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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    Olympic sensation Tolvanen may make Predators even deeper

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    Watch out NHL teams, Eeli’s coming. Eeli Tolvanen, that is.

    At least, that appears to be the plan for the Nashville Predators, as assistant GM Paul Fenton told Craig Custance of The Athletic (sub required) that they expect to bring in Tolvanen once his KHL “out clause” kicks in following his season with Jokerit.

    “We’ll have a contract in place to be able to execute and have him come over here,” Fenton said. “That’s the plan. Funnier things have happened. I don’t want to say 100 percent. I never do that in our business. Yes, our plan is to have him.”

    Now, depending upon whom you ask, the “funnier things” might involve a trade … although the odds seem pretty low on that, as Custance notes:

    OK, so let’s assume that Tolvanen isn’t the one who’s traded. There’s the possibility, mind you, that Tolvanen’s emergence and Mike Fisher’s hopeful return might force a bit of a logjam, or at least a theoretical one. Maybe GM David Poile would use that anticipated influx of even more depth to make an upgrade?

    (Dobber Hockey discusses how Jokerit’s work in the KHL playoffs also complicates when Tolvanen might be able to arrive in North America. Short version: Predators fans will probably root against Jokerit for at least a few weeks.)

    It’s dizzying stuff to jump into all of the possibilities, especially if you’re like TSN’s Travis Yost, who ponders potential reverberations in a possible Seattle expansion draft:

    /Needs a second to sit down and allow brain to heal.

    OK, so all of that is important, but let’s take a moment to bask in the gloriousness of what might be another talented player added to a fun Predators roster already brimming with depth and skill. (Custance describes the Predators as “salivating” over clips from Tolvanen at the 2018 Winter Olympics.)

    The beautiful thing about the Finnish 18-year-old, who was almost instantly heralded as a steal as the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, is that he’s checking just about all the boxes.

    While his Finnish team fell to Canada and were eliminated in the quarterfinal today, he was absolutely sensational. Quick reference: when you’re getting mentioned in the same breath as vintage Eric Lindros, you’re probably doing something very, very right.

    Of course, five games is a small sample size, and the talent on hand during the 2018 Winter Olympics was a mixed bag.

    The Predators must be heartened, then, to see Tolvanen produce in the KHL. He currently has 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 47 games. That ranks Tolvanen second on his team in scoring, just one point behind former Canucks and Rangers forward Nicklas Jensen, who’s collected his 35 points in 52 games.

    He made quite the splash right off the bat, becoming the youngest player to net a hat trick in the KHL:

    Ultimately, the Predators enjoy an embarrassment of riches, with the luxury of bickering over whether they should keep the promising prospect or move him in a Rick Nash trade. The stakes are high when you’re aiming for a Stanley Cup, yet it’s also remarkable just how loaded the Predators are from their roster to their farm system.

    While Poile and the Predators giggle about the possibilities, the rest of the NHL lets out more of a nervous laugh. Or at least they probably should.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Amid Karlsson trade rumors, Ryan to return for Sens

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    During Tuesday’s Insider Trading segment on TSN, Bob McKenzie noted that to trade for Erik Karlsson, a suitor might need to assume the mammoth contract of Bobby Ryan. Ryan, 30, hasn’t played since Feb. 1 and has been limited to 39 games this season because of hand/wrist injury issues that have been plaguing him for years.

    Remarkably, a day after that report surfaced, it sounds like Ryan might make his return to the Senators lineup. The current plan is for Ryan to suit up for Ottawa on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to reporters including TSN’s Brent Wallace.

    There are a number of remarkable things about this development.

    Obviously, the timing stands out, as this comes on the heels of that report, not to mention less than a week before Feb. 26’s trade deadline. It’s even amusing that Ryan is slated to face the Lightning, a team that may very well decide that it’s worth it to go all-in and acquire Karlsson, even if it means taking on Ryan. Surely getting a look at him, up close and personal, wouldn’t hurt matters?

    (Allow me to think out loud: if Ryan Callahan‘s $5.8 million was involved as well, would that grease the wheels a bit?)

    There are a few ways things can go for Ryan.

    LTIR bound?

    For one thing, it’s difficult to ignore the possibility that the once-potent sniper might go the way of the LTIR mainstay, much like Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, and others before him. The Athletic’s Chris Stevenson went into exhaustive detail regarding the rather confusing scenarios for Ryan possibly being LTIR material here (sub required).

    Even if Ryan’s fated to go on LTIR – which might be a necessity for a contender that already has big commitments, considering the fact that his $7.25M cap hit won’t expire until after 2021-22 – the Lightning or some other team might want to see what he can do now. Assuming they can make the cap hits work in 2017-18.

    More in the tank?

    It’s easy to forget that Ryan isn’t that far removed from some impressive goal-scoring days.

    His last 20+ goal season came as recently as 2015-16, when he collected 22 in 81 games. He basically averaged 20 goals through his first three seasons in Ottawa, as Ryan totaled 63 from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

    Ryan showed flashes of that brilliance during the Senators’ remarkable run within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He managed six goals and 15 points in 19 playoff games, including a brilliant OT-winner against the Penguins:

    For once, the bounces were going Ryan’s way, as he enjoyed the best playoff work of his career and connected on 28.57 percent of his shots on goal. So, yes, those results were inflated … yet they came during the 2017 postseason. If healthy, is that unreasonable to imagine Ryan posting nice numbers in Tampa Bay and becoming more than just a throw-in? Could he help even if his injury luck continues to come and go?

    If Ryan was forced to be part of a Karlsson trade, the dream scenario for the Lightning or another contender might be something like Clarke MacArthur‘s 2017 playoff run with Ottawa. Maybe Ryan contributes to a postseason push, then lands on LTIR?

    One other thought

    It’s important to note that trading Ryan wouldn’t necessarily be the best-case scenario for Ottawa. (It might be for owner Eugene Melnyk, mind you, as it’s basically an open secret that he’s very … cost-conscious at the moment.)

    To accept Ryan’s contract – even at a discounted rate – a bidding team would likely give up less actual, beneficial pieces in a Karlsson trade. Perhaps ridding themselves off Ryan’s contract would cost the Senators a draft pick, prospect, or some other key piece? It’s certainly something to consider.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Dion Phaneuf trade pays early dividends for Kings

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    If nothing else, Dion Phaneuf knows how to make a first impression.

    Think back to when Phaneuf burst onto the season as an NHL rookie. He scored 20 goals during his first season in 2005-06, which still stands as a career-high, and he enjoyed 50 and 60-point seasons in the next two years. During his first three seasons (2005-06 to 2007-08), Phaneuf collected 159 points, tying him with Brian Rafalski for sixth-most among defensemen. No other blueliner was even close to his 54 goals during that same span.

    Between that scoring prowess and such a tendency to throw hard hits that his last name became a Kronwallian verb, it seemed like Phaneuf was destined to be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger, or maybe the next Rob Blake.

    … That’s not how things turned out, of course.

    Phaneuf’s been known as much for a shaky contract as anything else lately, which is part of the reason Blake was able to get the Ottawa Senators to eat 25 percent of his salary to make a trade happen.

    [Trade: Senators send Phaneuf to Kings.]

    At the time, it was a puzzling deal, with the main takeaway being that the Senators get to save money while the Kings hope to rejuvenate Phaneuf. So far, that rejuvenation has been remarkable, even if small sample size red flags pop out so much, they practically poke you in the eye.

    Still, it’s been a cool, under-the-radar story. Through four games, Phaneuf already has three goals for the Kings. All three have come on the power play; Phaneuf scored in his debut for L.A. and also found the net last night, helping them carve out a 4-3 win against the Jets.

    [A deeper look at debuts for Phaneuf, Marian Gaborik.]

    Let’s watch all three of his Kings goals.

    Phaneuf’s goal in his Kings debut is the anomaly, as he saw an opening for something of a backdoor goal, which isn’t really what you picture if you hear “Phaneuf power-play goal.”

    His past two goals have been to type, with slappers from both points getting the job done:

    Even skeptics would probably admit that Phaneuf can still fire the puck, so maybe the Kings will find a nice use for one of his enduring strengths.

    Again, there really couldn’t be enough signs that this is a brief surge of luck.

    Phaneuf has scored his three goals on 11 SOG, which translates to a 27.3 shooting percentage. He brought a 3.5 shooting percentage (in 53 games) with him from Ottawa, and his career average is 5.7 percent.

    (You can stretch this out further to absurd PDO numbers and others, if you want to go exploring.)

    The most interesting question will come down to how much value Phaneuf can bring to the Kings.

    So far, his possession numbers are shaky, much like they were in Ottawa. He’ll get a chance to improve over the long haul, especially if he remains tethered to a solid middle pairing blueliner like Alec Martinez. Phaneuf has spent more even-strength time with Martinez than he has with any other King, Jonathan Quick included, according to Natural Stat Trick.

    This brief but compelling surge is actually reminiscent of some other trades for the Kings. As you may recall, both Vincent Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla enjoyed brief-yet-notable surges in their swan songs in L.A.

    Of course, the stakes are higher with Phaneuf. Even at a discounted rate, his $5.25 million cap hit is frightening, especially when you realize that it runs through 2020-21.

    One must grade the trade with Marian Gaborik‘s also-challenging contract in mind, making this all a bit convoluted. If one were to wager, it seems most likely that this move will be remembered as a costly, creative, and somewhat confusing lateral move.

    But, hey, at least the first chapter has been captivating.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Jarome Iginla skates with AHL Providence, still wants to play

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    Jarome Iginla is still without a team but isn’t giving up hope just yet on one last ride in the NHL.

    The 40-year-old Iginla, who last played in 2016-17 with the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, was spotted on the ice at Providence Bruins practice on Tuesday, but there’s nothing in the works as far as a deal anywhere, he told the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver.

    Iginla’s name popped up in contention for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team this fall, but a hip procedure cost him time on the ice and ultimately a place in GM Sean Burke’s final roster for PyeongChang. (The Canadians are doing just fine without him having reached the semifinals of the tournament.)

    Now living in the Boston area after buying a house last spring, Iginla, who played 78 games with the NHL Bruins during the 2013-14 season, was simply taking advantage of a favor from the team. He’s expected to skate with AHL Providence again on Thursday as he continues to see where his body is physically.

    Iginla — and for that matter, U.S. Olympian Brian Gionta, who’s also looking to continue playing — can sign with any NHL team, but to be eligible to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs a deal needs to be inked before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline next Monday.

    ————

    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.