Posted on: February 9, 2011 5:35 pm
 

Cooke gets off easy

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Apparently Matt Cooke doesn’t realize that you lie low right after you’ve gotten away with something.

And in that case, what is a four-game suspension for bulldozing someone into the glass from behind going to mean for him? Especially after he got away with an equally dangerous play on one of the league’s top Stars a few days earlier.

Obviously it doesn't matter to Cooke that the league is more concerned than ever with protecting its athletes from unnecessary risks. It isn’t going to get him to change the way he plays, which is dangerous at best and dirty at worst. Why should it when so many in the hockeysphere are condemning him for ramming Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin into the glass from behind and at the same time saying they’d take Cooke on their team.

Some are even saying that Tyutin may be partially to blame for putting himself in a vulnerable position. A position that encouraged Cooke to leave his skates and launch into the defenseman. Right.

Cooke will be hit in the pocket book for nearly six figures in lost wages, which is some justice for him avoiding punishment for a knee-on-knee against Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals. And the suspension will hurt his Pittsburgh Penguins, because however distasteful his style, Cooke contributes in an important role for Pittsburgh as a penalty killer, checker and occasional scorer. The elements are even more important now for the Penguins with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup.

Cooke though wasn’t thinking about that when he launched into Tyutin.  And neither do others who play ‘close the edge’ when they do things like that. The price to pay is tolerable. Truth is Cooke should have been skating on eggshells after getting away with the Ovechkin hit, but after escaping unscathed from putting Marc Savard’s career in jeopardy with a blindside hit last March, he must have figured he was untouchable.

So it’s hard to imagine this forced sit-down make him more cautious.  Other than the timing, it seems like a slap on the wrist, certainly compared to the three games Anton Volchenkov of the Devils received a few minutes earlier for an elbow to the head of Carolina’s Zach Boychuk.  But Volchenov has no priors, while Cooke has a long rap sheet.

On NHL Radio, Jeremy Roenick was among those calling for Cooke to get a heavy suspension for being a repeat offender.  Roenick though 20 games would be about right to send a message – for Cooke as repeat offender. Maybe that would get his attention. Nothing else seems to.

 

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Category: NHL
Posted on: February 8, 2011 2:07 pm
 

Flaming in

The trade deadline is only a few weeks away, and a lot of teams are still deciding whether to approach it as a buyer as a seller.

Now you can add the Calgary Flames to that list of fence-sitters after their latest victory -- an impressive one at that over the Chicago Blackhawks, put them over the playoff line. It’s the first time the Flames have been there since late October, having spent most of their interim time in the next-to-last seed in the West, while getting rid of their general manager Darryl Sutter.

But these days they are hotter than their nickname suggests and making life more complicated for interim GM Jay Feaster in the process.

See when Feaster took over in late December, the Flames were going nowhere. Worse, they were watching their last great hurrah fade further in the rearview. That would have been in 2004, when Sutter, in a dual role as coach and GM, took a team that had missed the previous eight playoffs to the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals.

Sutter gave up the coaching duties not long after the lockout, but the teams he constructed didn’t adapt well to the league’s newer and faster style of play. Calgary was eliminated after the first round four times in a row, and then missed the playoffs altogether last season, which led to calls for the heads of Sutter and for that of this brother, Brent, the coach.

They  grew louder after some controversial roster changes over the summer and a poor start to this season, but Brent Sutter has remained as coach, and the Flames have been playing their best hockey since New Year’s. They had one four-day stretch in January with wins over Vancouver, Dallas and Nashville, and a 7-0-1 record in the last eight games has Calgary over the playoff line for the first time since late October.

It’s been a big turnaround for a team that looked lifeless not very long ago and it has changed the dynamics for Feaster. With the Flames all but buried when Feaster took over his mandate was to start thinking about the future, even if that meant having to deny any intention of trading away Jarome Iginla almost every day.

Moving the franchise icon might have been scandalous in Calgary as recently as last season, and in some places there probably still is. But with the Flames having made little progress since the lockout, and the 33-year-old Iginla’s trade value still high, it was open to debate. Then again so was the subject of trading just about anyone, including veteran goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, the real star of this recent surge.

The idea was to start to build for the future, an approach that seemed necessary and rational after so many seasons of Sutter going all-in without the desired results.

But that was before Calgary got back into the playoff conversation.  Chances are they’ll stay there at least until the trade deadline, which means Feaster has to decide whether to be tempted by the possibility of near-term success, however limited it may be, or to stick to the plan.
Category: NHL
Posted on: February 7, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2011 3:50 pm
 

Savard not so savvy about the future

Not sure what was tougher for Marc Savard – shutting it down for the season or having to sit there and tell everyone about it.

Savard often looked like he was fighting back tears as he sat between Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and team physician Dr. Peter Ansis this afternoon at a news conference to officially announce that his latest concussion would sideline him for the balance of the season and playoffs. It had been something of a given since  Savard suffered his second serious blow to the brain in less than a year recently, although the Bruins center kept insisting his biggest struggle is coming to terms with not finishing the season

Still what was lurking on everyone’s mind, including it would seem Savard’s, was whether his career was in jeopardy of a pre-mature end.

“Obviously I’ve tried to stay away from that right now, it’s tough enough not as it is not to be finish the season,” said Savard. “I’m going to get some medical stuff done some tests done and then I’ll be able to make a clearer decision on what my future is. Right now I’m hoping to continue at some point again.”

No doubt. Savard is a 33-year-old center who has played a dozen seasons in the NHL and exploded into an elite offensive force with Atlanta after the lockout. That earned him a lucrative free agent deal from Boston and the Bruins re-signed him for to a new seven-year, $28 million deal before this season. But the picture Savard painted of what he has been going through lately wasn’t pretty. 

More sleep, headaches, dizziness at some times, memory loss at others, all are symptoms that Savard is dealing with these days, much like he did in the aftermath of being blindsided last March by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke.  What is troubling for him though is that the latest concussion, suffered in Colorado, came on what he termed a good hit by Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick.

“It wasn’t his fault, he just finished his check.”

Savard had been struggling to get his game back since returning to the lineup for good in early December. Savard of course had a dramatic initial return in the playoffs when he scored the overtime winner in his first game back, but since his latest return, told Chiarellli he was having trouble with the speed of the game.

 “For once I felt like I was skating fast,”  was what Savard stood out most of the Hunwick hit.

Still it brought back memories.

“It was nothing compared to the way (Cooke) contacted me, but I lost all my energy and stuff like that I felt at that point like last time,” Savard said. “That’s what initially kept scaring me.”

So does the unknown. For the Bruins, who have played more than half the season without their first-line center and are still in first place, Savard’s absence is a practical matter that requires finding a replacement. The Bruins are actually still pretty deep down the middle with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Gregory Campbell and if they decide to move him back to his natural position, 18-year-old rookie Tyler Sequin,  but Chiarelli says Zach Hamill will fill the gap for the time being.

However the GM didn’t deny that he’ll be looking around until the trade deadline Feb. 28. Boston has some cap space to use too because Savard’s hit comes off the books while he is on long-term injury.

For how long, nobody knows. Dr. Ansis said there was legitimate reason to worry about going forward with players who have had multiple concussions, and Savard understands.

“I’m frustrated mostly,” Savard said “It’s tough to understand why this happened, and tough not to know what’s going on and how to cure it. Time and patience I guess, but  those are things I feel I don’t have much of.”

 

Category: NHL
Posted on: January 30, 2011 10:44 pm
 

Sharp gets his edge

So who gets bragging rights on the flight back to Chicago with Patrick Sharp coming home with the All-Star Game MVP award in a losing cause while his three Blackhawks teammates revel in their victory?

“It’s a good question,” Sharp said. “I think it will be a topic of conversation, definitely I’ll be sure to bring it up a few times.”

Because of the new format that saw captains draft players to fill out their lineups, Sharp ended up with on Team (Eric) Staal, while his Blackhawks teammates Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith found themselves on Team (Nicklas) Lidstrom.

The Lidstroms won the game 11-10. But Sharp collected a goal and two assists for the losers and by a fan vote, ended up with the car as the MVP. It was a nice consolation for some who was not even on the All-Star ballot despite playing a key role in the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory last spring.

“I guess I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by it,” Sharp said of the omission, “But. it was motivation to play well this year.

Sharp is actually in the midst of a career season, averaging nearly a point and already surpassing his goal total last season’ when he played a pivotal role in the Blackhawks Stanley Cup win. He tends to get overshadowed by the higher profile names on Chicago, but team captain Toews said this season and the All-Star performance should shine a brighter light on Sharp.

“He’s proven he’s one of those Stars,”  Toews said. “It’s not easy for a guy like that to become a household name but he’s doing it for sure.

“If you look at the list of former MVPs in this game you’re going to see quite a lineup so it’s pretty cool for him to be added to that list. “

And what will Sharp do with his new car?

“My dad and my brother will be fighting over it,” Sharp said. “We’ll see who wins.”

 
Category: NHL
Posted on: January 30, 2011 8:25 am
 

And Z winner is

RALEIGH, N.C. –   There has been plenty of change during this NHL All Star weekend, but some things always find a way of remaining the same.

Like Zdeno Chara winning the hardest shot contest. Again. And with another record-breaking effort to boot.

Chara highlighted an entertaining, if slightly drawn-out NHL Superskills competition that featured several new twists and helped Team Staal beat Team Lidstrom 33-22 by blasting a shot that registered 105.9 miles per hour. That eclipsed the mark of 105.4 he set two years ago in Montreal and gave him the fourth hardest shot win of his career.

“That’s what we drafted him so early,” Team Staal alternate captain Ryan Kesler laughed. “We figured that he would win that for us.”

While Chara came through as expected, another of Team Staal’s high draft picks did his part to aid in the victory with Alex Ovechkin winning the breakaway competition that was determined by text votes submitted by fans.  Ovechkin used the butt end of his stick to move in on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before switching it into proper position and scoring on a nifty backhand.

It was one of several creative efforts in the contests and Ovechkin said later that had he would have given the nod to Anaheim’s Corey Perry lacrosse move had he voted. He could have because he carried his cell phone, but decided against getting involved.

“I didn’t want to spend the 50 cents,” Ovechkin said.

Another big winner for Team Staal was Daniel Sedin  who proved to be the sharpest shooter of the evening by knocking down the four targets in consecutive shots and needing just 7.3 seconds to do it.

Among the highlights of the evening was the fastest skater competition which was ultimately won by Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders, because it featured for the first time a race between two goalies. Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes had an easy time with that one because Boston’s Tim Thomas wiped out making one of the turns and didn’t finish.

And then there was Montreal’s P.K. Subban borrowing the jersey of Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner for his turn in the breakaway challenge.

“I might have to lose a few pounds because it was a tight fit,” Subban said. “But it was all in good fun.”

And that was the point of it all.
Category: NHL
Posted on: January 29, 2011 7:42 pm
 

No easy answers on concussions

The number of concussions has risen again in the NHL again this year, but not as the result of hits to the head, says commissioner Gary Bettman.

In his annual All-Star break state of the league address, Bettman said that preliminary trends reported to the Board of Governors earlier in the day suggest that the increase is the result of in accidental or inadvertent contact, and for the most part did not involved contact with the head.

“That’s not to say that no concussions came from hits to head, but it appears the increase is coming from somewhere else,” Bettman said.

In fact, the commissioner said the number of concussions resulting from blindside hits to the head has decreased since the league banned them by implementing Rule 48 last March at the general managers’ meetings. Instead, Bettman asserted, the increase appears to be coming from a variety of situations, ranging from players hitting the boards, glass or ice after making contact with other players, to fights, even from getting hit by pucks.

Bettman would not provide any specific numbers with regard to the increase. But he noted concussions continue to more than double year to year, resulting in a three-fold increase in man-games lost this season.

“We don’t have any answers yet,” said Bettman, adding the general managers will be dealing with the matter again when they meet in Florida in March. “It’s easy to say the league needs to do X,Y, or Z on concussions, but changing a rule which doesn’t address what actually is causing the concussions may not be the right thing to do. “

Other areas the commissioner touched on including the ongoing sale process in Phoenix where the city of Glendale is trying to sell municipal bonds needed to raise cash to complete the transaction with league-approved buyer Matthew Hulsizer. Reports this week out of Winnipeg, the city waiting in the wings should the deal in the desert fall through, suggested the bond sale process has hit a snag.
Bettman called those reports “baseless and without foundation,” although he did say the process needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.

“ We will hang in as long as it makes sense and as long as we can but time is getting short make no mistake about that,” Bettman said.
“This is not something of infinite duration.”

With respect to the sale of the Dallas Stars, Bettman said the league is not funding the team as it did last season with Phoenix, and claimed there are a half dozen parties interested in purchasing the team.

The commissioner said he expected negotiations with the league’s network and cable partners to begin shortly now that the Justice Department has approved the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal.

Bettman touched on the situation involving Evgeni Nabokov’s refusal to report to the New York after the Islanders claimed him on waivers, saying the issue is between the player and club. But he said the Alexei Yashin situation, which forced him to fulfill his contract with the Islanders when he sat out because they refused to re-negotiate it before completion, would serve as a precedent.

And finally Bettman sounded a positive note, noting that overall sponsorship revenues are up 32 percent putting the league on pace for a sixth consecutive season of record revenues.

 “This makes a clear statement about our game, the strength of the business of our game and about the state of the league,” he said.

 

Category: NHL
Posted on: January 28, 2011 11:22 pm
 

Driving away a loser

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel thought it was all pretty funny.

And he insisted he didn’t need any consoling for being the last player taken in the All-Star fantasy draft. But Kessel got some anyway and from a former teammate no less.

“He might end up being the best player out there Sunday,” said Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. “The thing is it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted, it matters what you do after you’re drafted.”

Thomas should know because he was drafted 217th overall in 1994 by the Quebec Nordiques and had to wait more than a decade to get his first real shot at an NHL job. He’s made the most of it obviously, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2009 and claiming the inside track on the award again this season.

Fortunately for Kessel, he won’t have to wait nearly as long to claim his prize because the distinction of bringing up the rear in this situation meant that the Toronto Maple Leafs forward won a car and a $20,000 prize for his favorite charity.

“That’s pretty cool,” Kessel said.

And what about being picked last?

“To tell you the truth, I really don’t care,” he said with a big grin. “This is my first All-Star game so it’s an honor just to be here. I mean I guess you always think you could go last, but the bottom line is this is our break and we’re here to have a good time and I did.

He wasn’t the only one apparently. The NHL’s version of The Price is Right (c’mon down) might have seemed a bit hokey at times with some players straining to demonstrate wit after being selected. Still it played out well as a made-for-television experiment in front of a live studio audience.

“At the end of the day, I think it went well and it’s all in good fun,” said Mike Green, one of the alternate captains for Team (Eric) Staal. “We’ll see how the text messages are, but it ran smoothly on the stage.”

Maybe that’s because a lot of what happened seemed somewhat predictable. There were some suggestions earlier in the day among media types that much of the event was pre-determined, and indeed every player had his name, number and team logo on his jersey by the time he made the 15-foot walk up to the stage. Just sayin’.

Of course Staal managed to win the right to pick first and took his Carolina teammate favorite Cam Ward to play goal, much to the delight of an audience decked out mainly in Hurricanes colors.

“I guess I was just the best player available,” Ward said.

Perhaps, although Team (Nicklas) Lidstrom alternate captain Martin St. Louis might have thought otherwise because he grabbed linemate and NHL scoring leader Steven Stamkos with his team’s first choice.

“It was kind of an easy choice,” Lidstrom said. “I liked it and Marty really liked it so it was an easy pick.”

Apparently so was taking reigning MVP Henrik Sedin in round three, with the Lidstrom team’s choice coming right after Ryan Kesler took his Vancouver Canucks teammate Daniel Sedin for the Staal squad.

“I figured Kesler would pick one of the twins and would try to get the second one, so we had to prevent that,” Lidstrom said.  “It’s good to split them up once in a while.”

No such luck when it came to separating the Staal brothers because Eric finally took brother Marc after letting the New York Rangers defenseman dangle until the seventh round. As it turned out, Staal’s team will have an even greater sense of familiarity among the players, with the brothers adding fellow Thunder Bay, Ontario native Patrick Sharp to the roster, along with Carolina rookie sensation Jeff Skinner.

“I’m still in awe just being part of this,” said Skinner, the league’s youngest player at age 18. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Even for the guy bringing up the rear?

“Somebody had to be last,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “But I guess getting a car wasn’t a bad thing.”

 

Category: NHL
Posted on: January 26, 2011 1:48 pm
 

Great One is Golden

What are they going to do when he dies?

Hopefully we won’t find out for many more years, but with all the attention being given Wayne Gretzky today on his 50th birthday, you have to wonder what there will be left to say. I mean 50 isn’t that old anymore and besides, didn’t we already have all these tributes when he retired in 1999?

Funny thing about all this is that Gretzky told the NHL radio network that he plans to have a ‘low key’ type of day.

Of course that hasn’t stopped the flood of tributes and reflections about the player generally labeled as the game’s best ever. Gretzky certainly had the greatest individual seasons of all time, won Stanley Cup and major international tournaments, and he finished with a career point total and a list of records that no one will ever break. But Gretzky did retire a dozen years ago, and these days, he really doesn’t have any official association with the NHL other than being an iconic symbol for it.

No doubt No. 99 was the most transcendent player the NHL has ever seen, not only because of the remarkable impact he had on the ice but for the role he played in growing the league to heights that were unimaginable when he broke in as teenager in 1979. Gretzky was the driving force behind the league’s last true dynasty in Edmonton and the catalyst for opening the NHL up to untapped new markets with his trade to the Los Angeles Kings.

Mind you, the benefits of the wider footprint are debatable, but there’s no argument about Gretzky still having hockey’ s most recognizable mainstream name long after he hung up his skates.

There is some irony in that because Gretzky never achieved the same success he had with the Oilers. Gretzky did claim the final three of his 10 career scoring titles with Los Angeles and even got to a Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, but he failed to add to his collection of rings in Southern California or in subsequent stops in St. Louis and New York with the Rangers.

And if his final season was statistically his weakest, his exit from the game was in many ways worse because of what happened in Phoenix before last season. Gretzky was unceremoniously removed from his job as coach after four unsuccessful seasons as the Coyotes coach, and in essence pushed out of his ownership position when the league took control of the franchise after bankruptcy proceedings.

Through it all, Gretzky stayed on the high road and has remained a consummate cheerleader for the league and its talent. In fact the only player to have his number retired league wide has not uttered a negative word about the NHL and still enjoys a business association that includes a simulcast on its television and networks from his restaurant in Toronto and a league broadcast crew that will help promote his annual fantasy camp next month.

Maybe that along with all the league’s P.R.-driven attention for a milestone event is the most civil way for everyone to move forward while honoring the past. For his part, Gretzky told NHL radio that he is not thinking about a return to coaching or any other active role in hockey and is just enjoying life as it is.

He should.

Happy birthday.

 

Category: NHL
 
 
 
 
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