All posts by Josh Gold-Smith

Labanc says he signed team-friendly deal to help Sharks

Kevin Labanc says he accepted a surprisingly low contract for a couple of reasons.

The San Jose Sharks forward, who raised a few eyebrows when he re-signed and inked a one-year pact worth a reported $1 million last month following a 56-point campaign, said he wanted to avoid distractions during the season.

"I didn't want to wait," Labanc told NHL.com's Adam Kimelman at a charity event on Friday. "I wanted to sign the contract, get myself ready for the upcoming year and have nothing hanging over my shoulder."

Labanc added that signing the deal also made it easier for general manager Doug Wilson to navigate a difficult cap situation.

"I think I did (him) a big favor, and the Sharks organization, taking that deal," the winger said. "There's a lot more salary cap (space) for him to get another one or two players. It's awesome and I think it'll help our team be good Stanley Cup contenders this year and that's where we want to be, we want to hoist the Stanley Cup this year. It's a long season, and we're going to need every player we can get."

Longtime San Jose forward Joe Thornton remains unsigned, and the club holds about $4.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.

In June, the Sharks locked in star defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year contract reportedly worth $92 million, and then they signed promising young forward Timo Meier to a four-year, $24-million deal on July 1.

San Jose also lost captain Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi to other clubs in free agency. However, Labanc sees those departures as an opportunity for him to carve out a larger role.

"I'm going to go in there and work hard and look forward to my enhanced role on the team," he said. "There's going to be a lot of minutes. When guys leave it's an opportunity for guys like me to step up and prove I am that type of player who can play a top-six role."

In his third campaign with the Sharks, the 23-year-old established career highs with 17 goals and 39 assists while playing all 82 regular-season games in 2018-19. He added nine points in 20 playoff contests.

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Emrick to be enshrined in Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame

Mike "Doc" Emrick will be the recipient of a special honor for members of the media this winter.

The accomplished hockey broadcaster is among the 2019 class of inductees into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, the institution announced earlier this week.

Steve Anderson, Mary Ellen Carlyle, Bud Collins, Bob Fishman, Jerry Gepner, Bob Ley, Roger Penske, former "Wide World of Sports" director and producer Doug Wilson, and Ken Woo round out the class that will be inducted Dec. 17.

Emrick has called NHL games for nearly 40 years, including 14 Stanley Cup Finals as lead announcer for NBC, Versus, FOX, and ESPN.

He's won the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Play-by-Play, for a record six consecutive years and seven of the last nine.

Emrick, who turned 73 last week, was given the Hockey Hall of Fame's Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to hockey broadcasting in 2008. He also received the Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to hockey in the United States back in 2004.

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Emrick to be enshrined in Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame

Mike "Doc" Emrick will be the recipient of a special honor for members of the media this winter.

The accomplished hockey broadcaster is among the 2019 class of inductees into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, the institution announced earlier this week.

Steve Anderson, Mary Ellen Carlyle, Bud Collins, Bob Fishman, Jerry Gepner, Bob Ley, Roger Penske, former "Wide World of Sports" director and producer Doug Wilson, and Ken Woo round out the class that will be inducted Dec. 17.

Emrick has called NHL games for nearly 40 years, including 14 Stanley Cup Finals as lead announcer for NBC, Versus, FOX, and ESPN.

He's won the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Play-by-Play, for a record six consecutive years and seven of the last nine.

Emrick, who turned 73 last week, was given the Hockey Hall of Fame's Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to hockey broadcasting in 2008. He also received the Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to hockey in the United States back in 2004.

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Foligno laments exodus: ‘You don’t leave a good team to try to find another’

Nick Foligno is disappointed so many of his now-former teammates chose to sign elsewhere this offseason.

The Columbus Blue Jackets captain expressed regret after the club's high-profile free agents - particularly Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky - both opted to leave the organization this summer.

"We did everything we possibly could to show them we're a legit team," Foligno told The Canadian Press. "In a way it was a surprise (they left), but it was their right. My thing is, you don't leave a good team to try to find another one. What we're building in Columbus, everyone is excited to be part of it. You want guys fully on board."

Panarin and Bobrovsky both signed elsewhere as unrestricted free agents on July 1.

The dynamic winger inked a reported seven-year, $81.5-million contract with the New York Rangers, while the veteran goaltender joined the Florida Panthers on a seven-year pact reportedly worth $70 million. Trade acquisition Matt Duchene also left Columbus, agreeing to a seven-year, $56-million deal with the Nashville Predators.

Foligno credited the trio's efforts with the Blue Jackets but still lamented their respective departures.

"Had they dogged it or caused problems or not given it their best, then you have issues," he said. "But between Bob and (Panarin) and Matt, they all worked extremely hard. It's their choice to go. You don't agree with it, but you want guys that want to play in Columbus."

Foligno has spent the last seven of his 12 NHL seasons with the Blue Jackets, who made the playoffs this past spring after adding pending UFAs Duchene and Ryan Dzingel before the trade deadline while keeping Panarin and Bobrovsky. Dzingel ultimately departed as well, signing a two-year, $6.75-million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes on July 12.

Columbus pulled off a stunning first-round sweep of the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning before the Boston Bruins eliminated them in six games.

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Ranking the NHL’s 5 best lines

A really good line can start clicking for a number of reasons.

Sometimes, it's simply due to the individual talent of the three forwards in question, but it isn't always that easy. Putting the best three players together doesn't always pay dividends. Often, it's more effective to combine ones whose strengths complement each other perfectly.

The top two units in hockey clearly play in Denver and Boston. However, the rest of the list isn't as cut-and-dried.

Some lines - like those featuring both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl - were more than effective but weren't deployed consistently enough to qualify, while others (like those consisting of McDavid and various other teammates or the ones featuring Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov) were certainly productive, but didn't rank highly enough in many of the relevant analytic categories.

Here's who we consider the NHL's five most consistent all-around three-man units based on advanced stats from the 2018-19 regular season, their collective two-way talent, and the success of their respective teams.

All stats are at five-on-five. Games played denotes number of contests played together as a line. League ranking is in parentheses. Time-on-ice ranking is based on a minimum 400 minutes at five-on-five.

5. Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith

Dave Sandford / National Hockey League / Getty
Games Played Time On Ice Corsi For % Goals For % Expected Goals For %
73 (4th) 819:37 (2nd) 54.12 (9th) 50.65 (18th) 56.03 (7th)

The Vegas Golden Knights' unit of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith wasn't the powerhouse this past season that it was two years ago. However, it remained one of the NHL's most dependable lines.

While other productive groups like the Dallas Stars' top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov produced a better share of Goals For in 2018-19, the enduring Golden Knights line played more together than all but one three-man forward unit in the NHL, driving possession at a favorable rate in the process.

They skated about 340 more minutes together in total than their Stars counterparts, who were shuffled around at times.

That heavy deployment was a testament to the chemistry that this Golden Knights line has demonstrated for the better part of two seasons, and if their Expected Goals For percentage is any indication, it's likely to stay that way.

4. Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
GP TOI CF% GF% xGF%
76 (T-1st) 8:11:37 (4th) 54.66 (7th) 60.47 (8th) 55.39 (11th)

This was an impressive trio in 2018-19, and it was only slightly less effective than the third-best group on this list.

The Calgary Flames' triumvirate of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm consistently drove possession and ranked relatively high in many analytics categories while leading a team that boasted the NHL's third-best offense.

This unit also posted respectable Scoring Chances For (52.56), High-Danger Corsi For (52.65), and High-Danger Goals For (58.82) percentages.

What this line did in 2018-19 definitely deserves some recognition, particularly when you remember it was Lindholm's first season with the club.

3. Hyman-Tavares-Marner

Rick Madonik / Toronto Star / Getty
GP TOI CF% GF% xGF%
70 (7th) 812:56 (3rd) 53.84 (10th) 60.92 (7th) 55.94 (9th)

No line scored more goals at five-on-five in 2018-19 than the 53 buried by the Zach Hyman-John Tavares-Mitch Marner unit.

Only the No. 1 line on this list and the Golden Knights' top unit played more together during the campaign than this Toronto Maple Leafs trio, which posted a Scoring Chances For percentage of 56.51, exceeding the aforementioned Flames line in the process.

The Toronto threesome also produced excellent High-Danger Corsi For (56.82) and High-Danger Goals For (61.7) rates, proving more than capable of generating a favorable share of shot attempts, scoring opportunities, and goals across the board.

Yes, the Leafs, as a team, have to further prove themselves in the playoffs, but what this line accomplished across the majority of the campaign was impressive, especially considering that much like Lindholm and the Flames, it was Tavares' first campaign with his new squad.

Of course, Marner's contract situation could at least temporarily spell the end of this trio, but until he's absent from Leafs training camp or a member of another team, we're going to assume that these three players will line up together in 2019-20.

2. Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

Boston Globe / Boston Globe / Getty
GP TOI CF% GF% xGF%
46 (20th) 461:45 (17th) 55.97 (5th) 52.94 (16th) 56.3 (6th)

The excellence displayed by Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is even more impressive when you remember that two members of the Boston Bruins' elite forward group missed a combined 33 games due to injury this past season.

Bergeron was limited to 65 games in the regular season, and Pastrnak played 66. That obviously had an effect on the trio's totals, but the fact that they still drove possession as consistently as they did speaks not only to their obvious talent but also to their undeniable chemistry.

Despite the lack of season-long continuity, this line still finished with a top-five Corsi For rating, and only five teams had a better Expected Goals For rate. Bergeron's status as a defensive demigod also cements this group as one of the league's best.

Plus, you can't argue with the team's results, as the top line's strong play helped the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final this past spring.

1. Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen

GP TOI CF% GF% xGF%
66 (9th) 824:40 (1st) 54.43 (5th) 61.11 (5th) 47.85 (20th)

There's a pretty good reason why the Colorado Avalanche's tandem of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen led the NHL in ice time at five-on-five despite playing fewer games together than eight other forward units.

That reason, of course, is that they're arguably the best line in hockey. It makes a ton of sense that Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar would rely so heavily on his tremendous trio, as these three players excelled both individually and collectively in 2018-19.

MacKinnon, who consistently plays at a Hart Trophy level, topped 40 goals and fell one point shy of 100 this past season. Rantanen has averaged 30 goals and 85 points over his last two campaigns (only his second and third in the NHL), and Landeskog had a career year himself with 34 goals and 75 points.

All three possess both goal-scoring prowess and elite playmaking ability. It's that combination of skills that makes them so difficult to defend against.

Much like Marner, Rantanen is currently a restricted free agent in need of a new contract. However, he's Colorado's only free agent and the team has more than $16 million in cap space, so don't expect this line to be broken up anytime soon.

(Analytics courtesy: Corsica and Natural Stat Trick)

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Rangers’ ECHL affiliate to host Wes McCauley Appreciation Night

The Maine Mariners will dedicate a night to the most beloved referee in hockey next season.

Wes McCauley Appreciation Night will be held Nov. 15 when the New York Rangers' ECHL affiliate hosts the Brampton Beast, the Mariners announced Thursday.

McCauley will be on hand to sign autographs for fans during the first intermission, and the team will play a video compilation of some of his best mic'd up moments on the scoreboard. Fans are also being encouraged to wear officiating stripes to honor him.

A resident of South Portland, Maine, McCauley has been a full-time NHL ref since 2005, working numerous Stanley Cup Finals throughout his career.

The 47-year-old has earned both respect from NHL players for his officiating ability and adoration from fans for his emphatic calls.

McCauley was voted the league's top referee in an NHLPA players poll during the 2017-18 season.

- With h/t to BarDown

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Islanders arena project gets state approval

The New York Islanders have taken another significant step toward breaking ground on a new home.

New York's Empire State Development board approved the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Belmont Park facility, the Islanders announced Thursday.

Six members of the board voted unanimously in favor of the $1.3-billion arena and entertainment complex, according to Newsday's Candice Ferrette and Jim Baumbach.

It was the final stage of ESD approval required for the plan. The next step before groundbreaking can begin is for the Franchise Oversight board to rubber-stamp the state's environmental review. That's expected in a matter of weeks, according to Ferrette and Baumbach.

The Islanders' new home is expected to open in the fall of 2021 at a projected cost of $955 million. It would be the first major-league sports arena to be built on Long Island since Nassau Coliseum in 1972.

The club played regularly at the Coliseum until 2015 and essentially split its home games between that arena and Brooklyn's Barclays Center in 2018-19. The Islanders also played both of their first-round home playoff dates at their original barn this past spring.

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Larkin ready for Red Wings captaincy, knows it’s out of his control

Dylan Larkin would welcome wearing the "C" for the Detroit Red Wings, but he's trying not to fixate on the possibility.

"I feel ready for it," Larkin told TSN's Mark Masters on Tuesday. "I think it's something that I can't focus on. I can't lose sleep about it. I can't control it. I just try to be myself and play the game that I love and play with a lot of passion and everyone in the NHL has been a leader at some point in their careers. I'm lucky that we have great veteran leadership and it's taken a lot of pressure off me."

The talented forward, who turned 23 last week, understands the significance of possibly captaining one of the most storied clubs in the league but isn't dwelling on it.

"A letter is a letter, but being a captain of a franchise like the Detroit Red Wings would mean a lot to me," he said. "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I still get to play for the Detroit Red Wings and I get to play in the NHL and I'm going to try to play my best."

The Red Wings went without a captain this past season after longtime leader Henrik Zetterberg was placed on long-term injured reserve due to a back condition in September 2018.

Larkin led by example in 2018-19, pacing Detroit with 32 goals and 73 points in 76 games.

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Hurricanes owner: Waddell ‘not going anywhere’ despite Wild interest

Tom Dundon wants to end the speculation about Don Waddell once and for all.

The Carolina Hurricanes owner said his general manager will remain in the role despite recently interviewing for the vacant Minnesota Wild GM position.

"To me, he's employed by the Carolina Hurricanes," Dundon told NHL.com's Tom Gulitti on Wednesday. "He's employed and he's not going anywhere as far as I'm concerned."

Dundon confirmed Tuesday that Waddell spoke to the Wild about their job and that the Carolina GM's contract expired earlier this summer.

"So the whole contract thing, I don't understand it," Dundon said Wednesday. "I have found this weird since I got into the hockey business that the business people all have contracts. I never had contracts with the people that worked for me. It was just, 'If you do a good job (and) I like you, you'll work here, and I'll treat you fair.'"

The owner said Tuesday that he would have allowed Waddell to interview with the Wild even if the GM was still under contract with the Hurricanes.

In May, Waddell said he and Dundon had already agreed he would be back as Carolina GM despite his contract situation.

The 60-year-old executive was a finalist for the General Manager of the Year Award that ultimately went to Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney in June. Waddell built a Carolina club that returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and reached the Eastern Conference Final this past spring.

Minnesota fired former GM Paul Fenton last week after one campaign at the helm.

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Report: Rangers wouldn’t let Wild speak to Drury about GM job

It's safe to say Chris Drury won't be the next general manager of the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild reportedly asked the New York Rangers for permission to speak with the latter club's assistant general manager about Minnesota's vacant GM position, but the Rangers said no, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

It's the second time New York has "politely rebuffed" a team that wanted to talk to Drury after the Buffalo Sabres made the same request, adds Friedman. Buffalo hired Jason Botterill as its GM in May 2017.

Drury, a former NHL forward who retired as a player in 2011, was hired as Rangers director of player development in 2015. He was promoted to assistant GM in the fall of 2016.

Minnesota has been active in its search for a new GM after firing Paul Fenton last week. The Wild reportedly interviewed Ron Hextall, Peter Chiarelli, and Don Waddell, received permission to talk to Bill Guerin, and asked to speak with Scott Mellanby.

Fenton was fired last Tuesday after one season on the job.

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