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Around the NHL: A Milestone, Olympics, & Jagr Makes History

From now until midnight on December 27th, the NHL’s holiday roster freeze is in effect, so for all you fans clamoring for your team to make a move to improve your team’s roster and help them get back into the mid-season playoff push, you’ll just have to wait until then for your team to start wheeling and dealing. In the meantime, this week has seen an NHL owner receive a presidential nomination, a coach become the first from his country to reach a certain milestone, Jaromir Jagr making history, and the league’s discussions into Olympic participation continue to be a hot topic. We’ll dive into that and more in this week’s installment of Around The NHL.

PANTHERS OWNER RECEIVES NOMINATION FROM PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP

It’s no secret the Florida Panthers have had a rather eventful and bizarre six months, which have included an offseason front office shuffle, the firing of former head coach Gerard Gallant, the promotion of GM Tom Rowe to Gallant’s spot, and the re-installment of Dale Tallon back to his role as the GM. We can now add politics to that mix as well, as Panthers majority owner Vinnie Viola has been nominated by President-Elect Donald Trump to be the Secretary of the Army. The U.S. Senate would have to confirm the nomination before Viola took over the role. Viola responded to the nomination in a statement to the Miami Herald:

“If confirmed, I will work tirelessly to provide our president with the land force he will need to accomplish any mission in support of his National Defense Strategy. A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America’s soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict. This great honor comes with great responsibility, and I will fight for the American people and their right to live free every day.”

Before getting into business, Viola had a long history in the military, serving as an Army Ranger and graduating from West Point in 1977. The Panthers’ re-branding of their logo and uniform pays tribute to the 101st Airborne Division, which Viola served in during his time in the Army. The Panthers announced that his stake in the team’s ownership will be put into a trust to be run by his family. Doug Cifu, who is Viola’s right-hand man serving as the Panthers’ vice chairman and alternate governor, will step into the role of chairman and governor of Sunrise, Sports and Entertainment.

TORTORELLA BECOMES FIRST AMERICAN-BORN COACH TO REACH 500-WIN MILESTONE

When the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Canucks 4-3 in Vancouver on Sunday night, head coach John Tortorella became the 14th head coach in NHL history to reach that lofty milestone, joining the likes of coaching legends like Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake, Pat Burns, and Pat Quinn, and Al Arbour in that department. But what makes Tortorella’s accomplishment unique is that he is the first American-born head coach to reach that milestone. Tortorella first became an NHL head coach when he took over the Tampa Bay Lightning’s job halfway through the 2000-01 season, winning 239 games over the course of six-and-a-half seasons and leading the Bolts to their only Stanley Cup title. He eventually moved onto the Rangers’ head coaching gig for four-and-a-half years before a tumultuous run in Vancouver that only lasted one season. After taking a season off, he was hired in Columbus last season after the Blue Jackets fired Todd Richards after an 0-7-0 start. This season, the Blue Jackets have been one of the top teams in the NHL over the first third of the season, as they have won nine in a row, tying the longest winning streak in franchise history. It won’t take long for another American-born head coach to reach the 500-win milestone, as Nashville’s Peter Laviolette has 490 victories under his belt.

WILL THE NHL BE PARTICIPATING IN THE 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS?

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are 14 months away, and there is still a major question looming over whether or not the NHL will participate in the Olympic games like they have done since 1998. The NHL and NHLPA are reportedly working on discussions for a compromise that would make both the league and the players happy in regards to Olympic participation, and it looks like they’ll have a month before the deadline to decide whether or not it happens. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, finding a way to avoid a future work stoppage could be the key to striking a deal to make it happen. It has already been reported that the NHL proposed an extension to the current CBA to the players’ association in exchange for the players’ rights to play at the Olympics. However, the NHLPA immediately shot down that idea. The reason? The players don’t like the league’s current escrow structure and would like to see some other changes to the CBA. Multiple players have voiced their desire to play in the next Olympics, with Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin being the most vocal by saying that he would go even if the NHL didn’t send players over there. Caps owner Ted Leonsis has even publicly supported Ovechkin in his decision. This will be something worth watching, because if the league can find a way to keep Olympic participation going while also finding labor peace that thwarts a lockout in 2022, that would be a tremendous victory for the league. Particularly since both MLB and the NBA have recently come to terms on new collective bargaining agreements while avoiding work stoppages.

JAGR NOW SECOND ALL-TIME IN POINTS

Death, taxes, and Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr playing hockey. While the first two are guaranteed to happen, we know that Jagr playing forever is not. But it’s still really fun to watch him keep going into his mid-40’s. Nobody has played in the NHL past the age of 50 since Gordie Howe, but if there’s anyone today that could do it, it would be Jagr. Even though his numbers aren’t quite what they were a year ago, his ascent up the league’s all-time scoring list is still incredibly impressive. In a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins at the BB&T Center on Thursday night, Jagr netted an assist on a goal by Aleksander Barkov, the 1,888th point of his distinguished NHL career, passing Hall of Famer Mark Messier for sole possession for second-most points all-time. The milestone happened in Jagr’s 1,663rd game, 93 more than it took Messier to hit 1,887 points. The goal he assisted on to pass Messier wasn’t the prettiest play, as a shot from Michael Matheson ricocheted off Jagr and bounced to Barkov for the goal, but it was history-making nonetheless. After the game, the Panthers presented him with a gold stick. Now let’s be honest, unless Jagr plays until he’s 60, he’s not going to catch Wayne Gretzky for the top spot. Gretzky is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 2,857 points in just 1,487 games played. Nobody knows how long Jagr will keep playing, but one can’t help but wonder how much closer he would be to Gretzky if he hadn’t spent three years in the KHL and if the NHL hadn’t gone through three lockouts.

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