Beefing up: Senators add Zenon Konopka, Predators sign Zack Stortini

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For better or worse, enforcers aren’t going away anytime soon in the NHL. Sure, a more skill-friendly league is making it tougher for guys who do little beyond serving up hearty knuckle sandwiches, but they keep finding ways to earn paychecks for punching and getting punched.

There’s not anything wrong with that, one just wonders how much longer it will take for fighters to go from “marginalized” to “obsolete.” For all the perks that coming with having a guy to protect a superstar player, there’s that snag about them also needing to be able to skate with that person to truly play that role (and not just menace offenders after they commit grisly acts).

It never hurts to at least have the option of plugging your lineup with a guy who can hurt someone, though, especially when they come at the right price. Two teams added pugilists via affordable deals today.

  • The Ottawa Senators signed Zenon Konopka to a one-year contract worth $700K. The best part for Konopka might be that it’s a one-way deal, too; he gets the same paycheck whether he’s throwing his fists or wearing a suit (or maybe playing in the minors?).

To be fair to Konopka, he’s proficient with his hands in one other way that might actually make him an everyday player: the guy can win faceoffs. He won 57.7 percent of the draws he took last season, good enough for the fourth-best rate in the league. It’s not like he only received a handful of FO’s either; he took 1,075 (winning 620) in 82 games played in 2010-11. That’s an average of 13 per game. Considering the fact that he lead the league for the second year in a row in penalty minutes (307), he actually might bring a little something to the table when he’s not breaking noses.

Don’t get too excited, though; he only scored nine points for the New York Islanders. (Still, his faceoff skills are an undeniably nice bonus.) If you ask Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun, the trio of Konopka, Chris Neil and Matt Carkner might make the Senators the toughest team in the NHL.

  • The Nashville Predators probably won’t expect to get much more than some fights out of Zack Stortini. That’s OK, though, because the one-year deal they signed him to is a two-way contract, allowing them to yo-yo him from the NHL to the AHL and back whenever they need a fighter. Stortini should hope he receives a lot of time at the big-league level; he’ll earn at a $550K pace when he’s in the NHL and just a $75K pace in the AHL.

Stortini appeared in 32 games for the Edmonton Oilers and 29 for their AHL affiliate the Oklahoma City Barons last season. Who knows if that half-and-half ratio will be a decent barometer for the Predators since they’re a higher-level squad than the woeful 2010-11 Oilers.

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.