Paul Kariya announces retirement from NHL, blames head shots for shortened career

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Another NHL legend is calling it quits and this time it’s under more heartbreaking circumstances. Paul Kariya is retiring from the NHL after 15 seasons in the league and after a career filled with terrifying head shots that saw him miss plenty of games for it and all of last season thanks to the aftereffects of the damage from concussions.

Kariya finishes his NHL career as a point per game player, something that in itself is rare to find these days. Kariya played 989 games over 15 seasons and finished with 989 points and 402 goals over a career that saw him play for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues. A smaller player with speed to burn, Kariya was a dynamic goal scorer after coming out of the University of Maine. The skills he had were the stuff of legend and the kind of thing that saw him team up with Teemu Selanne in Anaheim to help lead the Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals.

Kariya issued a statement through his agent Don Baizley announcing his departure from the league:

“Today, I announce my retirement from professional hockey.  I would like to thank all of those who have been part of so many great memories – my teammates, coaches, team management and staff.  I am also very grateful for the support I have received over the years from the fans, especially those in Anaheim, Colorado, Nashville, and St. Louis.  It was my dream to be a professional hockey player in the NHL from my minor hockey days in North Vancouver and Burnaby, through junior hockey in Penticton, college hockey at the University of Maine, and the Canadian National Team.  I would not have achieved it without support from all of these people and organizations.”

Kariya’s career wasn’t all goal highlights however as he was also on the receiving end of some of the most disturbing body checks and cheap shots the league has seen. Kariya told The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek today that he was retiring from hockey and took aim on the numerous illegal head shots he took from the likes of Gary Suter, Scott Stevens, and Patrick Kaleta that helped put an end to what was an amazing career.

Kariya’s words were pointed and forceful and the brand of thing everyone in the NHL and NHLPA should start listening to if they plan to get serious about cutting back on concussions and punishing players who target the head.

“If you want to get rid of it, I’m a believer that you don’t go after the employees, you go after the employers,” said Kariya. “The first concussion I had, on a brutal, blindside hit, the guy got a two-game suspension. That was in 1996. The last one, from (the Buffalo Sabres’ Patrick) Kaleta, was exactly the same play, and he doesn’t get anything.

“If you start at 10-game suspensions and go to 20, that sends a message to the players. But if you start fining the owners and suspending the coach, then it’s out of the game.”

Kariya went on to say that every hit that ever knocked him out came as a result of an illegal hit.

“Every single one,” he reiterated. “I’m not saying you’re going to ever eliminate concussions completely because it’s a contact sport, but if you get those out of the game, then you eliminate a big part of the problem.

“A two-game suspension? That’s not enough of a deterrent.”

The kinds of punishment that Kariya is suggesting to employ are the sorts of ideas that have been kicked around from people on the Internet both connected directly to the game and those who are just fans. Severe suspensions as well as fining teams for actions that happen on the ice are the kinds of things Mario Lemieux spoke of when trying to curtail thuggish behavior and continued suspensions.

Kariya calling it quits also makes us wonder how other players who have had serious concussion problems are going to handle their careers going forward. Players like Kurt Sauer, Peter Mueller, and Marc Savard have all had major complications with concussions and their effects on them even months and years after suffering the injury. If the NHL and NHLPA weren’t already worried about how they look when it comes to looking the other way on these injuries, they’ve now got a big time face to put on the issue in Kariya.

It’s sad to see any favorite player retire from the league, but in Kariya’s case it breaks your heart to see it because it was essentially taken from him thanks to the actions of those around him. Fans will debate which hits were clean or dirty, but the fact remains that players are suffering at the hands of other players and the inability of the league and player’s association to get things figured out to change things for the better.

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

McPhee won’t bring Stanley, Vegas’ lucky golden rooster, to draft lottery

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There’s no way any lede I write will do this Review-Journal anecdote justice, so yeah, just read it:

[Vegas GM George] McPhee still has his superstitions like any former athlete. But don’t expect him to be rubbing a rabbit’s foot or holding a bunch of 4-leaf clovers in his pocket.

And he decided to leave Stanley the Rooster home rather than try and explain to Canadian Customs officials why the gift given to the team by the Mandarin Oriental back in February during Chinese New Year should be allowed into the country as a good luck prop.

The draft lottery goes Saturday in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Vegas won’t drop any lower than sixth and has a 10.3 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, behind Colorado (18 percent) and Vancouver (12.1 percent). Arizona also has a 10.3 percent chance at getting top spot.

Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

“[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

“He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.