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The NHL lost its way in suspending Hjalmarsson and Wisniewski

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Leave it to the NHL to drum up controversy without even really trying. Today, the NHL handed out two-game suspensions to both James Wisniewski and Niklas Hjalmarsson for on-ice incidents. Of course, what lead to them getting suspended are two entirely different matters entirely. Hjalmarsson was suspended for his hit from behind on Sabres forward Jason Pominville, meanwhile Wisniewski was suspended an obscene gesture directed towards Rangers pest Sean Avery.

One action a completely boneheaded play on the ice with no regard for one’s opponent, the other a completely boneheaded action meant to insult an opponent, both yielding the same punishment. Some feel that Wisniewski was dealt with too harshly, as Chris Botta of NHL Fanhouse does comparing his action to that of Chicago’s Nick Boynton who got a one game suspension for a throat-slash gesture.

No, he didn’t think. That’s why, as unseemly as the moment was, he deserves a pass. For those few seconds in the heat of battle against one of the game’s most notorious characters, James Wisniewski might have thought he was playing against the rest of the 15-year-olds at 6:00 am in Michigan. He might have forgotten that he wasn’t knocking the puck around with his buddies on the available ice at midnight. Wisniewski lost his way, but it was only because his intensity blurred the thought of where he was.

Forgetting where you are doesn’t excuse doing something like that in full view of the viewing public. There is no workplace or professional sports league that tolerates anything like that. The fact that he gets suspended for it is harsh, for sure, but this is a league that set the precedent that they’re going to be family-friendly come hell or high water.

How else do you explain Wisniewski’s nemesis Avery getting sat down ultimately for six games for being a nasty gossip about his old girlfriend to the media? You can’t explain it, so even trying to wrap your head around the process will only make you insane. TSN’s Bob McKenzie has made the case that there’s a distinct difference between what Avery did in Calgary years ago to what Wisniewski did on the ice yesterday and there is a difference, but the end result as far as the NHL is concerned is the same thing. Acting out that way is bad for business and makes everyone else look bad. Hey there’s a reason why guys like Avery or Wisniewski don’t get mic’ed up for national broadcasts.

Meanwhile in Chicago, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers says the punishment for Hjalmarsson fits the crime.

The bottom line is, Hjalmarsson hit Pominville in the numbers. Specifically, in the number 9 on his 29 jersey. Pominville didn’t make a dramatic turn of his back at the last minute to make it worse and you can’t blame him for the way he fell. The hit was from behind enough to warrant a suspension, considering the way Pominville hit the glass. How a player falls plays a part, whether it’s in the rulebook or not.

If Pominville had fallen into another player or simply hit the boards without his head hitting the glass, who knows what the outcome would have been. But hit a guy from behind, or close to it, and you better expect the worst to occur.

Spot on analysis from Rogers and it alludes to something we said earlier regarding this situation. The point being that the act is being punished and not the end result. You hit a guy when they’re not looking and you’re going to get yourself in trouble because you’re endangering your fellow man.

What’s bothersome here is how these two distinctly different actions managed to bring about the same punishment. A very public PR faux pas gets the same treatment as a dangerous hit from behind. How is this even remotely possible? The NHL has been focused on keeping a good face for the public. They’ve cracked down on fighting to the point now where a huge brawl is a rarity and fortunately for them most of the players are able to keep their noses clean and aren’t getting into trouble in embarrassing ways. Saving face for the public while not doing much to consistently punish those on the ice that cause problems for other players is maddening and nonsensical.

The league needs to start looking at things like this: Is it more important for the league to crack down on guys who are bad in front of the camera or do their part to keep everyone on the ice protected. At some point protecting the fans’ delicate sensibilities has to take a back seat to protecting their own players. Something has to give and perhaps taking NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell out of the smoky room and give everyone a standard to follow would do everyone a world of good.

Conditional trades ‘in vogue’ in the NHL

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Patrick Eaves #18 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The NHL trade deadline can make for some conflicting interests come playoff time.

No one outside Minnesota is cheering harder for the Wild than the Arizona Coyotes because they get a second-round pick if Martin Hanzal helps Minnesota reach the third round. The Tampa Bay Lightning would love nothing more than Ben Bishop leading the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup Final.

Conditional trades based on a team’s playoff success, and a player’s part in it, are all the rage right now in the NHL.

Already, four pre-deadline deals include draft picks contingent on how far a team goes in the playoffs. There were 13 such trades combined at the past four deadlines.

“It’s in vogue,” Florida Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon said. “It’s a creative way of doing things. If you have success, you don’t mind paying more. If you’re successful and go deeper, you don’t mind giving up an extra asset or more of an asset.”

Trades conditional on playoff success sometimes happen in the NFL, like when the Minnesota Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but they’re virtually nonexistent in other North American professional sports leagues outside of protected picks in the NBA. They’ve become commonplace in the NHL, in part because they’ve worked out swimmingly a few times.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won it all in 2015, they didn’t mind sending an extra second-round pick to the Flyers for Kimmo Timonen for reaching the Cup Final and the defenseman playing in at least half their games. A year earlier, the Kings gave the Columbus Blue Jackets an extra third-round pick to complete a trade for Marian Gaborik after the winger helped them win their second title in three seasons.

The Kings could give up as high as a second-round pick if Bishop wins them the Cup this season but wouldn’t surrender much of anything if they miss the playoffs. GM Dean Lombardi, who also made the 2014 Gaborik trade, called it a “common sense” way of getting a deal done.

“If I was making a deal here or something and (someone) says, `I’m giving five first-rounders and you’ll win the Cup,’ you’ll do it,” Lombardi said. “You don’t mind paying if your team has success.”

The same is true of the Anaheim Ducks, who would give the Dallas Stars a first-round pick instead of a second for Patrick Eaves if they reach the Western Conference final and the winger plays 50 percent or more of their games. After some haggling, Dallas GM Jim Nill said that was the final piece of getting the trade done.

The idea of contenders gambling on themselves makes all the sense in the world. But trade deadline sellers also like the concept.

The Coyotes were looking to get the best deal for Hanzal , so they bet on him contributing to the Wild’s success.

“We believe strongly that with Martin, Minnesota has a chance to do some things that could be pretty special, and we want to share in some of that upside,” Arizona GM John Chayka said. “We share in the risk, we share in the upside. It’s just a creative way to try and bridge the gap and get a deal done.”

Lombardi would love to make salaries and salary-cap hits contingent on playoff success because if a team goes further it’s also making more money along the way. But the league doesn’t allow that.

Maybe that’s for the best because these kinds of trades make things complicated. Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee, who sent a conditional pick to Florida in 1998 for Esa Tikkanen the year his Washington Capitals made the Cup Final, pointed out that those trades freeze a lot of potential draft picks that could be pieces of other trades.

“The difficulty in doing that is it ties up a lot of picks,” McPhee said. “If they’re encumbered you can’t use them.”

That hasn’t stopped the trend, though, with teams hedging their bets and playing it safe.

“You give yourself a little bit of a protection, too, if you don’t quite go as far as you think you will,” Tallon said.

 

Wild prospect suspended after hallway fight on Saturday

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The AHL announced today that Iowa Wild forward Kurtis Gabriel has been suspended six games as “a consequence of his actions in a game at Chicago on Feb. 25.”

As you can see in the video, Gabriel had an on-ice and off-ice fight with Wolves defenseman Vince Dunn on Saturday.

The video shows that it was Gabriel who approached Dunn in the hallway, and it was Gabriel who initiated the altercation.

In the end, it was also Gabriel who got the worst of the skirmish, with a six-game suspension to boot.

From the press release:

Gabriel was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 28.1 (supplementary discipline). He has already served one game of the suspension; he will also miss Iowa’s games Saturday (Mar. 4) at Rockford; Mar.10 and Mar. 11 at Texas; Mar. 17 at Milwaukee; and Mar. 18 vs. Milwaukee.

Habs acquire Jordie Benn from Stars

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 04:  Jordie Benn #24 of the Dallas Stars during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 4, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadians have acquired defenseman Jordie Benn from the Dallas Stars in return for d-man Greg Pateryn and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

The Habs had been shopping the 26-year-old Pateryn. He has one goal and five assists in 24 games this season. He’s signed through next season for a cap hit of $800,000.

In Benn, the Canadiens get a 29-year-old defensive defenseman who’s signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $1.1 million.

Benn, of course, is also the brother of Stars captain Jamie Benn.

Trade: Sens acquire Burrows from Canucks

Alex Burrows
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Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said he wanted GM Pierre Dorion to be aggressive in the club’s pursuit of a playoff spot.

So on Monday, Ottawa started making moves, acquiring veteran forward Alex Burrows in a trade with the Canucks.

Vancouver’s News1130 reports that Burrows agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the move and, what’s more, has agreed to a two-year extension. (TSN has also reported the extension).

In exchange, prospect Jonathan Dahlen is on his way to Vancouver. Dahlen was Ottawa’s second-round pick (42nd overall) at last year’s draft, and is currently playing with Timra of the Swedish League. He sits sixth in Allsvenskan (Swedish second division) scoring this year, with 42 points in 44 games.

“Jonathan is a very skilled player with natural goal-scoring instincts,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “He’s had a terrific season playing in Sweden and was a big part of Sweden’s offense at the World Juniors. His offensive upside combined with his willingness to go to difficult areas of the ice will make him a valuable player for our organization moving forward.”

Burrows, 35, is in the last of a four-year, $18 million deal with a $4.5M average annual cap hit. He’s enjoyed a decent bounce-back campaign in Vancouver, with nine goals and 20 points through 55 games. That nearly matches his totals from a disappointing ’15-16 season, when he went 9G-13A-22PTS over 79 contests.

A four-time 20-goal scorer, Burrows is no longer the effective, grating presence he once was, but can still provide energy and has enough versatility to play up and down the Ottawa lineup. What’s more, he has a truckload of postseason experience, notching 34 points in 70 career contests.

Burrows was also one of Vancouver’s top producers during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final run, with nine goals and 17 points in 25 games.

The move signals the end of an era for the Canucks — Burrows, an undrafted free agent that worked his way up from the ECHL, has spent his entire 12-year NHL career in Vancouver, appearing in over 800 regular-season contests.

He was also responsible for scoring one of the most memorable goals in franchise history.