March 17 — Irish Connections & Bracket Busters

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Last Night’s News 📰

HANGIN’ UP THE SKATES: Forward Peter Holland announced his retirement from the NHL at 31 years old. He was a 15th overall draft pick in 2009 and played with the Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, and New York Rangers. In 266 career games, he scored 36 goals and 85 points. He announced on Twitter and admitted that hockey has become unenjoyable for him. We wish Holland the best for his next chapter.

A TRADE!: After adding Tyler Toffoli on Valentine’s Day, the Calgary Flames further bolstered their forward corps by acquiring Calle Järnkrok from the Seattle Kraken. In exchange for the 30-year-old winger, the Flames sent a 2022 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, and 2024 seventh-round pick to Seattle. The Kraken also agreed to retain half of Järnkrok’s $2 million cap hit.

ANOTHER TRADE!: The Florida Panthers gained some blue line depth on Wednesday with the addition of much-discussed trade target Ben Chiarot, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens. Florida, who surrendered prospect Tyler Smilanic, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2022 fourth-round pick, cleared cap space for the deal earlier yesterday by sending forward Frank Vatrano to the New York Rangers.

A SIGNING, TOO!: As other clubs parted ways with players on Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks secured one of their biggest stars. The Sharks signed center Tomas Hertl to an eight-year contract extension worth $65.1 million, locking up the club’s second-leading scorer before hitting unrestricted free agency this summer. 

Top-Shelf Thursday – Top Irish Connections

We at the Morning Skate would like to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day! To stay on theme with the day and its festivities, we decided to partake in the spirit and take a look at the NHL’s ties with the Irish holiday starting with a team that once donned the holiday’s namesake.

Toronto St. Patricks

The Toronto Maple Leafs were founded in 1917 and introduced as the Toronto Arenas. Two years later, they switched to the St. Patricks. As the story goes, investors connected to an amateur club called the St. Patricks purchased Toronto’s NHL club and decided to name the NHL franchise after the amateur team. However, according to the Maple Leafs’ website, the name change was to attract the city’s Irish population to attend home games.

Born in Belfast

Owen Nolan was selected first overall by the Quebec Nordiques and played in the NHL from 1990 to 2011. Before his family moved to Ontario, Nolan was born in Northern Ireland, making him one of only six players born there. He suited up for seven different NHL teams, and while he never lifted the Stanley Cup, he won a gold medal for Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics. 

St. Paddy’s Day Massacre

There is a saying, “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.” That statement was never more true than on March 17, 1991, at Chicago Stadium when the Chicago Blackhawks hosted the St. Louis Blues. The division rivals faced off, and what ensued would rival any Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day. A brawl broke out, resulting in more than 278 penalty minutes, including 12 major penalties, 17 game misconducts, and three 10-game suspensions. Players who received game misconducts included Scott Stevens, Rod Brind’Amour, and Mike Peluso. 

Shocking Hockey Upsets

The first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, affectionately known as March Madness, begins today. One of the best parts of March Madness, especially the early rounds, is the big upsets. Almost every year, at least one team seeded 12 or lower shocks a five seed or higher, destroying hundreds of people’s brackets.

Between a college team pulling off a March Madness-style upset over a higher-ranked team, an NHL team winning its first-ever playoff series against one of the best regular-season teams of all-time, and a rag-tag group of amateurs toppling a dominant army of professionals in the Olympics, hockey offers plenty of underdog opportunities.

Holy Cross Over Minnesota (March 24, 2006)

The Division I NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003, divided into four regions of four teams. After the expansion, the first 15 games in the new format saw every No. 1 seed defeat their No. 4 seeded opponent, often in blowout fashion. Fans expected that number to grow to 16 when No. 1 Minnesota played No. 4 Holy Cross on March 24, 2006.

Minnesota was no stranger to playing in the postseason, having made it to the Frozen Four 19 times, including the year before. That 2005-06 season, the Golden Gophers earned the No. 1 seed in the West Region with a 27-8-5 regular-season record. Facing off against the Gophers were the 26-9-2 Crusaders, who clinched their second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history with a conference tournament title.

Holy Cross hung with overwhelming favorite Minnesota through three periods, then pulled off the 4-3 upset 53 seconds into overtime, becoming the first No. 4 seed to upset a No. 1. The Crusaders lost to North Dakota in the next round, but not before they set a precedent. Since that watershed moment, No. 1 seeds are just 21-16 against No. 4 seeds.

Blue Jackets Over Lightning (April 10-16, 2019)

Tampa Bay tore through the 2018-19 NHL regular season, finishing with one of the most dominant regular seasons in league history. The Presidents’ Trophy winners finished with 62 wins (second-most all-time) and 128 points (fourth-most all-time). Their first-round opponent was the Columbus Blue Jackets, who finished with 15 fewer wins and 30 fewer points than the Lightning.

Formed in 2000, and having yet to win a playoff series in its history, Columbus had won only five games in four postseason appearances. As expected, the first period of Game 1 saw the talented Lightning jump out to a 3-0 lead at home against the overwhelmed Blue Jackets.

However, the Blue Jackets fought back, scoring three third-period goals to stun the Lightning, 4-3. Columbus dominated the rest of the series, outscoring Tampa Bay 15-5 in the final three games to complete the staggering sweep. Although the Blue Jackets lost in six games to the Boston Bruins the next round, their first-round sweep was one of the most shocking upsets in NHL history.

USA Over Soviet Union (Feb. 22, 1980)

No list of biggest hockey upsets is complete without the “Miracle on Ice,” considered one of the biggest upsets (if not the biggest) in sports history. Heading into the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York, the heavily favored Soviet Union hockey team had won gold in five of the previous six Olympics.

While the Soviet Union had a team full of professional players with plenty of experience, the U.S. team was composed of amateur players with little experience. During that tournament, the Americans were the youngest team, and that team was the youngest in U.S. Olympic history.

That didn’t phase the Americans, who made it out of group play and scored two third-period goals to shock the Soviets (and the world), 4-3, in the medal round. The U.S. then mounted another comeback to defeat Finland to secure the gold medal, while the Soviet Union had to settle for silver.

Trade Deadline Primer: Pacific Division Buyers

The Battle of Alberta is alive and well in the Pacific Division, where the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers occupy two of the top three slots, alongside the surprising Los Angeles Kings. While expected that the Pacific would be open enough to offer opportunities for under-the-radar clubs to step up, the struggles of the injury-marred Vegas Golden Knights have blown the doors open.

However, the Golden Knights could still rise again, as could the stealthily improving Vancouver Canucks. Of course, this is about the full-on buyers looking for reinforcements to help put some space between themselves and everyone else in the hunt.

Calgary Flames

Tyler Toffoli, Calgary Flames (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’s possible that the heavy lifting for GM Brad Treliving and the Calgary Flames is final. The Pacific leaders got ahead of the pack by addressing a significant area of need, bolstering their top-six forward corps by trading for Tyler Toffoli a month ago and acquiring Calle Jarnkrok from the Seattle Kraken yesterday. Seeing as how these deals have left the Flames bereft of cap space and draft capital, there’s a good chance that these buyers have finished their buying.

Los Angeles Kings

Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake (Getty Images)

Can the LA Kings have their cake and eat it too? Lauded for years as boasting the league’s best farm system, the Kings are now winning even without much help from their crop of promising young talent. That leaves GM Rob Blake with options. If he wants to win now for veterans like Anže Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Dustin Brown, he has the prospect capital to rival anyone and could be in on any blockbuster name. If he opts to stand firm, he could win a playoff series now while preserving bountiful future assets.

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A roller-coaster season in Edmonton is looking up once again, as an Oilers team that had, at one point, dropped 13 of 15 games is once again winning and currently entrenched in a top-three divisional playoff spot. Still, there’s a glaring need for help, particularly on the back end, and plenty of market pressure on GM Ken Holland to get something done. If they can make the money work, adding someone like Ryan Braun or Collin Miller makes sense. Plus, what would a Mark Giordano pursuit do to the Flames?

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