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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.

Daly: NHL could skip 2018 Olympics and return in 2022

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Sidney Crosby #87 celebrates with Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44, John Tavares #20, Shea Weber #6 of Team Canada after his first period goal against Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey game at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s participation in the 2018 Olympics is in Pyeongchang, South Korea is still undetermined, and on Tuesday deputy commissioner Bill Daly didn’t sound overly optimistic about the chances of their players taking part.

At a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday before the first game of the World Cup Final, Daly said that there has been no progress on the NHL’s participation in the games and that he is currently more down on the possibility than he was two years ago.

“I’m not going to handicap it, but what I’d say is I think time is very short to make a decision and I’m not sure there’s been a lot of progress made in the past six months,” Daly said, via the Canadian Press. “And I’m not sure there’s any prospect of progress being made.”

He also added, via Sportsnet’s, Chris Johnson that it is possible that the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for the 2022 games in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the Winter Olympics since 1998, and in recent years there’s almost always been a debate leading up to the games as to whether or not the NHL will be able to come to an agreement with the IOC and IIHF. Game times, shutting the NHL season down for more than two weeks and the insurance that goes with covering the players It has, to this point, always worked out.

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has repeatedly said that he will play for Russia in 2018 whether the NHL agrees to send its players or not.

On Tuesday, Daly was asked about Ovechkin’s desire to play and said that at this point it will be something that the team has to handle at its own discretion.

Gretzky returns to NHL fold as official ambassador of centennial celebration

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League was founded on November 26, 1917. Almost ninety-nine years later, the commissioner of the league, Gary Bettman, was in Toronto to announce that Wayne Gretzky, arguably its greatest player ever, would be the official ambassador of its centennial celebration.

For Gretzky, whose relationship with the NHL was tested during the Phoenix Coyotes’ bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, it marks a return to representing the league in an official capacity. (In 2013, he was reportedly paid around $8 million in a settlement.)

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Gretzky said in a statement. “I’ve said this a million times that everything I have in my life is because of hockey and because of the National Hockey League. I happen to think it’s the greatest game in the world. It was kind to me my whole life. The game just gets better every year, so for me to be involved in just trying to help promote and sell our sport even more it’s a great thrill for me and an honor to be part of it.”

Watch the following video to see what the NHL has in store for 2017, starting on Jan. 1 with the Centennial Classic at BMO Field between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings:

 

Report: Panarin wants six-year deal from ‘Hawks, at least $6M per season

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Artemi Panarin is looking to cash in on his Calder-winning campaign.

Chicago’s prized Russian sniper and the reigning rookie of the year, Panarin is reportedly seeking a six-year contract extension “worth more than $6 million per season,” per the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune points out, that figure could be problematic. Nobody’s arguing that Panarin isn’t worth the money — he’s 24, and coming off a 30-goal, 77-point campaign — but people are wondering how the ‘Hawks can afford him. Eight players on the active roster are pulling in at least $4 million per season, which includes Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they of the $10.5M cap hits.

That said, it sure sounds like Panarin will get done.

Reports last week said his agent and ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman were well into extension talks, and Bowman seemed confident a deal would be inked.

“I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent], he’s a very knowledgeable guy and I know Artemi put a lot of faith in him,” Bowman said. “Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin’s heading into the last of a two-year, $6.775 million deal with a $3.387 AAV — a deal that gained plenty of notoriety as the season progressed. Since it was so performance-laden, Panarin cashed in a couple of times, including a $1.725 million bonus for finishing among the top-10 scorers in the NHL.

That led to Bowman making some tough financial decisions this offseason, including the deal that sent Bryan Bickell — more specifically, Bryan Bickell’s contract — and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in exchange for draft picks.

So, this latest situation isn’t anything new for the ‘Hawks GM. He’s been down the financial squeeze road before, and usually found a way to keep his core players in the mix.

If Panarin is considered a core guy — and at this point, it sure sounds like he is — then finding common ground on an extension shouldn’t be too difficult.

Gudbranson-Hutton pairing will be key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers in the off-season, answers questions during a news conference ahead of the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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There’s a long list of things that have to go right for the Vancouver Canucks if their playoff hopes are to be realized.

One of the biggest is for new addition Erik Gudbranson to form a cohesive second pairing with sophomore Ben Hutton. If that happens, and if Alex Edler and Chris Tanev can stay healthy, the Canucks should have a reliable top-four defense, and that’s something they rarely, if ever, had last season.

Gudbranson, a big stay-at-home type, and Hutton, a puck-mover, have been skating together at training camp. The Canucks believe the pairing has great potential, with each defenseman’s strengths complementing the other’s.

“I want to get his feet moving and hit him in stride and get him up the ice with the puck as soon as possible,” Gudbranson said, per The Province. “I think we’re going to be a good partnership. We’re both on the same page. We’re both excited to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

Vancouver’s third pairing remains to be seen. Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen is the most likely at this point, though Nikita Tryamkin and Andrey Pedan on the left side, and Alex Biega and Troy Stecher on the right, could make things interesting. Jordan Subban is another wild card. Olli Juolevi too, though he’s a long shot and will likely end up back in junior.

The Canucks were decimated by injuries to their best defensemen last season. Edler only played 52 games, Dan Hamhuis 58, and Tanev 69. Other teams with more depth could survive that, but Vancouver floundered.

That’s why health is another big thing that has to go right for the Canucks. Another injury-filled season and it’s hard to picture them staying in the playoff race.

Vancouver opens its preseason schedule tonight in San Jose.