Chara speaks up about Pacioretty hit; Habs owner questions NHL, Canada’s Prime Minister and Donald Fehr voice concern

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There’s been a lot said from all sides about the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident and the NHL’s subsequent failure to impose punishment on Chara for his dubious hit that broke Pacioretty’s neck and gave him a severe concussion. While Pacioretty was released from the hospital today the war of words and debate rages on everywhere.

It started earlier today with Zdeno Chara reaffirming his take on the situation and serving to further infuriate Canadiens fans and those who disagreed with the NHL not suspending him. CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty spoke with Chara who said he was relieved to not be punished.

“[Pacioretty] is in the hospital,” said Chara. “He has the right to be emotional, and I respect that. As hockey players, we all feel bad when something like that happens no matter whether you’re the home team or the visiting team. There’s always concern when somebody gets hurt.

“It was a hockey play. It wasn’t intentional. That’s not my style. I never try to hurt anybody. It’s not what I attempted to do.”

As for the talk of the incident being investigated by Montreal police, Chara is well aware of what’s going on there.

“I’ve got some media info on [the police investigation] this morning,” said Chara. “I’m focusing on the game and playing hockey. We’ll see”

While Chara had his say today, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson issued a letter to Canadiens fans stating that they’ve made it clear to the NHL they do not agree with their decision. Molson joins Penguins owner Mario Lemieux as a member of the league’s Board of Governors who has publicly come out and lambasted the NHL for their lack of action concerning violent acts on the ice. While this incident differs greatly from what happened in Long Island between the Penguins and Islanders, it’s the alarming lack of safety for players that’s at the forefront of discussion.

Molson was direct and to the point with the NHL regarding his concerns.

Our organization believes that the players’ safety in hockey has become a major concern, and that this situation has reached a point of urgency. At risk are some of the greatest professional athletes in the world, our fan base and the health of our sport at all levels. Players’ safety in hockey must become the ultimate priority and the situation must be addressed immediately. As a proud father of three hockey players, I want to help create a healthy and safe experience for them, and I certainly never want any family to go through what the Pacioretty’s are experiencing at this moment.

We understand and appreciate hockey being a physical sport, but we do not accept any violent behavior that will put the players’ health and safety at risk. On this specific issue, I am asking for the support of the 29 other NHL owners, to address urgently this safety issue. And I am willing to play a leadership role in coordinating this group effort.

The words are powerful and Molson willing to embrace a leadership role rather than lecture from the pulpit takes what Lemieux did just last month and increase the vigor which league executives are trying to go about changing things. As always, our issue on matters like this when owners speak out is we’re wondering where the outrage and concern was when other players suffered horrible injuries because of terrible hits on the ice.

We know things matter differently when it affects you directly, but if things are boiling down this much so that teams are waiting until they’re dealing with a mess directly before speaking up about problems they see with the game, we’re in for a long wait before any sort of changes are made. After all, if teams continue to act disinterested as long as they’re not affected, change will never come about.

One of the sides in this whole affair that can help change things for the better as they see fit is the NHLPA. Executive Director Donald Fehr issued a statement pertaining to everything surrounding this situation. Disappointingly, Fehr made it more of a point to direct attention to how the rink is built rather than how players treat each other on the ice.

“Player safety has always been, and continues to be, a great concern to the Players’ Association. In that regard, issues involving the boards and glass in NHL arenas have been a longstanding focus for the players. The serious nature of the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty in Montreal this week reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter. We will be inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place. We will continue to gather feedback from the membership, to ensure the safest possible work environment for our players.”

Dancing around the real problem of making sure players have some sense of respect for each other on the ice is disappointing but I suppose if they’re going to get the rinks to be safer that’s one very small step in the right direction. Whether that helps curtail the amount of violence players have toward one another remains to be seen. Addressing the players to make sure they’re not out to maim each other would make a bit more sense than simple architecture work.

As we’ve seen through this ordeal, it’s the sort of hot topic that brings out everyone to make a comment on things. Air Canada made their statement last night (to which commissioner Gary Bettman fired back upon today) and now Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is speaking his mind as well. Harper, in typically politically correct ways, spoke about how player safety should be a bigger concern in the sport.

“I just say this as a hockey fan, I’m very concerned about the growing number of very serious injuries, and in some cases to some of the premier players in the game,” Harper said at an event in Toronto on Thursday.

“I don’t think that’s good for the game and I think the league’s got to take a serious look at that for its own sake.”

Government figures speaking up on a hot topic is nothing new, but in the NHL is something a bit different. Getting noticed like that from on high doesn’t reflect well upon the the league and keeping off government radar in matters of safety should be a concern for the league.

We’re sure the NHL didn’t intend to have this much attention drawn to the sport in such a negative fashion, but we’re also pretty sure Zdeno Chara didn’t intend to break Max Pacioretty’s neck either. Unintended consequences are sometimes the hardest ones to deal with. We can only hope the NHL is prepared to continue facing up to the public backlash for not acting upon a violent hit that resulted in a horrible injury for the second season in a row.

Predators first-rounder Tolvanen becomes youngest to score hat trick in KHL

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Talk about making a great first impression.

Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen became the youngest KHL player to score a hat trick while adding an assist in his debut for Jokerit against Dinamo Minsk.

Tolvanen turned 18 in April. It’s ludicrously early, but with a night like this, people are already wondering if the forward was a steal; the Predators nabbed him with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Here’s some footage of his performance:

If that Jokerit debut is any indication, he could have a special season, especially for an 18-year-old in the KHL.

A scouting report from Pension Plan Puppets touted Tolvanen’s shot as the best in the 2017 draft, and they believed he could be one of the big steals. And that was if he ended up landing in the teens, let alone No. 30.

BREAKING: Predators GM David Poile and his staff know what they’re doing.

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.