Archive for September, 2011

Top stars lead movement against headshots

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Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos has called upon his fellow players to be more responsible about making dangerous head contact, whether it is deliberate or not. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

By Stu Hackel

The NHL’s first preseason games will be played next Monday, just a few days after training camps open, and because preseason play tends to feature some aggression as hopefuls try to catch their coaches’ eyes, we may begin to quickly see the effects of the strengthened Rule 48. That’s the rule that last season prohibited blindside and lateral hits to the head and now applies to most — but not all — other hits that intentionally target the noggin.

Judging by some recent comments from NHL players, these rules and their enforcement will continue to be a hot topic, and sentiment is growing to make them stronger and more consistent.

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  • Published On Sep 15, 2011
  • Five for firing: coaching situations to watch

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    After three seasons without a playoff appearance, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson is quite likely on notice, his assistants having been replaced, reportedly against his wishes. (Photo by Nick Turchiaro/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Coaches are hired to be fired, the cliché goes, and it’s a given every NHL season that some of the guys behind the bench will not make it to Game 82 while some will … and still be gone at season’s end.

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  • Published On Sep 14, 2011
  • Reporting on NHL’s finances is often goofy; KHL now seeking detente with NHL

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    His franhcise heading into bankruptcy, Tom Hicks won’t be in the Dallas Stars’ owner’s box much longer. (LM Otero/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    We’re getting kind of anxious for training camps to open because the off-ice news this summer has been so joyless. The prospect tournaments and rookie camps now underway make for more enjoyable reading. Still, we can’t ignore some big off-ice stories. While yesterday’s reports of the Devils being near or in bankruptcy were rather inaccurate (the New York Post backpedaled today), one NHL club is filing: the Dallas Stars. Tom Hals of Reuters reports that it could happen as soon as Wednesday, with the team quickly being sold out of bankruptcy to Vancouver investor Tom Gaglardi.

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  • Published On Sep 13, 2011
  • Financial trouble bubbling for Devils?

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    The Devils ranked 25th in average per-game home attendance last season and could lose revenue if the NBA lockout eliminates event dates this season at the Prudential Center in Newark. (Bill Kostroun/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    In a blunt statement directed at a report in today’s New York Post, the New Jersey Devils have denied that the franchise is either in or near bankruptcy and that the team’s relationship with its bankers is fractured, calling the allegations “patently untrue.”

    The statement also addressed other inaccuracies that the team found in the story, but did not respond to the story’s main allegation: that the team missed its Sept. 1 loan payment. A knowledgable source, however, said no payment was made because the deadline was moved.

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  • Published On Sep 12, 2011
  • KHL’s new Lokomotiv won’t play this season

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    Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was one of the KHL’s top teams. (Stanislav Krasilnikov/ITAR-TASS /Landov)

    By Stu Hackel

    The KHL season restarts today, but without Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The team will not be reformed this season with new players in the wake of last Wednesday’s air disaster in which the entire roster perished. Instead, the newly created Lokomotiv will resume play next season.

    That was the decision announced Saturday by Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russian Railways, the team’s owner; Yuri Yakovlev, Lokomotiv team president; and Sergei Vakhrukov, the governor of the Yaroslav region, as reported by Sovietsky Sport on Sunday.

    “We must show sensitivity and awareness,” said Yakunin.

    “The whole world mourns with us,” added Yakovlev. “In these difficult times we must act correctly, observing all the universal values ​​and those of the club. Our primary task is to take care of loved ones, families of the victims. That is conduct worthy of the guys who were on their last journey.”

    The three officials addressed reporters briefly after the funeral for the players that was held at the club’s arena in Yaroslavl on Saturday. About 100,000 people, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, gathered in and around the building to pay their respects to the team. “For the first time in my life, I had trouble entering an ice arena,” KHL chairman and former NHL star Slava Fetisov said. “It’s an inexplicable tragedy.”

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  • Published On Sep 12, 2011
  • Haunted by sudden death from the sky

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    The entire hockey world has been left mourning the loss of life in the KHL plane crash. Fans in Sweden gathered to honor goaltender Stefan Liv, a local and national hero who played for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. (Reuters photos)

    By Stu Hackel

    The first coherent thought I had when I woke too early this morning was that it would be great for the NHL to have all its teams wear a patch with the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crest on their jerseys during the first weeks of the season to honor the players who perished on Wednesday.  Sometimes first thoughts that rise before the sun vanish along with the morning darkness, but this one stuck around.

    And then the plane flew over.

    On the nights that I have trouble sleeping, the sound I dread most is that of the first flight out from the airport near my house. It means I don’t have time to fall back asleep. But when I can’t sleep because an air tragedy has shocked me, I dread that sound even more, my mind connecting it with death. I got that dreadful feeling 10 years ago, and it happened again this morning.
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  • Published On Sep 08, 2011
  • KHL crash darkens hockey’s grim summer

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    Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, one of the KHL’s strongest teams, has been destroyed by tragedy. (AP Photos)

    By Stu Hackel

    For hockey fans, the beginning of a new season is always a joyous time, but with so much sadness infusing the sport this summer, it seems as if it will be hard to muster up the usual enthusiasm. And Wednesday’s news out of Russia that the plane carrying the KHL team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv has crashed, killing almost all of the 45 people on board, is unquestionably the worst news of all.

    In the words of Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, it is “the darkest day in the history of our sport.”

    Following the earlier body blows caused by the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, and the various controversies surrounding them all focusing on depression and addiction, Wednesday’s news feels like a staggering punch.

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  • Published On Sep 07, 2011
  • Does the NHL have a painkiller problem?

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    Thanks to his fearless style of play, Ian Laperriere has been no stranger to pain, or painkillers, but he says some players dangerously use the drugs to get high and unwind. (Jim O’Connor-US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    Ian Laperrière is a highly respected NHLer, a warrior and leader, a man who didn’t fear the consequences of throwing his body at speeding pucks and who paid the price for it with lost teeth, lost vision and an entire lost season while he suffered from post-concussion syndrome. He certainly earned the 2011 Bill Masterton Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to hockey. And when he spoke last week on a Montreal radio station, reflecting on the NHL’s dark summer, Laperriere raised a concern that should resonate throughout the hockey world, if only because of the messenger’s credibility.

    “Today the biggest problem, which isn’t talked about…is pills. It’s painkillers,” Laperrière said.
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  • Published On Sep 06, 2011
  • Belak’s death casts cloud over fighting in NHL

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    It’s no secret enforcers like Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard have one of sports’ most physically and emotionally demanding jobs. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    With today’s report in The Toronto Star that Wade Belak suffered from depression, we have a possible explanation for an event that has shocked many who knew him and alarmed many more. Belak, found dead in a Toronto hotel on Wednesday, is the third NHL enforcer to die since May. His death has been reported by some as a suicide, the same talk that surrounded the death of Rick Rypien in mid-August. Derek Boogaard’s case was ruled accidental, due to a lethal mixture of alcohol and pain killers.

    Belak had just retired, but some connection between his occupation as a hockey tough guy and the closely spaced deaths of the other two enforcers has been sought.

    “I think sometimes we get caught up in generalizations,” Allain Roy, Rypien’s agent, told John Branch of The New York Times today. “We have three sad instances where we have three young men who struggled with their lives off the ice. Whether their role played a piece in it, I think it’s almost impossible for anybody to draw that straight line through it — to say, all right, they were enforcers, and this is why this happened to them.”

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  • Published On Sep 02, 2011
  • Wade Belak’s death poses key questions

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    Enforcer Wade Belak (right) spent all or part of 15 seasons in the NHL often fighting on the ice and battling for his job, but he seemed to be a happy guy and untroubled by his violent role. (John Cores/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    One hockey enforcer’s death is a sad event. Two is a sad coincidence. But does the third establish a definite connection between them all?

    Wade Belak, who at 35 had just retired after a hockey career that began so long ago that he was a Nordiques draft pick, died yesterday in a Toronto hotel. It has been only two weeks since Rick Rypien died and three-and-a-half months since Derek Boogaard passed away suddenly. It’s macabre. A friend wrote on his Facebook page, “Wade Belak? This is becoming like an Agatha Christie novel.” It’s got people looking for patterns and searching for answers.

    But first, you have to ask the right questions.
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  • Published On Sep 01, 2011


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