Torts

Three (News) Stars of the Week: Torts, Ovi on the bench, Raffi as Jay-Z

“Three (News) Stars of the Week” will run every Friday. It’s our way of acknowledging the week’s big NHL stories that gave us lots of page views, thereby increasing PHT’s attractiveness to advertisers.

Third star: Busy John Tortorella

The fiery coach’s frustration with his sluggish team peaked Saturday when the Rangers blew a three-goal, third-period lead at home to the Senators. Soon after came news Sean Avery was being recalled from the AHL. Yes, the same Sean Avery that Tortorella cut after training camp. But with Mike Rupp on the shelf, Torts had no other choice but to bring back Avery, who will make his debut Saturday at MSG. Tortorella also had strong words for San Jose captain Joe Thornton, who opined that the Rangers were soft after losing to said soft team on Monday. Tortorella in turn raised the fact Thornton hasn’t won a Stanley Cup, so maybe he should keep his mouth shut. Upon further reflection, Thornton agreed.

Second star: Bruce Boudreau doesn’t choose Alex Ovechkin

When the Capitals were trailing the Ducks by a goal late in Tuesday’s game, Bruce Boudreau played a hunch and didn’t send Ovechkin over the boards. This displeased Ovechkin, who was caught on camera saying something disparaging about his coach. Even though Boudreau’s hunch was correct and the Caps tied it up and won in overtime, the decision to leave one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers on the bench at such a crucial moment caught the attention of reporters, who asked the coach why he benched the superstar. But did he really “bench” Ovechkin? Boudreau doesn’t think he did. He simply chose to use other players at that particular moment. No big deal. Let’s move on.

First star: Raffi Torres is Jay-Z

The Phoenix forward went to a team Halloween party dressed as rapper Jay-Z. Not being a black man, Torres painted his face to look the part, and when teammate Paul Bissonnette tweeted a picture of Torres as Jay-Z, opinions were shared. Some said it was racist. Others said it wasn’t racist, but it was insensitive. Most said it was a great costume. People argued about morality on the internet for a while, then everyone forgot about it because there were games to be watched.

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    Plekanec named Czech World Cup captain

    Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game One
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    The Czechs are going with a familiar face to spearhead their leadership group at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

    Tomas Plekanec, who captained the team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the most recent world championship, will wear the “C” this fall, the Czech Ice Hockey Association announced on Monday.

    Plekanec, 33, has a wealth of leadership experience to draw on, having also served as an alternate captain in Montreal for the last two seasons. He’s expected to be a key catalyst for an underdog Czech team at this tournament, especially in the playmaking department — last year, Plekanec’s 40 assists came within five of a career-best for helpers in a single season.

    It’ll be interesting to see who the Czechs eventually add to their leadership group next to Plekanec.

    One would assume that David Krejci — who’s been an alternate in Boston for the last three years — should be in the mix, along with Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (an alternate in Arizona since 2011).

    It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 15:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a break during a off-day practice session prior to Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 15, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    On paper, the 2015-16 season was a less impressive version of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s impressive 2014-15 run.

    They made a deep run, but they couldn’t quite get to the Stanley Cup Final another time. The Bolts finished second in the Atlantic Division once again, but only with 97 standings points instead of the outstanding total of 108 from 2014-15.

    In reality, the Lightning finished the year with a lot to be proud of, though.

    They weathered some serious storms last season, most clearly with injuries to Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos, not to mention endless questions about Stamkos’ future with or without the team.

    All things considered, there were a lot of positives to take from pushing the eventual champs to a Game 7.

    Off-season

    If you weren’t impressed by the Lightning’s work during the season, maybe an impressive off-season did the trick?

    GM Steve Yzerman answered to huge questions in the affirmative by re-signing Stamkos (eight years, $68 million) and Victor Hedman (eight years, $63 million) to long-term contracts at very reasonable rates.

    Along with those massively important contracts, Yzerman locked down other important players in Andrei Vasilveskiy and Alex Killorn. He still has a tough nut to crack in re-signing Nikita Kucherov, but he’s laid the groundwork for that to happen.

    If hitting all the right buttons with Stamkos and Hedman wasn’t enough, the Lightning made some very nice value moves.

    There’s a chance Cory Conacher could re-discover some of the brief magic he enjoyed before Tampa Bay traded him for Bishop. Handing James Wisniewski a PTO could leave the Bolts with one of the deepest defenses in the NHL (or at least provide a nice Matt Carle replacement).

    There’s still work to do, but overall, the Lightning’s outlook is very sunny. PHT explores the team’s biggest questions on Monday.

    San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

    SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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    In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

    For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

    What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

    This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

    Quite a promising present

    So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

    Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

    The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

    The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

    Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

    Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

    With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

    In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

    Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

    91rinneea
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    EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

    The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

    Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

    Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

    Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

    Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

    Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

     

    Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

    Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

    Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

    91rinneea

    To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

    Some other debate-starters

    Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

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    Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

    You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

    And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.