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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    Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

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    Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

    Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

    “Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

    This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

    All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

    Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

    After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

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    There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

    But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

    “I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

    “It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

    Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

    Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

    It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

    Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

    When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

    Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

    Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

    “Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

    “It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

    And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.

    Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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    The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

    “While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

    Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

    Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

    Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

    Dustin Byfuglien
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    One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

    On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

    Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

    [Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

    Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

    The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

    Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

    The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

    The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

    With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.