Vancouver should be careful with Ryan Kesler; hopes to be ready by opening night

During the last two seasons, Vancouver Canucks two-way forward Ryan Kesler’s star has risen as much as any other player in the NHL – at least if you narrow down the field to players who already showed promise. Kesler put an exclamation point on his Selke Trophy-winning 2010-11 season by dominating the Canucks’ second round series against the Nashville Predators, but rumors of injuries surfaced beginning in the Western Conference finals.

Kesler underwent hip surgery in early August, leaving many to wonder if he might miss a chunk of regular season games to start the 2011-12 campaign since the rehab window called for about 10-12 weeks of recovery.

Kesler seems (dangerously?) optimistic

Missing the beginning of next season remains a genuine possibility, but NHL.com passes along reports of Kesler’s optimism about being ready for action on October 6. Dan Rosen points out that Kesler already bounced back from a hip surgery earlier than expected once in his career. Kesler underwent a similar surgery in January 2007 and came back in 10 weeks (and in time for the playoffs), well ahead of the 12-16 week window that was originally given.

“It’s going good; small victories here and there,” Kesler told Canucks TV from his hometown of Livonia, Mich. “I just got off my crutches and I’ll start strengthening so everything is back to normal. I’ll start skating here in the next couple of weeks and hopefully be back by that first game.”

Kesler’s history with hip labrum surgery suggests he might just make the opening night lineup. He had a similar surgery in January 2007 and returned 10 weeks later — in time for the start of the playoffs. He was initially told he would be out anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks.

“I know what it takes. I know the rehab,” Kesler said. “It might even make me braver to try things I probably shouldn’t be trying, but it’s going to make me come back quicker and hopefully I can play in that first game.”

That last statement raises a red flag, though: “It might even make me braver to try things I probably shouldn’t be trying.” It’s inspiring to see hockey players fight through tough injuries, but the bottom line is that such actions sometimes have the disappointing consequence of limiting their on-ice effectiveness. It would be a shame if Kesler ends up only being a fraction of the world-class player he’s been for the last two seasons after rushing back from the surgery – or worse yet – if he greatly increases his chances of aggravating the injury by coming back too soon.

Canucks, Kesler should proceed with caution

Ultimately, it’s the job of the Canucks and their training staff to make sure that Kesler doesn’t come back too soon. Kesler is in the second year of his six-year, $30 million contract, so Vancouver would be wise to take the long view with their versatile center.

The Canucks aren’t the same team without Kesler’s speed, skills and tenacity, but Vancouver rolled with a lot of injury-related punches last season and probably needs to accept the possibility of a small hangover from last summer’s disappointments anyway. Obviously, the decision is up to both sides, but GM Mike Gillis & Co. would be wise to take a cautious approach with an important player who is just about to turn 27 years old.

Andrew Hammond to start Game 5 for Avalanche

AP
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When the Colorado Avalanche hit the ice in Nashville on Friday night they will be facing elimination. They will also need to rely on their third-string goalie to help get them a win if they are going to extend their season.

The team announced on Thursday that Andrew Hammond will be getting the start, replacing Jonathan Bernier who had to leave Wednesday’s game after two periods with a lower body injury. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Bernier’s injury has been a nagging one and that he could still be available off the bench on Friday if needed.

The Avalanche had been starting Bernier because their regular starter, Semyon Varlamov, is out for the remainder of the season due to a lower body injury of his own.

Obviously, this puts the Avalanche in a pretty tough spot. Not only because they have to go on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Predators, but also because they have to turn to a goalie that, including Wednesday’s brief relief appearance, has appeared in just eight NHL games over the past two years. He has faced only 127 shots in those appearances and managed only an .874 save percentage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 Hammond’s career has been a fascinating one to this point.

Late in the 2014-15 season he came out of nowhere as a 25-year-old rookie to lead the Ottawa Senators on an improbable late season run (where Hammond put together a 20-1-2 record) to qualify for the playoffs. Nicknamed “the Hamburglar,” his initial run in Ottawa was highlighted by fans throwing hamburgers on the ice to celebrate his wins.  That run earned him a contract extension with the Senators and a bunch of free hamburgers from McDonalds. It was a crazy year.

After that, though, injuries and a decline in his production have limited him to just a handful of appearances in the NHL.

The Avalanche acquired him from the Senators earlier this season as part of the Matt Duchene trade.

Now he has to jump into the crease in an elimination game.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators’ Ryan Hartman to have hearing after illegal check to the head

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Ryan Hartman had a tough night at the office on Wednesday night and will have to answer to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety because of it.

Hartman’s hearing stems from a charging penalty he was assessed after lining up Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg‘s head with his shoulder at the 4:42 mark of the third period.

Soderberg was forced to leave the game after the play.

Earlier in the game, Hartman tried to line up Sven Andrighetto from a mile out in the second period but missed, prompting the latter to come and give Hartman some business, which included a stick below the belt to Hartman.

The Predators took Game 4 by a 3-2 margin, holding off a third-period comeback attempt from the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seinfeld’s Puddy attends Devils game to ‘support the team’

NJ Devils on Twitter
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The man known affectionately as Puddy (aka actor Patrick Warburton) was in New Jersey last night trying to rile up the Devils prior to Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You’ll remember Puddy, the face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody.’

That’s pretty much it, but he didn’t need to say much else to become an instant cult classic among Devils fans.

Warburton resurrected the character on Wednesdat night, doing his best to get the Devils and their fans amped up prior to the game.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the tactic didn’t pay off as the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead on the back of a 3-1 win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Ducks wake-up call; Crosby passes Lemieux

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.
• For Ducks, getting swept should be a wake-up call (Los Angeles Times)

• Takeaways: an unlikely hero emerges as Sharks sweep Ducks (San Jose Mercury News)

Sidney Crosby passes Mario Lemieux for Penguins’ playoff points lead (USA Today)

• The Penguins are still too much for the Flyers (SB Nation)

• Hey, Saint Patrick. It’s a sin you missed how Avs refused to quit in 3-2 loss against Nashville. (Denver Post)

• In defying odds, Golden Knights’ success is not so good for sports books (USA Today)

Marc-Andre Fleury‘s ex-teammates with Penguins happy for his success in playoffs (NHL.com)

• Bodog: Golden Knights are Cup favourites (TSN.ca)

• Foligno brothers savouring first simultaneous NHL post-season (Toronto Star)

Blake Wheeler‘s path to being an elite player in the NHL took a winding road (Winnipeg Sun)

• How a financial advisor became the NHL’s only active black official (Sportsnet)

• Bill Peters has the inside track in Calgary, but there’s a lot of local blood to consider (The Hockey News)

• Von Miller just discovered hockey and he is WAY into it (The Loop)

• Humboldt Broncos tribute concert aims to bring in NHL players, alumni (Sportsnet)

• Town puts ‘giant hockey stick on our porch’ in Humboldt tribute (CBC)

• The case for each Vezina Trophy finalist — and a few snubs (The Hockey News)

• Why the Stanley Cup gets names removed every 13 years (Sportsnet)

• Up top, watch how the Penguins are coming alive in the postseason and the energy being displayed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be worrying their opponents.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck