Jason LaBarbera honors Pat Tillman with new mask

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Goaltenders find inspiration from any number of different sources when pulling together a concept for a new mask. Some pay respect to the organization’s history and some keep the same general design no matter where they happen to play. Jason LaBarbera has always has some pretty cool masks for music fans to check out—from Metallica to Eddie Vedder.

This season, he’s taken it to a completely different level.

LaBarbera’s new mask pays homage to the great Arizonan (and American) Pat Tillman. For those who don’t live in Arizona or don’t remember his story, Tillman was the former Arizona Cardinals safety who left an NFL contract on the table in the wake of 9/11 to fight for his country.  After a few tours, Tillman lost his life while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.  Regardless of political beliefs, Tillman was a man who stepped up for his country during an emotional time of uncertainty and confusion.

LaBarbera explains the new mask and theme to NHL.com (you can check it out here):

“I wanted to make sure that all troops knew how much we respect and appreciate their sacrifices to protect our way of life. Pat’s story is well-known around the country and the world, but it’s so important here in Arizona were the people see him as their own. He is a part of Arizona sports history and our nation’s history and I wanted to show that.

“You walk by the Arizona Cardinals stadium (just across the street from Jobing.com Arena, home of the Coyotes) and you see the statue and it really impacts you what Pat Tillman did and the decision he made. Here’s a guy who gave up a very lucrative profession, something he loved and did all his life, to do what he thought was right. Not a lot of people can say that.”

It’s hard to explain what Pat Tillman meant to the sports landscape in the Phoenix area. He played with the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils, was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, and thrived for both. During his time with the Cardinals, he had other offers to move onto greener (and more lucrative) pastures, but stayed to play with the Cardinals. In the wake of his untimely passing, both the Sun Devils and Cardinals have retired his number—you’ll see his name whether you attend a college or pro football game in the greater Phoenix area.

Sometimes goaltenders masks are silly at best—or self-serving at worst. But you have to give it up to the goaltenders this offseason for “getting it.” This year, we’ve seen tributes to the fallen enforcers, former NHLers who perished in the Lotomotiv plane crash, and now a soldier who fought for his country and still means a lot to his community.

If good things happen to good people, expect LaBarbera to have a heck of season as he shares time with Mike Smith this season.

Habs’ Byron got to skate(board) with Tony Hawk

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Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron is so speedy on the ice, his skating can sometimes be intimidating, particularly when he’s on the penalty kill.

Every now and then, we’ll see, say, a floppy-haired snowboarder also show some serious skateboarding acumen, and skateboarding seems to blend well with surfing to boot. So what about ice skating and skateboarding?

Well, Byron apparently got to meet Tony Hawk – along with his kids – and at least made a solid impression, as the Canadiens website notes.

“Paul can hold his own. I bet he’d do better on my board,” Hawk said. “It wouldn’t be so wobbly.”

The only bummer is that it doesn’t seem like footage of Byron skateboarding is available. There is some cute footage of Hawk with Byron’s kids, though:

Little B's turn💙

A post shared by Sarah Byron (@sarahannbyron) on

There’s also Hawk skateboarding in a Canadiens sweater. Fun stuff.

(H/T to Sportsnet.)

Taylor Hall’s remarkable run of bad luck

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

Taylor Hall deserves credit for that great “lottery ball specialist” tweet when the New Jersey Devils landed the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, but you could picture the star winger making such a joke while gritting his teeth.

You see, as much as Hall seems to be a luck rabbit’s foot for a team when it comes to landing the top pick of a draft – just consider his Edmonton Oilers days on top of this last bit – but that good fortune hasn’t always come from an individual standpoint.

In hopes that we may some day see Hall in, say, a playoff game, let’s recount some of his unluckiest moments. Keep in mind that he’s still just 25.

Injuries

He became the first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, which means he’ll be compared to Tyler Seguin (though that discussion mercifully doesn’t come up that often).

Hall’s rookie season was limited to 65 regular-season games thanks to the ill-advised decision to fight Derek Dorsett. His first NHL bout ended his 2010-11 campaign; Hall received criticism for the choice, which sometimes overshadowed debuting with 22 goals.

It was reckless to fight, especially with someone like Dorsett, but we’ve seen plenty of players get through skirmishes without anything major happening. Jarome Iginla endeared himself to hockey fans, in some ways, by doing just that … but Hall wasn’t so lucky.

Even if you chalk that first bit up to poor decisions, Hall’s injury luck has often been poor. He was limited to 61 games in his sophomore season, 53 in 2014-15 and missed significant pieces of 2013-14 and last season, too.

Some of the injuries were just downright-freakish.

Click here if you want to remember the time he caught a skate in the head during warm-ups, which left him with a disgusting “Frankenstein” wound and … it’s just gross. If you haven’t seen it, you’re lucky.

While his speedy, courageous style might leave him susceptible to issues, it seems like Hall catches an unusually high number of bad breaks.

Terrible team to bad team

Taylor Hall has been a productive player, keeping his head up even as he’s played for some miserably bad teams.

The Oilers have been pretty clueless for virtually the entirety of Hall’s career; this National Post article provides a handy rundown of their mishaps in rarely finding decent defensemen.

Those struggles likely inspired the team to trade Hall for Adam Larsson, a steady Swedish blueliner.

It says a lot that Oilers fans voted massively in favor of the Oilers winning that trade in at least one poll, as most hockey people agree that the Devils ended up with the upper hand.

Team success can skew the views of certain players, something Hall knows too well as a frequent scapegoat in Edmonton. If you want to roll your eyes, peruse some of the “not captain material”-type takes that Hall likely became all-too-familiar with.

He didn’t even get to truly benefit from Connor McDavid‘s presence, as Hall’s bad injury luck seemed to transition to McDavid for a brief spell; as you recall, McDavid’s season was greatly limited by an lucky fall that came from the same sort of driving style you’d expect to see from Hall.

Who could blame Hall for being jealous of the Oilers’ success now that he’s gone?

New Jersey is making some nice strides toward being a more competitive team, and Hall’s a big part of that sunnier outlook. It has to sting to take all those steps back to the painfully familiar rebuilding stages after suffering through all of those with the Oilers.

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Look, Hall is nicely compensated for his play. He also was the top pick of a draft, so it’s not like he’s totally anonymous.

Still, it’s difficult not to root for the guy to soak in the accolades that come with greater team success, as Hall has been a fantastic power forward in some not-so-fantastic situations.

In other words, here’s hoping a little more luck goes his way … on the ice rather than in the carousel.

Poll: Nico Hischier vs. Nolan Patrick

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This post is a part of Devils day at PHT…

To some extent, the New Jersey Devils probably don’t care that much if Nolan Patrick ends up being slightly more effective, overall, than Nico Hischier.

As Taylor Hall can attest, the Devils lucked into the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, so GM Ray Shero was probably delighted that he would be able to pick between the two prospects. Rather than choosing Patrick or finding a trade, he made Hischier the first Swiss-born number one pick in NHL history.

Sports are about competition and comparisons, so it should be fun to measure the two forwards’ accomplishments and development as time goes along.

We might as well take hockey fans’ temperature now, though. Before we do, a quick “tale of the tape” – and an apology to the other prospects in the 2017 NHL Draft. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be keeping this poll to Hischier vs. Patrick. Feel free to make a case for Miro Heiskanen (pictured, chosen third by Dallas) or any number of other candidates in the comments, though.

Hischier (draft profile): Scored 86 points in 57 games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in 2016-17. Broadly speaking, Hischier seems to rate as the most creative player and has already impressed the Devils with his skating ability.

Apparently his favorite movie is “Happy Gilmore.”

Patrick (draft profile): The Winnipeg native was on the radar a bit longer than Hischier, in part because he managed 102 points in 71 games in the WHL in 2015-16. Last season hurt his stock quite a bit; while he was able to score well over a point-per-game (46 in 33), injuries limited him in 2016-17. Those issues might have limited more than people even realized, as it turns out he needed two hernia surgeries instead of one.

Generally speaking, Patrick is praised for his two-way play, which could help him be a quick fit for Philly. Both forwards are listed as centers.

Oh yeah, and Reid Duke gave him the nickname “Doctor Pat.”

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OK, so with all of that information, let’s get after it: did the Devils make the right call or should they have selected Patrick at No. 1 instead?

Hampus Lindholm’s skate-sized puppy will make your day

Via Lindholm's Instagram
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Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm gets a lot of love from the analytics community, and it’s easy to see why. His all-around game is strong, even if he doesn’t blow you away on offense.

If you’re not the chart or decimal-counting type, and for whatever odd reason Lindholm doesn’t pass your “eye test,” then maybe all of that praise is lost on you.

Well, consider this: Lindholm can now place “ridiculously cute doggo” on his resume. Because, goodness, look at this little thing:

The newest Anaheim Ducks fan🐶🦆 #quackquack

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Cruelly, Lindholm didn’t provide a name for the furball. Perhaps its name is Puppus?

Anyway, Lindholm’s dog is the highlight of a charmingly goofy Instagram feed, it seems. Apparently there’s another dog too, and it seems cool:

Hopefully his antics brightened your weekend, as the world still seems to rattle off some pretty grim headlines.

The Philadelphia Flyers also seem fascinated with puppies in their own way, by the way: