Bruins seeking payback could be nightmare for NHL

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Bruins.jpgTonight’s game between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh
Penguins will be a defining moment in the history of the NHL. With Matt
Cooke facing absolutely zero punishment for his blind-side hit on Marc
Savard that left the Boston forward out for the season with a
concussion, the Bruins could be out for blood as they seek retribution.

There’s no doubt that Matt Cooke will be a targeted man. The Bruins
will be looking to make him pay each time he touches the puck. But it’s
not just Cooke that is in danger; the Penguins’ top players have big
targets on their backs as well. Says P.J. Stock, former Boston Bruins
tough guys (courtesy
of NECN.com
):

“It’s so easy to just go after the other team’s tough guy . . . and
think the score is settled. It’s not, though. The Bruins are missing
one of their star players. They now have to talk to [Evgeni] Malkin . .
. They have to talk to Crosby. They have to get in the head of
[Sergei] Gonchar. They have to try to make those guys feel somewhat
uneasy.

“The last thing I’d ever want to do is tell someone to
invoke some sort of physical treatment to Crosby. But, unfortunately,
the way the game’s going, if [the NHL is] not going to fix any of this,
the only way to make a guy who was running around feel a little bad
about himself is to [threaten to] hurt one of his team’s star players. I
wouldn’t do anything to Crosby, but in the warmup I’d let Crosby
[know] that we’re coming for him. And then when Matt gets out there, I
think Matt [has to] own up. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Cooke
fought in his first or second shift. He’s a tough kid, and he can hold
his own.”

Stock also mentions that the instigator rule originally prevented the
Bruins from instantly retaliating and making Cooke pay in the original
game. He also doesn’t seem to be actively promoting the targeting of the
Penguins’ top players, but if it’s his mind you know it’s in the heads
of the Boston players as well.

This is exactly what the NHL is
hoping to avoid. Colin Campbell is actually going to be in attendance at
tonight’s game, as the league hopes his presence will help maintain
some measure of order and discipline. The last time this sort of game
was played, where a team seemed to be ready for violent retribution,
Steve Moore was left with a broken neck and hockey has been trying to
recover ever since.

The Vancouver Canucks – Colorado Avalanche
game of March 8, 2004 — in which season-long suspensions, criminal
charges and life-long injuries were the result of payback — would
hopefully be the motivation for both teams to at least contain
themselves for outright headhunting.

This is also the absolute
worst scenario the NHL could have faced, just weeks after the Olympics.
Says Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail:

Hockey came out of the Vancouver Winter Games with a golden glow – not
just in the medals won by the Canadian men and women, but in the
surprising show by the Americans (silver in men’s and women’s hockey)
and the astonishing skill level showed by all players in a tournament in
which there had not been a single fight.

That glow lasted about as long as a firefly’s thanks to Cooke’s vicious
hit on an unsuspecting Savard and the now-familiar image of a stretcher
being pulled out onto the ice through the Zamboni doors.

The best thing that can happen from this game is the Boston Bruins
somehow manage to keep their heads, and get payback on the Penguins not
by taking out their top players with illegal or dangerous hits but by
getting some much-needed points with a big win.

I’m not saying the Bruins should not be looking for payback at all.
In fact, I fully expect a fight with Matt Cooke in most likely in his
first shift. The Bruins should also make it clear they are not exactly
happy with the situation, but with clean and hard hits that don’t leave a
question as to whether they were illegal or not. And as much as this
could be an ‘eye for an eye’ game, going out to injure another player
just to get retribution for Savard.

The NHL is facing a seminal moment this season, and it’s unfortunate
we’ve come to this. Yet the absolute worst thing that can happen tonight
is for the Bruins to try and clearly take out or hurt any of the
Penguins players. I understand that i the past this might have been
fine, and that hockey is a sport where payback is possible — and
expected — if the NHL fails to do what is right. Yet for a sport that
is already teetering on the precipice of a PR nightmare, there is fine
line that is going to be walked tonight.

There is a way for the Boston Bruins to get their retribution, but
that’s not with dangerous or openly vicious hits. Beat them on the
scoreboard, show Matt Cooke his hit will not go unpunished. But do not
cross that line.

Columbus giving prized rookie Werenski ‘every opportunity to run the power play’

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
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The Blue Jackets aren’t easing Zach Werenski into his freshman campaign.

Werenski, the highly touted blueline prospect, has been tasked with running the Columbus power play during the exhibition campaign — often as the lone defenseman with four forwards — and it looks like a role he might reprise throughout the regular season.

Even though he’s yet to play an NHL game.

“I want to give him every opportunity to run the power play,” head coach John Tortorella said after an OT win over Nashville, per the Blue Jackets website. “He certainly did a good job of that tonight. We’ll keep on giving him opportunities and we’ll see where we go.”

More: Looking to make the leap: Zach Werenski

The Werenski hype train has been full steam for just over a year now. The eighth overall pick in 2015, Werenski spent two highly decorated years at the University of Michigan before turning pro at the end of last season.

Dispatched to Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, the 19-year-old had a fantastic professional debut. He was a major catalyst on the Monsters’ defense, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games en route to the Calder Cup championship.

“The skill set he has — his size, strength and poise with the puck, he’s a complete player,” said Monsters coach Jared Bednar (now the head coach in Colorado). “To be able to step into our lineup in intense games and get the job done, it’s impressive especially for his age and that’s why everyone’s so excited about him.”

All signs point to a very talented — and young — Columbus defense this year. It was already assumed 21-year-old Seth Jones and 23-year-old Ryan Murray were going to play major roles, and now it sounds like Werenski will be leaned on just as heavily.

Which means it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the vets.

Jack Johnson averaged over 24 minutes per game last year, a figure that will undoubtedly decrease. It’ll also be curious to see what happens to David Savard, who was playing more than 23 minutes a night — do remember that, at the start of last season, the Jackets gave Savard a hefty five-year, $21.25 million extension.

The playoff race in the West could be ‘tighter than ever’

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 9:  Goalie Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars makes a save against Kyle Brodziak #28 of the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on May 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s Western Conference should be wild all season, perhaps as much as ever as parity reigns and points are tough to come by on any given night.

A slew of teams have a shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

The defending Conference champion San Jose Sharks, who had five players in the World Cup of Hockey finals , certainly appear to have a chance to be among the final two still skating in mid-June. That alone would be a feat because no team from the conference has pulled it off since the Detroit Red Wings, now an Eastern Conference team, won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a win of repeating.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis will likely be among the contenders. Dallas, too.

The Blackhawks and Kings, who alternated as champions from 2012 to 2015 and won five Cups in a six-season span, failed to even make it out of the first round last in 2016.

Both teams certainly have a chance to bounce back this season.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”

Hitchcock and Stars general manager Jim Nill both believe the teams that were at the bottom of the conference last season on moving up.

“The Winnipegs and the Colorados are going to be better teams,” Nill told the AP. “I think it’s going to be tighter than ever.”

How tight?

“Everyone has a shot,” San Jose’s Logan Couture said.

 

Related: There’s only one ‘vision’ in Vancouver this season, and that’s winning

 

Tough blow for Blues: Schwartz out ‘at least four weeks’ with elbow injury

ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 23: Jaden Schwartz #9 of the St. Louis Blues shoots the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Scottrade Center on February 23, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues will have to start the season without one of their most dangerous forwards, Jaden Schwartz.

Schwartz “will miss at least four weeks after injuring his left elbow during a training camp practice on Sept. 29,” the club announced today.

It’s another frustration for the 25-year-old winger. Schwartz was limited to just 33 games last season, after fracturing his ankle in October.

As for this latest injury, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock originally predicted that Schwartz would only need a “couple of days off.”

St. Louis opens its regular season Oct. 12 in Chicago. If Schwartz is out until the end of October, he’ll miss nine games.

Related: Schwartz signs five-year extension

More bad news in Dallas: Janmark (knee surgery) out 5-6 months

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 22: Mattias Janmark #13 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, we passed along word that Stars forward Mattias Janmark was spotted on crutches at the team’s practice facility.

Now we know why.

Janmark suffered a knee injury that requires surgery, GM Jim Nill said on Thursday. The procedure is expected to sideline the Swedish forward for 5-6 months, putting his return in the neighborhood of February-March of next year.

It’s a big blow for the Stars.

After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp last year — a “great story,” according to GM Jim Nill — Janmark, 23, went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news compounds what’s been a lousy September in Dallas. The club previously lost Tyler Seguin (heel), Cody Eakin (knee) and Ales Hemsky (groin) to injuries, and saw Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin sign in the KHL.

Looking at the schedule, Janmark projects to miss anywhere between 60-70 games this season, assuming the 5-6 month timeline is accurate. That’s a big chunk of man power to replace.