Too little, too late for NHL rule changes

Savard.jpgThis is obviously the biggest story of the week and when all is said
and done the 2009-10 NHL season will go down as the “year of the head
shot”.

What is most frustrating about the entire situation is the
fact that the victim of the latest dirty hit — and there’s no doubt in
my mind it was dirty, I don’t care what the NHL says — is at home and
is still suffering from some significant concussion symptoms.

At
least there were some steps taken in the right direction this week with
the GM’s proposing a rule change that would make hits like Matt Cooke’s
illegal. What’s most disturbing however is the fact that all hits to the
head will still not be penalized — but you have to wonder just how far
the NHL can go down that path.

There’s no doubt that the NHL is
an extremely fast and physical league and that hits to the head will
happen, and not all of them are dirty hits. Sometimes accidents happen
and player are going to get seriously hurt, no matter what the NHL does.

But
the point here isn’t to just blindly outlaw all high hits; we’re
talking about protecting NHL players from the ones that have no regard
for their opponents on the ice. It’s ice hockey, I realize that the
point of the game is not only score but to punish the players on the
other team with brutal checks along the boards and in open ice. My point
is that there exists a middle ground where the league can protect
players from serious injury while maintaining the physicality that makes
the sport so much fun.

Marc Savard will most likely not return to
the ice this season. He’s sleeping most of the day, and it’s going to
take him a long time to recover from such a severe concussion. I’m not
someone who believes that the offending players should be suspended for
as long as the victim is injured — there are just too many variables  involved — but the fact that Matt Cooke escaped without punishment is a
travesty.

The NHL is facing a PR nightmare over this incident but
the sad truth there is nothing they could do about this latest hit.
Technically, Cooke’s hit was legal in the eyes of the NHL and the fact
that Mike Richards was not suspended for a similar hit earlier in the
season handcuffed the NHL on what they could do.

So now we have
the league being reactionary instead of proactive when it comes to the
safety of the players, and it’s making the NHL appear even more middling
than they were before. This is a league that has struggled with
mainstream success ever since the lockout five years ago and these incidents do nothing but set the NHL back from whatever progress
they may have made.

There is an irrational fear that supporters of
stricter rules and punishments — like myself — want to turn the NHL
into a sport that is “un-manly” or “wimpy” and abandons the physicality
that sets it apart from all others. That’s not anywhere close to being
the case; in fact, I loved good physical lockdown hockey where goals were
at a premium and there wasn’t a penalty called every 4 minutes for
touching an opponent with your stick.

The issue at hand is the
safety of the players. The cold reality is that players are faster,
bigger and carry more power than ever before and you can’t deny the
increased amount of serious head injuries is alarming.

The NHL is
on the right track, but we shouldn’t have had to wait for one of the
NHL’s best players to be sitting at home with a severe concussion before
anything was done about it.

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    Flames, Johnson continue hot streak with win over Wild

    CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Chad Johnson #31 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 30, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    The Calgary Flames’ recent turnaround continued on Friday night with a 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild.

    The win improved the Flames to 7-3-1 in their past 11 games, and featured another strong performance from goaltender Chad Johnson as he continues to make his case to be the team’s No. 1 goaltender.

    He stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced through regulation and overtime, and then two of the three shots he faced in the shootout. Johnson has been on a roll for the Flames since the middle of November, starting nine of the team’s 11 games since Nov. 15.

    During that stretch he has a .948 save percentage and a 7-2-0 record. His save percentage for the season remains over .930.

    The crazy thing about that number is that it isn’t that far off from what his career numbers look like. Granted, most of that has come in a backup role, but in 40 starts with the Buffalo Sabres a year ago he finished the year with a .920 save percentage. He was at .925 a few years ago in Boston. Really, the only time in his career his performance dipped significantly below that was during a 19-game sample size in 2014-15 with the New York Islanders.

    The win moved the Flames into a wild card position in the Western Conference for the time being. It is worth pointing out their 27 games played are more than any other team in the league at the moment, and are five more than the Nashville team they temporarily jumped over in the standings on Friday.

    Still, considering where the Flames were just a couple of weeks ago when they were 5-10-1 through the first 16 games.

    Sean Monahan scored the winning goal in the shootout for the Flames.

    One thing that stood out in the shootout from a Minnesota perspective was the fact coach Bruce Boudreau did not use Zach Parise or Mikko Koivu.

    Boudreau said after the game that he had intended to use Koivu if the shootout had been extended to a fourth round, and that his decision to use Charlie Coyle ahead of him came down to something he saw in the way Johnson was defending the first two shooters.

    When it came to Parise, who only played 24 seconds in the overtime period, Boudreau said he wanted to talk to the team’s trainers to see if he was fully healthy, adding that he thought Parise looked sluggish and methodical for most of the game.

    Video: Martin Jones robs Alex Galchenyuk with fancy glove save

    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stops a shot by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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    Alex Galchenyuk has been one of the Montreal Canadiens best players this season and entered play on Friday night with nine goals in his first 23 games.

    In the first period against the San Jose Sharks he had himself in a great position to score goal No. 10 when he had a wide open look right in front of the net.

    Sharks goalie Martin Jones, however, had other ideas and absolutely robbed the Canadiens’ star forward.

    Have a look.

    Jones took over as the Sharks’ starting goaltender a year ago after he was acquired in an offseason trade with the Boston Bruins. He was a key piece in their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

    He has been on quite a run for the Sharks over the past couple of weeks and entered play on Friday having allowed just six goals in his past five starts.

    Senators will be without Bobby Ryan for at least next two games

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 28: Bobby Ryan #9 of the Ottawa Senators in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 28, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    The Ottawa Senators were without forward Bobby Ryan during their 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday due to a hand injury that he aggravated on Tuesday against Buffalo. That injury resulted in him being placed on injured reserve by the team, which means he will miss at least the next two games, and potentially more.

    On Friday, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said the team received some positive news regarding Ryan’s injury and that it is possible he could accompany the team on its upcoming four-game road trip that begins on Monday in Pittsburgh. But he will still not be eligible to return until Wednesday when the team visits the San Jose Sharks.

    That means he will be sidelined for Saturday’s home game against Florida as well as Monday’s game against the Penguins.

    Dorion said on Friday, via NHL.com, that there is a 50-50 chance he accompanies the team on the upcoming road trip that also includes games against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

    “I’ve got to give Bobby a lot of credit. People don’t know how many injuries he’s played through here, getting his hand frozen and playing through pain,” Dorion said via NHL.com.

    Ryan initially injured his finger back on Nov. 17 against Nashville, forcing him to miss the next two games. After returning to the lineup he eventually had to leave Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.

    After scoring 24 goals for the Senators a year ago he has just three goals and five assists in 21 games this season.

    The Senators are 14-8-2 and in second place in the Atlantic Division, four points behind the Montreal Canadiens.

    With Gorges injured, Sabres call up Brendan Guhle from WHL

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  51st overall pick Brendan Guhle poses for a portrait during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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    The Buffalo Sabres announced on Friday evening that they have called up defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL on an emergency basis.

    Guhle, a second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by the Sabres in 2015, had impressed in Sabres training camp the past two years but just missed out on making the roster each time. He missed making the team in 2015 in large part because of a concussion after he was hit by Dion Phaneuf.

    He did end up playing six games for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League a year ago, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

    Before his call-up on Friday he had spent the first part of the 2016-17 season playing in the WHL for Prince George as well as the Prince Albert Raiders (he was acquired by Prince George on Nov. 19).

    In 19 games between the two teams he has five goals and two assists.

    The Sabres needed to call up a defenseman because veteran Josh Gorges was injured on Thursday night in the team’s win over the New York Rangers when he was hit in the foot by a shot.

    He had x-rays on Friday and the team is expected to offer some sort of an update on his status on Saturday. In 23 games this season for the Sabres, Gorges has no goals and one assist.

    What really hurts for Sabres at the moment is they are already playing without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian due to injury.

    The Sabres host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.