Ben Eager, Kyle Clifford

Hockey’s summer of tragedy turns debate towards whether to keep fighting in the game

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After this summer’s string of NHL tragedies surrounding the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak their common role as enforcers in the league is leading to another more contentious debate. With the talk of how fighters in the NHL live a tougher life than other players thanks to their role being one that demands them to play the game more with their fists than through more conventional skills, the debate over whether fighting belongs in the NHL has rightly or wrongly been sparked.

After all, we haven’t seen guys that play a more standard version of the game run into troubles with pain killers and/or depression leading to their demise. With that common quality among the three players that have died this summer, that’s enough evidence for some to start casting blame upon that part of the game for leading to their personal downfall.

The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek shared a bit from Boston Bruins executive Harry Sinden saying that if fighting were eliminated from the game, ultimately the game would improve greatly and points to the playoffs as the reason why.

Sinden pointed out that the best moments in hockey tend to be fight-free anyway.

“We don’t have it in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which are a fantastic series of games,” he said. “Do we need it to help the regular season survive, because they’re certainly not always a series of great games? I don’t know. But I’ve watched for a number of years where there hasn’t been any fighting to speak of in the Stanley Cup playoffs and I don’t think I’ve missed it.”

It’s a smart thing to say in the face of the debate that’s picked up of late and selling the high intensity action point of the NHL makes a lot of sense. The problem is not every regular season game is played like a playoff game. With 82 games in a season, it’s a marathon and not a sprint and different issues manifest themselves during a season. Beefs are had, vengeance is sought, and the gloves get dropped. As long as fighting is legal in the game, there’s going to be a need in some teams eyes to have an enforcer or two on the roster and on the ice.

While not all teams agree with that line of thought (Detroit and Tampa Bay most notably), enforcers are viewed as a necessary thing and some former fighters are speaking up on their behalf. Georges Laraque penned a piece for the Globe & Main saying that while he hated fighting, it’s a necessary evil in the NHL.

If you think that taking fighting out of hockey is the solution, you are wrong. Eliminating an aspect of the game to solve an issue is never the right way to accomplish things.

I would not want to be the person to make that rule because there will be 75 or more players out of a job because of it, and you would see some going into depression. There are also kids just like me who are playing junior hockey with the hope fighting stays in the game so they can have a job some day. This would create a bigger issue. For me, all those former tough guy who are retired and commentating on television and on radio about taking fighting out of hockey are making me sick. They were there at the right time and now that they’ve made their money, they’re going to spit on what put bread on their table? Well, that’s not going to happen with me.

Laraque isn’t the only one saying as much as former Canadiens brawler Chris Nilan has also said as much. Laraque says that having a committee of former fighters being available on stand-by for players having trouble with dealing with the perils of fighting (low salary, constant pain, fear of losing your job to another fighter) can turn to them for help in talking those issues out. It’s a great idea that helps split the difference between taking something out of the game that some view as necessary and others see as a needless side show that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

While we’ve seen other past fighters deal with issues in their career with substance problems (most notably former Red Wings and Blackhawks fighter Bob Probert) this new wave of tortured souls is especially hard to watch because no one really knows what it was that drove them to be self destructive. Fighting may lend itself to people with personalities that deviate from normal or it might be the thing that leads to players being forced to face up to issues later on in life. Fact is, we don’t know what the link is there (if any) but the one thing that can happen if fighting isn’t taken out of the game is that everyone involved can learn to better look out for each other off the ice.

Rangers lose Raanta, but get Zibanejad back from broken leg

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Detroit Red Wings and is joined by Chris Kreider #20 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Busy little Monday for the Rangers.

First, the club announced forward Marek Hrivik cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Hartford — paving the way for Mika Zibanejad to return from his broken leg — then announced goalie Antti Raanta would miss the next 7-10 days with the lower-body injury suffered against Montreal over the weekend.

Plenty to unpack here.

Let’s begin with Zibanejad, acquired this offseason in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old suffered his broken leg back on Nov. 20 and has missed the last 26 games as a result — so, needless to say, New York is glad to have him back. He’d been producing very well at the time of his injury, with five goals and 15 points in his first 19 games as a Blueshirt.

But for all the excitement about his return, enthusiasm has to be dampened a bit by the Raanta injury.

Arguably the best backup in the NHL this season, Raanta’s gone 10-4-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s done a terrific job of spelling Henrik Lundqvist when called upon, and even had a brief stint of starts in late December before King Henrik resumed No. 1 duties.

With Raanta sidelined until the All-Star break, the Rangers have recalled Magnus Hellberg from the AHL.

Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line doing the business in Carolina

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Brock McGinn #23 of the Carolina Hurricanes awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Bill Peters has found something in the Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Brock McGinn trio.

The line, formed just a short while ago, erupted for 10 points in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Isles. McGinn went on to capture third star of the week honors and, together, the unit has been a major reason Carolina’s knocking on the door of a playoff spot.

“They’re doing it playing against everybody’s best at home,” Peters said of the Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line, per the New York Daily News. “They’re taking on tough matchups each and every shift and more often than not, they win it.”

Given that Staal, the club’s top defensive center, anchors the line, Peters often uses it against the opposition’s top group. So full credit has to go to Lindholm and McGinn, especially given their relative inexperience — both are just 22 years old and, coming into this season, McGinn had all of 21 games of NHL experience.

He’s a pretty good story, to say the least. The youngest of the McGinn brothers — Jamie currently plays for Arizona, Tye is with the Lightning organization — Brock was the 47th overall pick in 2012, and has steadily progressed from a good scorer in junior, to a good scorer at the AHL level, to a good scorer at the NHL level.

McGinn now has 12 points in 27 games with the ‘Canes this season.

“Our scouts stepped up and took [McGinn] in the second round. He’s a little under-sized and he’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s got a lot of hockey player in him,” Peters explained, per the ‘Canes website. “He’s a very courageous kid, a very intelligent player, a lot of old school in him. He’s starting to play with way more pace now, which is a huge credit to him.”

As mentioned above, the ‘Canes are in a great spot right now. They head into today’s action just one point back of Philly for the final wild card spot in the East, but with three games in hand.

Carolina could vault the Flyers with a result against Columbus on Tuesday. It would be another big step in trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

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Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.

Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues and Dylan McIlrath #42 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

The question now is whether they’ll play him.

McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.