Derek Boogaard believes NHL teams value enforcers, Red Wings question that belief

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boogaardparros.jpgI don’t know anyone who would ever want to get in an argument with Derek Boogaard. In fact, I’m a bit scared to even write about the guy. He’s an intimidating human both on and off the ice so when he says that he feels there’s still a role for enforcers in the NHL, I’m not going to argue with him. People I would argue with, however, are NHL general managers. John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has the story.

The 6-foot-7, 260-pound left wing remains one of the top two or three most-feared enforcers in the NHL, which is why the Rangers’ Glen Sather was one of what Boogaard said were about 10 general managers who came calling July 1, the first day of free agency.

“That’s more (teams) than Gabby was dealing with last summer,” said Boogaard, who shares agent Ron Salcer with Marian Gaborik, with whom Boogaard will be a teammate again. “Ronny was surprised; he told me he thought there would be four or five teams (interested).”

Not to quibble with the Boogey Man, but I’d guess he had more suitors because his price was an easier fit on most teams than the $7.5 million a year Marian Gaborik got. One thing to note about the four-year $6.6 million deal Boogaard got from the Rangers though is because there’s a man in the Ranger front office that knows a bit about Boogaard and what his skill set can provide an NHL team: Former Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough.

“Obviously I know a lot about him,” Risebrough said Friday, “but the ultimate decision to bring him was left to the Rangers people. My information was on what kind of person he was, how he was to deal with, what kind of player he was.”

Risebrough has always liked Boogaard. He signed him to a three-year extension that paid him $1.025 million last season and on Friday called him “arguably the second-most popular player the Wild ever had.”

“I always feel good when I see someone make the most of an opportunity,” Risebrough said. “Clearly, Derek had an uphill battle to play in the NHL based on his skills and experience in juniors, but he worked hard and got better.

“He always told me the light went on when he was playing in the East Coast League. People told him if he wanted to play in the NHL, he had to get in better shape and work on his skating, and that’s what he did.”

I’d have to guess that Risebrough’s recommendation to Rangers general manager Glen Sather was even more glowing than what he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press because to lock up a guy who averages about eight minutes a game for four years and more than $1.5 million a year is a huge commitment. Taking advice from a guy that managed to run an organization into a hybrid of salary cap and developmental hell, however, is what I’d call questionable.

The real debate here presides over whether or not enforcers truly do have a role in the league anymore, a debate that has fans in Detroit talking lately.  Wings general manager Ken Holland has had a little bit to say on the issue lately in particular speaking about a Niklas Kronwall’s injury suffered at the hands of Habs enforcer Georges Laraque.

There clearly was a sense, Holland said, that the Stanley Cup winners in 1997 and 1998 were built on toughness and skill, with Martin Lapointe and McCarty especially suited to the roles of third- and fourth-line forwards, and Brendan Shanahan, Bob Rouse and Jaime Pushor on the roster.

But all of those players brought clear talents to their game, beyond quick fists and an enthusiasm to serve and protect.

“But, Scotty Bowman was never one for the one for the one-dimensional tough guy,” Holland said. “I’ve never been one. I think come playoff time those guys are obsolete, although they can be more valuable and important over 82 games.

“It’s been an ongoing topic of conversation, for us. At times the answer’s been, yes. At other times, it’s no,” he said. “But whether you have a guy like that on the team, or not, I don’t know, does Georges Laraque decide not to stick his leg out? Probably not.”

Skill and toughness versus straight toughness and fighting ability is where the line is drawn for many teams, often sometimes ending up with teams hiring agitating forwards that rarely drop the gloves and instead opt to make questionable hits (Patrick Kaleta, Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu come to mind).

Obviously the game has trended towards more skill and more speed, but the role of an enforcer seems to come more into play with a team lacking a team-wide physical brand of game. After all, if everyone isn’t out there being aggressive and checking, you can’t have them get out there and get pushed around by teams that will do it. The Red Wings have always employed a team brand of toughness since they’ve become an annual Cup contender while the Rangers, at least last year, seemed to come at you in waves of tough guys with Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley.

Looking at the teams that have won the Stanley Cup each year since the lockout (Carolina, Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago) you’d be hard-pressed to find a definitive goon on any of those teams. Anaheim is the one outlier of the bunch because most of that team would punch their own grandmother to win the Stanley Cup. One thing that all of those teams were, though, was tough all around. It remains to be seen if the Rangers expensive gamble on an elite enforcer will pay off how they want it to.

Pre-game reading: ‘Trying to keep playing at such a high level, it was going to kill me’

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The Pioneer Press caught up with former Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding, who quietly retired from professional hockey two-and-a-half years ago. That decision came after Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and made a stirring comeback with the Wild, capturing the 2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as a result.

In the piece, Harding talks about his final game, one in which he left an AHL game against Charlotte in an ambulance due to severe dehydration. That proved an eye-opener, one that all but cemented the need for him to hang up his skates.

More:

Sara Harding took one look at her gaunt husband on FaceTime [following the game in Charlotte] and immediately bought a one-way plane ticket from Minneapolis, not knowing when she would return — or if she would be coming back alone.

“She was really scared,” Harding recalled Tuesday. “That was the final dagger. It started hitting me that I still have a family and life to live here. People that I love and that love me, I saw how scared they were and how much it affected them. I knew it was time to put up the pads.

 “The doctors all told me if I kept doing this to my body, trying to keep playing at such a high level, it was going to kill me.”

Harding, who has attended a few Wild games since retirement, is currently working as a goalie coach at a local Minnesota high school.

— “I think there’s only three teams left in the NHL that don’t have a downtown arena, and we’re one of them and it’s tragic that we don’t. I bought the team out of bankruptcy and that’s where the arena was, and that’s what I bought. But we need to move things downtown, if it’s Ottawa it’s got to be downtown.”

That’s Sens owner Eugene Melnyk (per the Citizen) talking about Ottawa’s proposed new arena. He’s hopeful negotiations with the National Capital Commission on the development of Lebreton Flats will be completed before the end of the year, at which point construction can begin on what he promises will be a “gorgeous” complex.

— The latest development in the U.S. women’s looming boycott of the 2017 World Hockey Championships: USA Hockey has postponed a pre-tourney training camp, and an exhibition game against Finland. The organization is still hopeful it can hold a camp just prior to the start of the worlds, which will begin on Mar. 31 in Plymouth, MI. (Yahoo)

Goalie nods: Raanta goes back-to-back in Battle of New York

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Another chapter in one of the league’s most storied rivalries will be written tonight, when the Isles take on the Rangers at MSG.

And in goal, it’ll be Thomas Greiss against Antti Raanta.

Raanta, the goalie of record in seven of the Rangers’ last eight games, gets the call even though Henrik Lundqvist is reportedly healthy enough to return from his hip injury. Lundqvist is expected to resume playing on the club’s upcoming three-game California swing through Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

So that means tonight’s game falls to Raanta, who continues to put up solid numbers. He’s now at 15-7-2 on the year with a 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage, and has allowed three goals or fewer in each of his last five appearances. That includes last night’s 3-2 OT loss to the Devils, in which he made 26 saves.

Greiss, meanwhile, is coming off a very good performance in Saturday’s 3-2 OT loss to the Jackets. He stopped 35 of 38 shots for a .921 save percentage, and knows he’ll need to be as good — or better — as the Isles are in desperate need of points.

The Isles head into tonight’s action three points back of the Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Elsewhere…

— Toronto won’t start former Blue Jacket Curtis McElhinney tonight, when it visits Columbus. Instead, head coach Mike Babcock will continue to roll with the red-hot Frederik Andersen, who’s coming off a 33-save win against Boston on Monday. For the Jackets, Joonas Korpisalo looks to be in goal.

Jonathan Bernier continues to pile up the starts in Anaheim, with John Gibson still nursing his lower-body injury. Bernier will get the call when the Ducks host the Oilers tonight. And guess who’s in for Edmonton? If you guessed anybody other than Cam Talbot, you haven’t been reading this column often enough.

KHLer gets eight-game suspension after attacking Talbot, Kozun

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A recent playoff game in the KHL between Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and CSKA (Lokomotiv won the game and the series) featured a little bit of chaos because of the actions of CSKA defenseman Grigory Panin.

Late in the second period Panin briefly lost his cool when he delivered a devastating hit to the head of former NHL player Max Talbot, injuring him and igniting a scrum that resulted in Panin slashing former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brandon Kozun in the head.

As you can see in the video above, Kozun was in pretty bad shape after the incident and needed a lot of assistance just to get off the ice. Talbot was also injured as a result of the hit from Panin.

Panin received five-minute major penalties for both hits, as well as 20-minute misconduct penalties for a grand total of 50 penalty minutes.

This all happened just a few minutes after a Talbot goal gave Lokomotiv a 2-0 lead, scoring a goal that would ultimately decide the game and the series.

On Tuesday, the KHL announced that Panin has been suspended eight game for his actions. That suspension includes an automatic one-game suspension for being a repeat offender (this was not his first ejection this season) and another automatic one-game suspension for receiving two 20-minute misconduct penalties in the same game. The hit on Talbot also resulted in a two-game suspension while the incident with Kozun resulted in a four-game suspension.

Kozun and Panin do have a bit of a history with one another in the KHL. Last year Kozun was ejected from a game for injuring Panin on a hit from behind.

It’s also not the first time Panin has done something outrageous to warrant a suspension in the KHL. Along with a suspension earlier this season, he was also suspended twice back in 2013, including an 11-game suspension for an outrageously dirty hit on former NHL player Matt Murley.

Kozun played 20 games in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2014-15 season, scoring two goals to go with two assists. He was one of the top scorers in the KHL this season with 56 points in 59 games.

Talbot spent 11 years in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins.

Columbus started extension talks with key youngsters Wennberg, Anderson

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Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was a busy man on Tuesday, signing three players — center Lukas Sedlak, left winger Markus Hannikainen and blueliner Scott Harrington — to two-year extensions.

Kekalainen’s also working on some more significant deals as well.

Per the Dispatch, he’s begun preliminary extension talks with three Columbus’ brightest young players — forwards Josh Anderson and Alex Wennberg, and goalie Joonas Korpisalo — all of whom are pending restricted free agents.

Though talks will reportedly be sidelined as the team focuses on its playoff run, Kekalainen insisted all three deals would get done.

“They’re all restricted,” he said. “And they’re all going to be re-signed.”

Of the three, Wennberg and Anderson have made the biggest impact this season.

Wennberg, 22, has done a terrific job filling the hole left at center from the Ryan JohansenSeth Jones trade. The 14th overall pick in ’13 leads the team in assists this year, with 42, and sits second in scoring with 54 points.

“He’s been probably one of our best play-makers,” Tortorella said of Wenneberg, per NHL.com. “When you talk play-makers, everyone thinks offense, but coming out of our end zone, too, he makes plays. He’s not an off-the-glass guy. He wants to try to make a play so we keep possession. For such a young man, I just love his poise, and that’s what you need. You can’t be afraid to make a play and he has shown that.”

Anderson, also 22, has made a major impact in his first fulls season with the Jackets. He’s found the back of the net 16 times — more than Henrik Zetterberg, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — and has been a physical presence, sitting third on the team with 119 hits.

Korpisalo’s had a smaller role this season, though that has to do with the heavy workload shouldered by No. 1 netminder Sergei Bobrovsky (and the fact now-Maple Leaf Curtis McElhinney spent time as the backup). But the organization is high on Korpisalo who, at 22, projects to be a potential goalie of the future.

It’s fair to suggest Wennberg will get the biggest raise this summer. The question will be if the club tries to sign him to a bridge deal, like it did with Boone Jenner, or negotiate a long-term deal, like it did with Jones.

Kekalainen also has a few UFAs to make decisions on, with the most interesting being Sam Gagner. Signed on the cheap last summer — one year, $650,000 — he’s done an excellent job of reviving his career, notching 18 goals and 44 points through 70 games.