NHL’s new concussion protocol goes into effect tonight and what that means from here on out

During this week’s GM meetings in Florida we’ve been keeping tabs on what the NHL is looking to do to help remedy the rash of concussions and head injuries in the league. Gary Bettman proposed a five point plan for teams to do their part to help treat players during the game and potentially save them the trouble of being injured further when no symptoms are apparent.

Today we learn from Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika (via Predators GM David Poile) that the new treatment protocol will go into effect beginning with tonight’s games across the league. That means if a player has suffered an apparent concussion or head injury they must go back to the locker room and be treated by a doctor to see if they have, indeed, suffered a concussion.

It’s a forward step for the league in trying to do something about an issue that’s been plaguing the league for various different reasons the last few seasons. Without a doubt the speed of the game is causing problems and there’s not much the league can do about that without relaxing the rules on obstruction and threatening the return of the dead puck era.

The one thing they can control is the medical treatment side of things and that’s what they’ve zeroed in on. Being more efficient with such matters would help. After all, we saw both Ian Laperriere and Marc Savard return relatively quickly during the playoffs from brutal concussions. Savard suffered his hit in March and returned for the Bruins series against Philadelphia. He admitted after the season was over that he may have come back too soon.

Laperriere was struck in the face with a slap shot during the Flyers opening round series against New Jersey yet still found a way to return to action in the Stanley Cup final. Laperriere also admitted to coming back too soon and won’t play at all this season thanks to lingering post-concussion syndrome effects.

Of course, if the NHL wants things to be taken serious they need to be firm about what they’re doing. So many of the NHL’s new rules and regulations are often enforced right away and for a year or two and then seemingly forgotten about. The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika wrote a scathing piece today reminding us about how the league can let things slip away in the wake of making a big stand (subscription required). Brad Richards in particular comes into focus after dealing with a concussion suffered thanks to a Sami Pahlsson elbow.

And that is at the heart of Richards’ issue right now. If you and I can readily see a replay of an incident that should not be in hockey, then why isn’t something being done about it? Richards’ experience is personal, and it can come off as whining a bit because really nobody did a thing about it. He was hit in the jaw by an elbow on what appeared to be an innocuous play at the end of a game. Richards understands that officials wouldn’t have seen it. He understands that “things happen.”

What he doesn’t understand is how the man who threw that elbow — Columbus center Sami Pahlsson — didn’t at least get a memo from the league complete with a video of the incident sent to his I-phone saying it was wrong. There are rules against those kinds of hits. So …. shouldn’t something have been done about it?

Now, there are penalties missed in every game. There’s no way to call games at top speed and expect to get everything right. But we’re not worried about the outcome of a game here, we’re worried about the health of a league. To understand Richards’ situation, you have to understand where he has been for the past month.

Richards is right and the NHL can be better in handling these things. They can certainly be better about handling punishment and keeping things shrouded in secrecy does no one any favors. Of course, the league seems to always operate in secrecy in hopes that sometimes things will resolve themselves and go away.

In 2003 the NHL was going to take a major stand on diving and punish those busted for diving in games. Similar hot button topic decrees have come and gone by the wayside. We’ve seen obstruction find its way back into the game now since the lockout after seeing it called repeatedly for the two years following that. Being cynical about how the NHL is handling this issue is warranted as they’ve never really shown the ability to hold strong to such matters in the past. Don’t get us started about the NHL’s ability to punish players in a manner that makes sense.

On the positive side of things, if the NHL can adapt to this and make it work it’s a win over the long haul. There’s going to be bumps in the road to start and there’s surely going to be further controversy. Just wait until a star player has to sit out a crucial point of the game for 15 minutes while he’s treated and examined further and the head coach seethes over not being able to have him on the ice. Hopefully that won’t happen and players will be able to avoid more problems, but with how things have gone this season don’t bet on it.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.

Brock Boeser will make NHL debut for Canucks today after signing entry level deal

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After a deal appeared imminent on Friday night the Vancouver Canucks made it official on Saturday morning and announced the signing of 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser to an entry level contract.

Not only is he under contract with the Canucks, but he will also make his NHL debut on Saturday afternoon against his hometown team when the Canucks visit the Minnesota Wild.

The Canucks selected Boeser with the No. 23 overall pick in 2015.

He played his collegiate hockey at North Dakota where he put up some massive numbers, recording 94 points in 74 games over two seasons. That includes 16 goals and 18 assists in 32 games this season.

His addition to the Canucks lineup over the remaining nine games of the 2016-17 season will burn one of those years of his entry level contract, but it will give Canucks fans a glimpse of their future and maybe a reason for optimism in what has become a lost season. The Canucks enter the game having lost seven of their past eight.

 

Nikita Kucherov is trying to carry the Lightning to the playoffs

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Every time you think the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff chances might be finished this season, they always find a way to keep them alive and stay in the race.

Thanks to their 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, the Lightning were able to keep pace with the New York Islanders and move to within a single point of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as we prepare to enter the final weeks of the regular season. It is still pretty amazing to think about them being this close to a playoff spot when you consider the injuries the team has dealt with this season. Steven Stamkos, their best player, has not played since November. Their center depth has been decimated in recent weeks with Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov all missing significant time in the month of March. They traded Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline for nothing that will help this current team.

And yet, here they are, still right in the thick of the playoff race.

If they are able to pull this off and get one of the eight spots in the Eastern Conference is going to be because Nikita Kucherov has pretty much put the team on his back over the past month and single handedly carried it to one.

Kucherov scored another massive goal on Friday night when he scored the overtime winner in Detroit, and is currently in the middle of a four-game stretch where he has scored a goal in every game (for a total of seven) and recorded multiple points in each one (for a total of nine). If you go back over the past month, a stretch where the Lightning have managed to go 10-5-1 over a 16-game stretch to remain in the race, Kucherov has been the best offensive player in the league by a wide margin.

Since that stretch began on Feb. 20, Kucherov has scored 17 goals (four more than any other player in the league) and recorded 29 total points (eight more than any other player) to be the single biggest driving force behind the Lightning offense. His 29 points during that stretch mean he has had a hand (scoring or assisting) in 66 percent of the team’s goals (they have 44 during that stretch). He has scored close to 40 percent of them himself.

It is all part of an incredible season that has seen Kucherov climb to the top-five in the league in scoring even though he has missed seven games.

His 1.16 point per game average is third in the league among players that have played at least 60 games, trailing only Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, and he is only 0.02 points off of McDavid’s pace. He is doing that while owning a 56 percent Corsi percentage that is in the top-25 of the entire league.

He has been one of the most dominant players in the league this season, and has taken his game to an entirely new level in the past month just when the Lightning have needed it most. If they get in, it’s going to be because of him.