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Will hockey’s heart survive the lockout?

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Operation Hat Trick

The spirited sell-out crowd at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall was treated to a worthy substitute for the recently cancelled NHL All-Star Game, with the proceeds going to Hurricane Sandy relief funds. (Tom Briglia/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

Once upon a time, some hockey executive — it might have been Phil Esposito — plastered a motivational phrase on the wall in his team’s dressing room that read, “Turn Every Negative Into A Positive.” Well, things can’t be much more negative for the NHL than this ongoing, ridiculous lockout and nothing’s been more negative during the last few months than the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Yet a group of locked-out players turned both things into a positive on Saturday night in Atlantic City.

To once again see Steven Stamkos slithering through defenses, Daniel Alfredsson making tape-to-tape passes through traffic, Martin Brodeur lofting the puck halfway down the ice, P.K. Subban dropping his shoulder and carrying the puck one-handed deep into the opponent’s zone, Simon Gagne breaking free from coverage, linemates Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry reading and reacting to each other’s moves, James Neal threatening to score every time he had the puck, and Kimmo Timonen making a perfect outlet pass felt like a reunion with an old friend.

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  • Published On Nov 26, 2012
  • Can Kings of the road grab Game 5?

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    Their team in New Jersey, Kings fans in L.A. anxiously await a Cup coronation. (Chris Williams/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Maybe it ends on Saturday night and maybe not. The Kings, who were juuuust good enough to win two overtime games and then ride their home crowd to a more decisive Game 3 victory, dropped Game 4 to the Devils on Wednesday night in another close outing and now must build on their incredible undefeated road record to win the Stanley Cup this weekend.

    The Devils, meanwhile, look to extend their season. Twenty-six teams have lost the first three games of a Cup final. New Jersey is just the sixth to reach Game 5. Only two have pushed the series to a Game 6; both, in fact, went to Game 7. The Maple Leafs came all the way back to win in 1942 against the Red Wings, Detroit nearly returned the favor in 1945, losing to Toronto 2-1 on home ice.

    Although it seems the hockey gods changed allegiances on Wednesday, bestowing a larger share of good luck on New Jersey than they did in the first three contests, the Devils also benefited from better execution. They finally took their own advice and exploited the flaw they detected in Kings goalie Jonathan Quick — shooting high. L.A. meanwhile, played tentatively at times and missed the Devils’ net entirely with their shots on over 20 occasions, the nervous prospect of winning the Cup at home perhaps in their minds. All that should make Game 5 rather interesting.

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  • Published On Jun 08, 2012
  • Goalie interference rule needs revisiting

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    During the winning goal in Sunday’s Game 1, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur had his stick moved by Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk’s skate, hindering his ability to make the save. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    After watching these unpredictable and bizarre Stanley Cup playoffs unfold through the weekend, one thing is certain: the numerous incidents involving the question of goaltender interference demands that the NHL rethink adding it to the league’s list of goal/no-goal calls that are reviewable via video.

    UPDATE: On TSN Monday night, Darren Dreger reported the NHL GMs will discuss adding goaltender interference to the video review situations at their next meeting and predicted it would pass (video).

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  • Published On Apr 30, 2012
  • NHL tries to restore order

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    Refs seem to have rediscovered the idea that sending a player to the box and leaving his team in a potentially costly penalty-kill is one of the best ways to curb on-ice mayhem. (Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Perhaps Wednesday will go down as the day the NHL regained some control over the Stanley Cup playoffs and did it in the most logical manner – having the referees call penalties rather than “let the boys play.”

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  • Published On Apr 19, 2012
  • Will NHL’s Spring of Shame continue?

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    Blackhawks star Marian Hossa was hospitalized by a dangerous illegal headshot of the kind the NHL has been trying to eliminate, not a fight or a clean, hard check. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    What threatens to become the NHL’s Spring of Shame continued on Day 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs when Marian Hossa was stretchered off in the first period of the Coyotes-Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, the result of a clearly illegal but unpenalized hit by multiple offender Raffi Torres. It was the lasting image on another compelling night of playoff hockey and it overshadowed all else, just as each daily episode of brutal play has done.

    This has to be viewed as a crisis for the NHL. The league was prepared to make this its greatest playoffs ever, especially in the U.S., with NBC and its family of channels pumping every game of every series into homes for the first time. But what will likely be remembered by its growing audience is not the best hockey of the year, but perhaps the most barbaric. Who knows what that will mean in the long run? More on that later.

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  • Published On Apr 18, 2012
  • Leniency makes for a dangerous game

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    The on-ice call after Duncan Keith’s elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin, an illegal shot that could change the course of the Western Conference playoff race, was unfortunately lax. (Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks’ top defenseman, had a phone hearing with Brendan Shanahan on Friday for his elbow to the head of the Canucks’ Daniel Sedin, which concussed the Vancouver star and took him out of the lineup indefinitely. There’s widespread speculation that Keith will receive a relatively stiff suspension, since the league asked for an in-person hearing as opposed to over the phone. That’s the procedure the NHL uses when it believes the ban could exceed five games, although Keith waived his right to appear.

    If he’s suspended, and it seems certain he will be, it will likely be for longer than the three games Shane Doan got for the elbow he threw at Jamie Benn earlier this week.

    UPDATE: Keith received a five-game suspension from the NHL.

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  • Published On Mar 23, 2012
  • GMs to talk trapezoid, OT extension

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    Restricting a goaltender’s ability to play the puck has amounted to mere punishment for having the skill. (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    On Thursday, we discussed the upcoming GMs meeting and the proposal by some to at least discuss restoring the two-line offside pass in the name of increased player safety. There are other items on the agenda at their Boca Raton, Florida gathering that starts on Monday, and while nothing cataclysmic is expected to come out of their deliberations — at least nothing as historic as the proposal of what became Rule 48 two years ago, as well as the strengthening of that rule and new concern for a safer game last year — some interesting tweaks will certainly get an airing.

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  • Published On Mar 09, 2012
  • Barch ruling a missed opportunity

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    This fracas led to P.K. Subban (bottom) being targeted by a remark that was perceived as racist by the referee who heard it. (Doug Murray/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    The NHL suspended Florida forward Krys Barch for the game the Panthers played Thursday night against the Rangers — and, yes, I am very weary of writing about suspensions, but this one is a bit different.

    The reason for the one-gamer was Barch’s use of “inappropriate language” during his team’s game against Montreal in a now-traditional New Year’s Eve afternoon contest. It was an unusual transgression and the whole incident remains murky, which is too bad, because the NHL could have turned it into a valuable, teachable moment or clearly exonerated a player who was wrongly accused of making a racist remark.

    Let’s briefly run through the event as best we can. With 1.2 seconds left in a first period that had gotten feisty, there was a face-off in the Florida zone to the right of goalie Jose Theodore. The puck was dropped and Habs defenseman P.K. Subban, who had lined up in the left face-off circle, charged the net in hope of creating some havoc, if not to knock the puck past Theodore.

    The puck went harmlessly in another direction, however, and Subban ended up bumping with Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson at the top of the crease. The buzzer sounded, Gudbranson slashed at Subban’s stick, and Subban shoved him with a forearm. Gudbranson then threw his arm around Subban’s neck and wrestled him to his knees as players from both teams, and the linesmen, began to converge.

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  • Published On Jan 06, 2012
  • Shanahan’s Lucic ruling rings hollow to many

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    Many fans outside Boston don’t buy Milan Lucic’s claim that he couldn’t avoid colliding with Ryan Miller. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    If the Brendan Shanahan era was the dawning of a new day in NHL player safety, some clouds obscured the sun on Monday when he found no reason to take further action against the Bruins’ Milan Lucic, who freight-trained Sabres goalie Ryan Miller on Saturday.

    It was a decision that felt like a product of the old Colin Campbell era.

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  • Published On Nov 15, 2011
  • Did the Lightning trap the entire NHL?

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    By Stu Hackel

    Isn’t that video above terrific? On Wednesday night, Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 defense against Philadelphia forced Mike Milbury to storm off the set in Versus’s studio during the second intermission, and that’s reason enough for us to nominate the Lightning’s Guy Boucher as not just NHL Coach of Year, but also for the The George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished and meritorious public service to television.

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  • Published On Nov 10, 2011


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