Scott Nichol speaks about the Maxim Lapierre hit

Reaction to Maxim Lapierre’s hit on Scott
Nichol
has been near unanimous: it was horribly dirty play and he
deserved the suspension he received, and perhaps should have been
suspending for longer. On the play, Lapierre checked
Nichol from behind
after he had released a shot on net, sending
Nichol into the boards head first and starting an angry scrum between
both the Sharks and Canadiens. Nichol
is out ten days with a shoulder injury himself.

Personally, the play was beyond scary and really hit me hard. As soon
as I saw replay of the hit, I was instantly reminded of when Mike
Modano
was sent headfirst into the boards by Ruslan Sulei, a play
that looked like it nearly killed him.

Lapierre was handed down a four-game suspension by the NHL yesterday.
Today, David Pollack talked to Nichol about the hit and the scrum that
happened afterward. His
reaction may shock you.

“It’s one of those things,” Nichols said when we talked this morning.
“We’re the third or fourth line and we play against other third and
fourth line guys. I’m not defending him or anything, but you play right
on the edge and sometimes for myself, you’re going hard to the net and
things like that happen.”

Later he added:  “I’m no saint by any means — I’ve  been suspended,
too, before — and in the heat of the battle, you don’t  mean to do it.
You’re trying to finish your check or your trying to stick up for a
teammate. There’s so many different variables.”

It’s a lengthy interview, and Nichol goes on to talk about his
reaction immediately after the hit and how he and the rest of the Sharks
originally Andrei Markov was the perpetrator of the hit. He also has
the cringe-inducing description of his injury:

“I
thought my shoulder was on the other side. It just went numb and I
didn’t know what went wrong. When I first hit, I thought I broke my
collar bone. Everything in that area went numb, but once I came in and
it settled down a little bit, it was pretty sore.

You
have to respect Nichol for being not only being open to talking about
the injury and the hit, but with being completely honest with his
feelings. Lapierre is being vilified by the media for the hit, yet
Nichol says it’s just an unfortunate play that was the result of an
incredibly fast sport that is played on ice with concrete-hard walls
lining the playing arena.

There’s an argument that the players
nowadays aren’t any more dirty or vicious than they’ve been in the past,
but that their athleticism, speed and size is making the game much more
dangerous overall. The forces involved when two players collide in
today’s NHL are massive, and when you add in the desire to play your
heart out each night you get some plays that are the result of just
plain, hard play and bad luck.

Was this that sort of play? Well,
Lapierre did hit Nichol from behind when it was definitely not needed.
Was it a vicious play, or just careless? Was the fact that the referee
who was just feet away from the play failed to call a penalty the real
injustice here? What are your thoughts?

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    Report: Avalanche will soon have AHL affiliate in Colorado

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    There are upgrades that improve teams in dramatic ways, and then there are moves that improve quality of life.

    Mike Chambers of The Denver Post reports that the Colorado Avalanche will make a tweak that would likely be a big plus in the quality of life category: starting in 2018-19, the Colorado Eagles will be their AHL affiliate. The Eagles will be bumped from an ECHL team to the AHL.

    At the moment, the Avs’ affiliate is the San Antonio Rampage (pictured). So, yeah, there will be a nice advantage in a) calling players up and b) management having more opportunities to keep an eye on prospects.

    The Budweiser Events Center is about a one-hour drive to the Pepsi Center according to Google Maps, depending upon traffic. So yeah, that’s an easier situation than traveling from Texas.

    The Avalanche haven’t made this news official; Chambers cites two anonymous sources. With the change coming for 2018-19, it’s possible that confirmation might not come for a while. More from Chambers:

    The Avs, citing their contract with the Rampage, declined comment, but vice president Jean Martineau confirmed the team’s contract with San Antonio ends after the 2017-18 season. Eagles general manager Chris Stewart could not be reached for comment.

    Will Rangers fans warm up to Vigneault this season?

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    This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

    From the way many New York Rangers fans discuss Alain Vigneault, you’d think he was presiding over the era of 1997-98 to 2003-04, when the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons.

    Impressive results

    From a sheer win-loss standpoint, Vigneault’s been a success, even if the Rangers haven’t been able to win it all. The Rangers’ points percentage has been at .628, almost as strong as his .632 mark with the Canucks, when AV took Vancouver within one win of that elusive Stanley Cup title.

    (Breaking: things haven’t gone so smoothly for Vancouver since he left town.)

    The Rangers are 192-108-28 under Vigneault. They made an unexpected run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and also brought them to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

    Plenty of critics

    Of course, Vigneault wasn’t on the ice winning those games, and many would (understandably) attribute the Rangers’ successes to the players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist. In the eyes of many, this team’s successes come despite Vigneault.

    Again, the criticisms are often as harsh as they are widespread.

    Sometimes people find his defensive pairing decisions maddening. If you want to make some Rangers fans wince, just utter the name Tanner Glass. SBNation Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter provides a portal into such angst, with headlines like “Rangers demise started at the top” and failing grades for his playoff maneuvering.

    Twitter can honestly get a little weird with the AV vitriol, although … maybe that’s to be expected? Consider this a random example that’s on the more, well, SFW spectrum:

    Not everyone is bashing Vigneault, mind you, but his critics can sometimes resemble a chorus.

    Glass floor

    Of course, any passionate fan base will have its qualms with coaches. People have been discussing “the pros and cons of Alain Vigneault” for ages.

    It’s easy to get caught up in your favorite team and ignore the notion that virtually every coach has “their guys.”

    In this case, “their guys” means marginal players whose elevated roles leaves fans shaking their heads. Jon Cooper seemingly favored Andrej Sustr and arguably never really trusted Jonathan Drouin. Maple Leafs fans weren’t always thrilled to see, say, Roman Polak getting serious minutes. The list goes on and on.

    A turning point?

    With that in mind, the 2017-18 season could be an especially fascinating chapter in the love-hate affair between Rangers fans and Vigneault.

    Frankly, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton took measures to protect Vigneault from himself, and those changes might just leave fans begrudgingly agreeing with more AV moves than usual … or it might send some over the edge if old habits die hard.

    As much as people criticize individual moves, Vigneault made a strong argument that he’s a versatile coach in 2016-17, taking a more modern approach with the Rangers. It mostly worked, and now this team has better tools to improve their transition game.

    To an extent, it’s addition by subtraction, as Dan Girardi‘s time mercifully ends, and with it the motivation for AV to give him big minutes. This opens the door for more mobile defenders to get time, such as promising young blueliner Brady Skjei.

    The actual additions are most important. Kevin Shattenkirk stands, on paper, as a massive upgrade, especially if he slides into a pairing with Ryan McDonagh (who some believe has been dragged down by Girardi for years).

    Another key will be how Marc Staal is used. If the emphasis shifts from Staal to Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Skjei, Brendan Smith and maybe even Anthony DeAngelo, stats-minded Rangers fans might be pleased.

    Maybe most importantly for the mental health of some fans, that lure to put Glass in the lineup is also gone.

    ***

    To some extent, criticisms are just the nature of the beast for coaches in professional sports. Vigneault’s been around long enough to realize that.

    Even so, the highs and lows of Vigneault can sometimes be quite dramatic, making him a polarizing subject for fans. This season should be especially interesting to watch from the perspective of Rangers fans, whether AV makes changes or continues to frustrate them in familiar ways.

    Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

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    This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

    New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has indeed done a great job managing the team’s salary structure. In that context, it might be tough to justify the idea of extending an aging power forward who will be 34 when his current deal expires next summer.

    There are more than a few people who believe that the Rangers would be wise to bring Rick Nash back, however. Just recently, Josh Lipman made such an argument for Fansided and a similar thought surfaced from Jackson Heil of The Hockey Writers.

    Of course, wherever Nash goes, he figures to see a decrease in pay – maybe a drastic drop – from the $7.8 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

    For Nash, it’s a fork in the road during what’s been a somewhat odd career.

    Nash is closing in on 500 career goals, as the winger already produced 416 in 989 regular-season games. He’s become quite the specialist in New York, scoring 127 goals vs. 97 assists in 315 contests with the Rangers.

    On those playoff questions

    As Rangers fans likely know too well, there have been some playoff headaches.

    It’s wrong to say that Nash has never enjoyed postseason success. In 19 games during their 2015 run, he managed 14 points. He also had four points in what was otherwise a miserable five-game series for the Rangers against the Penguins in 2016.

    His strange run of bad luck resurfaced this past postseason, so for all we know, Nash might not ever fully silence critics regarding his supposed lack of “clutch play.”

    Best option available?

    When people picture Nash’s future, many envision him hitting the free agent market in 2018.

    The Rangers might not be so wise to outright dismiss bringing Nash back, though. New York boasts some nice forwards, but it’s plausible that Nash could remain one of their most reliable snipers, even at an advanced age. Lipman points out that Nash easily outclasses other Rangers during his time with the team from a sniping perspective; while he generated 127 goals during that time, the second-most prolific scorer was Derek Stepan, who only managed 90.

    It’s worth noting that, despite being limited to 67 regular-season games in 2016-17, Nash still scored 23 goals. Nash generated 42 goals as recently as 2014-15, which was one of his only healthy campaigns with the Rangers.

    Now, it’s rarely safe to assume that a player will become more durable as he ages, so that’s another concern to consider.

    Still, if the price is reasonable, Nash brings a lot to the table.

    The 2017-18 season stands as a year that could have a huge impact on Nash’s future. The Rangers should at least keep an open mind about being a part of his future beyond this next season.

    Butcher not seeking guaranteed NHL roster spot

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    Even with numerous suitors lining up to try and sign him, Will Butcher isn’t making any unreasonable demands as a free agent.

    Case in point, the 22-year-old defensemen — the same guy who just won the Hobey Baker Award after a terrific senior year at the University of Denver — isn’t saying he needs to play in the NHL next season.

    “What ends up winning the day, I’m not sure,” Butcher’s agent, Brain Bartlett, told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we have not told teams that if you don’t have an NHL spot for him in training camp, don’t bother even calling. It’s quite the opposite.”

    Perhaps Butcher is using Justin Schultz‘s experience in Edmonton as a guide. Schultz, a highly sought-after college free agent in the summer of 2012, was thrown right into the deep end with the Oilers, and only the Pittsburgh Penguins could save him from drowning.

    Not to suggest Schultz made unreasonable demands of the Oilers — he insisted he wasn’t guaranteed ice time — but Edmonton’s blue line was so bereft of talent that he got it all the same.

    Given what Bartlett had to say, it may be that Butcher is looking for a team that, above all else, can guarantee his proper development.

    The NHL ice time can come when he’s ready for it.

    Related: Devils, Sabres, Vegas reportedly in on Butcher