Off The Draw
Quick thoughts on the weekend that was:
• A deep and talented defensive core powered the Rangers to within two wins of the the 2014 Stanley Cup. Now, with Marc Staal signed to a six-year, $34 million extension over the weekend, they have the key members of that group locked up through 2018-19, setting them up for an extended run of contention.
In Staal ($5.7 million annual cap hit), Dan Girardi ($5.5 million), Ryan McDonagh (an incredible bargain at $4.7 million), and Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) the Rangers have a back end that's affordable and stacks up as the best in the league.
Full marks to a front office that identified these players through the draft, free agency and the trade market and then committed to keeping them in blue. It's a display of organizational stability that many other teams have to envy.
• Swirling rumors suggest that we're just days away from the official announcement of the next World Cup of Hockey and it appears the early talk about the tournament set-up is true. The eight-team event will reportedly feature entries from Canada, the United States, Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, with two “at-large” clubs rounding out the field. The first will be made up of young stars from around the NHL while the second will be comprised of top players from countries that are not sending their national teams.
Nothing wrong with tossing around new ideas, but it is hard to believe that either of these stuck. Both pose obvious problems.
Take the young stars plan: Will national teams be allowed to claim a player who falls under the age limit if he's one of their best? Does a 20-year-old such as Filip Forsberg suit up for Sweden or the young stars? What about 22-year-old Gabe Landeskog? If skaters of their caliber are kept from the national team, then the World Cup risks losing any claim to being a best-on-best tournament.
And what about Team Potpourri? Sure, it offers a chance for players from lesser national sides like Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) or Mats Zuccarello (Norway) to take part, but has anyone asked the guys who'd have to suit up for this polyglot if they even want to?
“I don't know all the details, but I don't know how excited I am about it,” one NHL player told SI.com recently. “You want to represent your country [in an event like this], not just play on a team.”
That player said he'd still participate if invited, but he's waiting on the particulars like the rest of us. Looks like we'll have them soon.
• The NHL's Department of Player Safety always seems to err on the side of caution when meting out justice, but Daniel Carcillo shouldn't expect any leniency when he answers for the vicious cross check that injured Winnipeg's Mathieu Perreault on Friday.
Carcillo really hasn't left the DoPS any wiggle room. Given Perreault's situation (his unspecified injury will keep him out until after the All-Star break), the ugliness of the incident and Carcillo's lengthy record of transgressions—most recently a contact-with-official incident in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals that earned him 10 games—it's hard to imagine this suspension coming in at less than five.
But even that would be a hand slap. Carcillo is the worst kind of recidivist, a player who has been fined or suspended 10 times during his career. Clearly those timeouts have done little to encourage him to reconsider his conduct and it's unlikely that this one will, either. But by handing out a lengthier suspension, say eight to 10 games, the DoPS sends a message to the rest of the league ... and keeps its players safe from his goonish presence for that much longer.
• Every struggling team wants to point to an encouraging win as the moment it turned its season around. The Dallas Stars may have pivoted with a loss.
A lot's been going their way lately. Their goaltending still isn't quite up to snuff, but they're getting more saves when they need them the most. The defense is making better decisions with the puck and losing fewer men in coverage. But the key might be a commitment from the forwards to cut back on the fancy east-west stuff and focus on getting pucks to the net.
That was particularly evident in Thursday's 2-1 loss to Winnipeg, a game the Stars thoroughly dominated from start to finish, with 97 shot attempts to just 37 for the Jets. Dallas wasn't quite as prolific in Sunday night's 6-3 win over Chicago—just 53 attempts, but the Stars landed 34 on net, four above their season average, and four more than the Blackhawks typically allow. It was the sort of game that reinforced the old adage: You don't score on 100% of the shots you don't take. If the Stars commit to north-south hockey and keep firing, they've got a chance to make up some ground on the pack after the break.
What to watch tonight
It won't pack the emotional punch of Roberto Luongo's return to Vancouver's Rogers Arena just 11 days ago, but this one might mean even more to both the goaltender and the struggling Panthers. Florida has dropped three straight, including an ugly 3-2 loss to the Oilers on Saturday that has them slipping perilously off the playoff pace in the East. They'll be looking for a lift from Luongo, who stopped 32 of 34 against Edmonton, and Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored one of Florida's two goals and now has 12 points in has last 11 contests.
The Canucks are 2-1 on a five-game road trip, including two straight shutout victories by Ryan Miller over the Flyers and Hurricanes. However, the former Sabres netminder has dropped five of his last six starts against the Panthers while allowing 20 goals.
Rest of the schedule: Flyers at Islanders (1 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, SN, TCN-PH, MSG+); Hurricanes at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. EST; FS-CR, TSN4); Avalanche at Blues (8 p.m. EST; NBCSN); Blue Jackets at Wild (8 p.m. EST; FS-O, FS-N); Flames at Kings (10:30 p.m. EST; SN, FS-W); Devils at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; MSG+, CSN-CA)
What you missed over the weekend
• League officials are testing cameras embedded in goal posts, which would give them additional angles for those tricky goal reviews.
• The USA U-18 team couldn't wait for Episode 7 to be released, so they held their own Star Wars night on Saturday—and it featured some pretty awesome jerseys.
• Barry Trotz made his way back to Nashville for the first time since being fired by the Predators during the off-season. The Capitals' coach even got a little misty when his former team gave him a video tribute and the fans rose in a standing ovation.
The numbers game
• At 914, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is now tied with the legendary Toe Blake for 28th on the NHL's all time list of games coached.
• The Rangers finished their season series with the Metro Division rival Penguins 3-0-1, taking at least one point from each game against Pittsburgh for the first time since 1996-97.
• Calgary's Sean Monahan is now the youngest player (20 years, 89 days) in NHL history to score four career overtime goals, surpassing Ilya Kovalchuk’s mark of 20 years, 218 days.
• Mike Harrington pulls out the long knives and eviscerates the Buffalo Sabres for their post-Christmas performance. And this was before they dropped their 11th straight on Sunday night.
• The story of Gordie Howe's miraculous recovery makes it sound as though we are on the verge of an historic medical breakthrough.
• Fluto Shinzawa's meaty Sunday notes column is just as tasty on a Monday.
• Does the NHL have a winking scandal on its hands? Nashville coach Peter Laviolette is apparently dead serious when he makes this accusation.