NHL tells players to buzz off over rule change

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On Monday, we learned that the NHLPA would submit a ‘band aid
solution’ to the NHL’s proposed head-shot rule, which would make
blind-sided hits the head illegal. Some felt that the NHLPA’s attempt at
delaying an immediate rule change was a big ‘up your’s’ to the league
that is tied to disputes between the league and the PA.

I wasn’t so certain it was just a matter of politics and the players
wanting to ensure there wasn’t an off-the-cuff rule change being
instituted in the midst of the season without completely covering every
aspect of the rule change in the summer. The NHLPA had originally wanted
any and all head shots made illegal two years ago but the league shot
that down; now the NHL just wants to make some head shots illegal.
There’s going to be some natural hesitation on the part of the players.

After last night’s news that the NHL Board of Governors had gone
ahead and approved the rule without prior agreement by the NHLPA, it’s a
certainty that politics are at play here when both sides should solely
be focused on player safety.

Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, used the opportunity to
blast the NHLPA. From TSN:

“Our Board can enact rule changes at any time with or without
Competition Committee approval,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in
response to the NHLPA statement. “To the extent the Competition
Committee has approved the rule change in advance, it is entirely
insulated from PA challenge.  To the extent it is not a Competition
Committee-approved rule, the PA is free to challenge under whatever
“theory” they may have available to it. We have been attempting to work
through the PA and the Competition Committee for 10 days now on what
the League considers to be a very important issue.  To the extent we do
not receive NHLPA or Competition Committee sign-off or approval, we
will consider all available options and make a decision in the best
interests of the League and the players.”

Basically Daly is saying that the NHL has the ability to institute
any rule change they want at any time, and that getting the NHLPA
approval is just a matter of common courtesy. Since the PA wanted to
drag its feet and slow the process down, the Board of Governors went
ahead and approved the change anyway.

It’s important to clarify, however, that there is not a new ‘rule’
being instituted this season that would add a minor or major penalty to
the rule book. The change would allow for supplemental action for blind
sided hits, so that future Matt Cooke-style hits could actually be
punished.

After news broke that the BOG had approved the change, the NHLPA
released the following statement.

“Under the CBA, the League’s proposal cannot take effect until it
first receives the support of the joint NHLPA/NHL Competition
Committee, and then is endorsed by the NHL Board of Governors,” NHLPA
senior spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Tuesday night in a statement.

“To date, the Competition Committee has neither agreed on a proposal,
nor forwarded a proposal to the Board of Governors for its vote. As
we have previously stated, the NHLPA’s Competition Committee members
are finalizing their response to the NHL’s proposal regarding blindside
hits to the head and will be responding back to the league this week.”

So, the NHL passed a change that the NHLPA had not approved and the
PA says the league cannot do that according to the CBA. In fact, under
league rules the NHL can make a rule change without the player’s
consent. The PA would then follow up with a grievance to be heard by an
arbitrator, most likely months down the road. Meanwhile, the new rule
would still be in place.

The NHLPA’s statement was followed by a response by Daly to Pierre
LeBrun of ESPN.com:

Daly continued: “Without trying to throw anyone under the bus here,
let’s be real. This is a rule that’s intended to make the game safer
for the players. Its a no-brainer. The PA needs a hockey person, or at
a minimum a player, who is willing to take charge, to step up and make
a decision in the best interests of the game.

“It’s one thing to ‘punt’ on all the more mundane issues surrounding
the game until the Union has a new Executive Director and a clear
direction. We are used to that. But this is different. Someone needs to
show leadership, and they need to do it fast.”

This is a mess of massive proportions, and both sides have mud on
their faces.

The NHL can make it sound like they have nothing but the players
interests and safety at heart, but in reality this rule change is
nothing but a reaction to the public outcry over the dangerous hits
we’re seeing this season and how the league has maintained they can’t
punish players for them.

If they truly cared about these hits,
then the proposed rule change two years ago would have been passed.
Instead, the general managers just happen to meet the day after Matt
Cooke’s disastrous hit on Marc Savard and the NHL decided that this
might be a good time to get a change in place. And instead of addressing
all head-shots, the NHL focuses on a very specific type of hit relative
to two very specific hits we’ve seen this season. Not very proactive at
all.

The NHLPA on the other hand, finally sees a change come down the
pipeline but only including part of what they originally proposed just a
few years ago. It’s a change that is certainly needed, but the PA
decides that they want to control how this goes down and releases a
statement that they will send along a counter proposal. It slowed the
process down, and the NHL responded with their own “Eff You!” and passed
the rule on their own and trashed the NHLPA during the process.

So instead of a needed rule change that everyone agrees needs to be
in place getting passed with handshakes all around, we have the NHL and
the PA using this very public opportunity to circle each other in a
political battle that leaves both sides looking bad.

At some
point, we’ll all get around to actually trying to make the game better
and then possibly marketing the sport to more fans. That would be an
ideal concept.

Capitals prove Ovechkin right, tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

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.

Bruins push Maple Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

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.

Doughty, Hedman, Subban are 2018 Norris Trophy finalists

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Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators have been named finalists for the 2018 Norris Trophy. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Assocation, is given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” will be handed out during the NHL Awards show June 20 in Las Vegas.

This is the fourth time Doughty has been name a finalist. He won the award in 2016 after finishing second the year before. Hedman finished third in the voting last season and this is the second time he’s finished in the top three. Subban, like Doughty, has a Norris Trophy on his resume (2013). This is the third time he’s been up for the award.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Drew Doughty: The Kings blue liner finished sixth in scoring among defensemen with 60 points, which included 10 goals. He also led all NHL players in total ice time with 2,200:31, finishing with an average of 26:50 per game. He had a strong possession game with a 53 percent Corsi and a 4.39 Relative Corsi, meaning LA fired nearly five shots more per 60 minutes when Doughty was on the ice.

“I’m not starting the season, thinking ‘oh I got to get the most points I can, so I can win the Norris,’” he told The Athletic last month. “I’m starting the season, thinking, ‘I’ve got to get my defensive game even better, because that’s where my team needs me the most – to lead the charge in that area. It’s a team game and it’s about winning championships.”

The Case for Victor Hedman: Hedman finished tied for first among defensemen in goals scored with 17 and finished fourth in points with 63. He set a career high in ice time with 1,990:30 total minutes, averaging 25:51 per night. The possession stats for the Lightning defenseman were solid as well, with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.38 Relative Corsi.

“I’m fortunate to be on an unbelievable team that helped me out through my first decade in the league, to help me grow into the player I want to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in February. “Still got stuff to work on and get better at, but obviously winning the Norris would be something that I want to do. I want to be at the top of my game. I want to play my best every night.”

The Case for P.K. Subban: Subban was right behind Hedman in goals scored (16) and right behind Doughty in total points (59). He logged 1,977:24 of ice time, playing in all 82 games for the Predators this season. As you’d expect from a Norris finalist, his possession stats were good, as he finished with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.3 Relative Corsi.

Earlier this season, Subban told the Tennessean he felt his defensive game was overlooked. “The offensive part of my game has always been there,” he said. “The defensive part has always been there as well, but for whatever reason, I don’t seem to get the credit for what I do in my (defensive) zone and how I contribute defensively for our hockey club.”

2018 NHL Award finalists
Lady Byng (Friday)
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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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.