On this installment of Pro Tips, Daniel Tkaczuk shows you a drill to improve your handling of the puck.
On this installment of Pro Tips, Daniel Tkaczuk shows you a drill to improve your handling of the puck.
Jake Allen’s recent struggles could have Blues GM Doug Armstrong scouring the trade market for help in goal as the post-season approaches. Meanwhile, trade talk surrounds the Flyers and Coyotes.
St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen's recent performance has left much to be desired. After a strong effort through the opening two months of the season, the 26-year-old's play declined through December and into January.
After reeling off eight straight wins from Nov. 15 to Dec. 6, Allen has only four victories his last 13 starts. He had a save percentage below .900 in eight of those games and was pulled early in his last two starts.
Appearing on Montreal's TSN 690 last Thursday, NHL insider Bob McKenzie said the Blues are worried about Allen's decline this season. He thinks they could keep an eye on the trade market for a goalie, though they must be careful over what they afford in dollars and return.
In late-December, McKenzie's colleague Darren Dreger suggested the Blues should consider acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury carries a no-movement clause and the Penguins must move him in order to protect Matt Murray in the expansion draft. If Allen fails to snap out of his current funk and Fleury's willing to waive his clause, perhaps Blues GM Doug Armstrong might come calling.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop could be another option. The 30-year-old began his NHL career with the Blues. He's eligible for UFA status in July and isn't expected to be re-signed by the Lightning.
The Bolts need a top-four defenseman and the Blues have a pending UFA blueliner in Kevin Shattenkirk. While that seems like a perfect fit for both clubs, Armstrong appears in no hurry to move Shattenkirk. He'll likely remain patient with Allen for the time being, but could consider other options if the netminder fails to improve.
SLIDING FLYERS NOT KEEN ON MOVING YOUNG BLUELINER
A 10-game winning streak by the Philadelphia Flyers from late-November through mid-December had them comfortably in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Since the streak ended on Dec. 17, however, the Flyers dropped 11 of their past 14 games. Entering this week, they're on the verge of tumbling out of the last wild-card spot in the East.
CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reports Flyers GM Ron Hextall said he'll only swing a deal if it'll significantly help the club. Given the Flyers poor performance of late, Panaccio feels a trade might be Hextall's only option to improve things.
Finding a suitable deal won't be easy. Panaccio acknowledges Hextall carries “only a few marketable commodities” that might fetch a good return. Rival GMs could have more interest in the Flyers' crop of promising young defensemen.
Hextall won't part with established young blueliners Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Panaccio suggests prospects Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Phillipe Myers have potential to become franchise defensemen. Hextall might not be keen to part with any of them, but it might be necessary if one or two could fetch a return that helps right the Flyers' sinking ship.
The Colorado Avalanche are in the market for good young defensemen and reportedly entertaining offers for left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Matt Duchene. The Flyers limited salary-cap space, however, would complicate things.
DESPITE DOWN YEAR, DOAN COULD DRAW INTEREST
The ongoing struggles of the Arizona Coyotes makes the club a frequent topic for media trade chatter. Most of the speculation concerns center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Michael Stone. Both are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and could be moved by the March 1 trade deadline.
In recent years, right wing Shane Doan usually surfaced in the rumor mill, though the conjecture was always quickly quelled by Doan or Coyotes management. This year, however, might be different.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Coyotes might consider moving Doan before the deadline. He believes if management approaches the 40-year-old with an opportunity to play for a winner, he might consider waiving his no-movement clause. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch doubts Doan's movement clause will prevent some rival clubs from making inquiries. He claims the San Jose Sharks attempted to land the veteran forward over the last two years.
With only 12 points in 42 games, the aging Doan is on pace for 24 points, his lowest output in a non-lockout season since his 22-point campaign in 1998-99. Still, the 6-foot-1, 223-pound winger has good size, years of experience and leadership ability. He also netted 28 goals and 47 points last season, so perhaps he might regain his scoring touch on a deeper club.
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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P.K. Subban and Jaromir Jagr
The Breakaway Challenge is no more, but the often ridiculous event at the skills competition offered up some fantastic moments and great laughs. Take a look back at the five best attempts.
The highlight of the NBA’s all-star weekend, almost without fail, is the Slam Dunk Contest. The event has delivered moments like Michael Jordan’s foul line dunk, Vince Carter’s forearm in the rim jam and last season’s phenomenal showdown between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine.
It would only make sense then that the NHL would try its hand at imitating the event, creating the Breakaway Challenge as its version of the dunk competition. The goal was simple: wow the crowd with incredible displays of puckhandling or win them over with props and creativity. Most players went for the latter, and it’s been one of the more ridiculous and comical events at the all-star weekend over the past six skills competitions.
However, after its six-season run as one of the weekend’s events, the NHL has decided to do away with the Breakaway Challenge, according to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos. The news only a couple of weeks before the league is set to head to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game and is at least a slight indication that some new competitions could be part of the format.
With the Breakaway Challenge no more, though, let’s take a look back at five of the very best and most memorable moments from the contest:
5. Johansen gets some help, but Voracek one-ups him
Ryan Johansen had the Columbus crowd in the palm of his hands by using an Ohio State jersey as a prop, and he really got the crowd on its feet by getting a youngster to help bury a shot. It was a great moment, for sure, but Jakub Voracek really got the crowd laughing by stealing Johansen’s idea with the help of another kid on hand: diminutive Flames star Johnny Gaudreau.
4. Ovechkin is the new Captain Canada
If this is the end of the Breakaway Challenge for good, then Alex Ovechkin will go down as the greatest participant the competition has ever had. He won the first ever event in 2008 and with the chance to defend his crown in 2009, he pulled out all the stops, getting a hand from fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin and endearing himself to the Montreal crowd with an interesting choice of headwear.
3. The transformation of Burns
It almost doesn’t matter which team you support when it comes to Brent Burns. He’s an absolute stud on the blueline for the Sharks, he’s one of the most exciting players in the game, he’s got a unique love of animals and he has a Harry Potter tattoo. That last one will only please a certain generation of fan, but it’s indicative of the personality he brings. Burns also isn’t afraid to make light of his grizzled appearance, and he pulled off the perfect gag at the 2016 All-Star Game.
2. SuperKane takes center stage in Ottawa
Ovechkin was the king of the Breakaway Challenge for three straight All-Star Games, and it took a superhuman performance by Patrick Kane for someone to finally take the crown from the ‘Great 8.’ Kane went prop heavy with his attempts, but the clever use of an “exploding” puck was really the topper.
1. Subban pays tribute to greatness
As he continues his career well into his 40s, Jaromir Jagr’s status as one of the game’s most beloved players grows, and that seemingly goes for both players and fans alike. So, how do you win over an entire crowd and one of the greatest players the game has ever seen in one breakaway attempt? Well, you throw on a mullet, a Jagr jersey, some Cooperalls and cap it off with a salute.
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Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen
Washington is atop the league and in position to chase a second straight Presidents’ Trophy, but what should really excite Capitals fans is the improvement in the possession game.
The Washington Capitals entered Sunday’s game against Philadelphia with the chance to take over top spot in both the league and the Eastern Conference, and when it was all over, Barry Trotz’s club had done so in decisive fashion with a 5-0 thumping of the Flyers.
The victory marks the second time in as many years that the Capitals find themselves atop the league in mid-January, and, coincidentally, it marks the second-consecutive campaign in which an early January run has had the Capitals looking like one of the league’s best teams. As pointed out by the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, the Capitals’ have gone 16-2-2 over their past 20 games, which mirrors the team’s effort over the same 20-game stretch from the 2015-16 campaign that saw Washington collect the Presidents’ Trophy.
However, it would be safe to approach the Capitals current run and standing in the league with cautious optimism. Runs like this have been commonplace in Washington, with five 100-plus point seasons in the past decade and not a single Stanley Cup, let alone Eastern Conference title, to show for it. That includes the past campaign where, despite their league-best performance, the Capitals were sent packing in the second round of the post-season, dropping in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Anyone thinking this season will be different, though, might be on to something.
First, let’s get this out of the way: the Capitals current nine-game win streak isn’t necessarily indicative of this team’s overall play.
Though they’re tearing through the opposition, the fact of the matter is that this run of play that has seen Washington post four shutouts in their past six games, allow only one 5-on-5 goal in the past two weeks and run roughshod over opponents like the Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks likely won’t last. Eventually, holes are going to appear and a few back-to-back defeats will come, and that’s about as simple as pointing to the fact that the Capitals currently have an exorbitant PDO — combined shooting and save percentage — of 112.8 during their winning streak. Washington is bound to come back down to earth.
However, over the course of the season as a whole, the Capitals are looking like a team that has bought in even further to the idea of shot suppression and puck possession. The results have been evident.
This season, through 43 games, the Capitals boast the league’s fourth-best possession rate at 52.1 percent and a large part of that has been the dip in shot attempts against per 60 minutes. Though it may not seem like all that much, Trotz’s team has seen two fewer attempts against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 compared to last season, and that can be enough to make a difference. And while puck possession wasn’t a glaring fault of the Capitals during the 2015-16 season, it was one area that certainly needed improvement.
At just 51 percent puck possession during their run up to the Presidents’ Trophy, the Capitals were the definition of a middle-of-the-road team. They ranked 14th in the league, behind the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes. And while a strong Corsi For percentage clearly isn’t the be-all, end-all — the Capitals were the league’s best regular season squad while the Maple Leafs were decidedly not — the inability to drive the flow of the game came to roost in the post-season.
In four of the six games of the second round series against the Penguins, the Capitals lost the possession battle, and the only game in which Washington escaped with a landslide in driving the play came in an outing which Pittsburgh had already gotten themselves out to a 3-0 lead. After their six-game defeat of the Capitals, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that a Penguins team that was exceptional at driving play during the regular season, finishing second in the league behind only the Los Angeles Kings, used their ability to possess the puck paired with some incredible scoring ability to power their way to the Stanley Cup.
That’s almost exactly the way the Capitals have been playing this season, too, using their ability to possess the puck paired with sharpshooting and creative offensive talent to blow the opposition away. In fact, at 5-on-5, there’s only one team as good as the Capitals at producing goals at 5-on-5, and it’s the Penguins. Both teams have scored 2.78 goals per 60 minutes at five-a-side, and it seems like all of Washington’s big-name talent is starting to heat up at just the right time.
While there’s no Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel scoring trio in Washington, the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov is about as good an answer as there could be. Backstrom has been lights out over the past month, Ovechkin is again pacing the team and near the top of the league in goal scoring and after a slow start, Kuznetsov has rattled off two goals and 12 points in his past 14 games. When you match that kind of scoring prowess with the ability to generate shot attempts and scoring chances, it can make for a formidable foe. Of course, none of this is to mention the exceptional goaltending of Braden Holtby, who continues to prove that he’s one of the games best netminders.
Post-season hockey can be an entirely different animal and a few ill-timed goals against can be the difference between a deep run and an early exit, but controlling the play and giving fewer opportunities for those mistakes to be made can be all it takes to get over the hump. And if nothing else, the improvement in that area may be enough to turn the Capitals’ cautious optimism into something more.
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Bill Foley and George McPhee. Image by: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images
Vegas' new GM, George McPhee, crafts high-flying teams that entertain, and that's not about to change.
When George McPhee was finishing his law degree at Rutgers many moons ago, he hung out with a few guys in medical school. The aspiring doctors had an enduring credo: eat when you can, sleep when you can, work out when you can, and don’t fool around with the spleen. Really, when it comes down to it, what more life advice does a guy need?
By the time he graduated, McPhee was just three years removed from an NHL career that ended largely because he was 5-foot-9 and played like he was 6-foot-3. He took the words to heart and, almost a quarter century later, not a day goes by when McPhee doesn’t work out. Hard. Because that’s the only way he’s ever known how to do things. Whether it’s skipping rope, going to a high school track to do sprints, enduring a boot camp workout or punishing himself on the bike, McPhee pushes himself to the point of exhaustion for 30 minutes, then gets on with the rest of his day. That’s why he’s a 58-year-old who looks like he could still play in the league in which he’s been an executive for more than two decades. And his spleen, for the record, is in terrific shape.
“You owe it to your family, and you owe it to your employer to be sharp and to stay fit,” McPhee said. “So you have to work at it.”
Good listener, George McPhee. The smartest guy in the room, they say, is smart enough to know he’s smarter than most people but not smart enough to recognize when other people are smarter. Those are the kind of guys who spend their lives annoying people at dinner parties and running Enron into the ground. McPhee isn’t one of them. Anyone who can juggle law school and a hockey career, then graduate from Rutgers, is plenty smart, to be sure, but McPhee’s true intelligence came from absorbing the lessons he learned from the people around him. And none was more influential than Pat Quinn, a Hall of Famer, who taught McPhee the importance of integrity and ethics. It was Quinn who hired him to replace Brian Burke as assistant GM of the Vancouver Canucks when McPhee was still studying for the New York-New Jersey bar exam.
McPhee learned a lot about hockey from Quinn. More importantly, though, he absorbed the significance of cultivating relationships. It’s a template McPhee carried with him through 17 years as GM of the Washington Capitals and will continue to guide him as the first GM of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I got really lucky to be able to work with Pat and to get to know him,” McPhee said. “He did things the right way. There are a lot of us who were really lucky that our lives intersected with his.”
Some intersected with Quinn’s more than others. McPhee’s was almost on a parallel track. Both were marginal NHL players who went on to become respected executives. Both went to law school but never wrote the bar exam. Quinn was fiercely protective of his players and McPhee, well, remember when he was suspended one month (20 games) for going after Chicago Blackhawks coach Lorne Molleken after a pre-season game in which McPhee thought the Hawks were manhandling his team?
Actually, that’s kind of the way McPhee approached the game as a player. At Bowling Green, he won the Hobey Baker Award on the strength of his offensive prowess, but it wasn’t enough to get him drafted. His coach at Bowling Green was Jerry York, who more than 30 years later coaches McPhee’s son Graham at Boston College. York said McPhee could have been a Brian Gionta-type of player if there was a place for them in the early 1980s.
“When he turned pro, he had to find a way by bringing all kinds of grit to his teams,” York said. “He’d take on anybody.”
The record shows McPhee fought 28 times in just 144 regular season and playoff games, and he wasn’t a guy to pick his spots. Consider his fight card: Dave Brown, Craig Berube, Scott Stevens, Marty McSorley, Nevin Markwart, Rick Tocchet (three times), John Kordic and Ed Hospodar.
Yet like Quinn, the philosophy McPhee took to building a team in his post-playing career was everything he wasn’t as a player. Quinn, who wore his defiance for playing an offensive game in a defensive era like a badge of honor, earned a disciple in McPhee, who plans to build a team in Las Vegas that attacks, plays stick-on-puck hockey and tries (likely mightily in its first couple years) to create a masterpiece rather than destroy one. And that, if nothing else, will make it an anomaly among expansion teams.
“It’s an entertaining way to play for your fans, it’s a fun way to play for the players, and it can be successful,” McPhee said. “Pittsburgh has done it and Chicago has done it. Hockey should never be boring.”
That philosophy led to McPhee giving a career minor league coach named Bruce Boudreau his first job in the NHL. The two of them never came close to winning a Stanley Cup despite having one of the league’s most offensively explosive teams, and both were ultimately let go, so the theory has a few holes in it. Boudreau, now coaching the Minnesota Wild, speaks of McPhee like he’s a brother. And this is the guy who canned Boudreau. That, of course, goes back to the integrity factor and McPhee’s insistence on treating people with respect. Boudreau said the friendship runs so deep that he even sought McPhee’s counsel when things got really rocky in Anaheim last year and after he was ultimately fired by the Ducks.
“He’s such a standup guy,” Boudreau said. “You want him in your corner every time because he will fight for you. I know before I was let go (in Washington) he fought for me really hard. When he let me go, I forgave him 20 minutes later. I knew it was tough, and he gave me a big hug. And I think he went to bat pretty good for me on this job, too.”
Boudreau and McPhee are well into their new starts in the game this season. For his experience alone, McPhee was an excellent choice to be the Golden Knights’ first GM. Expansion teams that hire GMs with experience do much better early and make the playoffs quicker than those who fight through their first couple years with men who have no experience running a hockey department.
McPhee has already instituted 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-day plans for the franchise, checking off the boxes as they move along. He knows he can’t prepare for every challenge that will come his way, but that won’t stop him from trying. Every GM in the league will have him on speed dial leading up to the expansion draft.
McPhee knows that, at this moment, it’s probably the best it will be for a long time. The beauty of taking over an expansion team is the blank canvas. There are no bad contracts to get out from under, there is no losing culture and nobody needs to be fired. The people working for you are eager and enthusiastic because they’re getting their first chance in the NHL or are grateful to get another. The best thing of all is there are no wins and losses to consume your thoughts. And McPhee is eminently prepared for the challenge. He took over the Capitals in 1997 from David Poile and watched as his team made the final in his first year. But it wasn’t long before the Capitals bottomed out, then drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004.
“To be as honest as I can be, it hasn’t been daunting at all,” McPhee said. “After building the clubs we built in Washington, I have a lot of confidence that I can do it again. Everything I’m about to see, I’ve already seen. I’ve seen this movie before. In Washington, we tore it right down to the point where we were just filling boots the first year out of the lockout.”
McPhee had a rich, aggressive, larger-than-life owner in Ted Leonsis then (the man who ordered him to trade for Jaromir Jagr against McPhee’s advice), much the way he has in Bill Foley now. Foley originally boldly predicted his team would win a Stanley Cup within eight years, then amended that to six. Wealthy, eccentric guys are like that. But before the Golden Knights can even think of being competitive, let alone win a Cup, they have to establish themselves in a market where the NHL’s only presence has been its awards show. Everything looks promising at the moment, but nobody goes into these things thinking they’re going to fail. The best the Golden Knights can hope for is to become a modern-day version of the Nashville Predators, a well-run team that plays in a fickle market and always faces enormous challenges.
“I understand that this is important, that Bill Foley has put a lot of money into this and put his reputation on the line,” McPhee said. “And we have to make this work. We certainly understand the challenge and what’s at stake.”