Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stamkos Skates!

Steven Stamkos' rehab is way ahead of where we thought he'd be when he suffered a gruesome fractured tibia while crashing into the net in Boston just about a month ago. Check the videos and see for yourself. The first (up top) is of Stamkos taking the ice and doing some stickhandling drills in New Jersey, and the second (below) is Stamkos talking to the media after the skate. Great news for Stamkos but I still say let's not rush him. He's obviously not ready to skate hard and needs to let the bone heal and, as he put in his own words, make sure there are no setbacks.

The Lightning have done a great job of weathering the storm without Stamkos, and they currently stand at 18-10-3, good for third place in the Atlantic. As far as Stamkos' Olympic chances go, Team Canada has until January 7th to make their final roster decisions.

Will Stamkos convince the Team Canada's brass by that date that it is worth it to save a roster spot for him? And if they do save the roster spot, will Stamkos then feel increased pressure to rush his return? We love the idea of Stamkos' making a speedy remarkable recovery, but he clearly has a long way to go, and rushing to get to Sochi's big ice by early February might not be the best way for the 23-year-old to ensure that he makes a complete recovery.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Perry, Getzlaf Streaking as Ducks Roll

The Anaheim Ducks have been a tour de force at the Honda Center in 2013, and that has a lot to do with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Anaheim is the only team that has yet to lose a regulation game at home. They dropped an OT game that they really should have won against New Jersey on Nov. 20th, and fell in a shootout to the Kings on Dec. 3rd. Other than that--nothing, zip, nada.

Perry scored his eighth goal in his last seven tonight, and his 21st of the season, as the Ducks edged Minnesota in a close affair.

Getzlaf got the secondary assist on the goal, upping his NHL best points streak to 13. For some strange reason, the NHL doesn't count a point streak that includes missed games, but if it did Getzlaf's streak would total 15. That's two more than the player that Getzlaf "officially" tied on Wednesday night: Alex Steen.

The Ducks are on a four-game winning streak and they stand atop the Pacific with 49 points.

Perry is currently tied for second in the NHL with 21 goals; he's also tied for fifth in points with the Islanders John Tavares at 36.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vid: Jarome Iginla's Emotional Tribute in Calgary

Not a dry eye in the place. Okay, maybe a few, but not many...

Allen: Hockey's Code Has Gone Awry

USA Today's Kevin Allen raised some issues in a recent column that I have seen echoed in the comments sections of many articles that covered the Shawn Thornton sucker-punch on Brooks Orpik incident.

Orpik, who didn't feel he should have to fight after laying a massive, clean body check on Loui Ericksson of the Bruins, was later given no choice and instead pulled to the ice by an irate Shawn Thornton, who then cold-cocked Orpik and knocked him unconscious.

Allen wonders in his recent column when did hockey's code change so that even players who execute clean open-ice checks are considered open game by the opposing team's enforcer?

"Dissect what happened Saturday night in Boston any way you want," writes Allen, "and it still centers on the issue that Thornton was trying to make Orpik pay for delivering what was deemed a legal body check."

He continues, succinctly:

Now in today's game, most big hits, even legal ones, seems to be followed by a call to arms by someone on the other team. That scenario has become increasingly commonplace over the past decade.

This is not a Boston Bruins problem or a Thornton problem. This is an NHL problem with significant consequences.

First, it sometimes leads to the kind of scary situation we had Saturday night when Orpik was attacked by Thornton.

Second, it discourages legal hitting, which most of us seem to want in the game. Why would any player in today's game want to deliver a heavy hit? If he does, he probably will be asked to fight.

If the league doesn't address this at some point, the big hit is going to become an endangered species or we are going to have more situations like we had Saturday when the Pittsburgh Penguins' Orpik obviously felt he shouldn't have to fight because he delivered a legal hit on Loui Eriksson earlier in the game and Thornton believed he should fight.

The logic of Thornton is clear in this situation. Ericksson is a smaller player who was already knocked into kingdom come earlier in the season by Sabres' tough guy Jon Scott. The Bruins want to send a message to anyone who hits Ericksson that they will have to pay for it.

The question is: Do we want teams using intimidation to protect their players from clean body checks? What's next? Why not just sucker-punch anybody who scores a power play goal against your team? Or any goalie who makes a big save?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Penguins' James Neal Gets Five Games for Kneeing Incident

Penguins' forward James Neal was handed a five-game suspension for his ill-advised knee to the head of Brad Marchand on Saturday, and he really should have gotten more. There is simply no place for a play like this in any sport, as it signifies a complete lack of respect for the opponent and therefore the game itself.

Unfortunately it was one of many over-the-top antics that we saw in the NHL over the weekend.

Here is how NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan summarized his views on Neal's transgression:

"It is our belief after reviewing this incident that this is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player. While looking down directly at Marchand Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg, ensuring that contact was made with Marchand's head."

Shanahan goes on to cite that one of the mitigating factors in the hearing is that Marchand was not seriously injured on the play. That's good news, but I'm not so sure it's a good way to judge what Neal has done. He went out of his way to run his knee into a player who was down on the ice--a total WWF move--and there's simply nothing that can mitigate the egregiousness of his actions.

"I mean, what do you want me to say? That I was trying to hit him?" Neal said following the game. "No, I'm going by him. I don't get out of the way, like I said. I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I'm not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that."

Yes, you need to be more careful and get your knee out of the way. Now you are talking!

Shanahan will have a busy week, as he'll also have an in-person meeting with Bruins' Shawn Thornton after he sucker-punched Brooks Orpik in the aftermath of this play, and a phone meeting with Leafs' defenseman Dion Phaneuf after his boarding incident last night against Boston.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shawn Thornton Says he Feels Bad about Sucker Punching Brooks Orpik

With suspensions--very big suspensions--looming, Shawn Thornton knows better than anyone it's never too late to say you're sorry. After sucker punching Brooks Orpik during last night during a heated battle between Eastern Conference powers (see video above), Thornton says he's feeling remorseful about his actions.

After the game Thornton said he felt terrible. He also said that Orpik is a friend of his and he had no intention of hurting him. Here's what he told reporters after the game, per this report from

“Listen, I feel awful,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention for that outcome. I know Brooksie, I’ve gotten to know him over the past several years. I got to skate with him during the lockout. I texted him a couple of times. I feel awful. It was definitely not what I wanted to see or what anyone wanted to see.

“Obviously I made a mistake. I’m aware of it. I’ve been told I’ll be having a hearing. It’s hard for me to say much more than it was not my intention. I felt sick all game.

“It’s always my job, I guess, to defend my teammates, but I’ve prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines. It’s hard for me to talk about it right now. I can’t say I’m sorry enough, and I’m sure I’ll be criticized for saying it, but it’s true. I just hope he’s doing all right. I heard he’s conscious and talking. I’m happy to hear that. “I really don’t know how to answer that right now [if this will change the way he plays], to tell you the truth. I haven’t had enough time to think about it.”

Hard to want to forgive a player after he pulls a cheap shot like that, whether it was part of a heated game or not. Thornton wasn't the only player to step out of line on Saturday (but that's nothing out of the ordinary, it happens pretty much every night in the only professional sport that seems content to let the inmates run the asylum), but that fact, or the fact that hockey lives its life on the edge where respect for the opponent is a mere afterthought after egregious acts of violence, doesn't make Thornton's actions forgivable at this point.

It's certainly no way to treat a friend.

Look, hockey is a tough sport, and everybody that loves the game takes pride in that fact, but sucker punching guys when the aren't prepared to defend themselves is more criminality than old-fashioned hockey. There's no place for it, and no apology will make it acceptable.

What do you think?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Should Max Pacioretty Be Disciplined for this Hit on Johnny Boychuk?

Montreal's Max Pacioretty scored his ninth goal in his last nine games to lead Les Habitants to a big win over the Bruins on Thursday, but Pacioretty's biggest play came along the back boards when he laid a massive hit on Bruins' defenseman Johnny Boychuk (see above).

Boychuk needed to be wheeled off on a stretcher, but eventually returned to the Bell Centre, determined well enough to fly home to Boston with his team, but the extent of his injuries are still not known.

TSN's Ken Campbell thinks that Pacioretty deserves to be disciplined for what he deems a "reckless hit" on the vulnerable Boychuk. Here's his take from his morning column:

The hit stared out as an innocent-looking attempt to separate Boychuk from a puck that was approaching him along the boards. But as Pacioretty made contact, Boychuk turned to get the puck and the hit went from shoulder-to-shoulder to shoulder-to-back. If you’re arguing for a suspension, you could point out that while there was almost certainly no malice on Pacioretty’s part, it was a reckless play. Much of what made it reckless was that Pacioretty failed to let up and hit Boychuk while he was in a vulnerable position and a dangerous position from the boards.

Pacioretty received a minor penalty for boarding on the play, but you can be certain Shanahan will look at it hundreds of times tonight to determine whether it merits a hearing and supplemental suspension.

And it should. It was a reckless hit on a vulnerable opponent. The same way players have to be responsible for their sticks, they also have to be responsible for their bodies. These hits will keep happening unless they’re penalized with real consequences regardless of intent.

For the record, we agree with Campbell. The hit should be looked it. No malice, and the fact that Pacioretty got Boychuk from behind (ever so slightly) has a lot to do with the fact that Boychuk was angling into the boards to corral the puck. But while these types of hits are not malicious or even 100 percent intentional, they are the types of hits that are leading to a lot of players getting wheeled off on stretchers.

Shanahan and Co. should take a close look at this play and think about some type of discipline on Pacioretty. It could go a long way in terms of encouraging players to use caution and go in easier on these types of plays where opponents are vulnerable.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Don't Expect the Islanders to Deal for Ryan Miller

Garth Snow may be crazy, and he proved that he may be by trading for Thomas Vanek earlier in the season, but is he just plain dumb? Because anybody who is suggesting that the Isles would give up more of their highly valued prospects and/ or players to acquire the services of Ryan Miller for a few months before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, is insinuating as much.

Surely the Isles aren't looking to trade for another player who will almost certainly fly the coup after the season, and surely the Islanders aren't holding on to the belief that a bona fide goalie would do anything to help this team out of its current malaise. If Miller couldn't backstop the Sabres to relevancy, what makes anybody believe that he would be able to do so for the Islanders, a team that has progressively gotten worse with each passing week?

Allan Muir of SI helped to put some of the Miller-to-the-Islanders rumors to rest in his Home Ice column today, and he hits the nail on the head with the following statement:

That leaves Sabres goalie Ryan Miller as the obvious choice, but the risk involved in swapping for Buffalo’s netminder would be high — for both sides.

There’s no reason for the Sabres to do anything to help New York. Remember, Buffalo acquired, conditionally, the Islanders’ first-round pick in 2014, as well as a second-rounder in ’15, as part of the Thomas Vanek for Matt Moulson deal. It’s in the Sabres’ best interest then to see New York fail.

And even if Islanders GM Garth Snow was willing to pay Buffalo’s price (a high pick and a solid, though not elite, prospect), it might mean putting his job on the line. Miller and Vanek are pending UFAs, and if both walked after Snow had emptied New York’s coffers to acquire them, the losses would be devastating to the franchise.

So what’s likely to happen? Look for Snow to make two smaller deals: one to acquire a goalie with some longer-term potential, and one for a veteran defenseman to shore up the Islanders’ shaky blue line.

To that I will add: If I was Garth Snow and had been fleeced by the Sabres once in 2013, I'd probably turn my attention to another trading partner. The Islanders need one if not two defenseman, and yes, they do need to find a long-term solution at goalie, which Miller currently isn't. And even if the Isles do want to make a pitch for Miller, they'll have every opportunity to do that on July 1 when the American becomes a UFA.

As far as Miller's current value in light of Henrik Lundqvist's seven-year deal with the Rangers, Muir had some thoughts on that as well:

Speaking of Miller, what’s he worth now in the wake of Henrik Lundqvist’s seven-year, $59.5 million deal? At 33, Miller is two years older than the King, so it’s hard to see anyone giving him a contract that match’s the length of Lundqvist’s agreement, but the average annual value might not be that far off. Something in the neighborhood of four years and $26 million for Miller seems likely, although another bravura Olympic performance for Team USA could up the ante.

Sounds about right. But Miller sounds like a bargain at that price. Expect him to light up the league once he gets a new lease on life, preferable with a team that can play in front of him.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rangers Ink Lundqvist to a Seven-Year Extension

The New York Rangers signed 31-year-old netminder Henrik Lundqvist to a seven-year, $59.5 million extension on Wednesday, according to sources.

According to NY Newsday:

The Rangers scheduled a news conference for after practice Wednesday at the Madison Square Garden Training Center.

"Since his arrival in New York in 2005, Henrik has consistently been one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL," Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather said in a statement. "He is a proud representative of the tradition and class of this organization and we are excited to have him remain as a cornerstone of the franchise."

The Swedish netminder will earn an average of $8.5 million per season, making him the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL, based on annual average value.

"He's paying for dinner, that's for sure," Ryan Callahan said after practice Wednesday.

Lundqvist, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2011-12, has said since September that he wanted to stay in New York with the team that drafted him in 2000. He was in the final season of a six-year extension which paid him an average salary of $6.877 million. The goaltender has declined to discuss the negotiations since opening night.

So much for that Cam Talbot controversy, which was sparked when the Rangers' rookie got back-to-back starts recently. So

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Can the Isles Get for Vanek?

Is it already time for New York Islanders' GM Garth Snow to admit he gambled and lost with Tomas Vanek? At 8-15-4, and with bottom-of-the-league goaltending and defense, Vanek's presence isn't likely to help it get back to the playoffs in 2013, and with the 29-year-old awaiting free agency at the end of the season, it's clearly time to admit that it's not working and start shopping Vanek for pieces that his club actually needs.

The 7 million dollar question? Is Snow ready to do that or is he hanging on to the pipe dream of signing Vanek to a lucrative extension and hoping that the other pieces of the puzzle somehow fall into place on Long Island?

Hopefully Snow is not that naive.

More than likely, Vanek will set sail for another city, whether the Isles want him to stay or not, so why not look for deep-pocketed teams that covet what Vanek brings to the table (and really, who doesn't covet what Vanek brings?)and try to shore up the beleaguered defense and goaltending corps.

If Snow plays his cards right, his Islanders could wind up better off than they were before they gave up Matt Moulson and two draft picks for Vanek in October. Both Moulson and Vanek are free agents in the off-season, so the Islanders could spin Vanek for a true impact defenseman and a prospect or pick, and maybe even take a shot at signing Moulson (who clearly has great chemistry with John Tavares, and could be signed at a much cheaper price than Vanek would) in the off-season.

The Islanders aren't a very good team right now, but another phase of rebuilding might help them get to where they thought they were heading into this season--a formidable playoff team with cup aspirations.

With Vanek and the Minnesota Wild already linked as a potential match, maybe the scoring-challenged Wild would be willing to deal for the former Golden Gopher? Or how about the Phoenix Coyotes, who are stacked on the blue line and also struggle to score? There's plenty of time until the NHL's trade deadline, and the Islanders don't need to rush. But they should be committed to getting something for Vanek before he departs for greener pastures. It's painfully obvious that the Islanders can't afford Vanek with their basement payroll and still continue to improve the depth and talent on their roster, so why should they even entertain the notion of keeping him?