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Tag:Tampa Bay Lightning
Posted on: October 1, 2011 4:16 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 4:35 pm
 

Crosby not expected to play in opener

SC3By: Adam Gretz

When it was announced that Sidney Crosby would be joining the Penguins on their season opening trip to western Canada there seemed to be a slim chance that he might be ready for their game against Vancouver on Thursday night.

That, of course, seemed like an extreme long shot with perhaps a less than one percent chance of actually happening -- and even that might be overselling it -- seeing as how he hasn't even been cleared for contact yet, a rather large hurdle that still needs to be overcome in his comeback from a concussion.

On Saturday any hope of him being ready for the opener went away when Crosby all but ruled himself out saying, "No. I wouldn't expect it."

The Penguins' captain hasn't appeared in a game since Jan. 5 of last season against the Tampa Bay Lightning when he was hit by defenseman Victor Hedman, which came less than a week after his run-in with Washington's Dave Steckel during the Winter Classic. Prior to suffering the season-ending concussion he had scored 32 goals in 41 games and was running away with the NHL's scoring lead. Even though he played what amounts to just half the season he still finished 31st in the league in points and 18th in goals. On a per-game basis (goals per game and points per game) it was by far the best season of his already impressive career.

Earlier this week Dave Molinari of the Post-Gazette mentioned on Twitter that Crosby had been involved in some minor, incidental contact in practice, but that it was nothing even remotely close to game contact and he was still wearing the white non-contact helmet. Evgeni Malkin, Crosby's teammate, caused even more excitement when he Tweeted on the same day that Crosby was involved in a contact portion of practice, before quickly following it up by jokingly saying that he just bumped him on a faceoff. And that's what it's come to at this point.

In the end, even though it appears that Crosby is progressing and getting closer to returning, he still has to be cleared for contact, and until that happens the waiting will continue.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 10:12 am
 

Daily Skate: Panthers' Theodore cause for concern

By Brian Stubits

TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Jose Theodore, the Panthers' new starting goaltender, played the entirety of the team's final preseason game, a 7-1 shellacking in Dallas. Kevin Dineen expressed some concern over a bad camp but says there's lot of time. (Miami Herald). If he struggles, it will be Jacob Markstrom to come in as he beat out Tyler Plante for the backup job. (Miami Herald)

TRAVEL Kings: Ever wonder who does the most traveling in the NHL every season? Well this year it will be the Los Angeles Kings, who will rack up more than 55,000 miles with 15 back-to-back games and 13 one-game road trips. The Florida Panthers come in second. Surprisingly, the Winnipeg Jets are just 10th on the list. (Shark Page)

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?: There will be a change to the helmets in the NHL this season, but we aren't talking about player safety here. Instead, this season players will have their numbers plastered on the front of their domes in addition to the back, their jersey and shoulders. Just in case, you know, you missed it everywhere else. (Icethetics)

SECOND, BEST?: Most think if Phil Kessel when talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs and their best players. While he did lead the team in scoring last season, it just might be the second line of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur in Toronto that really does the damage and dictates the Leafs' success. (Globe and Mail)

MIKA MAKING IT?: The Senators figure to get a lot of time to look at their prospects this season as the prospects for a good season aren't high. So on that note, the team's first pick in the draft this summer, big Swede Mika Zibanejad, has pretty much nailed down a roster spot with the Sens. (Senators Extra)

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: Brett Connolly is the top prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a ballyhooed player the fans can't wait to see skating in Tampa. The 2010 sixth-overall draft pick is having a great camp and showing he's worthy of at least a longer look, the first nine games of the season. (St. Petersburg Times)

PICK MIGHT STICK: The Pittsburgh Penguins might have found themselves a real gem in the back end of the first orund. Their top pick Joe Morrow is still hanging around camp and keeps a chance to earn a roster spot alive, especially as long as Brooks Orpik is out with an abdominal injury. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

LOOKING GOOD: Nashville, music city, has plenty of good-looking people. A few minutes watching Country Music Television will tell you that. Nashville Lifestyles put together a list of the 25 most beautiful and wouldn't you know it, Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne cracked the list. (Nashville Lifestyles)

SUSPENSIONS STICK: Tom Sestito of the Flyers and Jean-Francois Jacques were each suspended by Brendhan Shanahan for action in preseason games and have both been subsequently sent down to AHL affiliates. Well the AHL announced on Thursday that it will enforce the suspensions as well. (TheAHL.com)

STILL GOT IT: Don't think Martin Broudeur has llost much yet. Check out this rob job in last night's Devils game in Philadephia, somehow keeping the puck out of a wide-open net.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
 

Southeast Division preview: Still chasing Caps

By Brian Stubits

The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.

For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.

Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.

They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.

The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.

But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.

The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.

Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)

Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.

Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.

Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.

Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.

Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.

Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.

Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.

Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...

Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."

Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.

Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.

Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.



Posted on: September 19, 2011 9:54 am
 

Daily Skate: Leafs, Sens jersey leak; Semin talks

By Brian Stubits

SWEATER SLIP: Thanks to an error by Reebok, the Buffalo Sabres unknowingly revealed the third jerseys for the Senators and Maple Leafs this season in their team shop and icethetics got ahold of them. So, what do you think of the alternates?

SEMIN RESPONDS: Alexander Semin took an offseason hit from former teammate and current Florida Panthers forward Matt Bradley that included the comment that Semin doesn't care. The Russian forward talked to Puck Daddy about the perceptions, shrugging them off.

ALWAYS TWEAKING: The Boston Bruins just won the Stanley Cup and return almost the entire team that earned it. You might think that would to a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, but Claude Julien apparently prefers the "if you aren't getting better you're getting worse" school of thought. The idea? Getting the defenseman to close the gap with the forwards. Boston Globe.

LEARNING CURVE: Speaking of coaching systems, the Flyers are getting used to Peter Laviolette's in Philadelphia and Dave Isaac says they are picking it up fast. That's good, considering how little time there is to implement such a system, especially one foreign to a lot of the players.

DEEP THOUGHTS: When you look at the top two lines, the Toronto Maple Leafs don't have much problem competing with the top teams in the East. In fact, only the Flyers and Lightning had more goals from their top four forwards. But the Leafs are sorely lacking in the depth department. James Mirtle delves deeper in the Globe and Mail.

GETTING OVER THE HILLER: Jonas Hiller is anticipating returning to the ice this preseason after missing the second half of last season because of vertigo. Jon Rosen at Fox Sports West says the Ducks better hope Hiller comes back symptom free.

TRADE TALK: Cory Schneider will remain the most-discussed goaltender on the trade market until the day the Canucks either move him or Roberto Luongo. And they aren't moving Luongo any time soon. Andy Strickland looks at the ever persistent rumors for Schneider, which include Phoenix and Columbus.

BE THE THUNDER: The Tampa Bay Lightning began running with a new promotion last season and into the playoffs of "Be the bolt." Now they have added a theme song to go with it called Be the Thunder from the Florida Orchestra. Nothing says hockey quite like violins.

SALVADOR BACK: It has been almost 12 months since Bryce Salvador left a preseason game injured (inner-ear concussion), but on Friday he was cleared to practice and has been loving being back on the ice with his Devils teammates. Tom Gulitti at the Berger Record has mroe.

STARTING FRESH: Andrew Cogliano was a first-round talent, drafted by the Oilers in 2005. But only once in his seasons in Edmonton did he hit 40 points. But with an offseason trade to the Ducks, he is hopeful a fresh start will help him reach his potential as "a lot of it had to do with the mental side of the game" in Edmonton.

MIGRATING NORTH: The Washington Capitals are going to play the Nashville Predators in Baltimore for their first exhibition game of the preseason. CSN Baltimore talks about the re-emerging of hockey in Charm City.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 12, 2011 10:10 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 11:39 am
 

Daily Skate: Rookie highlights; State of Kings

By Brian Stubits

HOCKEY IS BACK: Yes, some real hockey talk! While teams aren't back in camp yet -- that happens this week -- the rookies have made their way to multiple sites across North America for rookie camps. First, check out highlights from the Panthers' battle with the Lightning (4-2 Florida) or watch the entirety of the beatdown the Oilers put on the Canucks (7-2). After that showing, the Vancouver Sun is having a hard time finding any positives. Perhaps knowing the team just came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup helps?

STATE OF THE KINGDOM: Kings GM Dean Lombardi did his annual "state of the franchise" Q&A at the team's Hockey Fest on Sunday, answering a slew of questions, and of course it began with Drew Doughty. Rich Hammond at L.A. Kings Insider has the recap of Lombardi's review, including a full post simply dedicated to the Doughty talk.

REMEMBERING 9/11: Adrian Dater of the Denver Post took the time to remember September 11 like most everybody else on Sunday. He recounts his memories from being in Sweden with the Avalanche, who were the only American sports franchise to play a game in the first few days after the tragic day.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: September 8, 2011 10:08 am
 

Stillman to retire, move into Panthers office

By Brian Stubits

There are still a slew of veterans sitting on the free-agent market, perhaps waiting for the middle of the year for a team waiting for a lift. Cory Stillman won't be one of them.

The 37-year-old winger will instead elect to retire and move into the front office, specifically returning to the Panthers to serve in a player development role.

Mike Davies at the Peterborough Examiner (h/t to Puck Daddy) had the full story.

Stillman, 37, will officially announce his retirement at a press conference Thursday in Florida where the Panthers will introduce him as a member of their player development staff. He will work under director of player development Brian Skrudland monitoring and working with Panthers prospects from the junior ranks to the minor pros.

Stillman says he had offers to return to the NHL, including from Carolina, but he felt, for a variety of reasons, the timing was right to move onto the next stage of his life.

"I can walk away knowing I wasn't pushed out the door," Stillman said. "I could still play. When I got traded back to Carolina I was reunited with some guys and we had a good run at the end. In the end, I'm not old, but I'm getting a little older, I'll be 38 in December, and I had a career I'm very happy with. Now it's time to move on to be with my family."

Getting to make the decision on his own terms was important to Stillman who has battled injuries in recent years.

Stillman spent two and a half seasons with the Panthers before being traded to Carolina, where he once won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes, last season. He also was with the Lightning for their Cup victory in 2003-04, putting him in rarified air by winning back-to-back Cups with different teams. Let's call it the anti-Hossa.

Watching Stillman in the final few years of his career, specifically thinking of his time in Florida, this always seemed like a natural. Stillman had a professional vibe that he gave off, somebody who would work his way into an off-ice position somewhere. The Panthers saw it, asking Stillman to let them know when he was ready to retire because they were interested in bringing him back to the organization in another position than winger.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: September 7, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:03 pm
 

Hockey world mourns KHL team plane crash



(Pavol Demitra/Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

For the fourth time this summer, tragedy has struck the hockey world. This time it comes in the form of a plane crash in Russia carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the KHL, a team that includes many former NHL faces.

Among those who were on the roster are former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek. The coaching staff was led by former Bruins, Whalers, Flyers and Red Wings defenseman Brad McCrimmon and also contained former NHL players Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev.

Plus, there were numerous others who were prospects for NHL teams. Among those was Devils prospect Alexander Vasyunov, who played in 18 games for the Devils last season.

"Words cannot express what has transpired," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "I knew a lot of players that were on that team. Nothing could prepare the hockey community for the devastating news ... [This] has left all of us beyond words.

More on KHL crash

"[Vasyunov] wanted to go over and play a lot and come back here. He was so proud to be a Devil. I can't say enough about him."

Riley Armstrong, brother of Colby Armstrong, is part of the team but was not on the plane. He tweeted after the ordeal that he was OK.

"I'm safe, but thanks for the kind words but pray and think of the players and their families on that flight."

As you can imagine, in a league that now contains many Russian players and has its ties grow every year with Russia's top league, the responses have been numerous and distraught. Alex Ovechkin simply said "I'm in shock!!!!!R.I.P ...."

Panthers defenseman and former Lokomotiv player Dmitry Kulikov was left stunned. "It's just an empty feeling. Words can't express how I feel."

Then there was Lightning defenseman Nate Thompson. "A tragic loss for the hockey world. Plane crash with an entire KHL team on board. Thoughts and prayers go out to there families and friends."

Perhaps Demitra is perhaps the best known former NHL player among the bunch. He spent most of his NHL career with the Blues, where he had his best seasons as a player. His best year was 2002-03 when he scored 36 goals and had 57 assists. He was named to three All-Star teams; 1999, 2000 and 2002. He most recently played for the Canucks in 2009-10 before moving on to the KHL.

Moreover, he developed some tremendous friendships in the NHL. The bond he created with Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis was tremendous and Tkachuk was predictably hurt.

"I am beyond devastated by the tragic news involving my good friends Brad and Pavol and the rest of their teammates in Russia. Brad was my teammate in Phoenix and later coached me in Atlanta and was truly a wonderful man who will be greatly missed. Pav was like a brother to me and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us. This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time.”

Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star- Tribune penned this story back in 2007 (at the bottom of the entry) about the strong bond Demitra developed with Marion Gaborik when the two were playing together for the Wild.

Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins also had lengthy stints in the NHL, even being traded for one another at one point. In the 2007-08 season, the Avalanche sent Skrastins to the Panthers in exchange for Salei. In his one full season in Florida, Skrastins had his most productive offensive year, scoring four goals and 14 assists. The tough-nosed defenseman then played his final two NHL seasons with the Stars. Terry Frei of the Denver Post chronicaled Skrastins' trip to the NHL from Latvia.

"The Dallas Stars are saddened by the loss of former defenseman Karlis Skrastins in today's tragic plane crash in Russia," the team released in a statement.

Salei spent nearly a decade playing for the Ducks in Anaheim before he was signed by the Panthers. Like Skrastins, he had his best offensive season playing with Florida, scoring six goals with 26 assists in 2006-07 before being traded the next season to Colorado.

He was playing with the Red Wings just last season, playing 75 games with Detroit.

Vasicek played parts of seven seasons in the NHL, six of those with the Carolina Hurricanes. Team captain Eric Staal had this to say about Vasicek: "Joe was an awesome guy, always in good spirits, always smiling. It's just a tragedy."

Chad LaRose echoed those sentiments. "It's a shocker, a tragedy. Joe was a great guy. A life ended too early."

Vasicek's final season in North America was with the Islanders where he played alongside Radek Martinek.

"He was one of my best buddies. He was in my wedding. I can't believe this," Martinek said.

Among the confirmed dead is former Red Wings and Flyers defenseman McCrimmon, Lokomotiv's coach. The news was just as somber in Detroit with Wings coach Mike Babcock.

McCrimmon had been an assistant with the Red Wings the past three seasons, having spent time wit the Thrashers, Flames and Islanders as an assistant as well. He left Detroit to lead the KHL team in hopes of becoming a head coach in the NHL some day.

As a defenseman, he put up some absolutely unbelievable numbers in his career. In only two of his 18 seasons did he ever record a negative plus-minus mark and he posted a career-high plus-83 in 1985-86 with the Flyers. He ended his career with a plus-444, the 10th best mark in NHL history. Each of the nine players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.

This will go down as one of the biggest, if not the biggest sports tragedies we've ever seen. About the only things I can think that compare are the plane crashes that affected the Marshall football team and Oklahoma State basketball teams. Hopefully, and we hope with every bone in our body, this is the end of what will be known as the Summer of Sorrow in hockey. This has truly been an offseason from hell and hopefully one that we never see again.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 5, 2011 1:44 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 1:47 pm
 

Stamkos still enjoys playing summer baseball

StamkosBaseballBy: Adam Gretz

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos has scored 96 goals over the past two seasons, and is already one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL at the age of 21. Earlier this offseason his production over the first three seasons of his career resulted in a brand new five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Lightning.

The fame that comes with being one of the top players in the league, as well as the brand new pay check, hasn't stopped him from spending his summer playing in a "beer league" baseball league in his hometown of Markhem, Ontario, where Stamkos buys uniforms, bats and picks up the post-game bar tabs.

Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star checked out a game this past week, and the reviews of Stamkos' baseball skills are almost as glowing as the ones usually reserved for his ability on the ice.

From the Star:
For the 21-year-old Stamkos, who played on three provincial championship baseball teams for the Markham Mariners from about age 11 to 13, the grand old game has long been a passion.

“He could have been better at baseball than hockey,” said Adam Velocci.

“His dad wanted him to play baseball, but he loves hockey,” said Velocci, the Green Beys' third baseman who also played on those championship squads.

Said Chris Stamkos, Steven's father: “Steven was smaller when he was young. Although he was good in hockey, I did think he had more natural instincts in baseball ... But then he grew, and he got more serious with hockey.”

Whatever talents he may have had -- or still has -- for baseball, hockey fans, and especially Tampa Bay fans, have to be happy he started following the path he's currently on. Feschuk also points out that NHL players have to get written consent from their team to take part in certain offseason activities, including baseball, and that consent is usually given.

Stamkos, who plays left field, is apparently hitting .608 on the season and clubbed a three-run homer the night Feschuk attended.

Some other notable hockey-baseball connections: You may have heard a thing or two (in every single game he played) about Chris Drury's appearance in the Little League World Series, while it's pretty common for hockey players that share a city with a big league baseball team to take their hacks in the batting cage. A couple of years ago Penguins captian Sidney Crosby knocked one out of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, while new Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith managed to do the same back in June.

(H/T The Big Lead, via PHT)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com