Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson gets instruction from… Claude Lemieux?!

1 Comment

Canucks fans are excited to have young rookie prospect Cody Hodgson eventually leave his mark on the NHL in the form of being the latest scoring stud in Vancouver. After all, the Canucks have had guys like Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Ryan Kesler emerge under their watch and the one thing a loaded team needs is yet another weapon to throw out on the ice.

Hodgson had his troubles cracking the Canucks lineup last year with the team being as loaded up as they were and with the center position having as much talent as they did, Alain Vigneault opted to not go with Hodgson very often when injuries interrupted the team’s flow. This year, Hodgson is looking to make the Canucks main roster and stay there all year and he’s looking for an edge to do that. Who better to ask for tips than Claude Lemieux, right?

Uh… Wait, that Claude Lemieux? You bet it is and Tony Gallagher of The Vancouver Province has the story on how a legendary agitator is lending a hand to a potential rising star.

Lemieux is involved with a company called 4Star which works with and represents athletes, and they’ve established a working arrangement with Hodgson’s agent, Ritch Winter’s Sports Corporation, to help their hockey clients. Hodgson is one of the higher-profile players to have this type of help.

“We’ve had a number of discussions with the coaches and management in Vancouver and we expect to talk from time to time,” said Lemieux, who is really looking forward to the new role as a substitute for playing. “Being able to help another player, to me it’s the next best thing to playing yourself and that’s something I can’t do anymore.”

“He’s helped me with quite a few things,” says Hodgson. “We’ve worked on mental preparation, footwork, shooting and places to shoot and different ways of scoring. It’s been really interesting.”

Nothing about infuriating opponents, turtling in a fight, and hitting players questionably? Come on, that’s not full bang for the buck.

Hodgson looking to get a better edge for his game and to improve his play is a great thing for a young player to want to improve on. After all, the Canucks got a great first-hand look at what a young player can do when he adds a bit of nasty to his game when they couldn’t find a way to handle Boston’s Brad Marchand in the Stanley Cup finals. That’s not to say that’s the sort of action Hodgson will add to his game, but it couldn’t hurt either.

For Hodgson, emerging as an offensive threat could help him get an opportunity to get more time on the power play and more minutes than he saw in his time with Vancouver last season. In just eight games with the Canucks last season, Hodgson averaged just 7:45 of ice time and for any player, never mind a guy who’s looking to score points, that’s just not enough time to be productive. Hodgson spent most of last season in the AHL with Manitoba. There he had 17 goals and 13 assists in 52 games. All of those numbers must improve if he’s going to be a future threat in Vancouver. Luckily for both the Canucks and Hodgson, he’s just 21 years-old.

If Hodgson is going to make the Canucks roster, having some of that Lemieux nastiness to his game will help him earn more minutes on the third and fourth lines in Vigneault’s system. If he can learn how to be effective around the net the way Lemieux was, he’ll wind up having a long and successful career. After all, getting tips from a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Survival of the lucky? Stanley Cup playoff hopes can rise and fall with significant injuries

AP
1 Comment

There’s plenty of knocking on wood this time of year around the NHL as teams hope to avoid injuries that could damage their playoff hopes.

For some, it’s already too late.

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost Steven Stamkos for four months — and counting — and now Tyler Johnson. The Florida Panthers went without Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov for much of the year. The Los Angeles Kings tried to stay afloat without goaltender Jonathan Quick until late February but will likely miss the playoffs.

While the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have withstood a barrage of injuries and the league-leading Washington Capitals have largely avoided them, they’re keenly aware of how quickly even one injury can make a difference.

“There’s other teams that are good teams that have just had some bad luck,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “Tampa Bay just couldn’t overcome the injuries. If Tampa Bay has Stamkos all the way through the season, they’d certainly be in a different place.”

Read more: Injuries keep adding up for Lightning

Considered Cup contenders at the start of the season, the Lightning had to make a run just to get within three points of a playoff spot with nine games remaining.

The Panthers got Barkov and Huberdeau back and dug out of an early hole, but a lower-body injury to goaltender Roberto Luongo contributed to a 3-7-1 tailspin that might ultimately cost them the chance to make the postseason for a second consecutive year.

“Sometimes just your body breaks up because of the games and stuff like that,” said Barkov, who missed 15 games with a back injury. “Some teams just get more injuries, and some teams just get lucky not to get injuries.”

Injuries have again been the story of the year for the Penguins, who are currently without half their regular defense in Kris Letang, Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, and also lost trade acquisition Ron Hainsey. But they haven’t missed a beat.

“The guys that have come in just understanding whatever role that they get, they have to be accepting of it,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “They have a lot of responsibility in most cases, too, because they’re filling in for some guys who play a lot of key minutes.”

Injuries were a severe blow to the Dallas Stars, with 292 man games lost, and 265 man games lost has put the Detroit Red Wings’ 25-season playoff streak in serious jeopardy. The Edmonton Oilers have around 300 man games lost, but unlike last year’s stumble when Connor McDavid broke his collarbone they are poised to end a 10-year playoff drought.

“This organization seems to have a way of getting beat up and having injuries and needing others to support the group, and this year I think we’ve done a better job,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We haven’t lost those key forwards, knock on wood, like we did last year.”

Tampa Bay did when Stamkos tore the meniscus in his right knee Nov. 15 after putting up 20 points in his first 17 games. Friday night marked his 57th consecutive game out of the lineup.

Yet in Washington, the Capitals have a grand total of 42 man games lost all season and have only dealt with a hand injury that sidelined forward Andre Burakovsky 15 games and upper-body ailments that cost T.J. Oshie 13. Defenseman Brooks Orpik believes the Capitals’ fortunes are a combination of off-ice injury prevention techniques and luck, while the team’s brass thinks it’s also about taxing players less each game.

“The team philosophy of going four lines and spreading the ice time out and spreading the ice time out on defense and spreading the ice time out among your goalies, I think it puts less stress on your lineup,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Having a deep team, I think, results in less injuries.”

Depth up front helped the Chicago Blackhawks withstand captain Jonathan Toews‘ nine-game absence with back problems, and having backup Antti Raanta kept the New York Rangers on track when goaltender Henrik Lundqvist went out for two weeks this month with a lower-body injury. Lundqvist is expected back this weekend.

The Columbus Blue Jackets feel fortunate not to need to test their depth again this season after injuries ravaged them to the count of 510 man games lost two years ago. They’ve overcome defenseman Seth Jones‘ broken foot and Ryan Murray‘s broken hand to make the playoffs for the third time in franchise history, so it doesn’t feel at all like 2014-15 in Columbus.

“It’s just too good of a league to be able to survive that type of season,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “This year we’ve been lucky and hopefully done some things right as well where we haven’t been injured as much and knock on wood hopefully stay healthy for the rest of the year.”

Crosby is ‘just the opposite’ of a whiner, says Sullivan

Getty
11 Comments

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had plenty to say about Sidney Crosby, essentially calling the Penguins star a “whiner” the following morning after the Penguins star injured Marc Methot with a slash.

A few hours after Melnyk’s comments, ahead of Pittsburgh’s game against the New York Islanders, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan came to the defense of his player.

He said Crosby is, based on what he deals with every game from opposing players, “just the opposite” of a whiner.

Crosby didn’t receive a penalty for his slash on Methot, who suffered a gruesome finger injury and is expected to be “out for weeks” as a result. No. 87 also didn’t receive any further discipline.

“I don’t think it was intentional,” said Sullivan, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s trying to slash on the stick. It happens numerous times in the game. It was unfortunate that he caught his hand. That’s how I saw it.”

Meanwhile, speaking to hockey insider Darren Dreger, Crosby’s agent Pat Brisson also weighed in on Melnyk’s comments. No surprise here, but, um, he didn’t agree with the Senators owner.

The Penguins enter tonight’s game just two points back of Washington for top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

Getty
1 Comment

There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

7 Comments

— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.