Marc Crawford, John Tortorella should be in mid-season Jack Adams discussion

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While mid-season awards won’t hold much weight if things change drastically over the next 40-or-so games for each NHL team, it is an interesting pathway into the general hockey consensus. Both Joe and I provided our picks for the league’s trophies if the season ended this weekend, with two Southeast surprise smash success stories (Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay, Craig Ramsay in Atlanta) earning our imaginary Jack Adams trophies for coach of the (half) year.

Much like perennial “who was snubbed from the all-star team?” columns, sometimes it’s more interesting to see who didn’t make lists than it is to discuss who did. Considering the expansive nature of hockey discussion on the Internet, we cannot say that we read every mid-season awards article. That being said, beyond our choices, names such as Vancouver’s Allain Vigneault, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma and Detroit’s Mike Babcock surfaced often along with Boucher and Ramsay.

There are two other coaches who haven’t gotten enough credit for their work through the halfway point of the 2010-11 season, though: Marc Crawford in Dallas and John Tortorella with the New York Rangers. We’ve heard a little more buzz for the former than the latter, but let’s briefly discuss why each coach would be worthy of some votes if they kept up the great work.

The case for Crawford

One thing Crawford and Tortorella have in common (beyond a Stanley Cup on their resumes, of course) is that I absolutely didn’t see either one’s success coming. Most of the hockey world viewed the Stars as a talented but flawed team that was strong on offense, awful on defense and fragile in net.

Maybe Crawford has gotten a little lucky with an unusually healthy Kari Lehtonen, but the former Avalanche coach is maximizing the potential of stud talents like Brad Richards to surprising success. The best part is that the Stars aren’t coasting on winnable games and coughing up tough ones either; they are currently on a seven game road winning streak.

Anyone who picked the Stars to lead the Pacific Division who isn’t a blind pom-pom waver can pat themselves on the back today, because few saw their impressive start coming.

Touting Tortorella

For everything Crawford accomplished, Tortorella’s work has been just as impressive (even if his results are more subtle). If there’s one word that jumps out regarding the Rangers’ solid start it’s “resiliency.”

Adding Saturday’s win against the St. Louis Blues to an observation made by Lou Korac, the Rangers are a stunning 10-1 in the second installment of back-to-back games this season. Furthermore, the Blueshirts are boisterous outside of Broadway, with a staggering 15-7-1 record on the road.

The best example of resiliency comes from looking at their roster, though. When you look at the club, there aren’t many players you’d point to as stars beyond great goalie Henrik Lundqvist and injury-prone stud Marian Gaborik. Don’t get me wrong, most NHL teams would love to have guys such as Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan. They just don’t jump out as stars.

Yet Tortorella is making it work, as Dubinsky is the only Rangers player vaguely approaching a point per game pace (36 points in 43 games). Coming in third in the Atlantic and sixth in the East might not seem that impressive, but they’re 10 games over .500 with a shaky but spirited group of hockey players. That, to me, speaks to Tortorella’s motivational and teaching abilities.

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Again, it’s too early to talk about Jack Adams (and other trophy) possibilities for anything more than fun. Still, voters and fans shouldn’t forget the impressive work by Crawford and Tortorella so far this season.

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.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).