Joe Thornton: Goat or scapegoat?

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jumbojoe2.jpgOne of my general rules of life when it comes to less-than-concrete debates is “the truth is somewhere in the middle.” A great example of this logic comes in the case of Joe Thornton’s playoff “choking.” On one hand, I think that he’s the victim of circumstance and his numbers aren’t that bad. Then again, there is that feeling that maybe he could give more; it’s probably the typical reaction that comes with seeing such a big, talented player be so quiet at times, but it’s hard to ignore that instinctive urge to question his efforts. Even if he’s probably trying too hard.

John O’Connor of the National Post wrote the typical “step it up, Joe” type column.

The playoffs are a different kind of hockey beast, an annual rite of spring that is far more life and death than the 82-game preamble. April, May and June are set aside for greatness. The stakes are high, expectations are elevated, and the best players are supposed to find that extra gear.

But you never seem to change gears, Joe. While everybody else is stepping up you always seem to take a step sideways. Or worse, back.

That is what happened last year when your Sharks captured the President’s Trophy as the best team during the regular season and then face-planted in the opening round of the playoffs. You had one goal and four assists in six game. You were a playoff bust. You always have been.

Look, I understand that 5 points in 6 games might not match Thornton’s regular season averages, but that’s still close to a point per game and hockey players – even the stars – tend to see a dip in production in the playoffs. Someone might bring up Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but there’s two counter-points to that argument: 1) they play in the Eastern Conference/against weaker, less defensively sound opponents and 2) it’s probably fair to say that Thornton is a rung lower on the elite ladder. Not far from those two, but there’s a gap.

O’Connor critiques Jumbo Joe for only having two points in four games so far but conveniently fails to mention how infrequent scoring has been in the Sharks-Avalanche series. Aside from a 6-5 anomaly that was Game 2, the series scores were: 2-1 Colorado, 1-0 Colorado in OT and 2-1 Sharks in OT. Overall San Jose only scored 9 goals in four games with 2 of those coming after regulation. Naturally, one could say that San Jose needs Thornton to step up and that’s true, but it’s clear that he’s in contests where goals are a precious resource. No one is putting up big numbers.

Does that completely excuse Thornton when his team could lose to an eighth seed for the second year in a row? No, it doesn’t. I just think that his problem might be style more than heart. He’s one of the most transparently pass-first players in the league, so maybe in a 7-game series a team can devote more time to learning his tendencies and cutting off his wingers.

It’s unfair to say that he chokes in the playoffs, but is it unfair to say that he needs to make more of an impact? Either way, that perception will be a part of his legacy until he either “snaps out of it” or finally gets lucky.

Welcome Ryan Johansen to the trade rumor mill

Ryan Johansen
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Well, this kind of seemed inevitable — there are now trade rumblings involving Columbus center Ryan Johansen.

This evening, TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed that teams have been calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen about the talented pivot, adding that one team classified Johansen as being “softly” in play.

More (transcribed from video):

“That doesn’t mean [Kekalainen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?’ However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’

“What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line — so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”

The incident Dreger referred to occurred during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, in which head coach John Tortorealla limited Johansen to just 13:52 TOI — his lowest total of the season.

It’s the latest incident from what’s already been a tumultuous year; not long after getting hired, Tortorella told the reigning All-Star MVP he was out of shape.

Johnansen was then away from the team for a pair of games dealing with an undisclosed illness. During that absence, the Dispatch reported Johansen had been hospitalized this summer because of an accelerated heart rate.

All this, of course, came one year after an ugly contract dispute at the start of last season, during which the Jackets and Johansen’s representation engaged in a public spat before agreeing to a three-year, $12M deal.

‘John leaves a lasting mark’: NHL announces Collins’ departure as COO

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One of the driving forces behind the NHL’s growth over the last decade is moving on.

John Collins, who’s served as the league’s chief operating officer for the last seven years, will be leaving his post to embark on a new business opportunity.

More, from the League:

Collins, who joined the NHL in November 2006, had been COO since August 2008.

“John leaves a lasting mark,” said Commissioner Bettman. “His energy, creativity and skill at building strategic partnerships helped drive significant revenue growth for our League. We are grateful for his many contributions and wish him the best in his new endeavors.”

Said Collins, “I’m grateful to Commissioner Bettman for his leadership and friendship over the past nine years. He had a vision for extending the reach of the NHL and supported us completely as we set out to make the game as big as it deserves to be.

“The NHL’s future is filled with promise and potential and I will admire and cheer the League’s successes to come on the global stage.”

Collins, 53, was regarded as one of main presences behind a number of the NHL’s most successful initiatives, including the Winter Classic and Stadium Series, the HBO 24/7 collaboration, the relaunched World Cup of Hockey, Canadian and American television deals and partnerships with companies like SAP, Adidas, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and GoPro.

During Collins’ tenure, the NHL was twice named “Sports League of the Year” by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily — once in 2011, and again in 2014.

Jackets activate Dubinsky, Wennberg from IR

Andy Andreoff, Brandon Dubinsky
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Columbus will have some reinforcements up front when it takes on the Devils tomorrow in New Jersey.

Brandon Dubinsky, who’s missed the last six games with an elbow injury, and Alexander Wennberg — who’s also missed the last six games, but with a foot ailment — have both been activated from injured reserve, and should be available for selection on Wednesday.

It wasn’t all good news for the Jackets, though. Defenseman Cody Goloubef and right wing Rene Bourque were placed on IR.

The biggest return for Columbus is Dubinsky, who had four goals and 11 points in 16 games prior to getting hurt, while averaging nearly 19 minutes per night.

That said, getting Wennberg back is key as well; the former first-round pick has been plagued by injuries recently but showed well during his rookie campaign in ’14-15, with 20 points in 68 games.

Alumni rosters announced for Bruins-Habs at Gillette Stadium

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The Winter Classic Alumni Game is back this year, scheduled for New Year’s Eve at Gillette Stadium between former members of the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins.

Today, the NHL announced the rosters and coaching staffs.

Famous ex-Habs that will take to the outdoor ice include Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, and Mats Naslund. Behind the bench will be Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Demers and Guy Lafleur, among others.

The home side will counter with Bruins legends Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, and “Nifty” Rick Middleton, while Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, and Derek Sanderson will be among the coaches. (Quite a trio of personalities right there.)

Here are the full rosters:


NBCSN will broadcast the alumni game nationally in the United States, while Sportsnet and TVA Sports will have it in Canada.

The 2016 Winter Classic will be played the next day (on NBC).