Alex Frolov tells Russian media that Sean Avery used racist remarks to agitate opponents

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It’s a fact that whenever Sean Avery is made a part of a story the story takes on a life of its own. That’s part of the price when you’re a player as widely disliked as Avery is. When Alexander Frolov, a former teammate of Avery’s in Los Angeles and New York with the Rangers, had a chance to speak with Russian website sports.ru about him, one of his stories is a bit startling.

Frolov, who will be playing in the KHL next season, was asked by sports.ru about what it was like to play alongside Avery. With Avery being such a polarizing and controversial figure in the NHL, it only makes sense to ask what it’s like to play with someone like that.

Slava Malmud of sport-express.ru translates the Q&A portion of the interview with Frolov to give us his startling words.

Q: You have played with Avery for the Kings and Rangers and once called him your friend.
AF: Yes, we are friends and we still communicate. Just not as often, since we live on different continents now.

Q: Why does everyone hate him?
AF: It’s not hate, it’s… He has a specific role, he is a pretty unique man and he likes to do, let’s say, extravagant things. Sometimes they’d be bordering on the forbidden. He isn’t a fool. Lately he has become calmer, smarter. Before he’d get swept away with emotions and do something stupid. To mention each and every one of his stunts… Something always happens around him, it’s a part of his job. He needs to be talked about. He loves it, he feels at home in the spotlight. Sometimes he called opponents “black monkeys.” He did a lot of things, I can’t remember all of them.

All right, that’s a huge bomb to drop after you’ve left town, but Frolov is speaking frankly about a guy who is his friend and a guy who he’s seen go from being a wild hellion on the ice in Los Angeles to a (slightly) more reserved and peaceable activist and fashion conscious guy in New York. We’re almost positive that everyone will blow these quotes out of proportion, but there is a point in history where an allegation was made against Avery for saying as much to a player.

Back in 2005 when Avery was with the Kings, then Edmonton Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque accused Avery of calling him a “monkey” to incite him into action. Avery, in true style for how he was in his more out of control days, said that Laraque made the whole thing up.

“(He) fabricated the whole thing,” Avery said in Friday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times.

“I have no idea why he would do that,” he added. “I heard about it after the game and was surprised.”

Laraque, who is black, alleged Avery made a racial remark during Edmonton’s 3-1 loss. Laraque said that when he went to challenge Avery to a fight after the Kings agitator got tangled up with Oilers finesse player Ales Hemsky, Avery declined to fight and called Laraque “a monkey.”

Since Avery’s days in Los Angeles that saw him get so out of control he racked up north of 250 penalty minutes in back-to-back seasons, he’s gotten counseling for his temper and his attitude to make him be a better person both on and off the ice. Avery’s work in New York State to help get marriage equality passed has earned him kudos from a wide range of fans both hockey and in life. This story and these quotes from Frolov won’t do him any favors, but we’d have to hope that this sort of hateful nonsense is all in his past.

The role of a pest on the ice is always to push the boundaries of good taste and even ethics in order to goad your opponents into taking a bad penalty that could hurt their team. In Avery’s past, he may or may not have done things that would make anyone in their right mind think poorly of him. He may still do it now. Who knows?

The fact is, we haven’t heard of anything from Avery relating to such hateful things in years and Frolov sharing his story so flippantly means that it’s all in the past. That’s not to excuse him for doing these things back then, but before you form the line to protest the man, just know that everyone changes and sometimes it’s for the better.

Avery is a different guy now. He’s just as good at getting under an opponent’s skin as he ever has been, but there’s a difference in how he goes about it now as opposed to six or seven years ago when there was more malice to his work. It’s not to say that he’s a Zen master now, but his speckled past coming back to bite him now seems a bit much.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.

Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

“It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player