Tag:Minnesota Wild
Posted on: December 8, 2011 4:08 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 6:37 pm
 

Looking deeper at concussions, fighting in hockey

By Brian Stubits

If your Facebook news feed is anything like mine, Dec. 7 was filled with loads of remembrances for Pearl Harbor Day, 70 years ago this year. Despite nobody I saw posting about never forgetting the day weren't even born, it was a worthwhile message nonetheless. Never forget the lessons and hardships of the past.

I would like to say the same about Derek Boogaard, the former Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers enforcer who died over the summer of an accidental overdose, a deadly mix of alcohol and Oxycodone. Don't forget his life and death -- same goes for Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.

In case you missed it, I strongly suggest you carve out a good chunk of time to check out the recent three-part story from the New York Times on Boogaard's life, an award-worthy story. It's incredibly well done. It's moving. I am not ashamed to admit that by the end of the story, I was on the verge of tears.

New York Times: Punched Out. Part I | Part II | Part III | Video

Of the many things to come out of the story, one was the revelation that Boogaard's brain, which had been donated to the Boston University study exploring Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), was showing shocking amounts of the condition already. To put it comparatively, Boogaard's 28-year-old brain had a worse CTE condition than the brain of Probert, who was 46 years old when he died.

Now I know what you're going saying: "Oh great, another anti-fighting story." Well, yes, for the most part this is. I have made my unpopular opinion on this topic made known in the past. But the latest information on Boogaard, the fact that his brain was severely damaged, it's worth revisiting.

Instead of just me standing on a soap box, I turned to Dr. Ricardo Komotar for some information on the discussion. Dr. Komotar is Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in neuroscience from Duke University, spending a year at Oxford University in England to focus on neuropharmacology. He received his medical degree from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with highest honors and completed his internship and neurosurgical residency at Columbia University Medical Center/The Neurological Institute of New York, followed by a surgical neurooncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to specialize in brain tumors.

So he knows a thing or two about the brain. I'm sure you can probably assume the answer, but what's his take on fighting in hockey?

"I think it should be 100 percent banned," Dr. Komotar said. "It's clearly unnecessary violence. Fighting is something you can obviously eliminate immediately. When you're talking about eliminating head blows in football, you're kind of limited on what you can do without completely changing the sport. Fighting in hockey seems like something that you could eliminate without changing the sport at all. You could make a big change, I think, without really altering the fundamentals of the game."

Which is true. The game itself wouldn't be effected. They still play ice hockey the same way in the Olympics and NCAA, do they not?

Dr. Komotar continued.

"Think about it. The only reason fighting is allowed is for entertainment purposes. It has nothing to do with the outcome of the game, it has nothing to do with the competitive nature of the game. They keep it because the people that go to hockey games want to see a fight. It's kind of sick. You're letting people do bare-knuckle boxing just so the crowd gets a tease out of it. It's something that has nothing to do with the game and only risks the players just so the crowd can get a thrill. It doesn't make sense to me.

"It shouldn't be something you're warned against. I mean the refs don't even break it up. That's crazy. The refs should just break it up. It shouldn't be endorsed.

"I mean to me it seems very straight forward, [removing fighting] is the clear, logical thing to do."

The hockey purists say fighting does play a role in the game. It's the old reasoning that the threat of violence actually prevents violence. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello put it this way.

"Fighting is part of our game," Lamoriello said. "It impedes more injuries to happen because of what potentially can happen with people taking liberties they shouldn't take."

I have heard this rationale for a long time and I just don't buy it. First of all, if Player A does something to injure Player B, a lot of times a fight ensues not between those players or even involving one of those players. Instead, it will be enforcer vs. enforcer. Where is the deterrent for a player that isn't answering for his own hit but letting somebody else do the dirty work?

But moreover, I believe there is actually evidence to show how backward this thinking is. This season, concussions in the NHL are down 33 percent, the league says. That's a very steep drop. And what is the difference between this season and past seasons? Why, Brendan Shanahan as the league disciplinarian, of course.

Under his short time in the role, he had made a concentrated effort to remove dangerous plays from the game. And if the stats are to be taken at face value, it seems to be working. It leads me to the conclusion that nobody can better prevent dangerous plays than the league office itself. Getting serious on fines and suspensions is doing a better job getting the dirty and dangerous hits out of the game than any enforcer ever did.

With all that said, getting rid of fighting won't happen any time soon. Commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated that point again to the Times, saying that there is no appetite for among the powers that be in the league to remove fighting from the game.

Here is the third of three video segments from the Times that deals more with Boogaard's brain study. The Bettman interview begins around the 9:30 mark.

But here's the crux of what inspired me to write about this topic again today. The state of Boogaard's brain was so deteriorated, it took the researchers at BU by surprise. Of the entire story, though, this is what perhaps caught my eye the most.

Last winter, a friend said, a neurologist asked Boogaard to estimate how many times his mind went dark and he needed a moment to regain his bearings after being hit on the head, probable signs of a concussion. Four? Five? Boogaard laughed. Try hundreds, he said.

Needless to say, things like that have caused the conversation about fighting in the sport to start up again. It's no wonder why Boogaard's brain was so deteriorated.

Here is something Bettman had to say at the Board of Governors meeting, and I quote the Associated Press. "He [Bettman] said he considers head trauma that comes from fighting different from injuries that come from hits because fighters are willing combatants and not taken by surprise."

"I use one word for that," Dr. Komotar said. "Ridiculous. Head trauma is head trauma. The origin of the head trauma doesn't matter. You get hit bare knuckle in the right spot, it can be a lot worse than if you get hit against the wall by a check, and vice versa. The reason for the head trauma and the situation for the head trauma has zero impact on its chronic effect. It's head trauma no matter how you slice it."

Bettman also said from the BOG meeting this week that there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the link between concussions and the CTE that has been found not only in Boogaard's brain, but the other three brains of former enforces that have been studied.

That is true. There is no direct causality and there might not ever be one.

"I think it's possible [to draw a causality line] because you're talking about ... everyone's brain is different," Dr. Komotar said. "Everyone's ability to have a concussion and recover is different, but I think what we've learned, especially in the last five or 10 years, is that it's not the force of one head injury. It's the repetition and the fact that you're not allowed to recover.

"Back in the day, people would have concussions and they wouldn't be allowed to recover the way they are nowadays. I think what is very clear is that repetitive concussions over a short period of time ... as those numbers go up, the risk of chronic brain damage increases. You'll never have a direct causality. Ten concussions equal this many years to your brain injury. Because every one's brain is different, and every concussion has a different amount of force. But what is known is that if you have three concussions in the course of three months, that's a lot worse than just one big concussion and then you're allowed a year to recover. Which is why the NFL and NHL have such strict concussion rules now."

It comes across to me as the league hiding behind a guise, ignoring the possibilities of the situation. What gets me is that since it can't be proven yet (maybe never), the NHL seems to want to go on with the status quo. It's akin to hearing that seat belts have a chance to save your life in the case of a car accident, but since you can die in a crash with your seat belt on, too, I'll just continue not to wear one.

It also reminds me of an argument that people make regarding religion. Some say they believe because if they are wrong, they won't know any better, but if the non-believer is wrong, then they will spend an eternity in Hell. Wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry? That's the same situation here, in my mind. Why not be proactive, be on the safe side? This really is a matter of people's lives.

It's not just about players dying, but the quality of their lives after playing. Nobody can know for sure, but if Boogaard were still alive, his quality of life wouldn't have been the same down the line.

"Tough to predict exactly [Boogaard's future condition], but the thought is that it [CTE] causes essentially an early Alzheimer’s and/or Parkinson's condition," Dr. Komotar said. "So something like Mohammed Ali. Overall, it's the death of neurons from chronic and repetitive head trauma, which leads to neuronal cell death. So all the brain cells start dying and the brain starts looking like someone who is 30 or 40 years older. You get an early dementia, an early Alzheimer's and an early Parkinson's. Again, is it 100 percent correlated? No. But that's the thought and it's been known to happen, as it did in Mohammed Ali."

That would likely have been the result for a player who grew up fighting, made his living as an enforcer. I'm not trying to say here that the number of concussions played an impact in Boogaard's death. Sadly, the use and abuse of prescription drugs is as big a concern as anything.

But the issue of repeated concussions is very concerning. We are learning all the time more about them and the damage they can do.

"What's interesting is that the old school of thought -- and I mean about only 10 years ago -- the thought was that you had to have a loss of consciousness to have a concussion," Dr. Komotar said. "What people are realizing now is that less than 15 percent of all concussions involve a loss of consciousness. So you're talking about the vast majority of concussions, the person never loses consciousness. So you're talking about 80 percent of the time back in the past, people were having concussions and not recognizing it, then going back into action. That's where you get the real damage. People are starting to recognize now that you don't need a loss of consciousness. They are holding players out. They have much more stringent rules in terms of re-entering the game and that allows the brain to recover and it reduces the chance of chronic injury."

Now I've been watching hockey my whole life. I've gone to games since I was a boy. I understand that fighting is as much a fabric of the game as the ice they skate on itself. It's a tough, physical game and hockey fans are proud of the game's history, which includes fighting. I get that. It's such a small minority of people that want to see fighting removed.

Nobody likes somebody who just points to a problem. People want solutions.

That's why I'm here not to propose a removal of fighting from the game, instead, I have a different idea. Would it be popular among the players and coaches? Of course not. I can't think of anything that would. But nevertheless, here's my idea.

When players fight, they are required to go to the quiet room, the dark and obviously quiet room where players are sent for 10 minutes when it's believed they might have sustained a concussion. Every time a player gets into a fight, they are evaluated through the concussion screening process and if they are found to have sustained a concussion, they be diagnosed as such.

Essentially I'm turning the penalty for a five-minute misconduct into a 10-minute misconduct. It's a stiffer penalty, for sure, but it allows for fighting to remain in the game and it could drastically reduce the amount of damage being done to these players. As Dr. Komotar pointed out, it's the increased number of concussions a person sustains in a short amount of time that is so damaging. The thought is that this idea would go a long way in helping to avoid that problem.

But I'm sure it will be fought all the way.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 7, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 4:51 pm
 

Top defensive forwards so far this season

sobotka

By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at three of the top defensive forwards in the NHL this season.

One of the toughest individual awards to win in the NHL over the past four years has been the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is given annually to the best defensive forward in the league. In each of the past three years two of the three finalists have been Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, while Datsyuk has won it in three of the past four years going back to the 2007-08 season. Kesler won it last season, snapping Datsyuk's run of three consecutive victories.

Whether it's intentional or not, the award almost always seems to go to a player that scores a lot of points. As I pointed out before the season started, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo even acknowledged that fact when discussing Mikko Koivu's chances for the award, saying, "In order to do that [win the award], you have to get a lot of points."

It's kind of like how a lot of Gold Glove winners in baseball are also excellent hitters and run producers, even if there are superior defensive players at the same position. If that seems backwards to you, that's probably because it is.

That's not to take away from the past winners. Players that score a lot are obviously going to get noticed more and have their names in the spotlight more often because of their offensive ability, and that is obviously going to make their other qualities stand out and help influence voting. Still, there are a lot of excellent defensive players in the NHL that, while limited offensively, quietly shut down their opponents and keep them off the scoreboard.

Defense in hockey is still pretty subjective, and a lot of it can depend on your linemates/defensive partners. That said, you can get a pretty good idea which players are strong defensively when taking into account who they're playing against, the situations they play in, and how often they get scored on. For example: If you have two players that are on the ice for a similar number of goals against, but one of them plays against significantly tougher opponents and starts more shifts closer to his own goal, it's a good bet that player is the better defensive player, because even though the goal totals may be similar, he's playing in tougher situations.

We're over a quarter of the way through the season at this point, and here's a look at some of the top defensive performers that have stood out to me so far, taking into account a few of the aforementioned variables: 1) the level of competition they face every night during 5-on-5 play (Corsi Rel QOC), 2) the number of offensive zone starts they get (the lower the number, the tougher the assignments) and 3) the number of goals that are allowed per 60 minutes played when they are on the ice.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet.ca)


vladimirsobotka1) Vladimir Sobotka, St. Louis Blues

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.243

Offensive Zone Starts: 40.6%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.13

The Blues have been one the best defensive teams in the NHL this season, especially since Ken Hitchcock has taken over behind the bench, allowing the second fewest goals per game and the fewest shots per game in the NHL.

Leading the way has been the 24-year-old Sobotka, a player they acquired from the Boston Bruins in June, 2010, in exchange for David Warsofsky. Sobotka isn't going to light up the scoreboard, and in 224 career games has tallied just 61 points, including only 10 (two goals, eight assists) this season. But nobody scores against him, despite playing the toughest minutes on his own team and some of the toughest minutes in the NHL.

He's also the Blues' best center in the faceoff circle, winning over 54 percent of his draws. His defensive game has improved dramatically so far this season, and he's currently one of the top defensive players on one of the top defensive teams in the league, which is mighty impressive. Even so, he's unlikely to get much attention in the voting because he doesn't score enough to get noticed.

PatriceBergeron2) Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.351
Offensive Zone Starts: 43.8%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.22

My preseason pick to win the Selke, and every year over the past two years he's taken small steps in the voting, finishing fifth two years ago and fourth in 2010-11. If his play through the first two months continues, he should finish even higher this season.

Sometimes it feels like Bergeron has been around forever, but he's still only 26 years old and doesn't turn 27 until July. His career was nearly ruined by concussions, and he's not only rebounded from those early setbacks to once again become a regular in the Boston lineup, he's one of their core players and one of the best defensive centers in the league.

Bergeron dominates the faceoff circle, and as I pointed out on Tuesday, plays in the tough situations against the other team's best players to open the scoring opportunities for Boston's other top forwards, such as Tyler Seguin, to be put into situations where they can focus on offense. There isn't a forward on Boston's roster this season that has a tougher combination of defensive zone starts and consistent ice-time against the other team's best players. And he's still been one of the toughest forwards in the league to score against.

MikkoKoivu3) Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.261
Offensive Zone Starts: 42.1%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.53

If the Minnesota Wild are going to continue to win games and stay at the top of the Western Conference they're going to have to do it with defense. I'm still not entirely sold on them long-term, mainly due to their lack of offense, but what I am sold on is that Mikko Koivu is one of the better two-way centers in the NHL, and nothing about that has changed this season.

The Wild still use him in the toughest spots against the best players, and along with out-of-this-world goaltending, he's been one of the driving forces behind their surprising start.

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

Posted on: December 7, 2011 3:18 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 3:23 pm
 

Reviewing Kevin Porter's kneeing on David Booth

By Brian Stubits

On Sunday, Vancouver Canucks winger David Booth had one of his hits scrutinized, his collision with Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff in Vancouver's win. He was eventually cleared despite a lot of similarities to the hit that got the Predators forward Jordin Tootoo a two-game ban.

A game later and now a hit against Booth is going to get the ol' Shanahan review.

In the first period of Vancouver's 6-0 win over the Avalanche on Tuesday night, Booth was knocked out of the game after a knee-to-knee hit from the Avs' Kevin Porter. Here's a look at the play.

Porter was given a five-minute major and game misconduct. Worse, though, is the fact that Booth appeared to have sustained a bad injury on the play. He limped his way off the ice with help, unable to put much pressure down on his injured leg. MRIs are scheduled for Wednesday to determine the severity of the injury. Hopefully for Booth, it's just a situation of a bruised knee cap.

The question now turns to how many games will he be given in the form of a suspension, if any?

Keep in mind that so far, Shanahan has issued suspensions or fines for a lot of different dangerous plays, but none of them have been kneeing. So there isn't a precedent to speak of for Shanny on this one. Actually, there is a precedent, it's that he hasn't done anything with it in the past. There was a previous kneeing incident this season featuring Ryan Whitney of the Oilers taking out Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck. Nothing came of it.

They are both (referring to Porter's and Whitney's hits) dirty and, to me at least, are just about as bad as hits to the head. There is no place for this kind of play. I suppose you can argue that the kneeing is unintentional, but that's going to happen when you try and slide into the skater's path with bowed out legs.

If I were to venture a guess, I would say this like does not get Porter any additional punishment. Until I see an instance of kneeing being penalized by Shanahan, then I'll sing a different tune.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: December 7, 2011 10:21 am
 

Wild see Setoguchi, Harding injured in win

By Brian Stubits

Somehow, the Minnesota Wild keep on winning. Outshot by the San Jose Sharks 42-21 in San Jose? No problem, Mike Yeo's team leaves the Bay Area with a 2-1 win. Losing a couple more key players to injury? We'll see if they can overcome that, too.

While they came out with the two points against the Sharks on Tuesday night, they didn't make it out of the Tank with two healthy goalies or a ready-to-go Devin Setoguchi. First on the former Shark, Setoguchi, from Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

But now the bad news: Devin Setoguchi looks like he suffered a serious right leg injury. I think knee, but we will see. He was wearing a soft cast on his right leg under his pants after the game, limping badly and being consoled by folks.

Yeo had no update after the game, but I'm sure we'll get one Wednesday. This will be the second consecutive visit the Wild lost a top-6 forward in San Jose. Guillaume Latendresse has missed 13 games with a concussion since being here.

If it's as bad as Russo thinks it might be, it's a tough blow for the Wild, who are still hanging strong atop the NHL standings. Setoguchi was acquired in one of a handful of trades this offseason between the Wild and Sharks. On the season thus far he has eight goals and five assists for Minnesota.

Amazingly, his eight goals are tied for the team high along with Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck, all of which makes this success for the Wild seem all the more unlikely. Two games shy of 30, the NHL's top team doesn't have a double-digit goal scorer. Only Clutterbuck, with 26 games played, is on pace to score more than 25 goals this season.

A large part of the success, then, has been coming from the defense, particularly the goaltending. The combination of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding has been stellar this season. The problem is, at this moment neither appears to be healthy. Backstrom was already out with a lower-body injury, so it compounded matters when Harding had to leave Tuesday's game with what might have been a concussion, or possibly a neck injury. It was a little friendly fire as he was hit in the head by Nick Schultz in the opening minutes of the game.

That brought on Matt Hackett, who was superb. He was unbeatable, stopping all 34 shots by the Sharks in his first NHL appearance. If the kid can play like that a couple more times, the Wild will have some tough choices to make. But for the moment, it's an amazing luxury to have when goalies are going down.

Next thing you know the Wild are going to bring in a 51-year-old beer league goalie or something.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 3, 2011 10:43 am
Edited on: December 3, 2011 11:01 am
 

Is it time for more Johan Hedberg in New Jersey?

hedberg1By: Adam Gretz

The New Jersey Devils have a goaltending problem.

Martin Brodeur had one of the shortest outings of his career on Friday night, receiving the hook just eight minutes into the first period of the Devils 4-2 loss in Minnesota, after allowing three goals on just four shots. Devils coach Pete DeBoer defended his future Hall of Fame goalie after the game, saying that he re-watched each of the goals and concluded that he didn't think Brodeur "could have done much on them," pointing out that at least one of them went in due to a deflection off of a skate.

Even if that is true, Friday's game was hardly the first time this season Brodeur has struggled. Over his past three starts he's stopped just 43 of the 55 shots he's faced for a terrible .781 save percentage. In his previous start, a 6-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, Brodeur allowed six goals on just 25 shots, including three on the first eight shots he faced in the opening period.

Said Brodeur after the game, via Rich Cere of the Star-Ledger, “You can’t say you played well when you allow three goals in eight minutes or so. But when you look at the quality of the goals scored, it’s not like I was weak or anything. The puck doesn’t hit me. That’s a couple of games. I’ll try to work harder, I guess, and figure it out. You have to go back and work harder and hopefully the pucks will hit me.”

Unfortunately, the puck hasn't been hitting him all that often going back to the start of last season, and it's getting to the point where you have to ask, once again, when backup Johan Hedberg begins to get the majority of the starts. The two veterans have already split the starts this season, due in large part to Brodeur's injury earlier in the year, with Brodeur getting the call in 13 games while Hedberg has started 11. But since Brodeur returned from his injury in early November, he's received bulk of the playing time and it's hard to ignore the results.

Of the 39 goaltenders that qualify for the NHL's save percentage lead, Brodeur is currently 38th with a .879 mark. The only goalie that's been worse is Columbus' Steve Mason at .875, and he's recently lost playing time to his backup, Curtis Sanford. Brodeur finished last season 35th out of 47 goalies. His .872 save percentage during even-strength situations this season is currently the worst in the NHL.

He is one of the all-time greats, but right now he's not even the best goalie on his own team, as Hedberg has outplayed him going back to the start of last season (Hedberg's save percentage over that stretch is .914 compared to an even .900 for Brodeur).

The bigger problem for the Devils, from a long-term outlook, is that neither one is going to be much of an option in future seasons as Hedberg, set to turn 39 in May, is the youngest of the two, while both are set to become unrestricted free agents after this season. And this summer's group of potential free agent netminders leaves plenty to be desired once you get past Minnesota's Josh Harding.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 1, 2011 10:30 am
Edited on: December 1, 2011 10:36 am
 

Whitney's knee-on-knee collision with Clutterbuck

By: Adam Gretz

Late in the first period of Minnesota's 3-2 come-from-behind shootout win in Edmonton on Wednesday night, Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney and Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck were involved in an incident deep in the Edmonton zone. As Clutterbuck carried the puck out along the goal line, Whitney stepped up and hit him with what appeared to be a knee-on-knee hit which sent the Wild forward tumbling through the air and left him in visible pain.

Here's a look:

kneeonkneehit

Predictably, Wild fans were not happy with the incident and are waiting for Brendan Shanahan to weigh in with what they feel should be a suspension. There was no penalty called on the play, and it will be interesting to see if the NHL does step in and speak with the parties involved to determine whether or not Whitney's hit was deliberate and issue a fine or a suspension (and they probably should).

Clutterbuck attempted to return to the game in the second period, skating a couple of shifts before eventually leaving for good. Following the game Wild head coach Mike Yeo said Clutterbuck was suffering from a charlie horse and not a knee injury.

In 23 games this season Clutterbuck has scored seven goals, including a league-best three shorthanded tallies, and has been one of Minnesota's top penalty killers.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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

Posted on: November 29, 2011 4:06 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Guy Boucher knows how to use M-A Bergeron

mab1
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the way the Tampa Bay Lightning take advanatge of Marc-Andre Bergeron's offensive ability.

By: Adam Gretz


A quick look at the top-scoring defensemen in the NHL this season and the second name on the list, as of Tuesday afternoon, is Marc-Andre Bergeron of the Tampa Bay Lightning, currently with 19 points, trailing only the 21 that belong to Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. There are two things, to me, that stand out about Bergeron being in that spot: First, he plays significantly fewer minutes than the other defensemen near the top of the list. Second: His name isn't one that's usually near the top.

Whether or not he remains there for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but he's not only been one of the leading scorers among defensemen across the league, he's also been one of Tampa Bay's top scorers, regardless of position, and a lot of that has to do with the way head coach Guy Boucher utilizes him and takes advantage of what he does well, while also minimizing what he does not do well.

Every player in the NHL has strengths and weaknesses, and Bergeron's are easy to spot every time he steps on the ice. He has a heavy slap shot (Boucher actually talked about it at the Lightning's website on Tuesday) and is a threat to score from the blue line, while he also struggles mightily in his own end of the ice. In all honesty, he's probably the closest thing there is in the NHL to having a fourth forward on the ice without actually putting a fourth forward on the ice.

After spending the 2009-10 season with the Montreal Canadiens, Bergeron was not re-signed by the team and spent most of last season as a free agent before signing with the Lightning in January. He ended up playing 23 regular season games for them, as well as 14 of their 18 playoff games, scoring four goals and recording seven assists in a limited role, mainly in offensive situations and on the power play. 

Since joining the team mid-way through last season, it seems as if the Lightning have made sure to put him in situations where his skills can be maximized: the power play, obviously, while also starting as many of his 5-on-5 shifts as they can as far away from his own net as they can get, while also sending him out against the other team's weakest competition.

For the season, he's a plus-four, tops among all Tampa Bay defensemen, and has been on the ice for 14 even strength goals against, the second-lowest total on the team. That doesn't necessarily mean he's been the best, or one of the best, "defensive" players on the team. It actually says more about the way Boucher and the Tampa Bay coaching staff have used him, and the situations they've put him in.

We know he can score on the power play. It's something he's done throughout his career for every team he's spent time with. But let's take a look at how he's been utilized during even-strength situations in recent years.

(The table below looks at the following over the past five seasons: Percentage of shifts started in the offensive zone (Ozone%), total offensive zone starts (Ozone), Neutral Zone Starts (Nzone), Defensive Zone Starts (Dzone), Quality of Competition (Qualcomp) and the number of even-strength points he's produced. Data via Behindthenet.ca)

Marc-Andre Bergeron's Even-Strength Usage
Team Season Ozone% Ozone Nzone Dzone QualComp Points Games
TB Lightning 2011-12 69.6% 135 111 59 -.152 12 23
TB Lightning 2010-11 69.2% 110 51 49 -.046 5 23
Montreal Canadiens 2009-10 54.6% 227 207 189 -.078 12 60
Minnesota Wild 2008-09 66.8% 399 251 198 -.040 14 72
Anaheim/Islanders 2007-08 50.2% 167 166 246 -.065 4 54

Obviously, none of his recent teams have asked him to play against the other teams best players, while most have gone out of their way to hide his defensive struggles by starting him in the offensive zone. No team has taken it to the extreme that Tampa Bay has, with only the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09 coming close. The one exception here is the '07-08 Islanders who gave him more defensive zone starts than any other team over the past five years, and it's not a coincidence that was the year he finished as a minus-14, still the worst mark of his career. 

By starting nearly 70 percent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone Bergeron is far and away the top defensemen in the NHL in that area. Of the 127 defensemen that have played at least 20 games this season, the only ones that are starting even 60 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone are Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, Montreal's Yannick Weber and Vancouver's Alexander Edler, while only Sheldon Brookbank and Andreas Lilja have played against a lower quality of competition.

In other words: He's playing some seriously sheltered minutes, and that also can have an impact on the other defensemen on the team.

While Bergeron is getting some of the most favorable matchups in the NHL, his teammates Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, are drawing some of the least favorable matchups, currently owning the highest QualCOMP numbers in the NHL (again, among defensemen that have played at least 20 games) while also starting, by far, the fewest shifts in the offensive zone. That might help explain, at least in part, why Bergeron is a plus-four, while the two better players defensively are currently a minus-five and minus-seven on the season.

Bergeron is a flawed player defensively, but he has value if he's used properly, and so far Boucher has demonstrated that he knows exactly where, and when, to put him on the ice to take advantage of what he does the best: help score goals.

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

Posted on: November 27, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 8:30 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Sanford, Jackets starting to roll

By Brian Stubits

Amid Columbus' awful, awful opening to the season, the only bit of defense the team and its fans had was something along the lines of waiting for everybody to be healthy. The team was built in the offseason around the additions of James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter and for the first month and a half of the season; they had not played in the same game. Now they are both playing and the Blue Jackets are now winning.

But it was another injured player returning that has been even bigger. And this one wasn't really on anybody's excuse radar.

Turns out the return of goaltender Curtis Sanford has been huge. Or at least it would appear that way. It was no mystery that Steve Mason in goal was as big an issue as anything else in Columbus' struggles, but I am not sure anybody believed there was a possible solution within the organization.

It wasn't long ago that in this blog we were discussing the possibilities of the Blue Jackets getting a major shakeup in the front office and coaching staff. Some were just saying give it more time, all they needed was to trade for a good goalie. The only problem was the Jackets are right up against the cap and have no flexibility.

This feels as good as a trade right now.

In the five games prior to Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Blues, all Sanford starts, the Blue Jackets picked up at least one point. His record is now 3-0-2 after Columbus' 5-1 beating of the Buffalo Sabres on Black Friday. He entered Sunday with a goals against average of 1.27 and a save percentage of .950. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The recent run has done what not long ago seemed laughable: the Jackets had climbed out of the NHL cellar. With the Devils' squeaker over the Devils on Saturday, the Jackets returned to the basement, but they are hot on the heels of the Isles, Ducks and Flames to move (or down) the draft lottery list.

But the big acquisitions have been doing their part, too. Carter, back after breaking his foot, is finally looking comfortable with his new team. With two beautiful assists against the Sabres, Carter brought his total to five points (3-2=5) in the last five games. Wisniewski has also recorded five points in that span as he also contributed two assists to the win on Friday.

However none of that would matter much if they weren't getting better goaltending. Now, with Sanford getting the bulk of the work, they are. It's not too late to crawl their way back into the picture, but a lot of that will ride on Sanford continuing to play at a level this high.

If he keeps those ice blue pads, maybe he will.

Hangover Part II

Much was made about the champion Bruins' hangover to start the season. They came out slower than any team not named the Blue Jackets. Of course, that's long-ago history as the Bruins have won 11 of the past 12 games, earning a point in all of them.

But not as much has been said about the Canucks' meager beginning. After all, this was the best team in the regular season last year and was within 60 minutes of winning the Stanley Cup. Like the Bruins, the Canucks returned the core of their team and were expected to be powerful once again. Yet they were merely average.

That might be changing. With a road trip that included a 5-0 domination of the Coyotes in a "packed" (with blue) Jobing.com Arena on Friday and a gritty 3-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday, the Canucks have won four in a row.

With the eight points in four games, they are now two points behind the Minnesota Wild, two points from reclaiming their seemingly rightful position atop the Northwest Division (they have lived in the Northwest penthouse for a few seasons).

In goal for each of those four games? That would be Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo. Schneider -- who had back-to-back shutouts in the four-game run -- was already seen by many to be the best backup in the game, rumored constantly in trade talks around the league over the last season-plus. Now the only goalie that Canucks fans want to throw around in those conversations is Luongo, the Vezina finalist from just last season.

There was already a goalie controversy in Vancouver even before Schneider began playing so well. The controversy? The fact that Luongo was the starter. That was enough to cause a civil war among the fans in British Columbia. This just makes it more heated.

It's show time

We got a taste of the Winter Classic on Saturday with the Flyers and Rangers waging battle in New York, a 2-0 Blueshirts win. Brandon Prust fought not once, but twice, much to the pleasure of John Tortorella.

It was also the first time this season that the league's highest-scoring offense, the Flyers, were grounded. It should come as no surprise that it was Henrik Lundqvist who was first to do it. They don't call him King Henrik for nothing.

But over the weekend, we also got our first taste of the HBO 24/7 series that's set to debut on Dec. 14. No, I'm not talking about the game, but HBO's 12-minute preview of the must-see show for hockey (and non-hockey) fans.

Warning: If you don't already have HBO in your cable/dish subscription plan, the following teaser might make you change your mind (video courtesy of nyrangersblog.com).

There wasn't even an appearance from Jaromir Jagr or Sean Avery in this tease, so clearly they must be saving the best for the show, a refreshing change from movie trailers that show you the only good parts of the movie.

Glory Toews

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews isn't going anywhere anytime soon. If they have their way in Chicago, he'll retire in the black and red.

But if he were to change work addresses, he just might move to Southern California.

The Blackhawks took their turn at the SoCal double dip with a game Friday in Anaheim and Saturday in Los Angeles. What did Toews do? Oh just help the 'Hawks take both games with three goals and three assists. One of those goals came 1960s style with Toews parked in the crease without a helmet and scrambling to hammer home the loose puck.

I have no doubt that when this season is all said and done, Toews will have his say in the Hart Trophy conversation.

Real quickly on the Ducks, this is just too atrocious to leave out (from Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register: The Ducks have now lost six in a row, 12 of 13 and 15 of their last 17. No other word for that than horrendous.

Florida flurry

It's not even December yet and the intrastate rivals in Florida have already met five times. For the second time in the first two months, the Lightning and Panthers had a back-to-back set beginning in Sunrise and finishing in Tampa.

This time, it was the Bolts getting the better of the Cats. One massive reason was the play of Steven Stamkos. He had three goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Friday night, and an assist. He was the best player on the ice on Saturday, no questions asked.

It continues to amaze me how little attention Stammer seems to be generating. After all, he proved last year he's one of the top three scorers in the league. He has quietly amassed 14 goals and 10 assists this season. Yet there seems to be hardly a peep about him.

A few more four-point weekends for the Lightning and I'm sure he'll start getting his due.

Capital punishment

At this point I'm starting to think this will be a regular section in the Weekend Wrap. At least as long as the Capitals continue to play the way they have been.

With their 5-1 beating in Buffalo -- where the Sabres' Zack Kassian scored his first career NHL goal -- the Caps moved to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. In the past eight, it's been particularly awful.

Check out this stat from Stephen Whyno at the Washington Post. The Caps have now been outscored 34-17 in their past eight games. Minus-17 in the past eight? That's worthy of one big OUCH.

The upcoming week for the Caps has dates with the Blues and Penguins. So things might not get better quite yet.

Quote of the weekend

After the Penguins destroyed the Senators 6-3 and Sidney Crosby continued his stellar return with three assists, Sens forward Nick Foligno attacked Crosby for taking a headshot at him late in the game. He wasn't too happy with Sid, saying he was disappointed and more or less called Crosby a hypocrite.

While Crosby was quiet about the criticism, his coach Dan Bylsma wasn't. Here's what he had to say in response.

"We're talking about a player that bumped into our goalie three times. With the score 5-1 and intentionally going into our goalie, he can expect more than Sidney Crosby coming at him and talking to him during the game. That's how we feel about those situations. He was in our net falling over our goalie, and I don't think there was any question about the intent."

Photo: US Presswire

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