Tag:Sidney Crosby
Posted on: January 8, 2012 1:23 pm
 

Pens injuries continue: Staal, Neal to miss time

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins have faced plenty of injury adversity in the past two seasons. But this might take the cake.

The Penguins obviously are already down their best player in Sidney Crosby for an indefinite amount of time and have been minus Kris Letang, then they announced on Sunday that Jordan Staal is going to be out 4-6 weeks and James Neal has a broken foot with no timetable yet. That hurts, literally and figuratively.

Making it worse, Craig Adams might have suffered a knee injury in Sunday's practice. When it rains, it pours.

I think there are a few hands reaching for that panic button in Pittsburgh right about now. The Penguins have lost four games in a row, they are currently eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are going to be missing the majority of their play-makers. Now they need to invest in a plastic bubble to put Evgeni Malkin in.

As I said, this is nothing new for the Penguins. They still made the playoffs as a four seed last year when they didn't have Crosby, Malkin and Staal for good portions of the season. It was pretty amazing how well they overcame those injuries on the team. So clearly this isn't a crippling blow to their season. But it just made it a lot more interesting. Or scary if you're a Pens fan.

Unlike last year, the Penguins are actually going into this stretch in eighth place. They don't have the cushion they did last season. Plus, the Atlantic Division is considerably tougher this season, what with the Rangers stepping up their game and the New Jersey Devils playing so well. I think there's a little more competition in the East this year and it's going to ask a lot of them to keep their spot in the playoff mix through the second half of the season.

The Penguins aren't going to be buried as long as Marc-Andre Fleury is still in play. With the scorers dropping like flies, Flower will be counted on even more.

If the Penguins are able to make the playoffs again in a good position, Dan Bylsma might be up for the Jack Adams Award again this season. There are injuries then there are what the Penguins have gone through the last two seasons.

When they were depleted last year, GM Ray Shero went out and got James Neal from the Stars. He'll likely get on the phone again this week and try and get some help.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 28, 2011 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 2:14 pm
 

Sidney Crosby still suffering concussion symptoms

By Brian Stubits

For the first time in almost a month, the Pittsburgh Penguins have issued an update on Sidney Crosby's recovery effort. It's a little bit of good news, little bit of bad news.

The good news is that Crosby is working out with the team, even if they are of the "light" variety. That's what coach Dan Bylsma had to say on Tuesday.

The bad news, however, is a lot worse than the good news is good. Bylsma also shared that Crosby continues to experience concussion symptoms.

It has been just about a month since Crosby last played, a home loss against the Boston Bruins. It was his eighth game since returning from a 10-month absence due to two concussions he suffered in January. So the fact that he's still experiencing the symptoms is very discouraging.

The team has not announced that Crosby suffered another concussion, saying only that he passed the ImPACT test. That means it's possible that these are effects still being felt from his original concussions. Either that or he suffered another one and it wasn't detected, certainly a possibility.

We have learned our lesson already, it's pretty much impossible to put any kind of timeline on a recovery from a concussion, but it sounds like we're still a ways away from seeing Crosby back in game action.

More NHL Concussion News Here

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 25, 2011 1:36 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 1:37 pm
 

Looking ahead to 2012

CrosbyBy: Adam Gretz

The new year is right around the corner, and now that 2011 is almost in our rear view mirror, it's time to look ahead to what might be for the NHL in 2012.

1) What, if anything, will (or can) the NHL do about its concussion problem?

The NHL has a problem, and it's been highlighted throughout this season as some of the league's best and brightest players have been sidelined with head injuries at various times. And in many cases, an extended period of time.

Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger, Milan Michalek, Mike Richards, David Perron, Marc Staal … the list goes on and on, and it doesn't seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. You can't go a week in the NHL, sometimes even a day, without hearing that another player has been diagnosed with a concussion or has been experiencing concussion-like symptoms.

With the NHL's collective bargaining agreement expiring after this season it's worth asking what the league and the NHLPA can do to help combat this problem. A complete banishment on all head shots will always be talked about it, but it seems unlikely to happen as long as the NHL's old guard remains in charge.

Perhaps my favorite suggestion, and one that would probably please most everybody, including the goaltenders, is to eliminate the ridiculous and nonsensical trapezoid rule and allow goaltenders to play more pucks in the corners. That would potentially reduce the number of times defensemen have to be subjected to violent hits from oncoming forecheckers in the corners.  Reintroducing the red line to slow the pace through the neutral zone has been brought up, as well as possible the addition of no-touch icing.

And speaking of player safety...

2) Will we get any closer to mandatory visors?

As we've talked about before, there are still enough players that view visors as their own personal choice (which it currently is) and something that they shouldn't be forced to wear.

But that was also once true for helmets and goalie masks, and they've now become an accepted (and common sense) piece of equipment. The issue seems to be getting more and more attention than it has in recent seasons, and the first reaction that comes up anytime somebody takes a puck or a stick near the face is to automatically look to see if said player is wearing a protective visor. Like the addition of helmets, it's likely a rule that will be grandfathered in. Perhaps making matters easier is the fact that many of the young players entering the league today are already wearing visors given that they're mandatory at the sports lower levels (the Canadian Junior Leagues, the American Hockey League).

3) Will the 2012 NHL season start on time?

The NFL went through a dreadful lockout that eliminated its offseason and threatened the start of its regular season, which was then followed by the NBA missing a large chunk of its regular season due to its own completely pointless work stoppage. Major League Baseball, suddenly the model of long-term labor peace in professional sports, quietly and quickly went about its business and had everything settled before anybody even realized their agreement was up for discussion.

And now it's the NHL's turn. Panic? Fire and brimstone?

Will the league and the NHLPA be able to come to some sort of an agreement like MLB did, or will it be more along the lines of the NFL and NBA where it's a long, drawn out process with maddening twists and turns that leaves fans pulling out their hair?

The last time we were in this position we lost an entire season and came back to a completely different league.

4) Will the Coyotes remain in Phoenix?

Until the team actually moves to a new home or a long-term, viable ownership situation is in place in Phoenix this question will not be going away. And if the former is what happens, what does that do to the NHL's new conference alignment?

The league went through a franchise relocation in 2011 that resulted in a radical realignment as the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, leading to the NHL overhauling its divisions and playoff format.

But what happens if the Coyotes, after surviving another season in the desert, don't remain in Phoenix and relocate, as has been talked about and expected for years? Do we have to go through another realignment discussion and re-do everything that was just settled?

5) How many more turns for the NHL's coaching Carousel?

Nearly half of the league went through some sort of head coaching change during 2011, and let's face it, with way NHL teams dismiss coaches there is no doubt the coaching carousel will continue to spin out of control. It's already kind of amazing that, with all of the changes that have taken place this season, Columbus' Scott Arniel has made it as long as he has given the worst start in franchise history. Toronto's Ron Wilson is in the final year of his contract and has recently taken to Twitter asking Santa Claus for a certain piece of paper (presumably a contract) for Christmas.

6) Will Nashville be able to keep its prized defensemen?

When Nashville signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to his massive contract extension earlier this season it produced one of two possibilities going forward: A) The team will now be a "cap team" and spend more money than it's ever spent before in an effort to keep its best homegrown players, or B) the signing of Rinne means one (or both) of their two No. 1 defenseman, Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, will eventually be lost to free agency.

Weber still has one more year before he hits the unrestricted market, and will once again be up for restricted free agency after this season. Suter, on the other hand, if he hasn't signed before July 1, will be eligible to sign with the highest bidder.

7) Who will host the next Winter Classic?

Technically this game won't be played until 2013, but the decision will be made long before then and every team wants an opportunity to host what has become the NHL's signature regular season event. Gary Bettman has already all but promised Washington D.C. the game in the very near future, so that's on the table.

I'm a fan of taking the game to Michigan, perhaps the Big House in Ann Arbor, for a Red Wings game, or even to the State of Hockey and allowing the Minnesota Wild to play host to the game for its passionate fan base at perhaps either Target Field (home of the Minnesota Twins) or TCF Bank Stadium (University of Minnesota stadium).

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 4:33 pm
 

Top NHL stories and moments in 2011

By Brian Stubits

There was a lot of good in 2011, but also a lot of bad. By bad, I really mean tragedy. It was an unforgettable yet forgettable year all at the same time.

As we hit the heart of the holiday season, here is a look back at the year that was in hockey with the top 10 moments/storylines of 2011.

10. Summer acquisitions -- This is when the magic happens in the NHL's salary cap world and franchises are made or destroyed.

It was over the summer that two teams in particular built the nucleus for their surprising starts this season, the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. Minnesota was the host for this year's NHL Entry Draft and really did leave an impression. Not only did they come away from the draft with a few new prospects in their system but they also swung a deal to land Devin Setoguchi from the San Jose Sharks for Brent Burns. The Wild swung another deal with the Sharks that landed them Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. Of course their biggest summer acquisition might have been the hiring of head coach Mike Yeo.

The Panthers meanwhile continued to use the draft to make their system better and also swung a big trade, taking on Brian Campbell's big salary from the Blackhawks in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. That kicked off a wild spending spree that lasted through free agency and the core of the team that's in first in the Southeast was built just like that. Like the Wild, they also found themselves a new coach who has returned big dividends early in Kevin Dineen.

The unrestricted free-agent class was led by the pursuit of Brad Richards, who eventually signed with the New York Rangers after a day of courting, including from the Maple Leafs while GM Brian Burke was in Afghanistan. But the most intrigue was on the restricted front where Steven Stamkos' future was wildly speculated before re-signing with the Lightning and Shea Weber stayed with the Predators after the biggest arbitration award ever.

A couple weeks in the middle of the year set up the last couple of months in the year and even with what was perceived as a weak free-agent class, this year was no different.

Look back: Free-agency tracker

9. Winter Classic -- As sad as it is to think about, games hardly ever are the top stories in sports any more. But in hockey, the Winter Classic will always matter, it's that big of a showcase and spectacle for the NHL.

As is the case with every Winter Classic -- as fans of all the less-fortunate teams will remind you -- it was a marquee matchup of two high-profile teams from the East with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps eventually prevailed in a game that might be the most memorable Winter Classic thus far for a variety of reasons, one of them makes an appearance later on this list.

But first of all the lead up to the game featured the first 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic series on HBO and it was riveting. While technically most of it aired in 2010, it is tied in with the Winter Classic so it counts. It left fans anticipating the next version like a kid awaits Christmas, this year's version featuring the Flyers and Rangers.

Mother Nature also left her mark on the game. It was the first Winter Classic thus far that the weather was so uncooperative that they had to delay the start of the game. Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain in Pittsburgh led to the game being pushed to the night and it did provide a pretty memorable setting at Heinz Field. 

Look back: Caps win Winter Classic 3-1

8. Realignment -- While the fruit of this labor will be seen starting in 2012, it was a large conversation for the entire second half of the year, spurred by a development that appears further up this list.

I don't know if there was a person in hockey -- both within the game and covering it -- that didn't have their own idea for how the realignment should be done. In the end the six-division format was blown up, an effort that was from all accounts led by Gary Bettman himself.

The biggest drama in the whole saga revolved around the Detroit Red Wings' desire to move to the Eastern Conference. Well, without an Eastern Conference to move to any more, I guess you could say that was taken care of.

Look back: NHL announces realignment

7. Lokomotiv plane crash -- The KHL is to the NHL as the NHL is to ESPN. That is to say the only time we ever seem to hear about the KHL is when something bad happens.

Unfortunately, that was the case this summer when the airplane carrying the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team barely got airborne before it crashed, killing everybody on board except a member of the flight crew.

The tragedy was already tough enough for the hockey community in North America simply for the fact sheer sadness of the lethal error. But what made it really hit home in the NHL was the number of former NHL players who died in the crash.

Among those who died in the crash were Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and head coach Brad McCrimmon, all of who were in the NHL at some point in their careers. In the case of McCrimmon he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff as recently as last season before he took the chance to be a head coach in Russia.

Nothing from the ordeal was more chilling than the sad, sad story from a professional driver in Dallas who was tasked with picking up the family of Skrastins to drive them to the airport hours after the tragedy. Honestly, I'm getting emotional just thinking about it again. It was truly a horrible day for hockey.

Look back: Lokomovit team plane crashes

6. Vancouver riot -- For the second time in as many Stanley Cup trips for the Vancouver Canucks, the hockey-crazed city erupted into a violent storm following its team's loss in the decisive Game 7. A similar eruption happened in 1994 after the Canucks fell to the New York Rangers.

The night began with a massive gathering in the streets of Vancouver for the fans to all watch the game together on a big screen. Many saw that as an ill-fated moment from the start and boy were they right. Soon after the game and season were finished, the hooligans of Vancouver were just getting started.

Looters took to the streets to cause mayhem, and cause mayhem they did. The result was a night full of rioting embarrassing to the city, a lot of videos to live on in YouTube glory (like this classic), at least 25 people being charged (including Miss Congeniality) and the romance, sports and maybe general photo of the year, the "riot kiss" seen up above.

The unfortunate part (OK, one of them) was the fact that the riot completely overshadowed what was really a great postseason and season for the Canucks. Vancouver was the best team all regular season long and as fine of a year as they ever have.

Look back: Riot erupts after Stanley Cup Finals

5. Brendan Shanahan takes over -- There has been no bigger overarching story in the second half of the year than what Shanahan has been doing as the new head of player safety having replaced Colin Campbell. His arrival on the job has coincided with the attempt to expand and clarify Rule 48.1, the one dealing with headshots. The focus has also been ramped up on boarding.

His impact has been felt from the get-go. In the preseason he was very busy and then really sent some shock waves through the league when he suspended Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski for eight games.

It's at the point now that every questionable hit is immediately scrutinized and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. Obviously the good is that it continues to put a microscope on bad hits in an attempt to rid the game of them. On the bad side, some clean hits get more attention than they should and the consistency of punishment applications has been a bit bedeviling, just ask the Sabres fans.

However Shanahan has done something that I've yet to find a person complain about and that's making videos for each and every suspension wherein he explains exactly what the thought process was that led to the decision. The first one he made in the preseason was a breath of fresh air and welcome transparency. All season he's been a busy, busy man.

You know you've watched a lot of Shanahan suspension videos when you can recall that he has done videos in front of three different backdrops and you can tell when he gets a haircut.

Look back: A look at Shanahan's handy work

4. Winnipeg Jets return -- At one point, it looked like the old Jets -- the Phoenix Coyotes -- were going to be the team to move to Winnipeg. Fans were elated as it seemed that with a clear potential ownership group and new, albeit small, arena, the NHL would be coming back to the 'Peg after 15 years.

Then they pulled a little switcheroo on everybody when the Coyotes announced they were staying in Phoenix for another year, so attention turned to the Atlanta Thrashers. A few transactions later and hockey was back in Manitoba (and the NHL had to realign -- Winnipeg in the Southeast?).

The push was one to rename the team the Jets like the old franchise in town and after much debate, the fans won out, although a new logo would be introduced. Not lacking in flair, the Jets showed off their new uniforms in an unveiling at a military base with the players wearing the new duds walking out of a cargo plane.

The first game of the Jets. 2.0 came in their new home at the MTS Centre and they fell in defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, but you couldn't tell. The great hockey city that is Winnipeg was happier than a pig in you-know-what just to have the NHL back. When Nik Antropov became the first player to score for the new Jets, the roar was deafening. Maybe the best way to measure the city's appreciation and love for having hockey back would have been with decibels.

After a slow start (again, they were the Thrashers) the Jets have really come to find a comfort on home ice, as many thought they would. With a 12-6-1 record at home this season, the Jets have the best home mark in the Eastern Conference next to Boston's 13-6-1. It seems that a little excitement really can go a long way.

Look back: Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg

3. Sidney Crosby's concussions -- This was the biggest development to come out of the aforementioned Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby caught an elbow to the head from the Capitals' David Steckel that rocked the game's best player pretty good. He certainly appeared out of sorts but was back in the lineup a few days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A check from Victor Hedman led to Crosby experiencing another concussion and he didn't play again for the rest of the season. He finally did return to game action in November, playing eight games before being shut down again for post-concussion symptoms.

Before he went down, Crosby was on pace for one mammoth season. To illustrate how good he was playing before the injury, he still finished the season as the Penguins' leading scorer by a whopping 16 points despite playing only 41 games.

For literally almost a year, the hockey world sat and waited for word on Crosby returning. There was speculation he could come back for the Penguins' playoffs games. There was talk that he might retire. None of that happened, but what did do was bring another reminder of the seriousness that are concussions.

It's not good business for the NHL when the top players aren't on the ice, let alone the best player. I'd like to think it isn't the case, but you have to wonder if Crosby's absence didn't go a long way in facilitating the NHL's actions on trying to remove bad hits as well as enacting strong concussion protocols.

The way the Penguins have handled the Crosby situation has been one of the best parts of all -- or maybe the only good part, depending on your point of view. They have been incredibly patient the entire time, insisting they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize Crosby's health and future.

But because of his most recent setback, Crosby Watch 2011 will move on into Crosby Watch 2012.

Look back: Crosby's recovery efforts

2. Deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak -- The NHL's summer of sorrow began in late spring when the tragic news came down of New York Rangers and former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard's death. The autopsy concluded he died of a lethal mix of alcohol and Oxycodone.

Later in the offseason the NHL was then shook by the news of deaths of Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, separated by only two weeks. Both players were fighters themselves, each suffered from depression and both apparently committed suicide (Rypien's was classified as such, Belak's death treated as such by Toronto PD).

The news of their deaths was sad and shocking in their own right. These were all players 35 or younger who all shared a role in their hockey careers. It was also a catalyst for the discussion of fighting in hockey. No tie can be drawn between each of their deaths and fighting, but it at least begged the question.

Since the three players died, the conversation has picked up. It was really spurred along by the New York Times' in-depth piece that looked at the life of Boogaard and the study of his brain. The findings of the Boston University lab found Boogaard's brain was already showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a deterioration of the brain due to repeated blows to the head.

Look back: Boogaard | Rypien | Belak

1. Bruins win Stanley Cup -- If he didn't already have the designation by all before, Tim Thomas certainly earned it in the playoffs. He is the best goalie in the world.

Thomas pretty much put the Bruins on his shoulders and carried them past the Vancouver Canucks in a great seven-game series that led to the Bruins hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Of course Thomas topped it off with a shutout in Game 7 and took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP, an incredibly well-deserved award.

But in addition to Thomas, it was one heck of a series. The first six games were won by the home team. We had one game ending a few seconds into overtime. Who can forget the man that scored that goal, Alex Burrows, was caught biting Patrice Bergeron in a scrum and the resulting taunts at Burrows from the Bruins later on.

There was Nathan Horton getting leveled and concussed in Boston in a moment that some feel changed the series. The Bruins responded to that by running the Canucks out of their building in Games 3 and 4. Horton made another impression when he was seen pouring TD Garden ice on the rink in Vancouver before Game 7, a superstitious move that will live in Bruins lore.

We had Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo pumping Thomas' tires after critiquing his aggressive style in net. Then of course item No. 6 on this list, the post-series riot in Vancouver.

The series was about as memorable as it gets. The ratings were as good as they have been in decades, too. And the Bruins' post-championship romp back in New England became a legend with a reported $156,679.74 bar tab that included one Amstel Light. It kicked off a great summer tour with the Cup for the Bruins, Michael Ryder's Cup mishap included.

There is no disputing the Bruins earned the right to lift Lord Stanley's Cup after one great Final.

Look back: Bruins win Stanley Cup

Photo: Getty Images

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


Posted on: December 21, 2011 2:12 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 2:18 pm
 

The most dangerous player in hockey right now

malkinBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin is back, and right now it looks as if the Pittsburgh Penguins are his team.

When Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup last month the discussion immediately focussed on whether or not he could win the NHL's scoring title, despite missing the first 20-plus games of the season. As it turns out, Malkin is the Penguins forward we should have been looking at all along.

Thanks to his three-assist performance during a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, which came after a five-point destruction of the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, Malkin moved into a tie for the top spot in the NHL scoring race with 39 points, catching Toronto's Phil Kessel, despite missing six games of his own.

Right now there isn't a more dangerous offensive player in the league, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Penguins.

For the second year in a row the Pittsburgh roster has been crushed by injuries and on any given night has had some combination of Crosby, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, among many others, sidelined due to various ailments and injuries. Even with all of that, the team has a continued to pile up wins and stay near the top of the conference standings and have the look of a top Stanley Cup contender. Head coach Dan Bylsma certainly deserves a lot of credit for that, as does the Penguins front office, led by general manager Ray Shero, for having the type of organizational depth that allows the team to handle so many injuries to so many key players.

But it also doesn't hurt to have a player like Malkin, one of the most talented and skilled players in the world, that is always capable of taking over a game. And that's exactly what he's been doing for the Penguins this year. For much of this season he's been playing on a line with James Neal and free agent acquisition Steve Sullivan. When the Penguins acquired Neal last season it was done so under the assumption that he would eventually be the goal-scoring winger the Penguins have long been searching for to put alongside Crosby. But with Crosby missing so much time due to injury, Neal has found a home on Malkin's line, and along with Sullivan, have formed a trio that has been Pittsburgh's best on a nightly basis.

"I thought his line in particular, I know Geno is the big guy on that line, but their line played very well in the first," said Bylsma after Tuesday's game. "They attacked in every chance they got over the boards at 5-on-5, and on the power play. They were putting pucks behind and playing in the offensive zone and on the attack."

A couple of years ago Malkin was one of the players consistently mentioned in the "best player in the world" discussion, along with Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. He won the scoring title during the 2008-09 season and then followed it up with a Conn Smythe performance in the postseason as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

But over the past two seasons his production dropped a bit, perhaps due to lingering injuries, and then he missed the last half of the 2010-11 campaign, as well as the playoffs, due to a knee injury that he suffered when Buffalo's Tyler Myers awkwardly fell on his leg during a game last January. Because Malkin has always played second chair in Pittsburgh to Crosby, the face of the franchise, his name has always been the one that's been brought up in absurd trade rumors and baseless speculation for a wide range of reasons (I've brought this up before, but just google "Evgeni Malkin Trade" and start reading), including but not always limited to salary cap concerns, the need to acquire a goal-scoring winger, and, well, pretty much anything that anybody could throw against the wall in the hopes that it would stick. It never did, and for good reason.

Even though Malkin is the "No. 2" center in Pittsburgh (it's probably more of a 1A and 1B deal) when the team is at 100 percent, he has always had a knack for elevating his game when Crosby is out of the lineup. He did it during the 2007-08 season when Crosby missed extended time due to an ankle injury that came after he fell into the boards, and he's doing it again this season. On a per-game average he's actually scoring at a higher rate right now than he was during the '08-09 season when he won his Art Ross Trophy.

 "Geno has been a force offensively," said Bylsma on Tuesday. "But he's also a guy we're counting on to play against other teams top lines right now, and he's been good at both ends of the rink. He's been powerful and making plays and driving. He's going to have probably 10 scoring chances again with how he's dominating and how he's playing."

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 21, 2011 1:09 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Sidney Crosby named ambassador to Youth Olympics

By Brian Stubits

Sidney Crosby might not be playing for the Penguins right now, but he's still going to be busy in coming weeks.

The Penguins superster was just named by the International Olympics Committee as one of five ambassadors to the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games. The Games are going to be played in Innsbruck, Austria from Jan. 13-22.

“It’s important that young athletes have the proper guidance and support in their early years,” Crosby said. “I have always tried to lead by example and be a positive role model for people. I hope my involvement in the first Winter Youth Olympic Games can help inspire the athletes and motivate them to be the best they can be in everything they do, not only during competition.”

Crosby will join American skiing star Lindsey Vonn, Austrian skier Benjamin Raich, French skier Kevin Rolland and Korean figure skater Yuna Kim as the ambassadors.

“We are delighted that Sidney has joined our all-star line-up of Youth Olympic Games Ambassadors," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "He is one of the best hockey players of his generation, and his passion, dedication and determination are unmatched. He is also an athlete who understands the importance of living by proper values. Without question, the athletes at Innsbruck 2012 have a great role model in Sidney.”

It's a nice honor for Crosby, a nice honor and probably will prove to be a rewarding experience for both the young competitors and Crosby himself. And the good news for Penguins fans is that Crosby won't be traveling to fulfill his duties, so it shouldn't impede his comeback efforts.

There has been very little information released on Crosby since he announced he was going to miss more than two games as a result of a return of post-concussion symptoms. Just in case you forgot, Crosby missed almost a year dealing with post-concussion syndrome before returning to play eight games before he was shut down again.

At least this might help him keep his mind off the frustration of his recovery.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 18, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Selanne returns, but Jets take off

By Brian Stubits

Saturday night in Winnipeg was just a little bit louder this time. That's because the Jets fans were more than eager to welcome back Teemu Selanne, a one-time favorite son in the 'Peg under the Jets 1.0.

He didn't leave Winnipeg in a bad fashion (he was traded to the Ducks). He didn't burn any bridges or ever say anything negative about Winnipeg and the fans there. Oh, and he was pretty damn good when wore the red, white and blue of the old Jets, too.

As good as Selanne has been throughout his career, he was never better than he was in his first season in the NHL, playing for the Jets. He set career highs that season with 76 goals and 132 points, marks that he really hasn't come even close to seeing since.

So it took an awful long time (try 15 years) for the Jets fans to get their chance to welcome him back, and they took it.

When Selanne's Anaheim Ducks took to the ice, the crowd was already cheering for the hometown team. The cheer was almost doubled when Selanne came out and the ovation continued through Selanne getting a standing ovation. It was a great moment.

That was well and good, a highlight of the weekend to be sure.

But then came the hockey game. And with that came another Jets home win, 5-3 over Selanne's Ducks.

Yes, the Jets are playing some pretty good hockey these days, especially at home. Coming into the season, the assumption was easy to make that the Jets would be a much better home team, but I still don't think many believed that would translate into Winnipeg having the best home record in the Eastern Conference a week before Christmas.

As things stand right now, the Jets are the closest competitor to the Southeast-leading Panthers. They got off to a bad start, but have flipped the script. The Jets have won six of their last eight games and are just one point behind the Sabres and Maple Leafs in the East playoff picture.

It's essentially the same team that was playing in Atlanta as the Thrashers this time last season, so we can still draw comparisons and warnings from that team. So I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everybody that the Thrashers were leading the Southeast Division this week one season ago. How did that turn out for them, exactly?

Still, it's hard not to believe this team is taking strides, as small as they might be. Evander Kane is beginning to break out and become the player the franchise thought he could be. The young sharpshooter has a team-high 15 goals, five behind the league-leading pace from Steven Stamkos. Dustin Byfuglien, for as rough of an offseason as he had, is still playing well ... offensively at least.

More from the weekend
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Ondrej Pavelec has been good enough in goal. His numbers are hardly stellar, but that's pretty much the goalie that he is. He won't compete for any Vezina trophies, but he is good enough to hold the Jets in a lot of games.

If the ship continues to take on water in Anaheim -- and really, at this point it seems like the holes won't be patched this season, even with a new coach in there -- they will have decisions to make with the roster. Talks about Bobby Ryan were already a hot topic. But the Ducks might consider doing more.

At this point in his career, Selanne made it very clear that he was going to only play in Anaheim if he were to play this season. He likely wouldn't waive his no-movement clause if asked. But maybe, if there were one place he would consider it, perhaps it would be Winnipeg. At his age, the Ducks obviously don't have Selanne in the long-term plans, so if they were able to get a player/players or picks for Selanne, they probably would love it at this moment.

That's all pure speculation and the chances of a Selanne trade are awful at best. But wouldn't it be great if Selanne had another return to Winnipeg later this season?

Wish finally granted

For months, Kyle Turris made it clear that he didn't want to play for the Phoenix Coyotes any more. His contract negotiation was long and contentious. During that time, Coyotes GM Dan Maloney was insistent he wasn't trading Turris, no matter what teams offered for the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick. He held firm and eventually got Turris under contract or two years and $2.8 million.

But the calls didn't stop and Turris certainly didn't seem to be secure in his position with the Coyotes. He had to be under contract or risk sitting out the entire season. So this weekend Maloney found a deal to his liking for Turris from Senators GM Bryan Murray. In exchange for Turris, the Coyotes received young and promising defenseman David Rundblad and a second-round draft pick.

I had long held the notion that any return in the trade that netted the Coyotes even a decent return would be a good deal. This would qualify as at least a decent return.

I have just never understood the drooling over Turris from a lot of teams. There was reportedly a lot of interest on Turris from numerous teams, both before he signed the contract and after. And just as he should have, Maloney was playing hard to get and making it obvious that it was going to take a lot for him to trade Turris.

Who knows, maybe Turris will find the environment suitable enough to become the player that everybody seems to think he can be. Maybe getting more of a chance to play and being in a less-regimented system will allow him to put up the best numbers of his career. If he does, I'll eat my crow.

But at this point in his career, he has been underwhelming, for sure. Heck, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett had made Turris a healthy scratch in his final two games as a member of the Coyotes. The interest in him still surrounds that potential tag, and I don't know how many seasons a player gets to play while still holding onto that tag.

Rundblad, meanwhile, has that potential tag, too. But he's a rookie in the NHL, so the sample size is much, much smaller. And with the way Erik Karlsson has developed this season for Ottawa, it made Rundblad a bit more expendable. However it is never an exciting prospect when you give up a young defenseman with loads of potential, those are pretty solid commodities.

My immediate reaction is that I don't like the deal for Ottawa. But like any trade, you can't truly judge it for another five years or so.

Give the Devil his due

The New Jersey Devils are starting to play some pretty good hockey. With their 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens and interim coach Randy Cunneyworth, New Jersey has run off four wins in a row and has two points in six of their last seven games. They have moved into sixth place in the East, joining Atlantic foes the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers in the top six.

The line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and rookie Adam Henrique has been spectacular. Henrique is the name that sticks out like a sore thumb in that trio with two perennial All-Stars, but he has been just as terrific. Any time this line is in the game right now, you get the sense that the Devils are on the verge of scoring.

But there is still some secondary scoring coming right now, including two goals from Patrik Elias in Saturday's win. Why is that noteworthy? Because the two goals allowed Elias to tie then surpass John MacLean as the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer.

Also on the minds of the Devils is the status of this year's top draft pick, defenseman Adam Larsson. He took an elbow to the head from the Canadiens' Erik Cole behind the net, a hit that Brendan Shanahan didn't deem worthy of a suspension.

Outside of that, things are going pretty well for the Devils these days.

Tip of the hat

Without Sidney Crosby on the ice, it's a lot easier for Evgeni Malkin to get the spotlight and attention that he deserves. That's easy when you have a game like he did on Saturday, with or without Crosby playing.

Malkin had a hat trick and two assists (of course I'm going against him in Fantasy this week) as the Penguins drilled Ryan Miller and the Sabres, 8-3. That brings Pittsburgh's goal total to 107 this season, behind only the Flyers and Bruins for the most in the league.

What makes it even all the more amazing is this gem of a stat from @PensInsideScoop.

"#Pens salary of their 20-man roster Sat was $38.9 million. That's 25 mill under cap (64.3) and 9 bellow cap bottom (38.9) missing $25 million in salary w injuries 2 Crosby, Staal, Letang, Martin, Michalek. That doesn't include 5 other hurt guys"

Speaking of injuries ...

This won't surprise too many fans out there, but San Jose Sharks forward Martin Havlat appeared to injure himself pretty badly in San Jose's 3-2 win on Saturday night.

When he was hopping onto the ice in a line change, Havlat seemed to get stuck for a second on the boards and immediately came right back off the ice in pain, seemingly in his leg.

It comes just when the Sharks appear to be finally piecing things together a little bit. For the first time this season, San Jose has won three games in a row at the shark Tank and is now in first place in the Pacific, tied at the moment in points with the Stars while having a game in hand.

For Havlat, though, maybe a break could give him a chance to revitalize himself. It's been a big struggle for him since being traded to San Jose this summer. He has just two goals and 13 assists through 26 games, well off his 22-goal, 40-assist season he had with the Wild last year.

Quote of the weekend

"The Leafs have always been a team I hated as a kid. For some reason it feels good to play here -- it's a great building, the fans are great, it's nice to play. I know a lot of fans in Vancouver don't like this team. ... It just makes it extra special." -- Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks.

Burrows, who hails from Quebec and grew up a Canadiens fan, finds it awfully easy to hate the Maple Leafs for that reason alone.

So for him, scoring the game-winning goal in Toronto is always special, particularly when it's on Hockey Night in Canada.

And with the 5-3 win, the Canucks keep climbing back to where people expected them to be this season. They are now 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have climbed to within five points of the Wild in the Northwest Division.

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

Posted on: December 16, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Flyers streak on sans Pronger, G

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

By Brian Stubits

There must be something in the water in Pennsylvania. That's the old cliché people turn to when they can't make sense of what's going on, how people (or teams in this case) continue to perform at a high level despite the obstacles.

We saw it last year (and again this season, really) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite being without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the second half of last season, they just kept on winning. Their 106 points were tied with the Flyers for most in the Atlantic and were just one point behind the Capitals for best in the East.

This season, the Flyers are getting their own taste of life without their Stars. And just like their Keystone State brethren, they continue to win. As in seven in a row.

Philly has been playing without its captain Chris Pronger for a month now. After yesterday's news, they are going to have to play the rest of the season without him, too. In fact, some are saying that Pronger might never play a game again. After all, he is 37 and he has a life after hockey to think about.

As good as Pronger is and has been his entire career, the Flyers have done a good job overcoming his absence this season -- nay, a great job. Since he last played against Winnipeg on Nov. 19, the Flyers have won nine of 11 games.

As callous as it always feels, the Flyers must move on. While their captain and best defenseman deals with severe post-concussion syndrome, they have a very promising season to continue. With the roster freeze coming next week, it's unlikely the Flyers will acquire some additional help on the blue line in the near future, but it will have to be a consideration for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

Holmgren told the media on Friday that he's already considered that, having called all 29 teams, presumably about any defensemen they might have available.

But that's for then. Right now, the Flyers are making due without him or their budding superstar center Claude Giroux (or simply G, as they team calls him). It doesn't seem like it will be a long shelving for Giroux, but you never can know, concussions tend to be pretty fickle.

In the only games the Flyers have played without either player, they have won. Despite missing their leading scorer and a point-producing defenseman, Philly has still averaged 4.5 goals in the two games without Giroux and Pronger.

But now a real test comes to see how they compare with the other beats of the East without the two stars.

The Boston Bruins are nipping on the Flyers' heels for the best record in the Eastern Conference and they, too, have been playing without arguably their best player (skaters-only division) in Zdeno Chara. But the big man might be back in time for the Saturday matinee in Philadelphia.

"We're going to give him a chance to fly and see how he feels," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If he feels good then we have a chance of seeing him."

Normally I'd lament this game being played without Giroux, Pronger and possibly Chara. But with the way both of them, the Flyers in particular, have played without the all-stars, I don't see it stopping what will likely still be a very good game.

Winnipeg welcome wagon rolls on

This first season with the Jets back in the NHL has been an ongoing welcome wagon for the folks in Manitoba. They were licking their chops at getting to see Ilya Bryzgalov, they relished the opportunity to see former Jet Shane Doan back in Winnipeg.

Now comes perhaps the best welcome/return of them all; Teemu Selanne.

The veteran once starred for the Jets before he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks. He has waited for the chance to go back and play in the first NHL city he called home. Now it comes on Saturday night.

"You know, even when the schedule came out, even when I didn't know if I was going to play or not, I checked right away if we were going to Winnipeg," Selanne said. "That day was on my calendar right away.

"I knew there were two really special things. Obviously the Finland trip and then Winnipeg. It was really exciting to even think about it."

Unlike the welcomes fans in Winnipeg gave to Bryzgalov and, to an extent, Doan, it's hard to imagine there will be any jeers, only cheers for Selanne.

"He was so admired. It was overwhelming," Jets chairman Mark Chipman said of Selanne. "This guy was so good and so approachable and so humble in his approach that the community just absolutely fell head over heels for the guy."

Amazingly, Selanne is still performing at the level he was when he first broke into the NHL with the Jets in the early 90s. That's only going to help the flashbacks for the fans -- minus that whole wearing the Ducks jersey part.

Back in Buffalo

One of the more criticized offseason signings (excluding just about every move made by the Florida Panthers) was the Toronto Maple Leafs signing former Sabres center Tim Connolly. Leafs GM Brian Burke gave Connolly a two-year deal worth $4.75 million per season.

People in Buffalo laughed and simply said "Enjoy!" to their near-neighbors in Toronto. It wasn't about Connolly being a bad player -- he's not at all -- but it was about his health concerns. There always seemed to be something that was keeping Connolly on the bench.

So there's a sense of irony when the Maple Leafs visit the First Niagara Center this weekend. Connolly will be healthy and on the ice against his former team. Although he hasn't been without his health issues this season, when he's been on the ice, he's been good for Toronto. In 18 games played, he has 15 points.

On the other hand, the deal that Buffalo signed with Ville Leino was widely applauded. That one hasn't worked out so well.

Reunion tour continues

The Washington Capitals will be visiting the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. That means they will get to see their old goalie Semyon Varlamov up close and personal again.

Varlamov was traded to the Avs this summer after he made it clear that he was looking to play in the KHL over Washington. So Caps GM George McPhee swung a deal with the Avs to give them Varlamov in exchange for Colorado's first-round draft pick this offseason and their second-round pick.

So not only do the Caps get the chance to say hi to an old friend, but they can help themselves out in more ways than one. The points in the standings are the first and most obvious way, but every game without points for the Avs helps the Caps' first-round draft pick go higher and higher.

Although it's quieted down with Varlamov coming back down to earth, when he and the Avalanche were off to their hot starts, some in Washington wondered if the team made the wrong goalie decision. There might still be some questions considering the duo of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth hasn't fared much better, if at all. But at least Neuvirth comes into the game having just shut out the Jets in Winnipeg, so there might be some positive momentum building. The goaltending problems have been as much an issue as anything in D.C. this season.

Canucks are still great

In fact, according to Roberto Luongo they are better than they were last season, which was great.

"We were one win away, so I don't think you need to change much," Luongo said. "That being said, though, we went through a lot last year, and I think we grew as a team. So for that reason alone, I think that we're better than last year."

That's even with him still getting a lot of starts in the net. Remember, he was a Vezina finalist last season. This season? Not so much.

Their next chance to prove Lu right will come in Toronto on Saturday evening for another Hockey Night in Canada appearance.

Stammer don't hurt 'em!

More like don't get hurt Stammer.

With his overtime winner on Thursday night, Steven Stamkos joined Milan Michalek on the top of the goal-scoring list this season with his 19th. Hopefully the same fate that has befallen many of the game's best scorers in recent weeks won't strike the Lightning's superstar.

With Michalek, Giroux, Sidney Crosby and Jeff Skinner (among many others) recently being diagnosed with concussions or at least post-concussion symptoms, the last thing the league wants is another young star to go down. If anything, it would probably love to see Stamkos go on one of his tears and become a positive story in the league again.

He'll have the chance to take the lead in the goals race by himself when Tampa Bay heads to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets.

We're going streaking!

Flyers: As mentioned, they are the hottest thing going in the NHL right now between their seven-game win streak and HBO's 24/7.

Bruins: Philly's opponent brings a modest three-game run of itself into the Saturday matchup.

Chicago Blackhawks: A double-dip awaits the Blackhawks and their three-game win streak as they face the Ducks and Flames.

Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues: We're going to combine these two because they are both riding four-game win streaks and they will face off against one another on Saturday. The Blues also have the Jackets on Sunday.

Dallas Stars: Last on the win side, the Pacific-leading Stars take to New Jersey seeking to extend their three-game streak on Scott Niedermayer Night.

New York Islanders: Once again, the Isles are slumping. They get to face the NHL-best Minnesota Wild with a four-game skid. The good news for New York is Minnesota is likely down a lot of bodies.

Florida Panthers The Southeast leaders are on a mini slump having lost three in a row. They have the Flames and Hurricanes at home this weekend to try and cure the ills.

Photo: Getty Images

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