Chara, Ovechkin and Phaneuf make list of 10 ‘biggest hitters’

For better or worse, hitting is a part of hockey. Even as we learn more about the dangers and effects of concussions, it would be wrong to remove that element from the sport altogether. Maybe it’s twisted to celebrate hard hits in medleys and highlight reels, but they play a legitimate role in how the game is played.

Every now and then, a fearsome hitter can change the very flow of a contest. The advantages are most obvious for defensemen whose fearsome checks render courageous forwards into wallflowers. The benefits don’t stop at the defensive end, though; a big hitter can turn a mundane forecheck into a turnover waiting to happen and that extra level of intimidation can open up room for more finesse-driven linemates.

Much like a bruising NFL running back, big-hitters sometimes take almost as much abuse as they give. That’s one of the most interesting things about NHL.com’s list of the 10 biggest hitters. Eric Lindros, Cam Neely and Scott Stevens (the top guy on the list) probably shortened the careers of other players with their willingness to use their big bodies, but injuries forced them into retirement as well. Stevens is the only one of those three who could probably say that his career didn’t end with many “What if” scenarios because of those injuries, but there might be days when he rues that rugged style.

Other older/retired players included on the list were Lindros nemesis Darius Kasparaitis, New York Islanders great Denis Potvin and and hip-check machine Leo Boivin.

The most interesting part of the list might be the modern members, though. Here are the active NHLers who made the list, with their ranking and a comment and/or video.

9. Cal Clutterbuck

As John Kreiser points out, Clutterbuck set an NHL record for hits in a season with 356 in 2008-09. Maybe he’s more about quantity than delivering astounding checks, although he has his fair share of hard ones as well.

7. Zdeno Chara

Of course, many will think of the infamous check on Max Pacioretty, but Chara is feared for a reason: his size. He doesn’t have a reputation for taking liberties with opponents, for the most part, though. His inclusion on this list is fine, but I couldn’t help but ask: where’s Chris Pronger? Pronger isn’t much smaller than Chara and he makes up for that size difference by showing no mercy to opponents.

6. Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin is most known for his free-wheeling attitude and high-scoring ways, but he’s the human embodiment of what a perfect video game athlete would be because he also throws his body around with reckless abandon. One cannot help but wonder if this style will come back to haunt him when he gets older like it did for Neely and Lindros, but his willingness to get physical is part of what makes him so beloved among hockey fans. (Except if he’s delivering a hit – sometimes a controversial one – on one of your favorite players.)

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2. Dion Phaneuf

At some point, it seemed like Phaneuf would be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger. Right now, that seems to be true more in his salary than his on-ice results, as he’s been exposed with tougher defensive assignments. Word out of Toronto is that he’s getting it back together, though, which might mean that the fake verb “Phaneuf’d” won’t be used sarcastically much longer.

Even if his stature in the league suffered, Phaneuf makes vulnerable forwards suffer from some savage hits. I’ll always think of his brutal hit on Kyle Okposo in the 2009 preseason, but NHL.com provides another example.

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Holy Mackinaw indeed.

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So what do you think of the list? Is Stevens the biggest hitter ever? Should Phaneuf be ranked so high? Are there any fearsome hitters who should have made the top 10? Let us know in the comments.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2.

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?