Is this a week in which no throat is safe?
Few things are as scary as when an NHL player takes a hard shot to the head, but I cannot help but note how strange it is than two different players took pucks to the throat this week. First, San Jose Sharks forward Ryane Clowe was rushed to the hospital after he took a Brad Richards shot off the throat during a Wednesday game against the Dallas Stars. Last night, Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows suffered a similar fate from a Jarret Stoll shot last night at the Staples Center (video here).
The good news is that both players are OK and seemingly won’t suffer from much more than a night (or few moments) of extreme discomfort. The Vancouver Province reports that the Canucks are weary of swelling in the case of Burrows, who actually felt good enough to return to last night’s game but then “thought the better of it.” The Sharks acted on such instincts when Clowe’s throat showed some signs of swelling, according to David Pollak of the Mercury News.
Clowe’s initial reaction was to pursue the puck, thinking he might be in position for a shot on the Dallas goal.
“But I couldn’t catch my breath, and then I had trouble breathingwhen I was getting off,” he said. The problem continued on the bench “because I was coughing and puked a little bit.”
When Clowe’s throat started to swell in the locker room, the decision was made to send him to Baylor University Medical Center for further evaluation.
There are some accidents that just cannot be avoided and I think taking a shot to the throat – for the most part – is something we just hope happens infrequently. Incidents like this make it fairly difficult to discourage players from wearing visors, though. Is better vision worth losing an eye? Better to be on the safe side I’d say, even if hockey is far from a safe sport.
Steve Stamkos began to practice again on Tuesday and he was back out there on Wednesday and Thursday, which some might interpret as him being close to returning. It seems premature to say that definitively.
“It could be weeks. It could be months,” Stamkos said of his timetable, per ESPN. “That’s the tough part.”
The problem isn’t getting back into game shape after undergoing vascular surgery in early April. He feels he’s already close to reaching that objective. The issue is that Stamkos is on blood thinners, which prevents him from taking any contact. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be on blood thinners.
For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent the same surgery and was out for two months and the original timetable provided on April 4 for Stamkos was one-to-three months. So based on that, it sounds like it would be surprising if he returned anytime soon.
Will Patrice Bergeron join Bob Gainey as the only players to have ever won the Selke Trophy four times?
That’s a distinct possibility after the Bruins center was named as a finalist along with Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar.
The Selke Trophy honors the league’s top defensive forward and for three of the last four years, that distinction has gone to Bergeron. However, Kesler and Kopitar have been popular with the voters of this award as well.
Kopitar has finished second in the voting in each of the previous two campaigns while Kesler won back in 2011, though he finished outside of the top-five in each of the last three years prior to the 2015-16 campaign.
Among the trio, Kesler excelled this season on the draw with a 58.5% success rate, which was good for second in the league among forwards who took at least 200 faceoffs. Bergeron was up there too, winning 57.1% of his draws while Kopitar posted a 53.5%. Meanwhile, Bergeron ranked seventh in the NHL with 67 takeaways compared to Kesler’s 39 and Kopitar’s 43. Where Kopitar stood out was in plus/minus as he finished second in the league at plus-34. Kesler was plus-five and Bergeron was plus-12.
Kopitar similarly led the trio with a 57.4% Corsi For versus Bergeron’s 55.9% and Kesler’s 52.9%.
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed half of Washington’s first round series, but he’s back in time for the opener against his former team.
Orpik last played on April 18 and was regarded as questionable going into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh. He’s expected to be paired with John Carlson throughout the contest.
Washington’s other projected pairings are Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen as well as Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.
Orpik was limited to 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season, but when he did play he averaged 19:48 minutes per contest. He also recorded 125 hits and 102 blocked shots despite missing half the season. The 35-year-old blueliner got his start with Pittsburgh and played in 703 regular season contests with them and an additional 92 postseason contests. This is his second season with Washington.
Thomas Vanek hopes he’s not bought out, but his rough 2015-16 campaign has made that a possibility.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher certainly isn’t ruling it out, but at the same time he also presented an assessment for Vanek that was in a way more of a mixed than negative review.
“I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team,” Fletcher said, per the StarTribune. “He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year.”
That last point is particularly relevant given that a buyout essentially boils down to missing out on the chance of Vanek bouncing back in exchange for some short-term cap relief. To put figures on it, buying out Vanek would save Minnesota $5 million in cap space for the 2016-17 campaign, but then it will cost Minnesota $2.5 million in 2017-18, per General Fanager.
With Vanek in the books, the Wild are projected to consume $63.8 million in cap space next season and that figure doesn’t including pending restricted free agents Jason Zucker, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Matt Dumba, or Darcy Kuemper. If the 2016-17 ceiling is $74 million, as has been previously suggested, then it seems reasonable to believe that Minnesota can lock up its RFAs, keep Vanek, and still have some flexibility left over to engage in other changes over the summer. Although obviously gaining an extra $5 million would make it easier for them to make more sizable moves.
“I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options,” Fletcher said.
The plan is for Fletcher to take a couple weeks before deciding on what to do with Vanek.
Related: No Chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM