament, but the NHL and NHLPA have yet to been able to work out an agreement.
Earlier in the discussions about participation, the NHL approached the NHLPA with a potential agreement that would see the players given the right to head to the 2018 Olympics in exchange for a three-year extension of the current collective bargaining agreement. Some players openly scoffed at the offer, and it was rejected shortly after it was made.
Despite the fact NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr was openly optimistic about the chance the league would send the players to the two-week tournament, the situation has appeared bleak recently, especially with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman commenting that he didn’t feel owners throughout the league were all that enthused about shutting down the season in order to send players. That sentiment was echoed by Daly to LeBrun, and as we inch closer to the end of January, it appears the Olympic participation saga is set to continue.
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If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you need speed. And for players on their way up through the ranks, skating acumen is going to be the price of admission for an NHL job
I was having a conversation with an NHL team scout yesterday, which is one of the best parts of my job. I learn so much from these chats and not just about the draft prospects we are discussing, but of the bigger picture as well. While discussing the pros and cons of some prospects, we began to talk about skating and its place in the game today. Simply put, it's becoming a must-have.
"The No. 1 priority is skating," said the scout. "Even if your hockey sense or skills aren't the greatest, at least we can point you in the right direction."
We all know it's a fast game today and you just have to look at all the recent champions to validate the skating argument. Team Canada's World Cup squad suffocated opponents with their skating, taking away time and space at both ends of the ice – though their excellence in the puck possession department dramatically narrowed the amount of time they had to use their speed on the defensive end.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup this past summer thanks to a team that had speed up and down its lineup. Think about it – how many Penguins from that team would you characterize as slow, by NHL standards? Maybe a couple, at most? Meanwhile, teams had to contest with Sidney Crosby, Carl Hagelin and Kris Letang, among many others.
At the world juniors, Team USA won gold with a similarly dangerous lineup, trotting out the likes of Colin White, Clayton Keller and Jack Roslovic to terrify teams.
What's really interesting for me is how speed is going to change bottom-six roles in the NHL. We're already seeing it, with teams employing fewer enforcers, but how far can the concept be pushed? Roslovic might be the perfect case study to keep an eye on, because as a prospect of the Winnipeg Jets, he's got a lot of talent ahead of him in the form of Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. But if Roslovic, who is leading AHL Manitoba in scoring as a rookie, despite missing games due to the world juniors, is ready for the NHL leap next season, why hold him back if he can contribute from the third line? If defense is coming from speed these days anyway, it seems like a pretty nice way to get more skill in the lineup.
Tampa Bay will have a similar query to address in a year or two when prospects such as Mitchell Stephens, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph come knocking on the door. All three have skill, but they can also skate and play with grit. It's a great problem to have if you're the Lightning.
What happens to prospects that aren't blessed with foot speed? Well, it's going to take them a little longer. We're seeing it with Dylan Strome, whom most of assumed would be full-time in Arizona this season. But thanks to his abundance of other talents and attributes, Strome can zero in on improving on his speed and strength, knowing that an NHL career is close. It can certainly be done, but he'll have to watch out for all the young burners out there on the fast-track while he does it.
Jarome Iginla is expected to waive his no-movement clause for the chance to go to a playoff contender. Could a return to Alberta be in the cards?
As the Colorado Avalanche continue to stumble along, there's growing speculation veteran right winger Jarome Iginla could be dealt in the coming weeks. The 39-year-old is eligible for unrestricted free agency in July. While he holds a no-movement clause, he's expressed a willingness to waive it if approached about accepting a trade to a playoff club.
The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek suggests the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Calgary Flames as possible suitors. He notes the connection with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and Iginla from their days with the Bruins, while pointing out the Kings last season acquired Vincent Lecavalier at the tail end of his career.
Duhatschek also suggests the Flames (where Iginla spent nearly 16 seasons) could use his physical presence. As for the Blackhawks, it was reported earlier in the week that they had interest in Iginla as a depth addition.
Given Iginla's Hall of Fame-worthy career, he will undoubtedly attract some interest from playoff-bound clubs leading up to the March 1 trade deadline. He can probably be had for a third- or fourth-round pick.
However, Iginla's no longer the dominant physical scorer he was during most of his career, managing only 10 points in 38 games. Interested parties should keep their expectations low. He's also carrying a $5.33-million annual cap hit, which could prove difficult to move.
WILL CANUCKS MAKE A MOVE FOR PLAYOFF PUSH?
A month ago, the Vancouver Canucks were on the verge of having their playoff hopes crushed. With 24 points in 26 games, they were sixth in the Pacific Division, ahead of only Arizona and Colorado in the Western Conference standings.
Approaching this weekend, however, the Canucks have climbed back into the postseason picture. Though still sixth in the Pacific Division, they had 41 points in 40 games, putting them within reach of a wild-card berth.
This improvement could give rise to talk of the Canucks becoming buyers in the coming weeks to bolster their playoff hopes. NHL insider Pierre LeBrun remains skeptical, telling Vancouver's TSN 1040 he doesn't believe GM Jim Benning is willing to give up futures for a short-term fix. Even if they bring in a rental player, LeBrun doubts that could help the Canucks go deep into the post-season.
Considering how bare the Canucks' prospects cupboard was when Benning took over as GM, it would be very surprising if he starts sacrificing them for a short-sighted playoff run this season. That doesn't mean Benning won't keep an eye on the trade market. Unless he can get a decent player at a bargain-basement price, he'll likely stay the course with his current roster.
COYOTES' HANZAL STILL ON THE MARKET
Earlier this season, Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal was the subject of considerable trade speculation. At one point in late-November, there were reports claiming trade talk involving the 29-year-old was “heating up.”
In recent weeks, however, the Hanzal rumors have largely died down. The Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan reports Hanzal acknowledges his future remains uncertain, but he hasn't rule out staying in Arizona.
Coyotes GM John Chayka remains open to continuing contract negotiations with Hanzal, but isn't ruling out the possibility of moving the 6-foot-6, 226-pounder before the March 1 trade deadline. Chayka claims he's not engaged in any trade discussions regarding Hanzal and hasn't received a serious offer yet.
Contract term is thought to be the issue. Hanzal seeks a long-term extension, but Chayka probably prefers a shorter deal to make room for his up-and-coming centers. Should Hanzal remain unsigned and healthy, Chayka will start receiving serious trade offers leading up to March 1. While the Coyotes' GM could seek a good young player in return, he'll likely receive offers of draft picks and prospects.
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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