Hockey Hall of Fame Induction

Steve Yzerman, Zenon Konopka offer different takes on Mario Lemieux’s comments

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Just about anyone with an interest in hockey and a half-functional computer probably offered the world their take (make sure to read Joe’s well-reasoned piece) on Mario Lemieux’s fuming release regarding the ugly New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins donnybrook. Let’s take a look at two people who are a little closer to the action, though.

On one side, there’s one of the Islanders who was on the ice during the mayhem: 2009-10 penalty minute leader Zenon Konopka. To the surprise of few, Konopka was not on Lemieux’s side when he shared his perspective on the situation. In fact, Konopka went as far as to say that he would tear the Mario Lemieux poster off his bedroom door the next time he gets home. Zonopoka also said that the all-time great might be so far removed from the game that he forgot what happens “in the heat of the moment.”

(Quick aside: color me surprised that Konopka’s bedroom door isn’t adorned with Bob Probert posters instead.)

Switching gears, Steve Yzerman’s pro-Lemieux reactions shouldn’t surprise anyone, either. After all, the Detroit Red Wings great and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM has been adamant about playing a style in which fights are infrequent. That being said, his statements focused on getting Lemieux more directly involved in improving the game, rather than the issue of fighting itself.

“I think Mario is one of the most well-respected, intelligent people in the game,” the Tampa Bay Lightning GM said Monday on a conference call. “I would encourage him (and) I think we should all encourage him to get more involved with the league because he has a lot to offer.”

(snip)

“Specifically, I don’t know (what more he could do),” said Yzerman. “Again, Mario is really a bright guy and he’s really a good guy and he’s been around the league and carries a lot of weight.

“I think everyone would encourage to be more involved in everything we do as a league.”

Yzerman makes an interesting point, as it is obvious that Lemieux can bring attention to some of the league’s biggest issues. While discussing Matt Cooke’s presence on the Penguins roster is understandable, it clouds the issue at heart. As exciting as a truly passionate fight can be, the NHL needs to avoid its games becoming a steady stream of these line brawls. Getting Lemieux and others to discuss the league’s issues are the best way to make progress toward finding the right compromise between welcomed aggression and sloppy chaos.

Why the Clutterbuck signing is a bad gamble for the Islanders

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 25: Jaroslav Halak #41 and Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders celebrate a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 25, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a pretty significant move on Friday when they committed a long-term contract to energy guy Cal Clutterbuck, signing him to a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension.

As far as depth players go, it was an eye-opening contract because it is a big investment in a player that is going to be 30 years old when the contract begins, has topped 30 points in a season only one time (seven years ago), and is similar to the long-term contract the team signed Casey Cizikas — a very similar player — to just a few months earlier.

When the two contracts are added up, that means the Islanders are going to be committing nearly $7 million in cap space through the 2020-21 season to players that — at best — project to be third-liners, and most likely, fourth liners.

That is a big chunk of change going to the bottom of your lineup.

Not every contract is going to be perfectly fair for team and player. Sometimes teams are going to overpay. Sometimes a player is going to outperform his deal. It is a reality of professional sports.

But where this becomes a big gamble for the Islanders is they, like all NHL teams, have a set amount of money they can spend to construct their roster under the league salary cap. Every dollar spent comes with an opportunity cost, because that is a dollar that can’t go to somebody else. In this case, the Islanders seem to be prioritizing their bottom-six over the top of their lineup. This is after all a team that already lost Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen over the summer, both of whom will cost less over the next five years than the Clutterbuck-Cizikas duo. By keeping the latter, you’re essentially choosing quantity over quality.

There is also the fact that the Islanders are one year away from having to deal with the potential unrestricted free agency of John Tavares.

His next contract is not going to be the $5.5 million steal (at least compared to other top players in the NHL) that it is now. When Tavares is eligible for free agency, the Islanders are already going to have more than $32 million committed to only eight players. And again, a significant chunk of that money ($7 million) will be going to two players that are skating in their bottom-six. That could be a problem.

But that’s not even the biggest part of the gamble for the Islanders when it comes to the Clutterbuck deal.

The biggest gamble is the fact that players like him do not tend to age well into their mid-30s (and Clutterbuck will be signed through his age 34 season).

Using the Hockey-Reference database I went back over the past 20 years to find players that resembled Clutterbuck’s career to see how they did after turning 30.

What I was looking for:

  • Players that played in at least 500 games between the ages of 20-29 (Clutterbuck has played 595)
  • Players that averaged less than 0.35 points per game during that stretch (Clutterbuck has averaged 0.31)
  • How many games, and seasons, they played after turning 30 and what their production looked like

This is some of what I found.

  • There were 27 previous players during that time period whose careers compared to Clutterbuck
  • Only 10 of them played in more than 200 games (the equivalent of 2.5 seasons) after their 30th birthday
  • Only six of them played a single game in the NHL after their 33rd birthday
  • 11 of them were out of the NHL entirely before they turned 32
  • There are still five players, other than Clutterbuck, that are still active in the league: Chris Neil at age 37, Jay McClemment at 33, Brad Richardson at 31, Daniel Winnik at 31, and Jared Boll at 30. How far their their careers go remains to be seen.

The defense for signing a player like Clutterbuck to a long-term deal like this is that they bring more to the team than just scoring. And that is fair. Not everybody is going to be a goal scorer or produce points. He seems like a great teammate. People like him. That is all fine.

But forget production here, we are talking about a type of player that generally does not stick long in the NHL after they hit 30. Plus, when it comes to Clutterbuck, this is player that has spent nearly a decade in the NHL playing a grueling style of hockey that is almost certain to wear a player down physically.

Every player in the league, no matter how good they are, starts to slide and lose a step once they get on the other side of 30 because father time is still, and will continue to be, undefeated. The players at the top of the league are still able to remain productive because they had so much skill and so much production at their peak. Even if they start to lose a step, or lose some of their production, they are still able to contribute something. But the guys at the bottom of your lineup that have spent years grinding their way through the league do not really have that step to lose. If they lose a step, they lose everything. If they lose even a little bit of their production, there is not much left.

The reality of a salary cap league is you can not keep everybody you want.

Every team has had to experience this at some point over the past decade. Teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins have decided to keep the players at the top of their lineup no matter the cost and sacrifice around the edges.

The Islanders, by letting players like Okposo and Nielsen leave, and committing to their bottom-six, seem to be trying to build from the bottom up.

It is a gamble. Let’s see how it works.

Lindholm’s first goal of 2016-17 was a big one for Ducks

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Hampus Lindholm #47 of the Anaheim Ducks avoids Micheal Haley #38 of the San Jose Sharks at Honda Center on December 4, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) If the goals aren’t going to come in bunches, best make them timely.

At least, that’s what worked for Hampus Lindholm on Friday night.

Lindholm got his first goal of the season with 5:38 remaining, helping the Anaheim Ducks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 after blowing a two-goal lead.

Nick Ritchie found Lindholm alone on the opposite circle and fired a sharp pass that Lindholm slapped in over goalie Martin Jones‘ left shoulder.

“I came in on the left side and they just kind of lost him,” Ritchie said. “He was wide open and slapped it in there.”

Goals by Brent Burns and Kevin Labanc brought San Jose back after Rickard Rakell and Antoine Vermette scored in the first period for Anaheim.

Anaheim is 5-1-1 in its past seven games, including two wins over San Jose.

The 22-year-old Lindholm held out this season before signing a six-year contract extension in late October. He didn’t play his first game until Nov. 9 and got his first goal in 15 contests.

“I don’t think it was pretty tonight, but we got the win,” Lindholm said.

It was the third time the teams had met this season, and all three games have been decided by one goal.

“We battled back and I thought the game could have gone either way,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’re just finding our way to lose right now instead of win.”

It was a big game for Anaheim goalie Jonathan Bernier. In his last start, he gave up eight goals to Calgary, but Friday, he had 22 saves and withstood a frantic final attack after San Jose pulled its goalie with 2 minutes left.

“He played well the last time we were in San Jose and got us the win,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “Berny was looking for some kind of opportunity after the game in Calgary and I felt we owed him that.”

Jones stopped 29 shots for the Sharks.

San Jose tied it early in the second period when Labanc slipped a shot under Bernier’s left leg. It was the 20-year-old’s third goal of the season.

“We had some good looks,” Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. “We have to start putting them in the net.”

The Ducks nearly completed a dominant first period with a 2-0 lead, but Burns got his 12th goal of the season with 6 seconds left by slapping a shot past Bernier.

Anaheim opened the scoring 4:44 in after Shea Theodore fired a shot from just beyond the midpoint of the two circles. Jones deflected the shot, but Rakell snagged the rebound and wrapped it around and behind Jones.

Rakell, another late signing, has 11 goals in his 17 games since joining the Ducks.

“He’s a really good weapon,” Lindholm said. “He knows where to put (the puck). It’s fun to watch. He’s really a skilled guy.”

The Ducks went up 2-0 after Theodore came streaking down the right side and fired a perfect pass to Vermette, who snapped it past Jones for his fifth of the season.

NOTES: The Ducks are 60-59-11 against the rival Sharks. … Anaheim’s Joseph Cramarossa fought San Jose’s Tommy Wingels about five minutes into the first period.

UP NEXT

Sharks: Host Carolina on Saturday.

Ducks: Host Ottawa on Saturday.

Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 15: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers shares a laugh with teammate Antti Raanta #32 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in NHL action on November 15, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.

Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).

Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:

Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.

Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01:  Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the go ahead goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.

For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.

They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.

Columbus is now at 16-5-4, giving them 36 standings points. They’re once again in breathing distance of leading the Metro Division when you consider games in hand.

Update: Here’s how the standings look after the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

That’s a stout division, and the Blue Jackets remain shockingly effective. Then again, with results like these over and over again, it might be time to merely expect such impressive work.

***

For Detroit, it was a rough night. Jonathan Ericsson couldn’t play, Mike Green was a little banged up and Petr Mrazek was pulled for Jimmy Howard. This goal summarized some of their struggles: