Graydon Carter Hosts a Cocktail Party for the Rising Stars of the NHL

Could injuries to Sidney Crosby, Chris Pronger and even Zach Parise be blessings in disguise?

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When a key player goes down with an injury, it’s a tough thing to take for fans and players on the affected team alike. Sure, injuries are just a part of the game, but losing a captain or scoring leader (or even a lesser-known faceoff and defensive specialist) can be a big blow on the ice and in the locker room.

As rough as that can be, it’s easy to forget a simple silver lining: an injured player gets the chance to rest. Steven Ovadia brings up this hypothesis in a provocative column today: could rest related to injuries actually become a “secret weapon” for Sidney Crosby, Chris Pronger and even Zach Parise?

It’s true that Crosby and Parise are among the fittest athletes in hockey while Chris Pronger shows year after year that he can carry teams on his back for half a game during the playoffs, so one can safely assume they would prefer to play. Yet if you set aside the fact that they’ll obviously need to shake off some rust – not to mention that each one of them still is far from certain to return – all three could benefit greatly from this time off.

Here’s a quick look at how each one would benefit.

Why the rest could be good for Crosby.

Naturally, concussions are a complicated matter, so there’s no telling if Crosby will be back. And if so, he might not be as comfortable going into those areas around the net where he scores a surprising amount of “dirty” goals.

Assuming for a second that he would be at-or-near full strength, Crosby could gain a lot from the time off. Let’s not forget that the 23-year-old phenom has a  lot of mileage on his skates for a player his age. The Pittsburgh Penguins played until the last game of the season two years in a row and then made it to a seventh game in the second round in 2010. When you combine those playoff runs with what must have been a whirlwind 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Crosby’s last three or so seasons would be a full career for most players.

Perks for Pronger.

Pronger’s been limited to 50 games this season, but he didn’t miss a game the previous two seasons and averaged 29 minutes per game in the Flyers’ playoff run in 2010. When you consider Pronger’s size, age (35) and physical style, a little breather might allow him to shoulder another extensive workload as Philadelphia readies themselves for another Cup attempt.

Setting a price for Parise.

Now, it’s a long shot that Parise will play and the Devils will make the playoffs, but imagine if that happened. After New Jersey reaped the rewards of signing him to a thrifty $3.1 million annual cap hit for his current contract, Parise hasn’t had much of a chance to make a strong final impression that he deserves a Kovalchukian deal.

In fact, the Devils might balk to his X-rays at the negotiating table, if they’re feeling especially brutal.

Yet if the Devils did make the playoffs, Parise could either anchor his own line or ride shotgun with Ilya Kovalchuk. The team leans on Kovalchuk for a huge chunk of its offense, so adding Parise to the fold could provide a considerable boost.

It could also give Parise’s bank account quite the boost.

***

Now, don’t get me wrong, no one should root for their best players to get injured. Even for a brief period of time.

Yet if you’re an optimist – and to some extent, a realist – it’s clear that there could be a silver lining. Maybe the human body isn’t meant to withstand 82 games of hockey, so getting a breather before the playoffs (or in Parise’s case, most of the season off) has its pluses.

Although Crosby’s trophy case will probably beg to differ.

With Allen struggling, Blues turn to Pheonix Copley on Saturday

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 9: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on May 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The recent struggles of St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen have been well documented at this point.

In his past 11 appearances he has managed only an .867 save percentage, his coach believes he is “locked up mentally,” and he did not even make the the trip with the team to Winnipeg for their game on Saturday afternoon against the Jets after giving up four goals on 10 shots against the Washington Capitals.

With Allen at home getting a chance to “reset,” the Blues will be turning to recent call-up Pheonix Copley on Saturday afternoon as he makes his first career start.

Copley was called up from the Blues’ AHL team in Chicago following the Blues’ recent loss to Washington. In 18 appearances with the Chicago Wolves this season Copley has a .920 save percentage and an 11-4-1 record.

The 25-year-old Copley, who was acquired by the Blues two years ago as part of the T.J. Oshie for Troy Brouwer trade, has appeared in only one NHL game in his career. That was a relief appearance during the 2015-16 season when he took over for Allen in a 5-0 loss to the Nashville Predators. Copley stopped five of the six shots he faced that night.

The Blues enter Saturday’s game having lost four of their past six games and are on the playoff bubble with 51 points in 46 games. The point total ties them with Nashville for third place in the Central Division (St. Louis has the tiebreaker at the moment because it has more regulation and overtime wins) while both teams are just one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

Lightning place Erik Condra on waivers

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Erik Condra #22 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a shot on goal during a game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on November 16, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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For the second time this season the Tampa Bay Lightning have placed veteran forward Erik Condra on waivers.

The latest move came after he was a healthy scratch for Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Condra, 30, is currently in the second year of a three-year, $3.75 million contract he signed in free agency to join the team a year ago. So far his time with the Lightning has been a bit of a disappointment.

He has played in just 10 games for the Lightning this season and has yet to record a point.

The Lightning placed him on waivers just before the start of the 2016-17 season. He has spent most of this season playing for the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League where he has recorded 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 24 games.

In 363 career games at the NHL level Condra has 39 goals and 59 assists. Only six of those goals have come as a member of the Lightning over the past two seasons since signing his contract in free agency.

Sam Bennett on healthy scratch: ‘I don’t want to be in that position again’

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Sam Bennett #93 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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With four of their top-five scorers this season age 23 or younger, the Calgary Flames have a solid foundation of young core players in place when it comes to building a playoff contending team (and right now, they would be in the playoffs). Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Dougie Hamilton, all part of that young core, and have all been significant contributors to their playoff push this season.

One of their young players that has struggled a bit this season, and especially recently, has been 20-year-old forward Sam Bennett.

On Thursday night he even found himself as a healthy scratch for the team’s 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators as a result of those recent struggles.

With only 18 points (nine goals, nine assists), a 46 percent Corsi percentage, and only 1.6 shots on goal per game this season it has been a bit of a disappointing season for the 2014 No. 4 overall pick. Especially after he showed so much promise during the 2015 playoffs and a year ago in what was his first full season in the league.

On Friday, Bennett talked about the experience of having to watch from the press box, calling it “really tough.”

“Watching wasn’t fun,” Bennett said, via Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald. “Everything about (Thursday) wasn’t fun. I don’t want to be in that position again. I want to do everything I can to stay in the lineup.”

The decision to sit Bennett came after a particularly difficult stretch for him that saw him go 10 consecutive games without recording a single point and only 13 shots on goals while playing less than 15 minutes in three of the games. He is expected to draw back into the lineup for Saturday’s Battle of Alberta game against the Edmonton Oilers.

As tough as the experience likely was for Bennett it’s still something that can be beneficial for a young player going through the type of slump he has gone through because it gives a perspective they might not get from being on the ice.

The Flames enter Saturday’s game against Edmonton occupying the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

Scott Darling may have earned himself some extra playing time

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: Scott Darling #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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When the Chicago Blackhawks’ run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons started back in the 2009-10 season, goaltending was pretty consistently their biggest question mark over the first three or four years of that run. Today, as the Blackhawks continue to sit near the top of the Western Conference standings, it might be one of their greatest strengths.

At this point it is not just because of Corey Crawford‘s development into one of the league’s best, most consistent starters.

They are also getting excellent play from his backup, Scott Darling, and it continued on Friday night when he received the start against the Boston Bruins — only his second start in January — and responded with a 30-save shutout.

Darling’s play has improved significantly this season in the Blackhawks’ net, and after Friday’s game he is carrying a .928 save percentage in his 21 appearances this season, including a pair of shutouts.

Together the duo has the fourth best overall save percentage in the NHL (.920) and the second best even-strength save percentage (.937), trailing only the Washington Capitals.

It is a positive development for both the Blackhawks and Darling himself.

From a Blackhawks perspective, his play has given them a reliable backup that was not only able to successfully fill in for Crawford when he missed nearly a month due to an appendectomy earlier this season, but it has also made it so they can potentially manage his minutes a little more and keep him fresh for the playoffs without having to run him into the ground during the regular season. With Crawford going through a bit of a slump recently, allowing it least three goals in eight of his past 11 starts, it might even leave the door open for Darling to get another start on Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

When asked about that possibility after Friday’s game coach Joel Quenneville would only say, “Their play a lot of time makes our decision for us.”

Of course, we probably should not make too much of this. Crawford is still going to be the guy in Chicago, and even though he has hit a bit of a rough patch lately he is still one of the top goalies in the league and you have to think he will eventually work his way out this recent funk. It’s just that Darling might be worthy of getting an additional start or two at the moment until that happens.

For Darling, it has been a big season as he plays through the final year of his contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Looking at the UFA market for goalies, you have Ryan Miller, who will be 36 years old and not really represent much of a long-term solution for anybody, and Ben Bishop and Steve Mason, who are both going through disappointing seasons. After that it is a bunch of a question marks. If Darling can continue to take advantage of the opportunities he gets in Chicago the way he has so far this season, he might end up earning himself an even bigger one in the summer.