Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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The Wild took Alex Tuch, a 6-4 right winger who played for the U.S. national development team, with the 18th pick in tonight’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
Tuch has committed to Boston College, which is expected to again be a college powerhouse next season.
The Wild had Tuch in for a couple of interviews, and was known to be very high on him. His advisor, Steve Bartlett, is also Thomas Vanek’s agent.
"He's a big, strong winger with quality hands and an NHL shot," assistant GM Brent Flahr said in a text. "We feel that he has tremendous upside and we are very excited to add a potential power forward to our group of prospects."
Tuch is a power forward who was ranked 12th in the final Central Scouting rankings. He is from Baldwinville, N.Y., and grew up playing youth hockey in Syracuse.
Here is his NHL.com profile:
• In 2013-14, his second season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Tuch tied for the under-18 team-lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. He ranked third on the club with 64 points (29-35—64) in 61 games.
• A two-time medalist with Team USA, Tuch won gold at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship (0-3—3 in seven games) and bronze at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (1-3—4 in 6 games). He was also part of the U.S. Under-18 team that finished first at the 2012 Four Nations Tournament.
• Growing up, he idolized his neighbor, Tim Connolly, a Syracuse native who played 11 NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
• In 2011-12, Tuch set the Empire Junior Hockey League scoring record with 101 points (44-57—101) in 40 games as a 15-year-old.
• He has committed to Boston College for the fall of 2014: “Boston College has always been my dream school. I can remember watching them in the Frozen Four when I was six years old.”
NHL team: Buffalo Sabres
Shootout move: “Forehand, kick it off the skate, forehand, backhand, shot”
Goal celebration: “Fist pump on one knee”
Video game: NHL 14
TV show: Breaking Bad
Actor: Will Ferrell
Most played song: ‘City of Dreams’ by Alesso and Dirty South
Sport (other than hockey): Lacrosse
Athlete (non-hockey): LeBron James
Afternoon from Philly, where I’m about to throw on a shirt and tie and head to the ex-First Union Center/ex-Wachovia Center/ex-I-think-Cores States Center or something/now-Wells Fargo Center.
The NHL Draft, again, starts at 6 p.m. CT (Round 1) on NBC Sports Network. Rounds 2-7 is Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. CT on NHL Network.
For real-time NHL and Wild news, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.
Twenty minutes ago, the Wild’s head honchos were supposed to begin its final pre-draft meeting. This is typically where GM Chuck Fletcher presents the best trade scenarios he has got on the table and the coaches and key front-office peeps and even the owner weigh in on what’s worth it, what’s not.
I just ran into a team exec at Starbucks who said it’s a very difficult, confusing time right now with this free-agent interview period. He said on one side you have the trade options, the other side you have the free-agent options. You’re trying to get a sense if you’ve got a shot for one of the free-agent options to fill a certain need, but you truly don’t know if you do, so do you pull the trigger and give up big assets for one of the trades?
He said his head was spinning trying to make sense of things because one thing may affect two other things you do or try to do.
I can imagine that’s exactly what Fletcher is dealing with. There’s no doubt Fletcher has been on the phone with GMs trying to improve his roster. He has talked to several agents about free agents.
Do you wait and hope you get one of the free agents knowing price and term can get out of whack? Or, do you pay a price by trading a young player or top pick?
It’s a tough call depending on what you’re getting and what you’re potentially giving up. But as Anaheim just showed, it’s trying to get better by adding Ryan Kesler. As St. Louis and Chicago are likely to prove, they’re trying to get better by adding a Jason Spezza via trade or a Paul Stastny via free agency (Chicago reportedly missed on Kesler, so one would assume it’ll go hard after the others).
So in the West especially, it’s not like the Wild can just sit and rest on its laurels that it advanced past the first round and expect things to go similarly next season. Remember, this is a team that still only scored 199 non-shootout goals. The one thing the playoffs proved is home-ice advantage would be huge for the Wild. If the Wild can figure out a way to get itself 25 or 30 more goals next season, that could be the difference between home ice and not.
The question is how does Fletcher look to improve? By waiting for free agency, which is always a risk because you may not get your player, or by swinging a deal tonight and giving up a significant asset or two?
We shall see. No doubt there are quality players on the block today. The question is the cost. But is also always seems Fletcher has something up his sleeves.
By the way, this team exec became like the eighth source to confirm for me that Kyle Brodziak is being shopped.
As for everybody’s favorite topics – Thomas Vanek and Matt Niskanen.
Vanek: His agent had a frank, good conversation with Fletcher this week to see if the Wild’s envisioned fit and term for a contract aligns with Vanek’s. About eight teams have called on Vanek, four or five considered serious. As I’ve mentioned, Vanek (barring a trade for a scorer by the Wild) will likely have the ability to decide whether he wants to play in Minnesota on a short-term deal vs. more term and money elsewhere.
Niskanen: His agent was scheduled to meet with Fletcher face-to-face this afternoon. The sense is the Wild’s got a lot of interest. The issue is Niskanen, 27, is coming off a career year and will have a chance to get a seven-year deal at big money somewhere. Now, maybe Niskanen would take less term and money to play in Minnesota. Who knows? But obviously, the Wild would need to pony up to get him off more term and money elsewhere. The question is how much does the Wild feel is too much. Niskanen is getting married Saturday and I believe is holding off his honeymoon so he can make a decision hopefully Tuesday on his future.
On another subject, Dany Heatley, 33, who has 372 goals and 791 points in 863 regular-season games, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He was scratched in six of the final eight games and the first two games of the playoffs.
Fletcher’s hope is Heatley can latch on elsewhere as a free agent.
“Dany was a consummate professional for us,” Fletcher said. “He scored some big goals for our franchise, but even as his role decreased, the job he did mentoring our young players. The time he spent with Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle almost on a daily basis after practice working with them on positioning and shooting pucks, meanwhile these are the guys that are taking some of his ice time way, yet he’s out there helping them get better? The way he treated our staff, the way he treated the trainers, he’s a tremendous human being.
“I really believe he can help a team and I believe he will get another opportunity. He’s got such high character, he’s such a tremendous human being, I hope for him he gets an opportunity and it works out great.
“I talked to [Avs coach] Patrick Roy, and he thought one of the key things in that [first-round] series was in Game 3 [with the Wild down 0-2], Heatley went back in the lineup and our bottom six started contributing a lot more. He thought that was a big turning point in that series. He expressly mentioned Dany Heatley. That’s interesting because that’s from the opposing coach, but Dany had a tremendous series. He made the play on the winning goal [in Game 7]. The pass he made to spring Niederreiter and Brodziak on the 2-on-1 was an unbelievable pass. He had six points in that series in five games. There’s a lot of guys, but we don’t win that series without Brodziak, we don’t win that series without Heatley, Kuemper, Bryz. All kind of unsung heroes, but you could look at guys like Heatley and Brodziak as being key guys.”
On an aside, seems Fletcher is really stressing Brodziak there, too, for some reason, eh?
Talk tonight, but again for real-time news, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.
Friday update: Fletcher is expected to meet with some agents today, including Matt Niskanen's and Thomas Vanek's.
Reminder: I’ll be on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Friday and will be hosting a live chat at 11 a.m. on startribune.com/wild.
GM Chuck Fletcher held an availability with the beat writers in the lobby of the Wild’s hotel after returning from New York City from the Board of Governor’s meeting.
1. News item: The Wild continues to try to re-sign Cody McCormick. He had a good postseason, was physical, made some players, was strong on the penalty kill. He’s also a right-shot forward who can play center. Total conjecture, but one reason why I feel the Wild wants to re-sign McCormick is because I continue to hear from league sources that Kyle Brodziak is being shopped. Well, Brodziak is Minnesota’s only right-shot center, so if you trade him, you probably need to replace that role in some capacity. Obviously, McCormick would come in cheaper (he’s coming off a deal that paid him $1.2 million annually compared to Brodziak’s $3 million salary and $2.83 million cap hit).
“We’ve had good conversations with [McCormick’s] agent and I believe we have a chance. You never know. This late, there’s no certainty he’ll come back. But we have interest in bringing him back and I believe he liked his time here. Now it’s a question is if he’s finding better opportunities, but we’re hopeful on him. I think everybody else at this point is shopping. It gets less likely the longer it goes. That’s what my history tells me. Certainly you can re-sign guys July 1 or 2, but it gets harder.”
Obviously, the one guy he’s talking about is Clayton Stoner because Fletcher wasn’t really trying hard to re-sign the others, including Matt Moulson. The others are Nate Prosser, whom I reported the Wild may have interest in next month if it still has a depth job open and he doesn’t find the right opportunity, Ilya Bryzgalov (no room right now), Dany Heatley and Mike Rupp.
By the way, Fletcher gave a pretty passionate endorsement tonight of Heatley, who will be looking for a job and was such a good soldier down the stretch. Fletcher talked a lot about the extra work Heatley did with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle after practices, which is impressive considering Niederreiter and Coyle were two reasons why Heatley was scratched down the stretch of the regular season and part of the playoffs. I’ll put those quotes in the paper Saturday or Sunday.
-- As of now, the Wild’s at its pre-draft dinner and then the team has all day Friday to discuss trade scenarios, etc. As of now, Fletcher says nothing’s imminent, but that can obviously change and Fletcher has proven that in the past.
“I’ve had lots of conversations with GMs,” he said. “I’m making as many calls as I’m receiving. It’s that time of year. I think everyone – the free agent pool isn’t overly deep. There’s not a lot of high-end talent in the market so it’s realistic teams are going to have to make trades to make the changes they want to make to their roster. … From what I understand it sounds like there’s a lot of trade talk out there
so it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a lot of activity between now and Saturday. We’ve certainly ben talking to teams.”
Some big names could potentially be traded, including Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, Ottawa’s Jason Spezza and Winnipeg’s Evander Kane. Reportedly, the Wild’s not on Kesler’s trade wish list and it would seem hard to believe the Jets would trade Kane within the division. Regardless, it would take a lot of assets and young players to acquire a big name.
“If you can sign a guy in free agency and not give up a top young player or pick and get that person for a comparable role, why wouldn’t you do that?” Fletcher said. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t trade a young player, but we’re not looking to move our young players. I’m not anticipating any big blockbuster right now.
“We’ll continue to talk to a couple teams about a couple scenarios, but again the shopping period’s been interesting and we’ll see what happens next week. There’s players that are willing to consider Minnesota, so that’s a good sign. I don’t want people to think we’re going to sign four guys on July 1 because it’s not going to happen, but we’re going to have some options potentially, and that’s good.”
-- That gets me to the next topic, the free-agent interview period.
Cue Fletcher: “I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several agents of pending UFAs and try to get a sense of who may have interest in coming to Minnesota and talk about different roles and whether what we have to offer them fits from a role and an ice time standpoint with what they’re looking at. There’s been some ones that may work out, there’s been some ones that clearly won’t work out. But that’s good. I wasn’t really involved in the shopping period last year, but it’s been great. It gives you the sense where instead it used to be July 1 it was such a battle to sign guys. You were competing with other teams to sign
players. It wasn’t like you were spending time interviewing players to get their idea of an ideal role. We weren’t having these conversations you might assume we were having. A lot of times you had to make quick decisions and you were throwing money around. So the great thing about the shopping period is you can say, hey this is what we have. This is the type of role. This is the type of fit. Does that interest you?”
Fletcher jokingly gave me flak for tosses names out there in today’s paper and said it makes him happy I haven’t figured out three or four others he has talked to.
“I don’t have any sense right now at all whether we’re going to have chances,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen July 1, let’s put it that way. I think the good thing is people now have a better idea of what we’re looking for. The player holds the cards. We can sell them our opportunity and where we think the team is going. But ultimately it’s going to be up to the players.
“What’s become clear to me is more players are interested in talking to us now than what would have been two or three years ago. The perception of our team has changed based on the conversations I’m having with people. People see us as being a competitive team and people believe if they come to Minnesota they’re going to have a chance to be on a team that’s trying to win a Stanley Cup. To me that’s great to hear. It shows we’re going to have opportunities every year to be a player in the free-agent market. We weren’t always that way. I guess where I’m going with that is I think we can look for the right fit. If it’s not there, we can be patient because if some of these guys want really long-term deals, you’re talking locking them in for a long time. Who’s to say we can’t do something better this year via trade or next summer via free agency? It’s been good. If we can get the right player for our fit, we’ll do it. But we’re not really in a position to just be chasing players and throwing whatever at them. We’ve done that and we’ve got our big guys locked in, and we’re thankful for that, we’re happy for that. But now we’re going to get certain players at certain fits to make us better. That’s what we’ve expressed to people. In a lot of situations, term is a big issue for us. We have some cap space obviously, but we want to be careful with what we do with it.”
And again, that is the key. As I have mentioned for a week, it’s become very clear to me that the Wild has interest in Vanek, but for the Wild to be in a position to sign him specifically, it needs to be a one-, two- or three-year deal. The question: How badly does Vanek want to sign in Minnesota because there’s little doubt he’ll be offered more money and more term elsewhere.
So, we shall see. But it is very clear the Wild feels the need to add a scoring forward somehow someway. The problem is there’s not a ton of them available, at least in free agency.
-- I chatted with Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko today. Fletcher says it’s more likely the Wild will take a skilled forward if it sticks at 18 than a goalie. Remember, the Wild will try to move up or maybe even back to get multiple picks.
Demko did tell me today he hasn’t had much contact with the Wild beyond his advisor talking to them.
“They’re kind of hiding their cards a little bit,” said Demko, who said he plans to return to BC the next two seasons or “maybe even four, depending on my development.”
That last quote is proof again that regardless of the Wild’s perceived short-term need, taking a goalie at 18 doesn’t solve that.
-- If there’s any more scuttlebutt tonight, I’ll be back. But it’s late and I don’t want to be in my hotel room anymore!
Afternoon from Philly. It may always be sunny in Philadelphia, but apparently it’s always as humid as a sauna, too.
I interrupt this World Cup game with a friendly reminder and a Wild blog: I am hosting a live chat on startribune.com/wild at 11 a.m. CT Friday.
Hopefully you caught today’s stories, which included a fun look at Hall of Famer Guy Lapointe, the Wild’s chief amateur scout (new title a few years ago) who has been with the Wild since before the doors opened and is the team’s resident prankster. That link is here.
Also, every time I saw GM Chuck Fletcher yesterday, his phone was tattooed to his ear, even as late as early last night when I was walking past the hotel to head to dinner. As Fletcher has proven, the draft is the time he often likes to make trades, so it wouldn’t shock me if he makes something happen Friday.
The question is it something deemed as minor, like dealing Kyle Brodziak, who something deemed as major, like bringing in significant pieces that may even make him forgo some things in free agency.
As I reported in today’s story here, Fletcher did set up meetings in Philadelphia with Thomas Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, and Matt Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, who helped deliver Ryan Suter to the Wild in 2012. Remember, it was at the St. Paul Airport where I was hiding in the bushes behind a fence (I wish I was exaggerating) and witnessed Fletcher, Craig Leipold, Mike Yeo, Suter’s financial advisor Tom Sagissor and Sheehy get off of Leipold’s private plane after meeting with Suter in Madison.
Leipold’s plane then gave Sheehy a ride back up to International Falls and about 18 hours later on July 4, Suter and Zach Parise were officially signed on the dotted line.
Well, perhaps Sheehy will soon ink another one of his clients on the Wild.
According to sources, the Wild has significant interest in Niskanen, 27, the right-shot defenseman who had a career year in Pittsburgh. But so do other teams, so it’ll be interesting to see how high and how long the Wild’s willing to go. Remember, you can only allegedly talk in general parameters about a contract but nothing can be binding until Tuesday after 11 a.m. CT. Niskanen is 100 percent going to become a free agent.
As for Vanek, he has made big money, so the question is how much does he want to play in Minnesota. I believe the Wild would love him to sign a contract between one to three years so it can also fill two holes.
As for these meetings with agents, it’ll either have to occur later tonight or before Friday’s draft because Fletcher and Leipold are up in New York because the NHL decided to have the Board of Governors meeting up there as opposed to in Philly. Brilliant! (Speaking of which, I talked to a number of execs this week who think the NHL should go to a baseball winter meetings type concept in the summer where in one city (maybe Vegas) it has the NHL Awards, NHL Draft, free-agency talking period and GM’s and Board of Governors meeting).
The Wild has called on Paul Stastny, but I’m trying to not get your hopes up because so has everybody and I haven’t gotten the impression yet that the Wild can be a serious suitor here. We shall see.
All of this is subject to change because plans can always be altered if Fletcher swings a trade Friday.
Also, going back to what I wrote about a few weeks ago, there’s price points the Wild’s willing to go to for each free agent. If things go beyond where the Wild values a player, it will likely not go beyond the price point because the Wild again has a bunch of key restricted free agents to re-sign this summer and next.
I also reported that the Wild has made contact with Willie Mitchell, the former Wild defenseman who has won two Cups with L.A. This is an indication that the team expects that Clayton Stoner may be departing via free agency. The Wild has made an offer to Stoner. He’s seeing if he can get a better contract as a free agent. That’s his right. Players like Stoner only have so many opportunities to cash in.
Mitchell makes sense. He would fill that same role, his wife is from Minnesota and he would definitely consider returning.
A few weeks ago when talking about Niskanen, I surmised that the Wild may instead go after an older veteran like Dan Boyle for two years because that could bridge the gap between now and the time Matt Dumba or Gustav Olofsson might be ready to jump full-time in the Wild lineup. I thought that was brilliant conjecture!!!
Well, I’m told the Wild, as of last night, had not made contact with Boyle’s camp.
What else? What else?
I wrote a big story on the Wild’s goaltending situation heading into next season for Friday’s paper. Give it a read. Some interesting quotes by Fletcher. Many mock drafts have the Wild taking Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko 18th overall, probably because of the Wild’s unstable goaltending situation. I’m expecting to talk to Demko later on at the prospect availability.
But, it’s not like Demko could solve any perceived short-term issue. He’s going back to BC for a few years at least and then would need to develop in the minors. I also spelled out in Friday’s paper with some examples as to why it’s a risk taking goalies in the first round.
The Wild sounds hesitant to take Demko unless it trades back. More than likely, Fletcher says, the Wild will look for a skilled forward.
I’m rooting for Joshua Ho-Sang because he sounds like a sports writer’s dream. Check out this awesome feature by Steve Simmons on Ho-Sang. Honestly, have you ever read cockier quotes? I love it.
Alex Tuch is somebody else that may be in the Wild’s wheelhouse (google him). Very big forward and the Wild could use some more size up front.
I'll be back later if there's news, of course. I'm also hoping to get with Fletcher after he returns from New York tonight and a few other NHL peeps.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Lots of trade chatter going around the NHL on Evander Kane, Jason Spezza, Ryan Kesler, Nick Leddy, P.A. Parenteau, etc.
Good evening everybody. I leave early Wednesday morning for the NHL draft, so I figured I'd check in. I will be hosting a live chat on www.startribune.com/wild in advance of the draft Friday at 11 a.m. CT.
Hopefully you have been reading the stories in the paper and on the Wild page of startribune.com. I didn't blog yesterday, but basically the news at the Wild's annual draft luncheon is General Manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn't mind moving back in the draft if it means picking up multiple picks.
Currently, the Wild owns the No. 18 pick in Friday's first round (6 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Rounds 2-7 starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and can be seen on the NHL Network. As of now, the Wild has no seconds, one third, one fourth, one fifth, three sixths and one seventh.
If the Wild sticks at 18, Fletcher said he doesn't anticipate taking a goalie, although he said there may be scenarios where he moves back and ultimately takes one. The top-ranked goalie in the draft is Boston College's Thatcher Demko, and regardless, it's not like any of the goalies in the drafts solves any perceived short-term issue. I'll be writing more about goaltending in the coming days.
The Wild also wouldn't mind moving up, although often times it's difficult to do that without a second-round pick.
Most times, any trade to move up or down will happen on the draft floor at the moment, so stay tuned.
-- Starting Wednesday, all teams will be permitted to talk to other team's pending restricted and unrestricted free agents. Free agency begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
As I wrote in Wednesday's paper, the Wild will be in contact with Steve Bartlett, the agent of Thomas Vanek. However, I also hear the Wild has significant interest in Paul Stastny if he gets to free agency (like many teams) and Matt Niskanen.
Stastny and Niskanen will command lucrative, long-term deals, so there's no way the Wild would be able to land both.
Vanek will also be seeking a long-term deal, but if he wants to play in Minnesota, he might have to settle for a short-term deal. If he would agree to that, that would allow the Wild to also go after Niskanen. If the Wild opts to go hard after Niskanen, I believe he'll sign here.
The good part of the interview period is Fletcher will get to learn in advance of free agency whether Vanek would ever entertain such a thing. If not, he can react.
This is all also barring a significant trade at the draft. Basically, what happens in the next week is up in the air because one thing will always affect the next.
I wrote this in Wednesday's paper, but I asked Bartlett if Vanek would agree to a short-term deal, especially after Vanek turned down lucrative offers from the Islanders and Sabres.
“I don’t think we’re absolutely entrenched on anything," Bartlett said. "Vanek is a very confident guy, somebody that is, I think, going to look at everything – the financial side, the family side, the team side.
“I don’t think we have anything cast in stone come Wednesday or July 1.”
Vanek scored five goals and 10 points in 17 games for Montreal in the playoffs. His ice time was limited at times and he was scrutinized, particularly in the conference finals against the Rangers.
But Vanek has 277 goals in 663 career games and the Wild finished 24th offensively last season (199 non-shootout goals). Vanek ranks eighth in the NHL in goals scored since the start of 2005-06 and his 0.42 goals per game is tied for 11th.
“I find it very hard to believe the body of work he brings to the table is going to get erased over one so-so series,” Bartlett said. “He still had a very solid season last year (27 goals, 68 points) despite all the baggage that goes with bouncing around like a yo-yo between three teams and living out of a hotel.”
With all the agents in Philly this week, you can bet Fletcher will be meeting with a number of them about their pending free agents.
While Fletcher has said he wants to add, he also says the term and dollars must be right this summer. The Wild has a lot of significant youngsters it must re-sign this summer and next and can't hamstring itself. That's why Fletcher keeps saying he may have to "lay off the pitch" this summer and not swing for the fence.
Other Wild tidbits:
-- If the Wild can't re-sign Clayton Stoner, I believe the team plans to pursue former Wild Willie Mitchell. During this interview period, Stoner will get to learn if there's potentially a more lucrative contract out there than the one the Wild is offering.
-- Cody McCormick met with his agent today and his agent plans to speak with Fletcher on Wednesday.
-- According to multiple sources, the Wild continues to shop Kyle Brodziak heading into this weekend. He has a year left on his deal and currently looks like the Wild's fourth-line center heading into next season.
-- The Wild continues to work on its restricted free agents -- Nino Niederreiter, Darcy Kuemper, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker and Jon Blum. No rush, Fletcher says.
-- The NHL Awards Show was in Vegas tonight. Ryan Suter, the Norris Trophy runner-up last year, finished fourth in Norris voting (meaning almost a finalist) and fifth in All-Star voting for defensemen, meaning just on the outside of being a First or Second Team All-Star.
-- Chuck Fletcher was seventh in GM of the Year voting.
-- Mike Yeo was 13th in Coach of the Year voting.
-- Jason Pominville was 12th in Lady Byng voting and was eighth in All-Star voting for right wings.
-- Zach Parise was tied for 11th in All-Star voting for left wingers.
-- None of the Wild's five starting goalies got a Vezina vote!
-- For all the winners, etc., go to NHL.com.
Talk to you from Philly.
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