Michael Grabner

New York hockey writers will not vote for year-end awards in protest of blogger’s revoked credentials

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Friday morning, the New York Rangers chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) announced that they will abstain from voting in the year-end awards as a form of protest. The issue for the writers was when the New York Islanders revoked the credentials of blogger Chris Botta. Botta is known for writing at AOL Fanhouse, Islanders Point Blank, and the New York Times Slap Shot blog. After the Rangers chapter voted 7-3 to boycott the year-end voting process, the Islanders chapter of the same organization voted 5-0 to join their brethren and also declined to participate.

Andrew Gross of The Record in North Jersey explained the New York Rangers chapter’s position in a post today and how they view this as a bigger dispute with long lasting ramifications:

“As our chapter chairman, Larry Brooks of the New York Post, has said on several occasions this season, what is the point of paying dues if the national organization is not willing to protect its own.

The NHL, too, has turned a blind eye, essentially indicating they had no jurisdiction over the Islanders’ decision. I don’t expect the NHL to be the media’s protector. But the Botta decision sets such a bad precedent the NHL should have exerted whatever pressure it could.”

 

There was plenty of discussion and controversy when the Islanders revoked Botta’s credentials earlier this year. According to the reports, the Islanders revoked his credentials because of critical comments that he’d made in the direction of the Islanders organization. Even if this was the entire story, the PHWA would not look kindly towards one of their own seeing their access revoked. From all indications, Botta has been a responsible member of the New York media—if not critical. Of course, there’s more to the story here. Before working full-time as a blogger/journalist in the New York area, Botta worked in the public relations department for the New York Islanders. Yes, the same New York Islanders who cut-off his access. The drama, the intrigue!

Craig Custance of the Sporting news relayed PHWA president Kevin Allen’s comments:

“Although the Rangers’ chapter doesn’t reflect the sentiment of the other 30 chapters, I’m respectful of its decision. In America, the idea of using one’s vote as a means of protest is as old as the country itself. And the issue here is important. The PHWA doesn’t believe that an NHL team should be able to deny access to one of our members. Chris Botta is one of our members. And he was denied access by the New York Islanders.”

There are two sides to this story. On one hand, the PHWA is standing up for one of its respected members. One of the few weapons in their arsenal is for the writers to boycott the year-end awards. They disagree with the Islanders’ move earlier in the year; the Islanders never reinstated Botta’s access, so the PHWA is making their statement for everyone to see.

On the other hand, the Islanders believe (and the NHL agrees) that issuing credentials falls under their jurisdiction, and theirs alone. Instead of simply ignoring the bad publicity, the Islanders’ PR department issued a refreshingly honest statement on the matter.

“This unprecedented action taken by the New York chapter members of the PHWA, is not hurting the Islanders organization or changing our stance on the past matter. Instead it is directly affecting the various players that rely on these votes to earn nominations. Players such as Michael Grabner, who is considered as one of the frontrunners for the Rookie of the Year award, Frans Nielsen who is considered a possible nominee for the Selke Trophy or Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who could win the Vezina Trophy, will not receive votes from New York media members who watch these players every game.

Grabner will never have a 30-plus-goal rookie season again. In the case of Nielsen, his seven shorthanded goals this year are the most since Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards, who also scored seven tallies in 2008-09, when he was nominated for the Selke Trophy.

It is unfair to punish the players that had no direct impact on the decision made by the Islanders organization. The Islanders request that the New York members of the PHWA change their position and vote for those NHL players who deserve consideration for an NHL award. By doing so, the New York members of the PHWA will recognize the players that rightfully deserve the chance to have their name considered among the league’s elite.”

There are two things that are interesting about the Islanders’ comments. First and foremost, if the Isles are willing to continue to hold this position in the face of all the negative publicity, I’ll go out on a limb and assume the organization isn’t going to change their position on the subject. In the statement, they not only acknowledge their position, but also reiterated their take.

Additionally, the Isles noted how the boycott will effect individual players who are up for awards. Michael Grabner is tied for league lead in rookie goal scoring (31) and is 3rd among NHL rookies with 48 points. Even though the Islanders are the ones who provoked the action by the PHWA, it looks like it will be individual players who suffer the consequences.

Since this has been an issue debated in the past, we wanted to throw this out to the readers for debate. Is this kind of boycott a productive statement and a noble sign of solidarity, or should the PHWA show their disapproval in some other manner? Let us know in the comments.

Pre-game reading: About that time Donald Trump considered buying the Panthers

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie discusses Paul Maurice’s status in Winnipeg. Is the Jets’ head coach on the hot seat?

— Did you know that Donald Trump once considered buying the Florida Panthers? He never did buy them, of course, but the Miami Herald’s George Richards recalls the time, “around 2000,” when Trump kicked the tires on the hockey club. The Panthers, oddly enough, are now owned by Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army, Vinnie Viola. (Miami Herald)

— From The Journal Star newspaper in Peoria, Illinois: “A charter bus carrying the Columbus Cottonmouths team was in a rollover crash on Interstate 74 on Thursday afternoon as the Southern Professional Hockey League team was on its way into Peoria for a weekend series against the Peoria Rivermen.” Fortunately, there don’t appear to be any serious injuries — just some “bumps and bruises,” according to the team’s co-owner, Bart Rogers. However, two people were reportedly taken to the hospital in an ambulance. (Journal Star)

— The Washington Post spoke to Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer about the new streamlined pants that all NHL goalies must start wearing by Feb. 4. While Holtby isn’t too concerned about the changes, Grubauer had this to say: “I understand you want to get the game more exciting for the fans, but there’s a fine line between making the gear smaller and also keeping the goalies protected. If too many guys get hurt with those, it’s not a good thing. … What do you want to take away next? Goalies without sticks? Without skates?” PHT prediction: They’ll let goalies keep their skates on.  (Washington Post)

— An encouraging update from Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with MS in November. The Hurricanes forward has been taking a drug called Tysabri, and the results have been good. “I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve been on the ice a couple times. … Different people react differently to different drugs and I’ve been reacting good and we’ll see how it goes.” (NHL.com)

— The Nashville Predators picked up “another teammate” on Friday, but they’re still not sure if “Mario” will last the season as their good-luck charm. (The Tennessean)

preds

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: Preds turn to streaking Saros

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28:  In his first career NHL game goalie Juuse Saros #1 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Juuse Saros will get another shot at cutting into Pekka Rinne‘s playing time.

Saros, who has been excellent as Rinne’s backup since being recalled from AHL Milwaukee, will get the nod tonight when the Preds take on the Flames in Calgary. The decision comes after Rinne played well in a 1-0 loss in Vancouver on Tuesday, but the veteran Finn was no doubt displeased on the one goal he surrendered.

(FF to 3:36)

Tonight’s start will be Saros’ ninth of the season. He’s gone 4-3-1 with a 1.25 GAA and .957 save percentage in his previous eight — including his last one, when he stopped 35 of 36 shots in a win over Boston — and could make the case for even more starts with another solid effort tonight.

Nashville heads into Calgary just one point back of the Kings for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, and needs all the points it can get.

For the Flames, Chad Johnson starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— No rest for Mike Condon, as he’ll make yet another start when the Sens travel to Columbus. He’ll be up against Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 24 saves on 25 shots in a win over the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Kari Lehtonen, who made 12 saves in relief of Antti Niemi in Tuesday’s 7-6 win over the Rangers, gets the start for Dallas in Brooklyn. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who posted a 32-save shutout of Boston earlier this week.

We wrote about Henrik Lundqvist’s struggles earlier, and he’ll look to change his fortunes around in Toronto. The Leafs, as per usual, are going to Frederik Andersen in goal.

Jake Allen gets back in for the Blues after Carter Hutton started three in a row. The Caps will counter with Braden Holtby.

Mike Smith gets a rare night off for the Coyotes, who will give Louis Domingue just his third start of the month. Domingue will go up against Devan Dubnyk, who saw his four-game winning streak snapped with a loss against the Devils on Tuesday.

Semyon Varlamov is hurt again, so Calvin Pickard goes for the Avs in Anaheim. John Gibson‘s in for the Ducks.

Ben Bishop played on Monday and Tuesday, so Andrei Vasilevskiy gives him a breather as the Bolts take on the Sharks in San Jose. No word yet on who’s in goal for the home team.

Rielly’s injury means opportunities for Gardiner and Corrado

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 06: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 6, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without their best defenseman tonight against the Rangers, and possibly for a few more games after that. Morgan Rielly is day-to-day with a lower-body injury after crashing into the boards Tuesday against Buffalo.

With Rielly out, Jake Gardiner will step into the top-pairing role with Nikita Zaitsev. It’s a big responsibility for the 26-year-old Gardiner. The Leafs are right in the thick of the playoff race, and they don’t want to lose ground.

“You’re playing against the best guys every shift,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “The best guys tend to be harder on the defensemen, so you just have to handle it. Jake has become a way better defender and can move the puck, so he does not spend a whole lot of time in his zone. We will see how it goes here today, but Zaitsev is a good player to play with too and it should be a good pair for us.”

Gardiner has spent most of the season on Toronto’s second pair alongside Connor Carrick, who will now skate with Frank Corrado. The other pairing will stay the same: Roman Polak with Matt Hunwick.

Rielly’s injury also presents an opportunity for Corrado to prove he belongs in the lineup. The 23-year-old has been limited to just one game with the Leafs this season; he was recently down in the AHL on a conditioning assignment.

Read more: Frustrated Corrado sounds off

“I think he went down there and tried to work real hard and be a real good pro, which I think is real important when you’re a veteran guy and you play with those kids,” Babcock said of Corrado, per Maple Leafs Hot Stove. “That’s positive, and now he gets his opportunity here.”

Fiery Lehner won’t apologize for being fiery

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Robin Lehner‘s trademark intensity was on display — again — two nights ago, when he responded quite angrily to getting hooked in a 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.

He smashed his goalie mask, and stared daggers at head coach Dan Bylsma. Given the game was in Toronto, there were more than a few media outlets that made note of the outburst — and quickly, the incident went viral.

On Thursday, Lehner addressed the situation. He took responsibility for the outburst — “I’m not helping the team by showing my emotions and I’ve got to learn from it” — but also said he wasn’t going to change who he is.

“It’s hypocritical to apologize for who you are,” Lehner said, per the Buffalo News. “I’m a competitive guy who doesn’t want to get out of the net. I don’t want to leave the net.

“I want to sink with the ship or be able to stand in there and come back.”

This isn’t the first time Lehner’s, uh, passion has gone viral. Last season he had a lengthy stare down with then-Habs goalie Ben Scrivens, and unleashed the crazy eyes on Columbus.

Essentially, it’s part of the package. If you like Lehner and want him as your goalie, you’re going to accept such intensity — even if it boils over from time to time. That’s what Bylsma said in the aftermath, anyway.

“He should be upset with getting pulled,” Bylsma said on Tuesday, per the News. “That’s part of Robin’s game, that emotion. I have no problem with that.”