Mueller injured after 'questionable' hit by Blake

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[Updated: Check after the jump for screen caps of the hit]

The big Colorado Avalanche victory last night over the San Jose
Sharks
— in which the Avs came back from a two-goal deficit, allowed two late
goals and then won in overtime — is tainted a bit as the team waits on
word on the condition of Peter Mueller.

Mueller was injured late in the third period when Rob Blake pasted him
into the boards, who says it was just a normal play. From Adrian
Dater of the Denver Post:

“I
haven’t seen it, but I didn’t think it
was too bad,” said Blake, a former Avalanche defenseman. “We were both
going in there together and there were no elbows or anything like that.

“I
haven’t seen it, and it happens quick, so hopefully he’s all
right. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt by any means.”

Mueller had to be helped off the ice, and it looked like he injured
either his head or his shoulder after colliding awkwardly into the
boards. Blake collided with Mueller as they went after the puck behind
the net, with the larger defenseman sending Mueller off balance and into
the boards. Mueller has become an integral part of the Avs, scoring two big goals in yesterday’s win.

Of course, Avalanche fans are calling the hit a cheap
shot by Blake. It’s a hit that certainly rides the fence on being
illegal, but it was from the side (although Mueller had no clue it was
coming), but it was a few feet from the boards and the puck had not come
close to either player yet.

As much as I want the players to
stay safe on the ice, I still want this to be a physical game. Injuries
are going to happen when hockey is played, and big hits are going to
happen. If this hit occurred 18 inches closer to the boards, then we
wouldn’t be talking about it today. It was shoulder to shoulder, from
one big, strong hockey player to a smaller one. If a penalty
was called for, it would be interference for Blake hitting Mueller
before the puck came around to him. Was it a cheap, uncalled for hit?
No.

What will be interesting is to see how the NHL handles such a hit. Since it came 3-4 feet from the boards, on a hit you normally see right along the glass, the outcome was much more severe that what you normally see. And if Mueller hadn’t gone so awkwardly into the boards and got up and skated away, then nothing happens. I doubt we talk about it.

But the NHL wants to crack down on such hits, so there may be a suspension. That Mueller was injured goes against Blake. This is hockey, some players are bigger than others and we can’t just cry foul over every single big hit. It wasn’t from behind, just early and bit unnecessary.

We’ll update you on Mueller’s status when we learn more later
today.

 


Since there’s no video of this hit anywhere just yet, here are some screen caps of what happened.

Blake1.jpgHere you can see Blake and Mueller going for the puck. Both are pretty much shoulder to shoulder, with Mueller having position on Blake. You can also see Blake getting ready to make the hit, as he comes from the side and bit to the rear of Mueller. Notice how far away the puck is. This is the biggest issue with the hit.

Blake2.jpgThis is right as Blake makes the hit, sending Mueller off balance. Four feet from the boards, with the puck no where near the players. I still don’t believe it to be a dirty or ‘classless’ hit, but it’s certainly one the NHL will take a look at.

Blake3.jpgBlake extending his arm after the hit. Danger close.

Blake4.jpgOuch.

Suspension worthy? What’s your call?

With Lehtonen’s strong finish, is Niemi done in Dallas?

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The Stars have spent the last two years working with their oft-criticized two goalie setup.

Could the experiment soon be over?

Over the last month, the club has played Kari Lehtonen almost exclusively — he’s been the goalie of record in 10 of 12 games, including six straight — and has performed well. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s second star of the week, and has a .926 save percentage in March.

According to the Morning-News’ Mike Heika, this might be foreshadowing Antti Niemi‘s departure.

I think they have lost all faith in Antti Niemi and they want to see if Lehtonen is worth keeping next year.

I’m still not sure if this is proving they should keep him, but it makes the decision to get two new goalies more difficult.

A lot will depend on whether or not they acquire a goalie in trade before the NHL buyout window (which opens June 15) closes June 30. If they make a trade or two, that will possibly push them to buy out Lehtonen and Niemi.

I think it would be tough to buy out both and have no goalies in house on July 1.

The guess here is Niemi will be bought out for sure.

Niemi is in the second of a three-year, $13.5 million deal, one that carries a $4.5 million cap hit. Per CapFriendly, a buyout would cost Dallas $1.5 million against the cap through 2019.

This season has been a struggle for the 33-year-old. He’s posted an 11-11-4 record with a 3.35 GAA and .892 save percentage, and that came after a fairly mediocre first year in Dallas. Though he won 25 games and appeared in five playoff contests, Niemi never posted a save percentage above .905.

If the plan is to keep Lehtonen and move on from Niemi, it’s fairly safe to assume GM Jim Nill will acquire a goalie to work in tandem with the former.

And this is where things could get interesting.

This summer’s UFA goalie market will be flush. Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott, Mike Condon, Scott Darling and Chad Johnson are all currently without contracts for next season, and the prospect of joining the Stars has to be enticing. There is playing time to be had, and Lehtonen — who turns 34 next season — only has a year left on his deal.

Report: U.S. women to vote on deal to avoid worlds boycott

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USA Today, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that USA Hockey has struck a tentative four-year deal with members of the U.S. women’s national team that would avert a boycott of the upcoming world championship in Plymouth, Michigan.

The players are expected to vote on the deal today. No financial details were reported. The players have been seeking a living wage.

The U.S. is scheduled to play Canada on Friday at USA Hockey Arena.

Read more:

USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage

U.S. women say they’ll boycott worlds

Selanne: Ducks want Kariya back in fold, but he’s ‘very bitter about hockey’

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Paul Kariya hasn’t played hockey in over seven years, since a series of concussions forced him into retirement.

He’s been out of the limelight, too.

After sharply criticizing the league during his retirement announcement — he said every hit that ever knocked him out was an illegal one — Kariya has virtually disconnected from the hockey world, save the occasional report alluding to his bitterness towards the NHL.

But there have been efforts to connect with him.

Including those from the team he rose to prominence with.

In a recent interview on Ray Ferraro’s Pulp Hockey podcast, Teemu Selanne — Kariya’s longtime running mate in Anaheim — shed some light on how the Ducks would welcome Kariya back… and how Kariya’s consistently rebuffed the idea.

More:

“It was kind of a shame how his career ended. He’s very bitter about that. He always thought that the NHL was not looking after the players the way they should. So that’s why he doesn’t want to be involved with hockey at all, and he almost kind of like disappeared from the hockey world, which is very sad.

“What he has done for hockey, and especially here in Anaheim and California, it’s unbelievable. He was an unbelievable hockey player, and I had a great time with him. It hurts me that he doesn’t want to be part of hockey, because I think he has a lot to offer and give. Hopefully one day he will come back, for some reason. I know the Ducks have really tried hard to get him back and into the program.

“But he’s very bitter about hockey, which is very sad.”

Drafted fourth overall by the Ducks in ’93, Kariya was the franchise’s first true superstar. He scored 50 goals and 108 points in his sophomore campaign and, the year following, finished second in Hart Trophy voting for league MVP.

In 2003, he led Anaheim to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. That series, of course, is perhaps best remembered for the lethal hit Kariya took from Devils d-man Scott Stevens.

The Stevens hit was just one in a series that derailed Kariya’s career. There was the infamous Gary Suter crosscheck to the head in ’98 — Suter received a two-game suspension — and the last one, an elbow to the head from Patrick Kaleta.

Kaleta avoided suspension entirely.

Many have wondered where Kariya would’ve ranked among the greats had he stayed healthy. He finished with 989 points in 989 career games, and was still a really productive player at the end — despite the concussion problems, Kariya, then 35 years old, scored 18 goals and 43 points in 75 games during his final season in St. Louis.

With the annual Hall of Fame debates and the recent NHL 100 list, Kariya’s name has come up quite a bit. Which again circles back to Anaheim.

Selanne’s number is already in the rafters (Kariya wasn’t in attendance for the ceremony), and the organization has close ties with alumni, as both Scott Niedermayer and Todd Marchant both have front-office gigs. So one would think Kariya, who served as team captain for five years, would be embraced with open arms.

PHT reached out to the Ducks for comment on Selanne’s remarks. They replied that Kariya is always welcome in Anaheim, and he’s aware of that.

Keller debut garners praise from coach Tippett

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Clayton Keller didn’t score — in fact, he didn’t even register a shot — but his NHL debut last night in St. Louis garnered high praise from Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett.

“He looks like a good player,” Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “He’s got good skill. He’s certainly not worried about getting into any confrontations. He plays hard along the wall. He’s not a big guy, but he competes hard. He looks like a hockey player. He’s got great hockey sense. You watch how he manages a game between line changes, just managing the puck, it was a good start for him.”

The Coyotes lost the game, 4-1, but Keller finished with an even rating in 12:21 of even-strength action. The 18-year-old also logged 1:48 on the power play.

Keller grew up in suburban St. Louis, so debuting against the Blues at Scottrade Center was doubly special.

“It’s pretty cool growing up coming to games here,” he said. “It was really special to have the first one here.”

Related: Coyotes ready for prized prospect Keller to go pro