No octopi-fly zone; NHL looking to eliminate traditional octopus toss in Detroit?

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It’s a ritual every April in Detroit during the playoffs.

No, not the tossing of octopus on the ice as that seems to happen all season long now. It’s the controversy that erupts when the NHL steps in to to curtail the amount of not-so fresh seafood takes flight and lands on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.

This year things have gotten a bit more high profile thanks to a report on Deadspin about a Wings fan who was allowed to enter the arena showing the arena staff that he had an octopus in his possession to then toss on the ice. Problems erupted for him moments later as he was then kicked out of the game and given a citation and fined $500 for living up to the annual tradition.

Craig Custance of The Sporting News notes that the Red Wings are upholding a well known NHL rule that the throwing of objects onto the ice is prohibited and that their arena staff were just following the rules. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has the most sensible (and delicious) take on the whole controversy.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I like calamari as much as the next guy. I don’t like batter on it, I like it spicy… it’s part of tradition here.”

Of course, there’s some inherent hypocrisy in that rule since the tossing of hats on the ice for a player scoring a hat trick is embraced and welcomed by the league. Of course, the catch there is that hats aren’t thrown on the ice for every goal. Before the start of Game 1 in Detroit numerous octopi hit the ice. Throwing one as symbolism was always the norm in Detroit but you know how things get when people are excited. More octopi means more problems and that’s precisely what that one fan got for his ill-timed cephalopod hurl.

Red Wings fans, as you might expect, are taking this as a direct slap in the face of tradition. After all, the octopus is embraced in Detroit and is part of their pregame introductions and is even highlighted on the Red Wings website. Matt Saler of On The Wings is hot on the case and it turns out that Detroit Police acted out at the prompting of the NHL.

Officer Bullock informed me that the enforcement of Municipal Code 38-5-4 is at the request of the NHL. Evidently, police supervisors were informed Wednesday night, either before or during the game, by League representatives that they don’t want anything thrown on the ice. An officer has to witness the throw and nab the thrower on the spot, but it’s something they can and will enforce. Apparently, distance from players is not an issue: any octopus on the ice is grounds for ejection and a fine. I asked if it applied to hats thrown down for a hat trick and Officer Bullock pointed out it’d be much harder to enforce on hundreds/thousands of hats versus a few octopi.

The interesting part is that the Wings are not the ones asking for it. According to Officer Bullock, they’re fine with the tradition, and even like it. And I gather the police aren’t big fans of enforcing it either. It’s up to the officer’s discretion, so it’s possible fans may still get away with it at times. But with NHL officials pushing for it, it’s less safe to throw than it ever has been. Previously, it may have been a bit of an empty threat. Now it has teeth.

It’s a good point that it’s tougher to enforce hundreds of fans throwing hats versus a few with gooey octopi but the Devil’s Advocate in me wonders if this might have the reverse effect on the fans. After all, Wings fans are well noted for having a bit of a chip on their shoulder for the NHL so what happens if rather than one octopus hitting the ice before the game you have a hundred. That’s a lot of bad sushi and a lot of headaches for the police in the arena to try and get a handle on.

James Mirtle of the Globe & Mail gets word from NHL spokesman Frank Brown about what their take on things is and it’s odd to say the least.

“NHL security did not direct that this person be arrested or ejected. We do have a prohibition against throwing things to the ice surface since this may cause a delay in game or injury to players or others working on the ice surface.”

Well that doesn’t tell us anything. As far as we’ve ever heard, octo-goo has never led to any injuries of any kind at all. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but after 59 years, I think we’ve got enough of a sample size to say that the chances of something happening is pretty slim.

How about this for a solution to make everyone happy and keep tradition alive:

You throw one octopus before the game and you let Al Sobotka, Detroit’s famous Zamboni driver and octopus swinger, retrieve the eight-legged freak and give it a good twirl heading off the ice. Since Sobotka was banned from doing that on the ice in recent years, just give the fans that one treat and knock it off with the optics that the league hates its traditions no matter how slimy and gross they might be. After all, it’s been going on since 1952 in Detroit, this isn’t something that was made up in the last five years just to get attention.

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

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The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.

 

Rangers GM ‘open to anything’ on new Zibanejad contract

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Along with working to fix his team’s defense, the big issue at hand for New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton this offseason is coming to terms with restricted free agents Jesper Fast and Mika Zibanejad.

Following the NHL draft on Saturday, Gorton was asked where things stand in those talks and he said he was hoping to get something done “rather soon.”

What those contracts will look like, however, seems to be a bit of a mystery and Gorton doesn’t seem to have his mind set on any particular structure as far as it being long-term or a bridge deal.

“We’re open to anything as far as Mika. We want to make a good deal.” Gorton said (via the Daily News).

“It could be short-term, it could be long-term. We’re wide open.”

The Rangers acquired the 24-year-old Zibanejad before the 2016-17 season in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators.

His first year on Broadway was mostly a success when he was healthy, scoring 14 goals and adding 23 assists in 56 games. That point per game average would have put him on a 54-point pace over 82 games which would have been a new career high. Zibanejad is just now entering what should be his peak years in the NHL and he’s already proven that he can be penciled in for 20 goals and 50 points every year (he’s been close to the pace for three straight years now). Given that there were only 69 forwards in the NHL that topped both 20 goals and 50 points this past season, that is easily first-or second-line production and a valuable asset.

Following the buyout of defenseman Dan Girardi and the trade of forward Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes the Rangers were able to clear out a significant amount of cap space over the past couple of weeks and currently have more than $20 million in cap space with 17 players under contract for this season. That should not only give them more than enough space to re-sign Zibanejad and Fast, but also perhaps take a run at a free agent like defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk. They only have eight players under contract for next season.

NHL teams can begin talking to pending free agents today

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After completing the NHL draft on Saturday the offseason rolls on for the league’s 31 teams on Sunday.

That is the day pending free agents can begin talking to teams around the league to gauge their potential interest in one another. Obviously no contracts can be signed until July 1, and technically there is to be no discussion of contract terms, but the window is open for discussions to begin.

T.J. Oshie re-signing with the Washington Capitals on Friday already removed one of the big-ticket players from the market. But several of his teammates will be available, including forwards Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner.

Shattenkirk is probably the top free agent available on the market and headlines a weak group of defensemen. He is expected to draw heavy interest from the New York Rangers as they look to reshape their defense.

Up front there is Alexander Radulov if the Montreal Canadiens are unable to come to terms on a new contract with him, while it could be the end of an era in San Jose as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are eligible for UFA status on July 1.