Friday October 24th, 2014

Another day, another NHL-to-Las Vegas rumor. This one, though, might have a little more traction than most.

The New York Post is reporting that home title insurance billionaire William Foley “is in advanced talks with the NHL about bringing the first major league sports franchise to Las Vegas.”

That franchise, the Post continues, could be the Arizona Coyotes.

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A controlling interest in that franchise was just sold earlier this month to Andrew Barroway, who reportedly was brought in to add an American ownership presence in order to improve the club's tax situation. Barroway, the paper reported, sees the chance to flip the club short term as a money-making opportunity. Given the prices paid for teams recently, he's probably right.

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Representatives from the league and the Coyotes have categorically denied the report, but this one isn't likely to fade away. The team has an escape clause that would allow it to terminate its lease agreement with the city of Glendale if the club loses $50 million over the first five years of the deal. Various reports peg the team's losses at $30 after just two years. Do the math. The owners of the Coyotes can talk about their commitment to the area, but they didn't get rich by throwing money into a gaping pit. At some point, relocation isn't an option. It's the path to survival.

There's also the presence of a brand new, NHL-caliber arena that will be operational in 2016, a year ahead of Foley's reported target of 2017 to bring the club to Vegas. A sweetheart lease deal could be there for the taking.

I get the sense the league sees Vegas as a better expansion than relocation option because a fat check cut to the league is a lot more appealing than one payable to Ice Arizona. Still, the situation is nothing if not fluid.

Chara injury not the Bruins' biggest problem

At some point in the very near future, a reporter will ask Claude Julien about how his team will move forward without All-World defenseman Zdeno Chara. The Boston Bruins coach will say something along the lines of “there's no way to replace a player with such a unique skill set,” then he'll add something about having to concern himself not with the guys who aren't in the lineup, but with the guys who are.

And that's when Julien will start looking worried.

The Bruins are dealing with so many trouble spots right now that Chara's absence over the next 4-6 weeks can quickly be shelved as an excuse.

Even with Big Z, the defense was in shambles. Johnny Boychuk is gone. Dennis Seidenberg is playing like someone recovering from massive knee trauma. Torey Krug is still trying to figure out what to do away from the puck. And Matt Bartkowski? Well, the best thing to say about him is that he won't be hearing his name in every trade rumor involving the Bruins. The way he's playing, no one would want him.

Bartkowski was supposed to be one of several depth defenders ready to step up and replace the heavy minutes that would have gone to Boychuk. Instead, he's looked wildly overmatched, with Thursday's game against the New York Islanders providing several examples. It's frustrating to see how often he's guilty of being mesmerized by the puck -- take a look at how easy it was for Kyle Okposo to shed his coverage and find the open space to score the game winner.

Is this a guy Julien should feel confident giving a heavier load? He probably has no choice with the likes of Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow being recalled to fill Chara's roster slot.

Then there's the play of the second line. Reilly Smith doesn't just look like a player who missed most of training camp with a contract dispute. He looks like he's unaware of his responsibilities in Boston's slightly updated defensive scheme. Brad Marchand? He's been a ghost, playing with little effect on the perimeter instead of down low where he's at his best, mucking and grinding and pestering the opposition.

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Maybe most disconcerting though is the recent play of Patrice Bergeron. The defending Selke Trophy winner was on the ice for two even-strength goals against in the loss to the Islanders on Thursday night, just two nights after he was on the hook for the same against San Jose on Tuesday.

That's not supposed to happen.

To be fair, Bergeron was just one of five in black and gold and there were mistakes made elsewhere on the ice that contributed to those opposing goals. But he's a shadow of last season's Golden Boy lately, unable to find his natural rhythm skating with two broken wings.

When he's not going good, this team is in trouble. And that's why Julien can't waste too much time thinking about Chara. If he hopes to shepherd this team through the next 4-6 weeks, he'll have to get the guys who are in the lineup back on track first.

There is a silver lining here: GM Peter Chiarelli could have something close to $1 million of cap space to play with at the deadline if Chara remains sidelined for six weeks.

Dangerous equipment to blame for Nemeth's injury?

The Stars haven't been very forthcoming with details about the deep laceration that's expected to sideline rookie defenseman Patrik Nemeth for the remainder of the regular season, but one NHL official knows who bears the blame for the gruesome injury: Nick Fotiu.

He noted it was the former Rangers brawler who instigated the trend toward short cuff gloves back in the late 1970s. In his case, the move made sense. A shorter cuff hastened the removal of the glove, allowing him to commence the rearranging an opponent's face a fraction of a second earlier. But as they've become the standard for players at all levels who appreciate their comfort, they've created exposure on the lower forearm — presumably where Nemeth was slashed by an errant skate.

There are cut-resistant sleeves and armored forearm shields available, but few players wear them. And those, the official noted, are beside the point. “The game is more dangerous now with all this modern equipment than it was back in my day,” he said. “The old gloves worked. Same with the elbow and shoulder pads. That hard-cap stuff causes more injuries than it prevents.”

Significant changes have been made to goalie gear over the past few years so it's entirely possible the league, players and equipment manufacturers could move toward retro-style gear that protects without endangering the health and safety of others. It's also entirely unlikely.

McLellan not helping Sharks out of early slump

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The more I watch the Sharks, the less convinced I am that coach Todd McLellan will survive the season.

I mentioned in Off The Draw this morning the shocking disparity between San Jose's play early and late in games. The team has allowed a league-best one goal in first periods but a league-worst 12 in the third. There are likely several factors weighing into that, but one stands out: the opposition is making adjustments late that McLellan simply isn't keeping up with.

Then there are curious decisions like his insistence on playing repurposed defender Brent Burns with rookie Mirco Mueller for much of the early going, and poor matchup choices like putting out his overmatched fourth line against the second line of the Blue Jackets in the final minute of Thursday's tie game. He might have been the only one in the building surprised to see Mark Letestu bury the winner for Columbus with 21 seconds remaining.

Friday, he has John Scott practicing with the defense. Yes, that John Scott.

Those are bad decisions. They don't make McLellan a bad coach -- he's clearly not -- but they're the sort of calls that make you wonder how the Sharks will pull out of this early funk and if McLellan will still be behind the bench when they do.

Diamonds in the rough from Central Scouting

Independent bird dogs North American Central Scouting released their latest 2015 draft rankings earlier this week. No surprises at the top -- Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin are still 1-2-3 -- but they've got their eyes on some intriguing kids who could bring great value later in the first round.

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Mikko Rantanen is described as a “big power forward who has more offense than he is given credit for...very aware on the ice.” The 6-foot4, 192-pound winger has seven assists in his first 13 games playing for TPS Turku in Finland's top men's league, justifying his 19th ranking.

They have Niagara (OHL) left wing Graham Knott, a player I'm really high on, rated 20th. At 6-3 and 192 pounds, Knott has NHL size, but its his hockey sense and intensity that speak to a high upside in my mind. NACS agrees, saying “reminds of Adam Henrique ... does EVERYTHING right on the ice ... will chip in offensively ... kind of kid that coaches love.”

And then there's Jordan Greenway who, at nearly 6-5 and 222 pounds, projects as a game-changing power forward. NACS describes the US NTDP winger as “a man child ... continues to improve ... shows flashes of nastiness.” He's ranked 28th.

The Chelsea Dagger that almost was

Ranking all 30 NHL teams' goal songs

The song “Chelsea Dagger” has become synonymous with the recent success of the Chicago Blackhawks, but another NHL team could have made the song their own two years before it was ever heard at the United Center. Reacting to last week's rankings of the league's goal songs, a former music director for a Western Conference team said he pitched the tune when his club was looking to get rid of Gary Glitter's “Rock and Roll Part 2.” The team didn't bite and the rest is arena rock history. Incidentally, he says there's a great goal song out there just waiting for some team to pounce on: U2's “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” I can see that.

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