Posted on: March 30, 2011 4:43 pm

For Perry, it's location, location, location

Corey Perry is getting ribbed by his Anaheim Ducks teammates these days because he is scoring a lot of goals lately, and most of them seem to be coming from right in front of the net.

Tap-ins are how Ryan Getzlaf labels the offensive explosion with good-natured derision. They are the finishes to the plays that Getzlaf and his other linemate Bobby Ryan have started with regularity this season, and they have lifted Perry into a tie for the league goal scoring lead. So the joke is intended to imply that the unit’s right winger is letting others do most of the work, while conveniently overlooking the price one has to pay to be in that punishing area.

When I told Ducks coach Randy Carlyle about the big center’s attempt at humor, he retorted that he wouldn’t mind seeing Getzlaf tap in a few of Perry’s shots either. Perry thought his coach was funny, but said he really didn’t mind anyone trying to pigeon-hole the type of goals he’s getting.

“It means I’m battling, going to the net and that’s where my game really is,” Perry said. “I’m getting more ice time this season and playing in different situations so maybe that’s why more goals are coming, but I’m not changing my game. If I do that, I won’t be as effective.”

No one has accused Perry of lacking effectiveness during his first five NHL seasons. He scored 32 goals in one of those seasons and at least 25 in two others, and he’s become known as one of the league’s top agitators. Perry is a gritty forward who creates traffic and works corners well, and Carlyle says he is as good as anyone in the league bring the puck to the front of the net from the back.

Which is why the coach isn’t among those surprised by Perry’s increase in goals, even if most of them have come from in close.

“The opportunity for him to play in those areas has been there,” Carlyle said. “But he’s always been a goal scorer who can step over the blue line and beat goaltenders.

“He’s got a decent shot and he’s deceptive in the size. He’s a 6-3, 210-pound body who looks he’s kind of a rail type of thin frame. But he gets in and around the net and you get a lot of chances to score there.”

Category: NHL
Posted on: March 21, 2011 7:04 pm

Time for Cooke to get the message

Political types like to say you should never let a good crisis go to waste, and it’s a lesson the Pittsburgh Penguins might to do well to learn. They have a mess on their hands named Matt Cooke, and may never get a better opportunity to dump him and all the problems he creates.

Mind you, Pittsburgh won’t have to worry about it at least until the first round of the playoffs end – a potential of 17 games -- because that’s how long Cooke the very stiff suspension handed down by the league for his latest brain-cramped attack on another player’s head will last.  And given all the injuries they have, the Penguins will probably be hard pressed to go deeper than that, so the issue could be moot for a while.

But even if the Penguins do manage some sort of playoff run, they will have to think seriously about buying out Cooke after this season ends. It will require paying the veteran a total of $2.4 million over the next four seasons, a price the organization has to be willing to pay given how forcefully owner Mario Lemieux came out against stupidity on the ice a few weeks ago.

Judging from the statement of general manager Ray Shero after the league announced the suspension, it seems like the organization is chomping at the bit to get rid of the headache-causing forward.

“The suspension is warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game,” Shero said. “We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.”

That’s not as easy as it seems for the Penguins, who are still hoping to finish first in the Atlantic Division and at least trying to hold on to the fourth seed in the conference because they are so shorthanded and now lose another player who actually does bring something to the table. Cooke is a grinding forward who can check and kill penalties while chipping in some offense from time to time.  But he has become the poster child for recklessness and an embarrassment to an organization that has been pushing to eliminate dangerous behavior from the game.

Cooke has already been forced by the NHL to sit four times in his 12-season career, including once this season for taking out Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin with a hit from behind. That’s the kind of hit the NHL has been desperate to eliminate since Cookie put Marc Savard’s career in jeopardy a year ago with one of them.

Cooke escaped punishment then because there was no rule outlawing blind side hits, but that changed coincidentally a few days later when the GMs met and crafted a new statute to do so.  Shero  tried unsuccessfully to get his counterparts to go even further and ban all head shots regardless of direction when they met again last week in Florida,  but what emerged instead from the GMs was an overwhelming consensus to see punishment for the blind sides made much more severe.

Apparently though Cooke wasn’t paying attention to what everyone else in the hockey world was, and on NBC’s game of the week Sunday, lined up Rangers rookie Ryan McDonough from the blind side before delivering an elbow to his head. It ended up taking about $220,000 in salary out of his pocket and taking the Penguins out of an important game.

In other words, Cooke has become more trouble than he’s worth. The Penguins may even be secretly happy Cooke will be gone down the stretch and for the start of the playoffs and unable to cost them games with dumb penalties. Pittsburgh may not survive the first round anyway with so many key players on the shelf, but if it does, Cooke’s diminishing value should be exposed even more.

Truth is the Penguins really don’t need players like Matt Cooke. No one really does.


Category: NHL
Posted on: March 15, 2011 5:26 pm

GMs charging toward a safer game

BOCA RATON, FL --  This was like a tale of two cities. While Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was in effect telling fans to ‘love it or shove it’,  a thousand miles away the NHL and its general managers were delivering a similar message about their game of hockey, albeit in a far more diplomatic way.

For his part, Boudreau was reacting to a potential protest in Montreal about head shots, organized through a Facebook petition in the wake of a serious injury suffered last week by the CanadiensMax Pacioretty from a hit by Boston’s Zdeno Chara. The protest was scheduled to take place Tuesday night outside the Bell Centre where Washington was playing the Canadiens, and when asked about it by reporters after the Capitals morning skate, Boudreau was quick to dismiss any hand-wringing about the dangers of the sport.

“You don’t like it, don’t come to games,” he said.

No one down here in Boca was telling fans to stay away of course. But at the same time, the league’s assembled league power brokers were in a self-congratulatory mood over the state of their game, and not about to pay any lip service to those calling for a total head shot ban in the wake of the Pacioretty incident.

“There’s no support for a blanket rule,” commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Well not enough. The ‘zero tolerance’ option did have some supporters like Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, but the will of those fearing that it would change the character of the game too dramatically ultimately ensured that it had no chance of making the final recommendations after Wednesday’s closing session.

Shero said he wasn’t really surprised.

“I’m not sure if I thought I’d come out of here with zero tolerance,” Shero said. “But there’s an appetite among the managers to make the game safer and I do think we took a step in the right direction here.”

That step was an apparent consensus among the 30 managers about dealing with issue of player safety in more subtle ways, notably by tightening standards for calling charging and boarding and surprisingly, by imposing tougher and more frequent suspensions for offending players and even their coaches and teams. Mind you, none of that would have landed Chara a suspension for accidentally riding Pacioretty into the steel stanchion, according to the league’s chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell, the GMs felt that stiffer supplementary discipline would have a impact over time.

“We’re thinking about down the road, not a short term fix,” Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. “No one wants to see their guys penalized or suspended, but we want to encourage the hockey operations people to make them pay a price.”

Or maybe just to encourage players to think a little more in the first place. At least that’s the goal of more aggressively enforcing charging and boarding, plays that are statistically more responsible for concussions than illegal hits to the head.

“Without changing the fabric of our game, you can take out some of the more dangerous hits,” Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said. “The rules are in place to call these penalties.”

But they do need to be more clearly defined, everyone agreed.

“You need to set a clear standard that everyone from the players to the coaches and the referees understand because players will always test the limits of what they can get away with,” said future Hall of Famer Rob Blake, who joined the NHL hockey operations department after his retirement last spring.

“When I played you might have thought three steps wasn’t charging but you could maybe get away with five or six because nothing was spelled out. If we can make that clearer, we can go a long way toward preventing a lot more of these situations.”

And at the same time, protect the physical nature of the NHL.

“What’s distinctive about North American hockey is the body contact,” Burke said.  “It’s different than anywhere else in the world and it’s an important part of what we sell and what our fans want to see.”

Gotta love it, right Bruce?


Category: NHL
Posted on: March 14, 2011 6:52 pm

NHL diving head-first into concussion issue

BOCA RATON, FL –  It was probably just a coincidence that Sidney Crosby skated this morning for the first time since sustaining a concussion while the league’s general managers were gathering to discuss the growing problem those injuries have become.

The absence of hockey’s marquee player has helped make concussions and player safety the league’s biggest hot-button issue of the meetings for the second year in a row, with the reaction to the controversial hit by Boston’s Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens last week adding the kind of fuel to the fire that Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard did last March.

That time, the spotlight pushed the managers into producing Rule 48, a statute that outlawed blind-side hits to the head. And the rule has actually had a positive effect, with NHL’s stats showing that the number of man-games lost to concussions caused by illegal hits has declined by more than half.

Problem is the overall concussion numbers are up this season, and mostly because of legal, if often accidental plays. The GMs saw a lengthy video presentation of more than 50 plays that caused concussions, with the bulk of them coming from collisions between teammates, body checks that cause players necks to whiplash or from players hitting the boards, glass or ice. NHL stats showed that fighting played a small role in the increase as well, but with the reality being that players are bigger and faster these days, the GMs know they are going to find it a challenge to make things safer for the players.

“Everybody wants that, but you don’t want to change the fundamental nature of the game,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. “The league has done a lot to make the game the great product that it is, and you have to be careful about maintaining that.”

Still, there was a consensus among the GMs that some changes are necessary to make things safer, even in subtle ways like re-defining some rules.

“There’s a definite will to do something, maybe to lower the threshold between what’s acceptable and not acceptable,” Montreal’s Pierre Gauthier said. “We have the ability to do that, to make some adjustments without changing the entertainment value, to address where we draw the line.”

In the meantime, commissioner Gary Bettman made sure no one could say nothing came out of the first day by announcing a plan of attack he will push at the next Board of Governors meeting in June.  It’s a multi-dimensional approach that will be tasked with everything from studying arena safety issues including design and materials around the ice surface, to reducing the size of the equipment to hold teams and coaches more responsible for the actions of their players.

But the most immediate impact will come from a revision of the concussion protocol that will change how a player is dealt with immediately after he is hit. The affected player won’t be tended to on the bench, instead being taken to a quiet place to be examined by a physician. This change will be implemented within the next few days after the league holds conference call to explain the procedures to trainers and doctors from all 30 teams.

“The protocol has been amended and it will be enforced,” Bettman said. “We will from a league standpoint monitor it to make sure it is being complied with and if it isn’t appropriate sanctions will levied.”

 That type of protocol might have prevented Crosby’s concussion from becoming as serious as it did. The Penguins superstar was noticeably shaken up by a collision during the Winter Classic, but continued to play and was later cleared to go against Tampa Bay a few days later.

Crosby was taken hard into the end glass by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and hasn’t played since, but Penguins GM Ray Shero said making that connection isn’t all that simple. He noted that his own son sustained a concussion during a youth hockey game a month ago, but continued playing in several games and practices after that.

“I saw Sid the day of the Tampa Bay game, around 4:30, and we talked for about 10 minutes,” Shero said. “It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong. He looked fine. And my own son, I live with him, and I didn’t notice anything.”

Shero said he is personally in favor of banning all hits to the head, but like most of his colleagues, saidthat striking the right balance between physicality and safety isn’t easy.

“These are delicate injuries and they’re not easy to deal with,” Shero said.”Our job is to have more dialogue about making things safer for our players, but at the same time to maintain the nature of the game.

“The good thing is that we’re gaining more and more knowledge about concussions and being more proactive in dealing with them. That’s a positive for the league.”

True, but having Crosby on the ice would be a bigger one.

Category: NHL
Posted on: March 9, 2011 4:53 pm

Coming up short on big Chara

No one believes Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara wanted to see Montreal ’s Max Pacioretty carried away on a stretcher.

Certainly not NHL operations VP Mike Murphy, who made the decision on behalf of the league not to suspend Chara received for hitting Pacioretty in a way that left the Canadiens forward with a severe concussion and broken vertebrae.

It wasn’t an easy call to make what with the hanging jury crowd beating a loud drum for serious punishment to be imposed on the Bruins captain.  They saw Chara’s play as reckless and as it was dangerous and they have a point.

Then again, so do the ‘hockey people’, including a host of ex-players who have weighed in and argued the hit was simply a part of a physical game. Their take is that Chara’s five-minute interference penalty and game misconduct was a sufficient price for a generally routine play that had an unfortunate outcome. To go any further in terms of discipline would be to threaten the fundamental nature of the sport.

In other words, the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the Bruins captain intended to take the Canadiens forward out of the play, and given their personal history, probably with a little more vigor than usual.  The games between these Original 6 and division rival teams have been particularly heated this season, and Pacioretty and Chara have gotten into a couple of altercations already.

In this case, it came late in the second period with the Canadiens leading 4-0 and on their way to avenging an 8-6, brawl-filled loss to Boston a few weeks earlier. Pacioretty had raised the Bruins ire earlier in the game when he took out Dennis Seidenberg with a clean hit, and now he had gained a step on the 6-foot-9  Chara.  That prompted the Bruins defenseman to do what he would normally by trying to ride Pacioretty out along the boards.

Problem was when Chara made contact, he laterally raised his arm and drove Pacioretty face-first into the stanchion.  It was a frightening site that got worse as Pacioretty lay prone and motionless on the ice for several minutes, and the kind of thing that creates bad optics for the league because it tends to get replayed on various news loops.

The reality though is that this type of play happens in almost every game, but was made worse because of where it happened on the ice. Whether or not Chara knew he and his opponent were approaching that post is debatable, but the Bruins defender had to realize he was in front of his own team’s bench and he still didn’t hold up.

That’s not to suggest Chara wanted to injure Pacioretty, but that really shouldn’t matter. He did. And the Canadiens will lose a key player as they try to catch the first-place Bruins while Boston remains at full strength.

Is that fair? Probably not but Murphy said Chara didn’t seem to be targeting the head of the opponent or leave his feet. And Chara’s reputation as a clean player who had no priors on his 13-season record factored in as well.

So a high-profile player escape without any consequence. And at the same time, a league desperate to protect its best players from unnecessary risk, missed an important chance to send a strong message about players taking more responsibility for their actions on the ice.



Category: NHL
Posted on: March 9, 2011 12:12 am

Blackhawks undressed to the nines

Turns out it wasn’t another day at the beach for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Mind you the reigning Stanley Cup champs did manage to get in a couple of those because they arrived a few days early for their game against the Florida Panthers. Kind of a reward for putting together an impressive eight-game winning streak and finally starting to look like the well-oiled machine that won the Stanley Cup last June.

But the R&R came with a price for a Chicago team that has been on fire of late. The Blackhawks took the day off after flying down from Toronto on Saturday night, had a quick practice Monday and didn’t skate on the morning of the Panthers game, then forgot to show up for the start of the game.  Apparently a little too much sun and sand made it impossible to get very worked up about playing a rebuilding team that essentially dismembered itself at the trade deadline last week.

“If you’re looking for an easy game, you’re not going to find it in this league,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to Florida. “That might have been the case tonight.”

Naturally Chicago players denied any suggestion of taking the Panthers for granted, but they did seem somewhat baffled by Florida’s aggressive and unusually physical start to the game. And Quenneville used the word ‘lazy’ to describe his players’ efforts at the outset, which didn’t make it any easier for goalie Corey Crawford. The standout rookie was having an off night of his own before being pulled for Marty Turco, and everything combined was enough to cost Chicago two important standings points that should have been gimmes.

“The lesson is you gotta be ready to play,” Turco said.

The bright side for Chicago came from a ferocious final two periods when they overwhelmed the Panthers and outshot the home team 29-7. The Blackhawks attack has been firing on all cylinders for several weeks and it got them back into the game with quick goals by Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane in the second period.

But with Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun playing his best game in weeks, the bombardment wasn’t enough to overcome the three-goal deficit the Blackhawks were in after 20 minutes.

“It was our worst period of the season,” said Hossa, who extended his scoring streak to eight games with a second-period goal.  “We thought it was going to be easier (against Florida).

“It just goes to show we have to play 60 minutes, it doesn’t matter who we play against.”


Category: NHL
Posted on: March 3, 2011 5:09 pm

Guys like Gillies won't get the message

While a growing number of hockey and football players are willing their brains to research these days, it might be more interesting to get a look inside the one of Trevor Gillies.

Maybe we could find out what compels someone to do something really stupid in his first game back after being suspended for doing something really stupid.

Gillies, the New York Islanders hit man, is going to be suspended by the NHL after a hearing Friday, likely for at least five games and maybe even for the rest of the season which has 19 games remaining for New York. The drum beat for extreme punishment started on national networks not long after Gillies ran Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck face first into the glass early in the second period Wednesday night, and has grown loud enough that it is now almost a no-brainer for the NHL.

Gillies delivered what has actually become a run-of-the-mill blind side hit to the head, the kind the NHL has been desperately trying to get out of the game for a year now. But he did it on only his fourth shift back after serving a nine-game suspension for triggering a ruckus last month that allowed for unfortunate comparisons between the league and the movie Slapshot.  Apparently he doesn’t understand the concept of staying under the radar.

So the NHL is likely to make a statement with Gillies, a 32-year-old career minor leaguer, who played only 15 NHL games before being called to fill one of the voids on the Islanders injury-riddled roster this season. That’s easy. The problem is punishing someone like Gillies -- no matter how severely -- won’t do it.

Gillies is a prototype goon, the kind you thought disappeared 25 years ago. He’s has racked up few points but lots of penalty minutes skipping around the American and East Coast Hockey Leagues for the last dozen years and really has no place in the kind of game the NHL plays today. 

The Islanders know that because Gilllies has averaged just about four minutes of ice time in 33 games with New York. In other words, he’s expendable to the Islanders too.

Throwing the book at Gillies might be what he deserves, but when a star like Nashville’s Shea Weber can get away with an equally dangerous hit, or a Matt Cooke gets only four games for his latest violent act, chances are it really won’t get anyone’s attention.


Category: NHL
Posted on: March 1, 2011 1:03 pm

Niemi proves his worth

This has been a pretty good day for Antti Niemi, who was named one of the league’s Stars of the month for leading the San Jose Sharks back to first place in the Pacific Division.

Even better, the Sharks just announced that they have signed a four-year contract extension with Niemi, who was on a one-year deal after winning the Stanley Cup last season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The 27-year-old ended up in San Jose because the Blackhawks didn’t have the cap space to re-sign him, but the $2 million salary Niemi ended up with was less than say Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, neither of whom have a Cup on his resume, signed for  last summer.

Niemi had to wait until the end of last summer to get a contract after Chicago walked away from his arbitration award. His patience was rewarded then and even more now, because after a 10-2 February with three shutouts and a .934 save percentage, Niemi has earned his reward. His new deal is worth $3.8 million a season.
Category: NHL
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