Moments ago, we passed along Pavel Datsyuk’s moving tribute to his former Detroit Red Wings teammate Ruslan Salei. While Datsyuk will wear number 24 for the duration of training camp and the preseason in honor of Salei, other NHL players are providing their own odes to those lost.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis Blues forward Philip McRae will give up number 38 in honor of two former Blues who died in that tragic plane crash: Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev.
McRae will instead don number 39, which might invite some good natured ribbing from at least one former Blue.
“I just wanted to switch my number just out of respect for both families,” said McRae, who grew up in St. Louis but didn’t know either player on a personal level. “I felt like it was the right thing to do. Obviously, I feel I shouldn’t be wearing it any more after that.”
McRae will wear No. 39, which has been worn by Kelly Chase and Doug Weight among others in St. Louis. “I’m sure once ‘Chaser’ finds out, he’s going to be giving me a hard time,” McRae joked.
That’s a great gesture from McRae, who made his debut with the Blues last season by scoring one goal and two assists for three points with a -10 rating in 15 regular season games. If his early results are any indication, McRae might have a shot at making an impact as number 38. Jeremy Rutherford reports that McRae topped all players at the Traverse City tournament with seven points and also aced the team’s fitness tests.
(H/T to Rotoworld.)
Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov ranks among the many who felt a direct connection to that awful accident. The Russian goalie was a product of the team’s system.
“That was my old team,” Varlamov said softly Friday after undergoing a battery of medical and physical tests at the Pepsi Center in preparation for the first official training camp sessions Saturday.
“I played there for eight years,” he said. “When it happened, I felt I had to go to Yaroslavl and see the fans and the families and everybody. It was a tough time for everybody in Yaroslavl and in Russia. And I’m so sad.”
Sadly, Varlamov isn’t the only Avalanche player who must grapple with the losses of former friends. Winger Milan Hejduk told NHL.com that he knew seven or eight players who died in the crash. Center Paul Stastny shared his memories of Demitra, whom he knew for most of his life because his father Peter played with Demitra in St. Louis and was also a scout for the Blues.
“I was closest to Demitra,” Paul Stastny said. “As a family friend, we’ve known him for 20-plus years. He was one of my role models growing up. ‘Scratch’ (Skrastins) was my roommate my first two years and Rusty (Salei) was my teammate for two years. I think the hardest part is I know their wives and I know their kids. For those kids to grow up without their fathers, who died at such a young age, it’s such a fragile thing. It’s tough to think about.
“I knew Demitra’s wife really well. They lost one kid a couple months after birth and now they’ve lost him. Hopefully they get as much help as possible and get through it, all the families. You realize how important life is. There’s a lot more to life than sports. It’s more about family and friends, and enjoying every second of it.”
Sabres fans hoping Robin Lehner would return early from his high ankle sprain received some tough news on Tuesday — per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Lehner suffered a “little setback” in his recovery.
Lehner was hurt in Buffalo’s opening game of the year and, originally, slated to miss 6-10 weeks. Six weeks have now passed, but optimism he’d be able to return in the earlier part of the timeframe has been dashed — LeBrun says Lehner’s projected return is now for mid-to-late December.
(So, closer to the 10-week estimate.)
While it’s not great news for the Sabres, it’s a positive development for the club’s other Swedish netminder, Linus Ullmark.
Recalled from AHL Rochester shortly after Lehner got hurt, Ullmark is on a really nice run in November — just check his last five games played:
The last Lehner update from the Sabres came in early November, when head coach Dan Bylsma told the News his goalie was “doing really well,” but “not close yet to getting back on the ice.”
Well, this kind of seemed inevitable — there are now trade rumblings involving Columbus center Ryan Johansen.
This evening, TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed that teams have been calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen about the talented pivot, adding that one team classified Johansen as being “softly” in play.
More (transcribed from video):
“That doesn’t mean [Kekalainen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?’ However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’
“What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line — so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”
The incident Dreger referred to occurred during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, in which head coach John Tortorealla limited Johansen to just 13:52 TOI — his lowest total of the season.
It’s the latest incident from what’s already been a tumultuous year; not long after getting hired, Tortorella told the reigning All-Star MVP he was out of shape.
Johnansen was then away from the team for a pair of games dealing with an undisclosed illness. During that absence, the Dispatch reported Johansen had been hospitalized this summer because of an accelerated heart rate.
All this, of course, came one year after an ugly contract dispute at the start of last season, during which the Jackets and Johansen’s representation engaged in a public spat before agreeing to a three-year, $12M deal.
One of the driving forces behind the NHL’s growth over the last decade is moving on.
John Collins, who’s served as the league’s chief operating officer for the last seven years, will be leaving his post to embark on a new business opportunity.
More, from the League:
Collins, who joined the NHL in November 2006, had been COO since August 2008.
“John leaves a lasting mark,” said Commissioner Bettman. “His energy, creativity and skill at building strategic partnerships helped drive significant revenue growth for our League. We are grateful for his many contributions and wish him the best in his new endeavors.”
Said Collins, “I’m grateful to Commissioner Bettman for his leadership and friendship over the past nine years. He had a vision for extending the reach of the NHL and supported us completely as we set out to make the game as big as it deserves to be.
“The NHL’s future is filled with promise and potential and I will admire and cheer the League’s successes to come on the global stage.”
Collins, 53, was regarded as one of main presences behind a number of the NHL’s most successful initiatives, including the Winter Classic and Stadium Series, the HBO 24/7 collaboration, the relaunched World Cup of Hockey, Canadian and American television deals and partnerships with companies like SAP, Adidas, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and GoPro.
During Collins’ tenure, the NHL was twice named “Sports League of the Year” by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily — once in 2011, and again in 2014.
Columbus will have some reinforcements up front when it takes on the Devils tomorrow in New Jersey.
Brandon Dubinsky, who’s missed the last six games with an elbow injury, and Alexander Wennberg — who’s also missed the last six games, but with a foot ailment — have both been activated from injured reserve, and should be available for selection on Wednesday.
It wasn’t all good news for the Jackets, though. Defenseman Cody Goloubef and right wing Rene Bourque were placed on IR.
The biggest return for Columbus is Dubinsky, who had four goals and 11 points in 16 games prior to getting hurt, while averaging nearly 19 minutes per night.
That said, getting Wennberg back is key as well; the former first-round pick has been plagued by injuries recently but showed well during his rookie campaign in ’14-15, with 20 points in 68 games.