Around the rink – Tuesday, November 9th

Now with the Hockey Hall of Fame hoopla over and done with, the NHL gets back into more regular working order with a scintillating slate of seven games. Is that enough alliteration for you? All times listed are Eastern because that’s the way we lean.

7:00 pm

Edmonton @ Carolina

It’s crazy to think that it was just five seasons ago that these two teams met in the Stanley Cup finals, isn’t it? Youth will dominate the headlines here with Edmonton’s trio of talent in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi going up against leading rookie scorer Jeff Skinner in Carolina. The Oilers could use another win here to build off their win over Chicago on Sunday.

7:30 pm

Washington @ NY Rangers

The Rangers might be in a bad way right now, but playing the Caps is something that seems to bring the best out of them win or lose. The Caps are coming in hot though, living high off beating the Flyers on Sunday and a lot of that success coming thanks to Alexander Semin. Semin’s got nine goals so far this year and leads the team in goals. Yes, even ahead of Alex Ovechkin. The Rangers, meanwhile, might be counting down the days until Thursday when Marian Gaborik may be rejoining the team.

Vancouver @ Montreal

Vancouver hits the road with a six game win streak and gets to deal with the unfriendly confines of Montreal to kick things off. Vancouver is doing well and have player of the week Raffi Torres to thank for it. Torres’ hot start is helping keep a balanced attack going so teams can’t solely focus on the Sedin twins. Montreal looks to bounce back after a rough game against Ottawa in which they saw Alex Kovalev almost single-handedly beat them. The Habs could stand to get the offense going as they rank 20th in the league in goals scored.

Atlanta @ Ottawa

The Senators roll into this game seemingly having figured things out. The Sens lost five of their first six games to start the season, but now they’re winners of five out of their last six games and they’ve got goalie Brian Elliott to thank for it. Elliott’s played strong of late and the offense hasn’t been too bad either. Atlanta, meanwhile, can’t keep opponents off the board as they come into the game with the second-most goals allowed in the league. The Thrashers are getting plenty of their own goals but Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec have had issues in goal of late.

Toronto @ Tampa Bay

Fans in Toronto are grumbling about head coach Ron Wilson and the natives are getting restless after seeing the Leafs lose their last five games, their last two coming in shootouts. They’ve lost eight of their last nine games and the offense has been nowhere to be seen. As for Tampa Bay, they’ll be happy to no longer be on the road after getting rough treatment on their west coast swing going 1-2-1 on the trip. A game with the Leafs might be all the Lightning need to get back on a roll.

9:30 pm

Calgary @ Colorado

All right so which Flames team will we see tonight? Which Avalanche team will show up? The Avalanche have been inconsistent while the Flames have been downright streaky. Calgary enters the game losers of their last four games, a streak that came on the heels of a three-game win streak. Go figure. Colorado, meanwhile, is living well so far without Craig Anderson as Peter Budaj has played more than solid while Anderson’s out with an injury including earning a shutout against Dallas his last time out.

10:30 pm

Anaheim @ San Jose

Will it be fight night for these two teams again? These two clearly don’t care for each other and now they’re both playing relatively well all things considered. The Sharks got a big win in their first game without Joe Thornton thanks to Patrick Marleau’s two goal night. Anaheim, meanwhile, is getting it done thanks to both goalie Jonas Hiller and ageless wonder Teemu Selanne. Go ahead and tell us you predicted that before the season started and we’ll happily call you a liar.

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    Laraque, Okposo, others discuss Trump, national anthem protests

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    We’ve already seen some reactions to Donald Trump’s comments about NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ controversial decision to accept a White House visit.

    As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski notes, 93 percent of NHL players identify as white. While it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Auston Matthews and Blake Wheeler, what about hockey players who are more directly affected?

    Plenty of interesting perspectives came through on Tuesday, so let’s consider some of the more fascinating reactions.

    Georges Laraque disapproves of Penguins’ visit

    Laraque, a black former NHL player and Montreal native, made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the Penguins’ decision, as he told the Canadian Press.

    “I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” Laraque said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand.”

    “To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.”

    He also shared this slightly profane tweet on the matter.

    Josh Ho-Sang is inspired by the protests

    New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang provided an interesting take to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, and also reminded observes that, as an international sport, the NHL features some players who might not feel as invested in (or at least as informed about) these debates.

    “I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said on Monday. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States, but the biggest thing is it’s unfortunate that the message may have gotten lost a little. Now it’s becoming a battle between the NFL and the president and originally [the protests] started because of police brutality and the mistreatment of different races.”

    Kyle Okposo doesn’t plan on kneeling, but supports the right to do so

    While Ho-Sang and Laraque shared interesting insights as Canadians, Kyle Okposo is a black NHL forward hailing from Minnesota (he was the first black player in Golden Gophers history).

    Like Ho-Sang, Okposo (pictured) was supportive of people making demonstrations. That said, he doesn’t expect to do so himself, as he told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

    “Protecting the First Amendment is a huge thing,” Okposo said. “I’m a proud American, and I’m proud to be from the United States. Myself personally, I wouldn’t kneel for an anthem, but I respect those that do.”

    ***

    This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the current political climate affect NHL players or people they know.

    Back in January, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, was “confused” by that iteration of a travel ban, as the Swedish forward had family living in Iran.

    Players in plenty of sports are navigating tough questions this week. It’s important to remember that athletes can find themselves in tough spots when addressing topics that can be polarizing and/or complex.

    Laraque stated that hockey is more “conservative than other sports,” so it seems like a good time to read up on the culture of this sport.

    With the regular season about to kick into gear on Oct. 4, it’s certain that there will be more eyes on anthems than ever before. The insights in this post should be useful, whether NHL players kneel, sit, speak, or decide to stick to hockey.

    Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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    Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

    The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

    On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

    Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

    Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

    The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

    Don’t just put this on the league, though.

    Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

    Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

    Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

    Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

    Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

    Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

    Here is the full list:

    Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

    Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

    Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

    “I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

    That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

    Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

    These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

    Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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    If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

    TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

    In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

    There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

    Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

    While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

    Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

    Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

    * – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.