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Reactions to the death of a hockey icon: Bob Probert dead at 45

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bobprobert-gettyimages.jpgWith the shocking news of the passing of Bob Probert today at the age of 45, it’s tough to gauge just what the reaction would be to losing a guy whose aura on the ice was one that instilled fear in opponents. He was the rogue sheriff in a somewhat lawless era of the NHL. An era where the “code” dictated the laws between enforcers and an era where messing with another team’s superstar could turn a hockey game into a now abused cliché about how you went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.

I’m old enough to say that I was at the perfect age to believe that Bob Probert was an indestructible force in the NHL. A guy who would stand up for your teammates no matter what and he’d make “the bad guys” pay for their transgressions and he would do it out of respect for his teammates and for the game itself. After all, if there wasn’t guys like Bob Probert out on the ice taking care of business when their teammates were wronged, who was going to handle it? Back in the 80s, the league wasn’t stepping in to mete out punishment, it was up to guys like Probert to do so and he earned the respect of everyone on the ice in doing so. What’s not to love about a guy that does that pulls the respect card like that? Sure the guy had problems in his personal life. He fought demons with cocaine and alcohol abuse for years. He was arrested. He was banned from going to some road games because he wasn’t allowed to cross the border. What makes people love a guy with so many flaws like this? He was kind to those off the ice. A man with a huge heart who would take the time to ask how you were doing even though his celebrity status should’ve meant he never had to do that. He would do it anyhow, just like how any of us regular schmoes might if we were in those superstar shoes. Bob Probert was just a regular guy that made it big and we rooted for him to do well because it felt like he was one of us making it big.

What are others saying about this iconic figure of skill, protection and pugilism on the rink and a caring man off of it? The plaudits are many. Join us after the jump to read more.

Mitch Albom – Detroit Free Press:

Young kids won’t understand our fascination with Probert. They don’t make his kind anymore. They don’t encourage it and they don’t tolerate it. But there is a reason you still see people wearing his jersey at Joe Louis Arena, more than 15 years since he last played for Detroit.

Coming up in the 1980s, Bob Probert was the sort of warrior they now model video game characters after. Relentless. Brutal. Single-minded. Unafraid of blood. He was an enforcer, a goon, a guy whose main purpose was to make sure nobody messed with his team’s stars. Someone touched Steve Yzerman? Bob Probert touched back hard. Someone ran the goalie? Probert ran him harder.

Don Cherry reflects on Probert the fighter and showman. Reading all of this piece by Chris Johnston – The Canadian Press is a must.

Cherry remembers attending a game where Probert was set to have a rematch with Troy Crowder after the two had staged a memborable fight earlier in the season. Everyone in the building was abuzz with anticipation.

“I said to the linesman before, ‘If they get started don’t break them up.’ The linesman said, ‘Are you kidding? I want to see it, too,”‘ recalled Cherry. “The puck was up in the other end and everyone was watching Probert and Crowder. I remember he hit Crowder so hard, his helmet went about 10 feet in the air.

“It was a dandy.”

Joey Kocur, a teammate and opponent of Probert’s on the ice reflects on a lost friend.

“My favourite memory of Bob would be sitting down before a game, going over the opposing lineup and picking and choosing who would go first and if the goalie would be safe or not,” Kocur said in a statement. “It was great to be able to go out on the ice knowing that he had my back and I had his.

“He was like the brother I never had.”

Versus’ Adrian Dater hears from both Ian Laperriere and Stu Grimson, legendary fighters in their own right.

“He was the scariest player I ever played against, for sure,” Philadelphia Flyers fighter Ian Laperriere said. “I never fought him, but he chased me around a lot.”

Stu Grimson elaborates a bit more on Probert the man off the ice.

Grimson said he got to know Probert better when their careers were both over. Together, they were part of a contingent of ex-players who went to Afghanistan to visit with Canadian troops several years ago.

“We got to sit down and talk more and it was good. We played a lot of ball hockey with the troops and had a good time,” Grimson said. “I locked horns with Bob probably more than anybody else in my career. We always had a kind of unspoken connection, that most fighters do.”

Aaron Portzline of the Puck Rakers Blog caught up with Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley, a guy whose career was really carved through by what guys like Probert did years ago. Shelley has nothing but admiration for the man.

Shelley called him “Mr. Probert” when he asked Probert to fight in the first period.

“When I asked him to fight the first time, I heard the words come out of my mouth, and I thought, ‘Oh god, I’m done.’ He said no problem. The puck dropped and there we go.”

Shelley never met Probert away from the ice, he said.

“I never got to shake the man’s hand and say thanks to him,” Shelley said. “Thanks for the great memories, thanks for showing us younger guys the way, and thanks for giving me a chance to “go” with him when I was just a young guy coming up in the league.

“But, you know what? I got to meet him on the ice, doing his business. And that’s a special way to meet him.”

(Photo courtesy: Glen Cratty/Allsport/Getty Images)

WATCH LIVE: Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

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Will we see a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final or will the Nashville Predators stamp their ticket to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final?

We’ll find out soon enough on Monday, as the Predators host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks will get their chance to beat the Ryan Johansen-less Predators once again on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Here’s what you need to know:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (Preds lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 3-1 win in Game 5

Related:

Ducks will be without Eaves and Rakell in Game 6

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted’ before scoring game-winning goal in Game 6

Report: Sharks sign Czech d-man Simek

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San Jose’s had good success scouting European leagues in recent years, and the club is hopeful that trend continued on Monday.

The Sharks have signed d-man Radim Simek out of the Czech League, per NBC Sports California. It’s a one-year, two-way pact for the 24-year-old, who just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship.

Simek had two points in eight games for the Czechs.

According to a report out of Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, Simek has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

Smith could re-up with Rangers, agent expects Gorton meeting soon

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Earlier this month, we wrote about how pending UFA d-man Brendan Smith impressed his Rangers teammates with his strong postseason play.

It was clear the Rangers wanted to keep Smith, a trade deadline pickup, in the fold. And now it sounds like the interest is mutual.

“He’s more than open to coming back,” agent Anton Thun told the New York Post. ““I’m sure I’ll be speaking to Jeff [Gorton, Rangers GM] in the next week or so and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

Smith, 28, just wrapped a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit. His stock certainly rose following the move from Detroit to New York, thanks in large part to a playoff in which he had four points through 12 games, and averaged just under 20 minutes per night.

Add it all up, and a raise is in the cards.

Helping Smith’s cause is a relatively weak crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

The Post estimated a $4M AAV could be on the horizon for Smith, which makes sense. Thun didn’t talk specific numbers, but did suggest the Rangers weren’t going to get any sort of discount.

“To pass up free agency,” he explained, “Brendan’s going to need a contract that reflects market value.”

 

 

Penguins redefining defense by committee

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.

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