Kukla's Korner

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Expansion fervor outpaces economic realities, especially in Las Vegas

I (hi, it's George) was going to leave this one for the morning and the boss to deal with, but I'm captain cold bucket of water during non-charitable-challenge time, so here goes:

As Paul noted, the Vancouver Province's Tony Gallagher insists that the NHL expanding to Las Vegas is a "done deal," even if there is no NHL-serviceable rink there as of yet (the Fourth Period's David Pagnotta will fill you in on the inevitability of expansion sooner than later and AEG and MGM Casinos' soon-to-be-built sports facility on the Vegas Strp), even though the Las Vegas Wranglers have folded for the time being and even though three intrepid scribes from the Las Vegas Sun have pointed out that Las Vegas' population (approximate "metro area" of 1.9 million people), TV ratings (or the lack thereof), population working nontraditional hours and the whole Vegas-is-still-recovering-from-the-recession thing all stand as very real roadblocks to any professional sports franchise thriving, for the present moment or any time soon in Vegas.

Then Sports Illustrated's wire posts this:

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The Latest Expansion Talk

from Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province,

It wasn’t very long ago that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was treating talk of expansion as though he was being asked if he’d like an epidemic of Ebola.

But recently the nature of the rhetoric has changed so much that the question is becoming not if, but when.

And then the ultimate question. Will they be able to limit the number of new teams to just two?

Sources close to the situation have indicated Las Vegas is a done deal, the only thing to be determined being which owner will be entitled to proclaim that he brought the first major league sports franchise to Sin City.

And given how dead set against a team in the gambling haven the commissioner was 10 years ago, this move into another player friendly state-tax-free zone represents a considerable about-face indeed.

continued

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Patrick Kane Or Phil Kessel?

from Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet,

Kessel will turn 27 in October, while Kane hits 26 in November. Which player would you consider a bigger gift to your team?

The case for Kane: In addition to his sublime skills, Kane loves the spotlight. The guy is a star, pure and simple, a fact exemplified by his Cup-winning goal in 2010 and his Conn Smythe performance in 2013. On the ice, his playmaking and vision are what really set Kane apart. Just seven NHLers have registered more total assists than Kane since he entered the league in 2007–08 and only three of those players—Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marty St. Louis—also have more goals. The Buffalo native may possess the softest hands on earth and when you combine that with the audacity to attempt ridiculous plays, you get things like his shootout winner against poor Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild. A born showman with talent to match; sometimes Kane makes it seem like things just aren’t fair.

The case for Kessel: It really starts during the 2011–12 campaign, when Kessel became the point-per-game player he’s been for the past three seasons. He also hasn’t missed a game since the beginning of the 2009–10 season, his first year with Toronto. That ability to avoid injury contributes to Kessel’s standing as one of the surest things in the league. With the Leafs the past few years, you’ve really never known what might happen from one moment to the next. But the one thing you could count on was Kessel showing up to the rink, skating really fast down the right side of the ice and firing deadly wrist shots to all parts of the net. In the past three seasons, the list of guys who’ve scored more total goals than “Phil the Thrill” is limited to Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry....

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  Tags: patrick+kane, phil+kessel

Owen Nolan On The San Jose Sharks

from Katie Strang of ESPN,

With a talented group of centers that includes Thornton, Couture and Pavelski, the Sharks remain stacked down the middle, a tremendous asset for any NHL team. Nolan likes the fact that, despite the shock of last April’s hasty exit, the Sharks did not tear down the entire roster in a knee-jerk reaction.

“I’m sure everyone is disappointed in the way they were put out of the playoffs, but I like the way they didn't panic,” Nolan said. “This team, as a whole, is a good hockey team. They didn't panic. They didn't blow the whole thing up.”

“I believe this is a solid hockey team that can win,” Nolan said. “We'll see how they approach [last season's playoff loss]. Hopefully, they don't dwell on it, but feed off of not wanting that to happen.”

Nolan thinks that will be an earnest point of emphasis once camp opens next month -– learning from mistakes of years past, avoiding the reputation of a team that can't deliver when it counts.

“You certainly don't want to be recognized as going out early,” Nolan said. “You'll have that [sick] feeling in your stomach of not wanting to go out that way again.” 

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Morning Line

If Trotz and Kuznetsov (not to mention new D-men Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen) can elevate the Caps, Washington will definitely get back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. And if Kuznetsov is as good as he has trended in his young career, who knows how good the Caps can be in the future.

-Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News where you can read more on Evgeny Kuznetsov.

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The Latest On The CHL Union Battle

from Rick Westhead of TSN,

The Canadian Hockey League's top official is fighting back against Canada's largest private sector union, which says it wants to improve working conditions for the 1,300 mostly teenaged hockey players who compete in the country's three major junior leagues.

Unifor, which represents workers in industries such as the auto and media sectors, is trying to convince the Ontario government to organize a task force to examine the junior-hockey industry.

David Branch, president of the Ontario Hockey League, has sent a series of emails to OHL players and their parents over the past few weeks to thwart Unifor's efforts.

In three emails obtained by TSN, Branch advises players that they do not have to sign union cards, are not required to attend any non-team off-site meetings, and can refuse requests from third parties for their personal information.

continued

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All Ben Bishop

from Dan Rosen of NHL.com,

Do you feel the fact that you were a Vezina Trophy finalist last season means you're a proven goalie in the NHL, or are you still of the mindset that you have to prove yourself the way you've had to your entire career?

"I think I proved to myself and other players that I can play at that level, but I think every year you're trying to go out and prove yourself. You're never going to be satisfied with the past year, you're always trying to build on it. I'm going to approach the year the same way, the way I have the last three years at least. I'm going to go in, win the job out of training camp. You always have people competing for jobs. When I was in St. Louis I was trying to take people's jobs and make the team. You always have that competition. So I have to go into camp the same way I have been doing the last couple of years. I'm not going to change anything. I'm not going to try to do anything different."

But can you treat this training camp the same way when it's obviously different for you to know that you're heading into the season as the unquestioned No. 1 goalie on a team expected to win? This is a first for you.

"Yeah, I mean, if you word it like that it's a first, but personally the way I prepare and the way I play, there hasn't been a change from when I was a backup, or when I was able to start in Ottawa for a month, or last year when I was a starter for the season. You still approach every game the same way. Whatever is going on around you as far as expectations, where you are in the standings, if you're first or last, who you're playing against, I still approach the game the same way. There is nothing different. It's the same routine and preparation no matter where I am, if I am a backup in Ottawa or a starter last year. So I don't see there really being any difference going into this season. I think the experience last year will help me even more this year."

three more questions...

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Blues Happy To Have Paul Stastny

from Louie Korac at NHL.com,

"You don't see him really doing the flashy things or anything like that, but playing with him at the [Winter] Olympics, he makes every part of the game so much easier on his linemates," forward T.J. Oshie said of Stastny. "... He makes the game easier, he makes it more simple and everything's more clear on the ice."

General manager Doug Armstrong got the blessing from team leaders, including captain David Backes and alternate Alexander Steen, to go out and acquire a top-notch player regardless of the cost. If Stastny, who is the highest-paid player on the team, can push the Blues over the edge, then the investment will be more than worth it.

"I think it's a respect for an older, veteran player in 'Steener' and myself knowing that the free-agent market was one where you were going to have to pay a premium for a great player," said Backes, who played with Stastny on the United States team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. "There was no hesitation on both parts to say, 'Absolutely, bring a guy like that in.' We're only going to be better for it. Ultimately, we're here to win. We're here to win games. We want to win a championship, and he's going to help us do that.

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Avs Feel Like They Are Closing The Gap In The West

from Mike Chambers of the Denver Post,

Less than a month shy of its preseason opener, the Avalanche is feeling stronger than it was a year ago. The toughness and depth gaps between the Avs and the Los Angeles Kings, defending Stanley Cup champions, along with the Western Conference giant Anaheim Ducks, seem to have diminished.

Executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic, defensive assistant coach Adam Foote and newly signed right winger Jarome Iginla recently spoke about the improvements while trying to maintain their excitement about defending their Central Division title and making another step in the playoffs.

"Last year we were dealing with trying to win back the trust within the community and belief in the team, and this year is a different challenge," Sakic said. "We did so well last year, but (now) it's to improve and get to the next step, and obviously the next step is not to just make the playoffs — it's to improve in the playoffs."

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Questions Facing The Vancouver Canucks

from Kevin Woodley at NHL.com,

Can Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin be elite scorers again? -- The Sedins were so determined to prove they could be good defensively last season, and so irked by the belief their best offensive seasons were simply a product of starting so many shifts in the offensive zone, they sacrificed much of the scoring the Canucks long relied on them to provide.
"That was a little bit interesting, but it comes from just how proud they are to play defense," coach Willie Desjardins said of offseason meetings with the Sedins. "They have no problems blocking shots or playing against the other team's top line. It's not like, 'Oh, I don't do that.' They want to prove they can play in big situations defensively. They cherish those roles."

Last season, the twins embraced coach John Tortorella's request to kill penalties and play more minutes in the defensive zone, and for a while they managed to stay near a point-per-game pace offensively. But as injuries and those harder minutes appeared to catch up with them, their offense disappeared.

Henrik had 10 points in his final 24 games,...

Which Ryan Miller did the Canucks get? -- Vancouver is counting on Miller playing like he did for the Buffalo Sabres to start last season, when he had a .923 save percentage, earned a spot on the U.S. team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and became the hottest trade commodity in goal.
After signing him to a three-year, $18 million contract, the Canucks can't afford to have Miller perform like he did after a trade to the St. Louis Blues, where he finished with a .903 save percentage in 19 regular-season games and .897 after being knocked out of the playoffs in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks.

There are questions how Miller's aggressive style will fit with goaltending coach Roland Melanson's more passive preferences....

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About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com

 

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