Gretzky: Stars were rarely targeted back in the day

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Over 30 years after it happened, there’s a reason people still talk about the time Wayne Gretzky got laid out by Bill McCreary.

You didn’t do this to the Great One.

Whether through fear of Dave Semenko or Kevin McLelland punching your lights out or simply respect, the NHL’s best players didn’t have a bull’s eye on them like they seem to do today.

Just ask Gretzky, who spoke to 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia about the on-ice violence that’s become the major storyline of the playoffs.

“They talk about the Flyers back in the ‘70s – guys like Bobby Kelly, Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz — but you never really saw those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil Esposito,” said Gretzky, as per SportsRadioInterviews.com.

“It was just sort of honest, hard, rough-nosed hockey, and it’s changed — there’s no question — the players are bigger and faster and stronger today than they were when we played, and obviously there’s a lot at stake playing for a Stanley Cup, and emotions are definitely really high and subsequently you’re going to have issues.”

From Henrik Sedin to Marian Hossa to Claude Giroux to Henrik Zetterberg to Daniel Alfredsson to Mike Smith, the league’s stars have been on the receiving end of violent acts, both legal and illegal, this postseason.

And that’s just during the playoffs. Victims during the regular season included Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Miller, Kris Letang and Gabriel Landeskog. And those were just the ones that resulted in suspensions.

Not surprisingly, calls for the instigator penalty to be repealed have grown louder as more stars have been placed on the injured list.

In November, Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe said too much responsibility is being heaped on referees to protect players.

“I like the game a little better in our era, mostly because the players policed the game,” he told Hockey Night in Canada. “I think there’s so much onus put on the officials right now … I don’t mind the fighting in the game, I know they’re trying to take a lot of it out.

“The game in the old days got rid of the pretenders and the guys who do the whacking and the hacking, guys that are chirping back. That stuff got eliminated years ago. If somebody was taking a shot at your best player, somebody got rid of that right away.

“The reason I think there’s a lot more injuries now? Guys are bigger, stronger, better fit overall. But you can just take runs at people left and right and they’re coming at full speed. And in the old days, you eliminated that from the game.”

Well, not entirely.

BREAKING: Isles acquire Eberle from Edmonton for Strome

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Everyone knew this was going to be a massive offseason for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

And Snow has now responded in kind.

Per TSN, the Isles are on the verge of acquiring Jordan Eberle from Edmonton. No word yet on what’s headed to New York in return. Sportsnet has confirmed the move, saying all involved parties are being informed of the move.

Update: Ryan Strome headed to Edmonton in exchange, per Darren Dreger.

The move comes after weeks of speculation about Eberle’s future with the Oilers. He had a solid regular season in Edmonton, with 20 goals and 51 points through 82 games, but struggled mightily in the postseason. He went scoreless through 13 games, finishing with just two points while watching his ice time dwindle to 14:32 per night.

Eberle is still a quality offensive talent, though, and should be thrilled about the prospect of playing with Isles captain John Tavares. Tavares, in turn, will undoubtedly be pleased with Snow’s bold move to bring in additional scoring up front, which could go a long way towards signing an extension with the Isles.

It’s safe to assume Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will feel some heat for this deal. While he did get out from under Eberle’s contract — $6 million annually for each of the next two years — Strome is coming off a disappointing year, and was exposed by the Isles at last night’s expansion draft.

That said, Chiarelli does have bigger fish to fry. Connor McDavid is eligible to sign an extension this summer, as is Leon Draisaitl.

Needless to say, those contracts are going to be expensive.

Losing Neal to Vegas was a ‘pretty big price to pay’ for Predators

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The Vegas Golden Knights named their team on Wednesday, and it was no surprise that James Neal was among their selections in the expansion draft.

Why not? Since entering the league in 2008, Neal has scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine seasons, hitting the 40-goal mark in 2011-12 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But after coming up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup this spring, Neal was left unprotected by the Predators.

Predators general manager David Poile had reportedly been in talks with Vegas GM George McPhee, but a deal couldn’t be achieved.

“With how well we played in the playoffs, I’d certainly like to bring everybody back, but the prices [to make a deal with Vegas] were very high,” Poile told the Predators website.

“[McPhee] was looking for younger players or high draft picks, and at the end of the day, I just felt that we had to do what the Expansion Draft was set out to do and that was to lose a player. In this case, we lost James Neal and that’s a pretty big price to pay.”

Neal has one more year left on his six-year contract that has an annual cap hit of $5 million, before he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Nashville has about $22.7 million in cap space, per CapFriendly, but five pending restricted free agents — Austin Watson, Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg and most notably Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — in need of contracts. In Arvidsson’s case, he’s due for a significant raise from the $640,000 he made in NHL salary last season, in which he scored 31 goals and 61 points.

“James had a much bigger contract and he only had one year left before he was an unrestricted free agent. We didn’t have any negotiations, but there was no guarantees that we would be able to keep him. It really was a business decision. It was as simple as that,” Poile the Tennessean.

Caps re-sign Christian Djoos, who could get his NHL shot next season

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The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract.

It’s a two-way deal in 2017-18, and a one-way deal the following season.

Djoos, 22, is expected to push for an NHL spot next season, along with Madison Bowey and possibly Tyler Lewington.

That’s because Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, both unrestricted free agents, aren’t expected to re-sign with Washington.

On top of that, the Caps lost d-man Nate Schmidt in yesterday’s expansion draft.

Djoos, a seventh-round pick in 2012, had 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games for AHL Hershey this past season.

It was his second full season in the AHL.

Bettman says NHL will call more slashes next season

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Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL will look to enforce slashing penalties more next season.

Following the league’s board of governors meeting, Bettman said pointless slashes to players’ hands will be called more. Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau were among the players to miss time last season with hand injuries from slashes.

Related PHT coverage:

Gaudreau (finger) out six weeks, Treliving says Staal slash the culprit

— Flames made ‘mountain out of a molehill’ over Gaudreau slash

— Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby slash

— Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash