Oilers should benefit from Eric Belanger’s steadying presence

There were a lot of contracts handed out in early July, but a big chunk of them seemed to go to guys whose best days are (allegedly) in front of them. That’s why it was especially satisfying to see journeyman checking forward Eric Belanger get a three-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers; the two-way center has done everything that teams asked of him during his quietly impressive NHL career, only to see those clubs pass on bringing him back (sometimes in seemingly unprofessional ways) as a free agent or trade him to a different city.

Naturally, there’s always the chance that the Oilers could continue that string of instability by scuttling him out of town at some point, but that three-year, $5.25 million deal gives Belanger the consistency he’s been fighting for. If his previous work is any indication, Belanger should be worth every penny – even if it’s just doing the dirty jobs that the team’s talented young players aren’t quite as proficient at.

Again, it’s been a tough road for Belanger. The Edmonton Journal points out that the Oilers will be his seventh team since the lockout ended, which is especially odd since he spent the first 10 years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings. The constant changes of scenery have been rough on Belanger’s family, but the experienced forward has a healthy outlook on the situation.

“My oldest was nervous and crying on her first day. She’s eight and she didn’t want to go. It’s tough for her, trying to get some new friends,” said Belanger, who signed a three-year, $5.5-million US contract on July 1.

“This is her fourth school in four years. But we’re in a neighbourhood with lots of kids, which is great. It’s hard on my wife (Alexandra), but more so on my kids (Lola Pearl is in Grade 1) because they’re here because of me.

“But I know it’ll be fine.”

(snip)

“It’s the reality of the new NHL. You see lots of guys moving around. It’s not a bad thing. It means lots of teams want you. You’re doing something right. I actually was in one organization for 10 years, in Los Angeles. But since the lockout, I have moved around. Every place I’ve been has been nice,” he said.

Beyond the obvious benefits of a longer contract, the French-Canadian forward has another reason to be excited: the Oilers will be the first Canadian NHL team he’ll suit up for. He said that he grew up watching the Quebec Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens, so it will be a treat to play in a hockey hotbed – especially after a season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Belanger brings tangible and intangible assets to Edmonton

Belanger said that he was surprised the Coyotes didn’t want him back, and looking at his numbers there, it’s tough to dispute his logic. While his offensive numbers were modest (40 points), he was the top Coyotes forward in overall ice time since Shane Doan missed 10 games. Belanger averaged 17:20 minutes per game, third among forwards behind Doan and hulking center Martin Hanzal. That’s an impressive nightly average for an under-the-radar player, with 1:47 of shorthanded time per game. Belanger was also a go-to guy in the faceoff circle, winning an impressive 55.3 percent of his draws – earning a tie with Travis Zajac for the 17th-best mark in the NHL.

Considering the Coyotes’ questions at center, it’s that much more surprising that they showed little interest in bringing Belanger back. Phoenix’s loss will be Edmonton’s gain, because the Oilers have struggled in the faceoff dot over the last few years.

Belanger brings a nice all-around game, plenty of experience and dominant faceoff skills to a team that needs more of all three elements. If you look at him as a replacement for departed center Andrew Cogliano, he represents an attractive opposite to the disappointing young player. Where Cogliano seemed like pure, unrealized potential, Belanger represents sheer productivity.

That’s not the kind of change that will propel the Oilers to a playoff spot, but if they improve in other areas, it could be a very underrated move.

This fight between Tom Wilson, Chris Stewart got downright gory (Video)

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For those who decry the decline in fighting – in “blood and guts” hockey – Tuesday presented a bloody moment, one fairly high on this season’s Muta scale.

Also, for some, seeing it happen to Tom Wilson specifically may provide additional pleasure.

Anyway, as you can see in the video above, Minnesota Wild winger Chris Stewart bloodied the Washington Capitals pest in a fight. Whether you’re for, against or neutral toward Wilson, it’s quite the sight.

Wilson may be hurt, by the way. He missed some time but returned later in the contest.

Milestones: Matthews, Nylander break Leafs rookie records; Chara hits 600

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Auston Matthews likely ranks as the top reason that many Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to get the same feelings they had in better times, so it only makes sense that he broke a beloved Buds’ record on Tuesday.

With his 35th goal of a potential Calder season – but a brilliant debut either way – Matthews passed Wendel Clark for the Maple Leafs’ rookie record for goals in a season.

That goal was also meaningful for William Nylander, as he extended his point streak to 12 games with an assist. This team, fueled by young players, just keeps shattering first-year marks:

Switching gears, let’s go from new to (relatively) old: Zdeno Chara collected the 600th point of his outstanding career with an assist:

Yes, it’s true that most people think of his imposing size and all-world defensive instincts in praising Chara, but he’s been a respectable point producer, too.

U.S. women end boycott, will represent USA Hockey at worlds

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The U.S. women’s national team voted in favor of accepting USA Hockey’s deal, so they’ll participate in the world championship tournament. USA Hockey recently made the news official with this press release.

The press release confirmed a report that the contract will last four years, while financial terms were kept confidential. (Team members had been seeking a living wage to represent USA Hockey.)

“Our sport is the big winner today,” Team captain Meghan Duggan said. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together. I’m proud of my teammates and can’t thank everyone who supported us enough. It’s time now to turn the page. We can’t wait to play in the World Championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal.”

The U.S. women’s national team is scheduled to face Canada on Friday.

Here’s a screen cap of the press release for your convenience:

Logan Couture can at least speak and eat following horrifying mouth injury

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As much as many of us suffer during a trip to the dentist, few can fathom the horrors hockey players often go through when a puck, stick or fist finds their teeth/mouths. Consult this vintage PHT post from 2010 if you want to cringe, a lot.

Much like Eddie Lack “only” dealing with a neck sprain, it’s strange to be heartened to hear that Logan Couture can speak and eat after his own painful ordeal, but that’s the positive update from the Mercury News on Tuesday.

Couture, Wilson said, did not need to have his jaw wired shut after a deflected puck caught him in the mouth on Saturday when the Sharks played the Nashville Predators.

“Hey, he can speak and eat … and his jaw isn’t wired shut!” Yeesh.

To little surprise, Couture isn’t playing on Tuesday. As far as the Sharks next three games (Thursday, Friday and Sunday), that remains to be seen.

As an aside, consider this: on the same day Jonathan Drouin‘s celebrating his birthday after helping the Lightning win, Couture is lucky if he can force down some birthday cake. Life: it isn’t always fair.

PHT discussed his trip to the dentist on Monday.

More mouth pain: When David Backes felt like his face was falling off.