Archive for March, 2011

Hockey helping Japan

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The San Jose Sharks will auction autographed used sticks on March 23 and March 31, with proceeds going to aid victims of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

The whole world has been alarmed at the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan. NHL.com has posted a link on its site soliciting contributions to the American Red Cross, but at least one NHL team, the San Sharks, is going even further through The Sharks Foundation, the team’s community outreach arm.

“The Sharks Foundation has quickly developed a plan that we hope will not only aid in the relief efforts of this event, but also increase awareness of a desperate need,” said its manager, Jeff Cafuir. “Though Japan is across the Pacific Ocean and thousands of miles away, the effects of the tragedy have been felt by many people in the Bay Area.”
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  • Published On Mar 18, 2011
  • Vancouver’s main Manny hard to replace

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    Manny Malhotra’s career-threatening injury will likely renew calls for making helmet visors mandatory in the NHL. It could also cost the Canucks a key player for the postseason. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The initial concern for Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra, who suffered a serious eye injury on Wednesday, is not for this season or even his career, but for his future. Damage to one’s eyesight can be a life-altering experience.

    The second concern is for all NHL players, because risking their careers and their eyesight by not wearing visors seems foolhardy.

    As for the first-overall-in-the-NHL Canucks, losing Malhotra may force their biggest injury test of the season — and they’ve had a few. Third line center being out indefinitely will rob them of their top face-off man and one of the best in the game. Malhotra’s 61.7 percent success rate currently ranks second in face-off winning percentage to the Devils ‘David Steckel (63). Blocking shots and breaking up plays, Malhotra also a main Manny on the Canucks’ penalty-kill, which also ranks second in the league. Last season, the Canucks’ PK ranked 18th. Special teams play is a key to success in the playoffs and Malhotra’s expertise would be greatly missed if he cannot return.
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  • Published On Mar 18, 2011
  • Blues sale will bring value, strong fan base

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    St. Louis is a baseball-mad city, but the Blues are a hot ticket. (Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The news that the St. Louis Blues are for sale continues a season of disappointment for the team and its fans. Many had expected the Blues would be in the thick of the playoff race this season, but injuries and some underachievement did them in. Give them credit, however, for recognizing the need for change when they traded both their captain, Eric Brewer, and the guy who was considered to be the foundation of their youth movement, Erik Johnson, at the trade deadline in order to revamp their club and reset for the future.

    The Blues are a special organization in many ways, part of the NHL’s first big expansion and the first of the new teams to be something of a dynasty. An extraordinary connection between the city and the team was forged during those early years and in what was then a non-traditional hockey market despite many ups and downs — including a bankruptcy and an aborted sale by one-time owner Rolston-Purina that would have moved the club to Saskatoon. This franchise has endured both on and off the ice, and the connection with its fans remains strong. The Blues fill their arena every night and rank eighth in attendance among NHL teams. In a city known for its crazy passion for baseball’s Cardinals, the embrace of the Blues has always been heartening.
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  • Published On Mar 17, 2011
  • Can the Devils really make the playoffs?

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    The playoff odds still long, coach Jacques Lemaire’s mantra remains “one game at a time.” (AP photo)

    By Stu Hackel

    Well, whaddaya know…The Devils won again on Tuesday night, a 4-3 win over the Thrashers. That’s three in a row, eight of their last 10 and, since Jan. 9, a record of 23-3-2. Project that over the entire schedule and (my math might be a little off here) it would make for something like a 69-8-5 mark that would be the greatest single-season record in the history of the NHL. (The current mark will probably forever be the 1976-77 Canadiens’ 60-8-12 back in the days when that last column represented ties played in games that ended after 60 minutes. Who knows what those Habs might have done in OT and the postgame skills competition?)

    The problem, of course, is that prior to Jan. 9, the Devils went 10-29-2. At that time they were last in the Eastern Conference, 27 points out of eighth spot. So they’ve made up substantial ground. But despite this incredible run, they are still six points south of a berth, sitting in 10th place. Those who compile such things put their chances of making the playoffs at only seven percent. That’s certainly a lot better than their zero percent on Jan 9, but it’s a snapshot based on the entire season, not the way that Jersey has been trending.
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  • Published On Mar 16, 2011
  • A day of change for an embattled league

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    By Stu Hackel

    Say this for the NHL: This league can, at times, respond to the problems it faces with some degree of swiftness and decisiveness. The image of the league — which is well-earned and still deserved in some instances (like 15 years to rid the rinks of seamless glass)– is one of an organization that changes at a glacial speed. But the GM’s have met, discussed and deliberated some serious issues this week against the backdrop of a few truly harrowing incidents in the past few months. At times, those incidents made the game seem out of control, and the GMs recognized areas that needed to be fixed and have begun the process of fixing them.

    They were able to do so because of some internal help — the Hockey Operations Department seems again to have gathered relevant statistics, video and other evidence to crystallize the issues, and influential owners have gotten involved. There has also been some external help — the scientific evidence of progressive brain disease in former enforcers, as well as reaction by fans, media and, for the first time, sponsors to some of the worst situations the NHL has witnessed in a while.

    Some of the changes being proposed this week in Boca Raton have been in the works for quite a while. A few have been more immediate responses to newer events. But if the league was hoping to answer its critics and allay the fears of fans and sponsors, it did a good job. Now comes the hard part: getting all these good proposals and pronouncements to produce a safer game that continues to be entertaining (and TSN’s Bob McKenzie, speaking on Wednesday’s “Morning Show” over Montreal’s Team 990 radio, adds that how these proposals will look as rules is still unknown; his very interesting take can be heard on this page).

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  • Published On Mar 15, 2011
  • Remembering Sabres great Rick Martin

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    By Stu Hackel

    The passing of Rick Martin, the great Sabres player and member of that team’s famed French Connection Line in the 1970s, was something of a shock to his former teammates as well as hockey fans, regardless of their rooting interests. Martin died when he suffered a heart attack while driving in the Buffalo area on Sunday. At the conclusion of the Sabres’ victory over Ottawa just hours after he died, the players saluted Martin by pointing to his number 7 banner that hangs in the HSBC Arena.

    Martin had helped Sabres fans greet the team’s new owner when he and former linemates Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert skated out to welcome Terry Pegula at center ice prior to the Sabres’ first game under Pegula’s ownership (seen in the video above). A memorial service for Martin will take place on Thursday, March 24, 11:00 am at HSBC Arena.
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  • Published On Mar 14, 2011
  • Head injury plan good, lots of it not new

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    By Stu Hackel

    The NHL GM’s are meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, this week discussing, among other things, hits to the head. They are expected to have some recommendations on Tuesday and will likely speak about their session publicly as they did yesterday. Shortly after Penguins General Manager Ray Shero went on the NHL Network early Monday afternoon (video above) to discuss that morning’s session, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman followed him on the air (video) and outlined his five-point program to address the season-long rise in head injuries. NHL.com says Bettman presented these points to the GM’s at the start of the meeting.

    This plan has the appearance of a rapid response to recent events, events which we discussed in an earlier post Monday, but as Bettman himself said, some of these steps have been in the works for a while.
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  • Published On Mar 14, 2011
  • Spotlight’s on NHL GMs, head shots, discipline

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    Zdeno Chara’s devastating hit on Max Pacioretty turned up the heat on a long-simmering issue. (Jean-Yves Ahern/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    NHL general managers began meeting today in Boca Raton, Florida, and there is some thought that this gathering — coming after the increased public outcry against the rise in head injuries and the league’s leniency in punishing players who inflict them – may be the most important one in a while. Further steps to protect the head is a major agenda item.

    It’s uncertain at the moment how far the GMs will go in making changes to the existing rules and standards of supplemental discipline. But TSN, NBC and Sports Illustrated’s Pierre McGuire said on Ottawa radio Team 1200 (audio) that he had spoken to a number of GMs and league decision-makers and the GMs are “very serious.”  McGuire called them “an extremely motivated and focused group right now. They understand; they’re hearing the message of the fans. Most of the enlightened general managers don’t want to alienate the fan base of the National Hockey League and the corporate sponsors of the National Hockey League.”

    Just as last year when the GMs met in March in the shadow of the Matt Cooke – Marc Savard  blindside head shot, this year’s gathering will take place after Zdeno Chara’s hit badly injured Max Pacioretty, as well as a long string of incidents that includes the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby being out of the lineup since early January (Crosby skated today for the first time since being hit head-first into the boards by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Jan. 5).

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  • Published On Mar 14, 2011
  • NHLers question league’s violence limits

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    As NHL players wonder why Zdeno Chara was allowed to escape suspension for his hit on Max Pacioretty, some people see arena safety as a main issue this incident. (Jean-Yves Ahern/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Thursday’s Canucks-Sharks game, a hugely entertaining overtime match won 5-4 by Vancouver, grew in drama as it went along. The teams each scored a power play goal in the last two minutes of regulation before Alex Burrows got the winner after his team killed off Ryan Kesler’s penalty. The game was so good that even the losers liked it. The Sharks’ Joe Thornton, whose team fought back from an early two-goal and two one-goal deficits to force OT, said (video) “The atmosphere was great, both teams played a really good game and it was an exciting game to be a part of.”

    The contest provided some needed relief from the antagonism engendered by Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty. The debate on the hit and the lack of punishment for it remains the biggest story in Canada and is Number One with a bullet at the top of hockey’s chat charts. It was guaranteed to stay that way when Thornton and some other players had their say about that incident prior to the game.

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  • Published On Mar 11, 2011
  • Bettman, Habs differ on NHL’s response to hit

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    By Stu Hackel

    The fallout from the Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty continued today with two dramatic statements and contrasting views on how the incident was handled.

    The first came from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (above) at the Congressional Hockey Caucus briefing on Capitol Hill. Responding to a media question, Bettman said, “Our Hockey Operations people are extraordinarily comfortable with the decision that they made. It was a horrific injury and we’re sorry it happened in our fast-paced, physical game, but I don’t think whether or not supplemental discipline was imposed would have changed what happened. In fact, the people in the game who I have heard from, almost to a person — and I’ll exclude the two clubs involved — believe it was handled appropriately by Hockey Operations.”
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  • Published On Mar 10, 2011


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