Eric Belanger upset with Capitals for breaking verbal contract agreement

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ericbelanger3.jpgIf you thought Eric Belanger signing with the Coyotes came as a surprise, you’re not alone. Weeks ago, rumors were flying about how Belanger would soon be signing with the Washington Capitals and that there would be a subsequent move happening in order to squeeze him into the lineup. After all, the Caps already had enough forwards to roll with to start the year, so someone was going to have to be moved in order to get Belanger in the lineup so he didn’t end up being an overpaid fourth line center.

As it turns out, those rumors about the Caps interest were true. They were so true, in fact, that Belanger’s agent is sounding off on the Caps for turning their back on his client. Fire up the controversy machine as Katie Carrera of Caps Insider gives up the scoop.

Belanger’s agent, Joe Tacopina, said the Capitals did have a deal to bring back Belanger and even helped him sign a lease for a house in Washington and enroll his two daughters in area schools.

“It’s just disingenuous,” Tacopina said. “Despite a two-way commitment and requesting Eric to commit to them and take himself out of the [free agent] mix, when they wound up not being able to make the trade several weeks later, they decided they couldn’t sign him.”

To call the situation awkward would be accurate. The rumored deal with the Capitals was said to be worth $1.85 million and Belanger signed with Phoenix for $1.1 million less than that, so there’s a money issue at stake here. Belanger told the Team 990 in Montreal that he had been waiting for a while to get something done with Washington.

“I had been waiting for over seven weeks. I had a lease on a house, my kids were enrolled in school. We had a verbal agreement over seven weeks ago. They said it would take about a week to make a trade. It wasn’t a question of if we’re making it, it was a question of when because they didn’t want to lose any leverage on the trade and we all know the story after that.”

Unfortunately for the Caps, this isn’t new territory for them.

In the summer of 2007, the Caps signed Michael Nylander to a four-year contract that stole him out from under the nose of the Edmonton Oilers. Perhaps this is just karmic contract retribution for that fiasco, but you’d have to think the Caps are already being punished for that because Nylander’s Caps career has been a complete failure.

Just so we can get rid of the elephant in the room here, you have to wonder if perhaps the news breaking over the then imminent signing of Belanger and trade to be made is what killed the deal for Washington. There’s a lot to be said about the element of surprise when it comes to some trades, but many organizations do their work far from the public eye because it helps them get a deal done faster and without the “prying media” asking too many questions.

If a deal was to happen so soon when the news broke about this for Belanger, the fact that it seemingly went to pieces the instant the story broke seems to indicate that Caps GM George McPhee lost his leverage in making a deal now that the watchful eyes of Caps Country were waiting to see who was going to get shipped out. If the Caps address anything about this, it’ll be fascinating to hear what their take on it will be because it’s apparent that Belanger is really upset over the situation.

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

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The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”