When a star hockey player is struggling, it’s not crazy to wonder “Is he hurt? Is he injured?” Some might respond with a token “that’s just an excuse” but in the realm of hockey, playing injured isn’t just common. It’s practically expected.
So whenever you can get a little perspective on what it must be like to deal with pain and play such a violent and demanding sport, it’s fascinating. Former player Justin Bourne provided a great take on the subject in a column for The Hockey News.
In my junior days, I had nearly broken my wrist in the first game of a playoff series against the Merritt Centennials. Merritt had the type of little punk you could backhand in front of his own parents and they’d shake your hand. Sure enough, he isolated my injury. Little slash. Tiny hack. Mini whack – for games on end. And before long, not only was I enraged, I didn’t want to skate anywhere near the kid. I was like Daniel Sedin on David Bolland in Round 2: completely out of my element.
These nagging, pestering aches and pains make you a different player, not because you’re consciously afraid of getting hit, but because you’re somewhat aware there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, play the game. You always have the option to play a safer way without getting singled out for hurting your team, but when “not hurting your team” is the goal, you’ve set the bar exceedingly low and your play suffers.
A decline in play caused by injuries is something that is sometimes overlooked. A player can actually cause harm to his team by playing injured if his effectiveness is limited to nothing. It’s kind of like showing up to work with the flu; sure, in your mind you’re being a “trooper” but you might also get your co-workers sick.
So, on some level, we need to keep some perspective. These athletes already fight through a grueling 82-game season and few are at 100 percent at this time of year. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re also getting paid millions to do so. It’s interesting to wonder who is playing with what, though. I guess that’s why depth is so important in hockey …
The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.
Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.
This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.
This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.
This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.
Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.
“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”
The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.
The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.
A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.
That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?
“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”
Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.
But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.
Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.
Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.
Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts
Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.
On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.
He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.
The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.