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.

Plekanec named Czech World Cup captain

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game One
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The Czechs are going with a familiar face to spearhead their leadership group at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Tomas Plekanec, who captained the team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the most recent world championship, will wear the “C” this fall, the Czech Ice Hockey Association announced on Monday.

Plekanec, 33, has a wealth of leadership experience to draw on, having also served as an alternate captain in Montreal for the last two seasons. He’s expected to be a key catalyst for an underdog Czech team at this tournament, especially in the playmaking department — last year, Plekanec’s 40 assists came within five of a career-best for helpers in a single season.

It’ll be interesting to see who the Czechs eventually add to their leadership group next to Plekanec.

One would assume that David Krejci — who’s been an alternate in Boston for the last three years — should be in the mix, along with Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (an alternate in Arizona since 2011).

It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 15:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a break during a off-day practice session prior to Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 15, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On paper, the 2015-16 season was a less impressive version of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s impressive 2014-15 run.

They made a deep run, but they couldn’t quite get to the Stanley Cup Final another time. The Bolts finished second in the Atlantic Division once again, but only with 97 standings points instead of the outstanding total of 108 from 2014-15.

In reality, the Lightning finished the year with a lot to be proud of, though.

They weathered some serious storms last season, most clearly with injuries to Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos, not to mention endless questions about Stamkos’ future with or without the team.

All things considered, there were a lot of positives to take from pushing the eventual champs to a Game 7.

Off-season

If you weren’t impressed by the Lightning’s work during the season, maybe an impressive off-season did the trick?

GM Steve Yzerman answered to huge questions in the affirmative by re-signing Stamkos (eight years, $68 million) and Victor Hedman (eight years, $63 million) to long-term contracts at very reasonable rates.

Along with those massively important contracts, Yzerman locked down other important players in Andrei Vasilveskiy and Alex Killorn. He still has a tough nut to crack in re-signing Nikita Kucherov, but he’s laid the groundwork for that to happen.

If hitting all the right buttons with Stamkos and Hedman wasn’t enough, the Lightning made some very nice value moves.

There’s a chance Cory Conacher could re-discover some of the brief magic he enjoyed before Tampa Bay traded him for Bishop. Handing James Wisniewski a PTO could leave the Bolts with one of the deepest defenses in the NHL (or at least provide a nice Matt Carle replacement).

There’s still work to do, but overall, the Lightning’s outlook is very sunny. PHT explores the team’s biggest questions on Monday.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

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Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.