Is Sean Avery headed to the AHL?

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Hockey fans from coast to coast may have their hockey fantasies filled this season. For all of the people who have been living on Sean Avery flavored Hatorade, there’s some rather intriguing news coming out of New York. The diminutive pest has been sliding down the Rangers’ depth chart for a while—now he might be sliding all the way down to the Connecticut Whale in the AHL. Somewhere Wayne Simmonds is sitting with an evil smirk on his face.

It’s not exactly breaking news that Avery hasn’t looked great for the Rangers this offseason. He hasn’t looked awful either—which is precisely the problem. His play on the ice has been relatively invisible. For a guy who carries a $3.9 million cap hit and plays for a team that has a history of burying contracts in the minors, Avery’s player profile this preseason puts him in a precarious position.

Christopher Botta at the New York Times Slap Shot blog discusses Avery’s tenuous situation:

“Avery appears to trail Mats Zuccarello for the final forward position available and is joined in the battle for a job by the youngsters Dale Weise and Carl Hagelin and the veteran shootout specialist Erik Christensen. The Rangers possess more depth than they’ve had in years. Unless Avery shines in the team’s final five preseason games, starting Monday in Philadelphia, he could be placed on waivers and start the season with the minor league affiliate in Connecticut.”

Avery’s position is tough to figure in the NHL. When he’s walking the right side of that fine line between pest and troublemaker, he’s proven to be one of the most effective players in the league. He can simultaneously inspire his team while frustrating the opponent with his brand of hockey. Unfortunately, that style isn’t seen on a nightly basis.

More recently, Avery has either crossed the line or more likely, played uninspired hockey that makes him easily replaceable. When he’s out there and not creating havoc, then what’s the difference between him and a hungry, up-and-coming rookie who gets paid $3 million less per season? Does he bring enough to the table to justify keeping him on the roster?

That’s exactly the question Rangers management has been forced to deal with this preseason.

This wouldn’t be the first time he was forced to exit stage right from an NHL team—but this time it’s a little different. When he was traded from the Detroit Red Wings to the Los Angeles Kings, he was a young player with potential that the Kings were excited to acquire. When he was traded from the Kings—it was for the sole purpose of removing his attitude from the locker room. He proved with the Rangers that he could be a valuable player when playing with controlled emotion and parlayed it into a big free agent contract with the Dallas Stars. A “sloppy seconds” joke and a second stint on Broadway later, Avery could be looking at the end of his second chances.

He’ll have the rest of the preseason to prove that he’s a worthwhile asset to the Rangers roster. If for no other reason, it would be great to see him stick with the club through December to see his act on HBO’s 24/7. But if he doesn’t step it up, the Connecticut Whale are going to have the most expensive team in AHL history.

Maybe he could room with Wade Redden.

Laraque, Okposo, others discuss Trump, national anthem protests

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We’ve already seen some reactions to Donald Trump’s comments about NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ controversial decision to accept a White House visit.

As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski notes, 93 percent of NHL players identify as white. While it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Auston Matthews and Blake Wheeler, what about hockey players who are more directly affected?

Plenty of interesting perspectives came through on Tuesday, so let’s consider some of the more fascinating reactions.

Georges Laraque disapproves of Penguins’ visit

Laraque, a black former NHL player and Montreal native, made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the Penguins’ decision, as he told the Canadian Press.

“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” Laraque said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.”

He also shared this slightly profane tweet on the matter.

Josh Ho-Sang is inspired by the protests

New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang provided an interesting take to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, and also reminded observes that, as an international sport, the NHL features some players who might not feel as invested in (or at least as informed about) these debates.

“I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said on Monday. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States, but the biggest thing is it’s unfortunate that the message may have gotten lost a little. Now it’s becoming a battle between the NFL and the president and originally [the protests] started because of police brutality and the mistreatment of different races.”

Kyle Okposo doesn’t plan on kneeling, but supports the right to do so

While Ho-Sang and Laraque shared interesting insights as Canadians, Kyle Okposo is a black NHL forward hailing from Minnesota (he was the first black player in Golden Gophers history).

Like Ho-Sang, Okposo (pictured) was supportive of people making demonstrations. That said, he doesn’t expect to do so himself, as he told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

“Protecting the First Amendment is a huge thing,” Okposo said. “I’m a proud American, and I’m proud to be from the United States. Myself personally, I wouldn’t kneel for an anthem, but I respect those that do.”

***

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the current political climate affect NHL players or people they know.

Back in January, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, was “confused” by that iteration of a travel ban, as the Swedish forward had family living in Iran.

Players in plenty of sports are navigating tough questions this week. It’s important to remember that athletes can find themselves in tough spots when addressing topics that can be polarizing and/or complex.

Laraque stated that hockey is more “conservative than other sports,” so it seems like a good time to read up on the culture of this sport.

With the regular season about to kick into gear on Oct. 4, it’s certain that there will be more eyes on anthems than ever before. The insights in this post should be useful, whether NHL players kneel, sit, speak, or decide to stick to hockey.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.