Sean Avery

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.

It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers reacts to the game winning goal by Alex Petrovic #6 against the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Panthers defeated the Islanders 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have a new look, a different general manager and heightened expectations following an ambitious offseason.

After claiming the Atlantic Division with 103 points, the Panthers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. But with a young, skilled nucleus of players mixed with productive veterans — including 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who had 66 points last season — the Panthers have served noticed to the Eastern Conference that they are an emerging force.

Their summer has consisted of re-shaping the front office by promoting Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to general manager. They also fired their director of player personnel Scott Luce, which was a controversial move for the team, as it shifts to a more analytics-based approach. They also completely revamped their scouting staff.

During the height of the playoffs, the Panthers and Vancouver Canucks made a trade, as Florida acquired 20-year-old center Jared McCann — a former first-round pick — and sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver.

The Panthers also freed up a substantial amount of cap space by trading Marc Savard‘s contract, and a draft pick, to New Jersey.

And that’s when things really started to pick up. The Panthers acquired the rights to puck-moving defenseman and pending UFA Keith Yandle — a “risk worth taking,” said Rowe at the time of the deal — and eventually signed him to a seven-year deal. The Panthers also traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, while Brian Campbell signed as a free agent in Chicago.

The signings continued from there:

— Stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad signed an eight-year contract extension.

Defenseman Jason Demers signed as a free agent.

— Forward Vincent Trocheck, 23, emerged last season with 25 goals and was rewarded with a six-year deal.

Reilly Smith got a five-year contract extension.

So, yeah, a busy offseason in Florida.

Now, can the Panthers live up to the heightened expectations?

Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month.

Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season.

When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series versus Tampa Bay but gave up seven goals in two games, before giving way to Mrazek for the final three games.

Over the summer, the Red Wings and Mrazek were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal just before the two sides were to have a scheduled arbitration hearing.

That is a large raise from the $737,500 average annual value Mrazek was making on his entry-level contract. The Red Wings now have more than $9 million dedicated to both Mrazek and Howard in the salary cap.

Howard, 32, is signed for three more years at $5.29 million. He posted a 14-14-5 record, with a .906 save percentage, which is well below his career average of .915.

General manager Ken Holland — he’s under pressure — has offered conflicting takes on Howard’s future prospects in Detroit, saying he had thought about trading the veteran goalie but then he made the case to keep Howard almost as insurance in goal, as Detroit continues to develop Mrazek as the true No. 1.

“Some teams have goalies that make $8 million, $7 million,” Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re on the higher end in terms of the money we’ve got in net, but we see goaltending as a strength for us.”

Blashill told MLive.com during the winter that he went into last season with a three-week plan to alternate between Howard and Mrazek, to see which of those two goalies could separate themselves and take charge of that No. 1 position.

The plan this time around will be one to keep an eye on when the season begins. It’s shaping up right now to be an expensive one.

Coyotes hire skating guru Dawn Braid, believed to be first full-time female coach in NHL history

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Dawn Braid as skating coach and say she is believed to be the first full-time female coach in NHL history.

Braid has a long association with the NHL.

She worked part-time for the Coyotes last year and has served as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

Braid also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development. Among the skaters she worked with while there is New York Islanders center John Tavares.

From NHL.com:

“Dawn has wanted to put me in to make myself a more powerful and efficient skater,” Tavares told NHL.com in 2012. “Dawn always says, ‘If you didn’t train properly and do the certain things you need to do, you’re not going to be strong enough to do the things I want you to do.'”

Braid’s hiring continues the trend of full-time female coaches in men’s pro sports; she follows Becky Hammon of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Kathryn Smith of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (2016) as the first full-time women’s coach in their respective leagues.

It’s all about experience for Red Wings sophomore bench boss Blashill

Detroit Red Wing training camp, day one
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Let’s be honest: It’s probably not easy to replace a coach of Mike Babcock’s repute.

More than a year ago, Babcock went to the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs and is being paid a lot of money — an estimated $50 million over eight years — to coach in that market. Meanwhile, back in Detroit and with Babcock out of the picture, the Red Wings turned to Jeff Blashill as their new bench boss.

True, Blashill had spent time as a head coach in the USHL, college ranks and with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. But he had no experience as an NHL head coach prior to the 2015-16 season and just one season as an NHL assistant when he was part of Babcock’s staff in 2011-12.

After a 41-30-11 regular season record and another playoff appearance, the 25th straight in Detroit, the Red Wings were bounced in the first round. One of the priorities for general manager Ken Holland this offseason was to insulate Blashill by bringing in more experienced assistants.

The Red Wings hired John Torchetti, previously the interim head coach in Minnesota, and long-time Boston assistant Doug Houda. Those moves were part of a larger coaching shake-up within the organization, as Tony Granato left for a head coaching job at Wisconsin, goalie coach Jim Bedard was not brought back and assistant Pat Ferschweiler, who ran the team’s 13th-ranked power play last season, was reassigned.

Blashill told MLive.com that “player development” will be a large part of Ferschweiler’s role going forward.

“I think it’ll be a real benefit,” Blashill told the Detroit Free Press of the additions to the Red Wings staff. “Lots of years behind NHL benches. I’ve only had two years on an NHL bench. That’s a scenario where I can learn from their past experiences.”

It’s all about experience.

Two years ago, Blashill was touted by Holland as an “NHL coach in the making.” A month later, he was given a three-year contract extension to coach the Griffins, so clearly they thought highly of Blashill by keeping him as opposed to potentially losing him to another NHL club. A year later, he was tapped on to replace Mike Babcock.

In this case, patience may be required, too. That may be easier said than done from a fan’s perspective because as impressive as Detroit’s current run of consecutive playoff appearances is, they haven’t made it out of the first round in their last three tries.

“I think he’s a tremendous coach and I think he’s going to be in the League a long time. He’s had a lot of success at every level he’s been at except the NHL,” Holland told NHL.com.

“He did guide us to a playoff spot in a League when it’s hard to qualify for the playoffs, but I also think as you looked at our team last year, there were lots of decisions to be made and I think the experiences of last year are going to be important for Jeff.”

If the Red Wings place such a great deal of value on Blashill gaining experience, and leaning on the experience of veteran coaches beside him, it would seem then that they are willing to invest a substantial amount of time in him as he continues to grow and establish himself as an NHL coach.

But with such experienced assistant coaches having joined his staff this offseason, it makes you wonder about what could happen if the Red Wings struggle significantly or fail to make the playoffs.

“I think there’s always pressure in this job and there always will be and I welcomed that when I took the job,” Blashill told MLive.com this summer.

“But really, I don’t spend lots of time worrying about what could happen bad. I spend all my time worrying about how we’re going to do things to make sure we win.”