Blake’s Takes: Power Moves in Pittsburgh

Football season is over, which means hockey season is officially in full swing. Last week we saw a major front-office move. With the lack of other major storylines, I’m bringing you some of my favorite highlights I saw across the NHL last week. Buckle up because you’re in for some fun.

1. Don’t Forget About Ovechkin

Just in case you forgot, Alex Ovechkin is still one of the best players in the world. Despite being 35-years-old and living off Coca-Cola, The Great 8 can still put up the highlights. By the time I went to the gym and came back last Sunday (February 7), Ovechkin blessed us with three plays worthy of SportsCenter’s top ten. Check them out below.

The goals are cool, but, it’s Ovechkin’s assist that takes the cake. A little variety is always nice. Ovi hits Backstrom in stride who makes a nice finish to score the goal. The Caps lost this game, but they did so despite Ovechkin’s great performance. Even at his old age, Ovechkin can still impact the game in every way.

2. Brian Burke Named President in Pittsburgh

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Penguins were in the news last week after GM John Rutherford stepped down from his post. The Penguins got to work quickly and named Brian Burke president of hockey operations and Ron Hextall as GM.

Burke has over 30 years of front office experience, most notably when he won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks as their GM during the 2006-07 season. He also served as either the GM or team president for the Hartford Whalers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Calgary Flames.

1987-88 Topps #169 - Ron Hextall
Ron Hextall’s rookie card

Hextall enjoyed a long playing career as a goalie. He burst on to the scene as a rookie with the Flyers during the 1986-87 season where he won the Vezina and Conn Smythe. Hextall is one of five players to win the Conn Smythe for the losing team. He has served as a GM for the Flyers and was the assistant GM for the Kings, winning a Stanley Cup in 2012.

It’s clear the Penguins are not playing around. Burke and Hextall have strong resumes. I doubt either would take just any job. They both must think there is potential to win in Pittsburgh. It’s not often you get to take over a team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the roster. I’m sure that had something to do with it.

Neither Burke nor Hextall has had a tremendous amount of success recently. Also, the Pens’ top two players are on the wrong side of 30. While I could see both of them succeeding. I’d bet that neither man is around the next time Pittsburgh wins a Stanley Cup.

3. Mikko Koivu Announces Retirement

 

 
 
 
 
 
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This offseason, I wrote a mini-tribute to the career of Mikko Koivu when the Minnesota Wild announced they would not re-sign him this offseason. Koivu ended up signing with Columbus. After seven games with the Blue Jackets, Koivu decided to retire from the NHL. Koivu will finish his Blue Jackets career with one goal and one assist. You can read more about Koivu’s decision to retire here.

Before I get into his accomplishments, I want to point out that we should all be thankful Koivu played for the Wild when he did. Koivu was never a great player, he never made an All-Star team. However, he was gritty, was a great leader, and gave it all to his city. Players like him aren’t typically remembered. Because Koivu was so special to the Wild during a rather uneventful time in franchise history, he’ll be remembered fondly. I bet he gets his number retired and is treated like a king in the Twin Cities. That is something that makes me smile.

Koivu of course was the first permanent captain of the Wild, captaining the team from the beginning of the 2009-10 season through last season. With Minnesota, he played in 1,028 games, scored 206 goals, and tallied 505 assists. He’s the team’s all-time career leader in games, assists, points, plus/minus, and shots.

He was never a great player. But, he deserves the proper recognition. It’s a shame he never got to play one more game in front of the fans in Minnesota. I hope he gets his jersey retired and returns to work in the Minnesota front office one day.

4. Fleury’s Super Save

I think we have our save of the season courtesy of Marc-André Fleury.

First, these two plays made by the Ducks were tremendous. Max Comtois makes a great pass that slips through Alex Pietrangelo to Isac Lundestrom. Lundestrom makes another great move to move the puck across the crease to Fleury’s glove side. Fleury reacts and saves the puck with his wrist.

It’s rare to see a goalie get beat to one side and recover to make a save from his butt. It’s even rarer to see him make the save in a spot where he has no padding or stick.

Props to Fleury for a great save. Also, can the Ducks’ luck get any worse? They just can’t buy a break.

5. Fight of 2021

If you go to hockeyfights.com and watch anything in the 1980s or 1990s, you’ll see some great fights. It’s rare to see anything worth watching nowadays. Even when you do spot the rare scrap, they last maybe a minute until the refs get involved. You can consider yourself incredibly lucky if you see a player land a punch. Friday night we were blessed with an actual bout. Check it out for yourself.

In one corner, you have Brendan Lemieux, the son of Claude, fighting for the New York Rangers. Lemieux stands at 6’1,” 213 lbs. In the other corner, fighting for the Boston Bruins, stands Trent Frederic at 6’2,” 203 lbs. That’s as even as you can get on paper.

I’d have to give the win to Lemieux. He dominated the first round and got a few punches in during the second. I’d give the second round to Frederic, but Lemieux’s total domination in the first gives him the slight edge. Disclaimer, I don’t know how boxing scoring works.

Regardless, it’s rare we see a good hockey fight these days. We saw one on Friday night. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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