Bettman reduces Torres suspension by four games (Updated)

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Big non-free agent news Monday — TSN’s Darren Dreger reports Raffi Torres has successfully (somewhat) appealed his 25-game suspension.

According to sources, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will reduce the remaining time on Torres’ suspension from 12 games to eight.

UPDATE: The NHL has released a statement, though it doesn’t explain why the suspension was reduced.

The length of the suspension includes the 13 games Torres already served during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Torres therefore will remain suspended, without pay, for the first eight games of the upcoming regular season. Because he is classified as a repeat offender under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Torres will forfeit $170,731.68 in salary. In addition, Torres will be ineligible to participate in any preseason games until he has served the full term of the suspension.

“This type of on-ice conduct cannot and will not be tolerated in the National Hockey League,” Commissioner Bettman said. “We have seen similar behavior before from Mr. Torres and, particularly given the League’s heightened scrutiny on hits to the head, I believe that a very significant penalty is warranted in this case. We hope and expect that the severity of this incident, and the League’s response to it, will help prevent any similar incident from occurring in the future.”

It’s a significant decision and one rife with ramifications — Bettman has overruled the longest and arguably most controversial decision of Brendan Shanahan’s time as NHL discipline czar.

Torres was suspended 25 games for a hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa during Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. The severity of the hit, combined with Torres’ repeat offender status, led to Shanahan issuing the second-longest suspension (tied) for an on-ice incident in modern NHL history.

Torres missed the final 13 games of Phoenix’s postseason.

This successful appeal will be an interesting conversation piece as the NHL and NHLPA continue to negotiate towards a new collective bargaining agreement.

Almost immediately after Shanahan handed down his ruling, Torres released a statement through the PA — that was followed by a the PA’s appeal request, claiming the suspension was “excessive and arbitrary” and “more than double the length of any ever issued by Brendan Shanahan and is one of the longest suspensions in the history of the NHL.”

The NHLPA also wanted to see supplementary discipline dished out in a “consistent manner,” and stated the hearing and subsequent Torres’ suspension “violated the very basic requirements of a fair process.”

NHL players weigh in on national anthem protests, divisive President Trump comments

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A number of National Hockey League players and coaches on Monday expressed their opinions about the national anthem protests and the divisive comments of President Donald Trump during a rally on Friday and on Twitter this weekend.

At a rally on Friday, Trump urged NFL team owners to fire players that take a knee during the National Anthem. He reiterated those remarks on Twitter the following day.

On Sunday, almost every NFL team took part in a form of protest against racial inequality and injustice during the anthem. Some players took a knee. Other players linked arms with fellow players, coaches and even team owners in a show of solidarity. Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans did not take the field during the anthem.

On Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, who is 20 years old and from Scottsdale, AZ., said he would not take part in protest during the anthem.

“My great uncle served, I have friends and family who’ve served, there’s men and women who have risked their lives for the United States, people who have died for the United States,” Matthews said, per Sportsnet.

“I don’t know if kneeling, sitting, stretching is something I’d really look into doing because to me it’s like a dishonour to the men and women that fight for that flag, fight for the U.S. I don’t think I’d be one of the people to take part in that.”

Boston Bruins forward David Backes, who is from Minneapolis, MN., said he will continue to stand during the Star Spangled Banner.

“My opinion is that I’m American and I love my country and I love my flag,” said Backes, per CSNNE.com.

“I’ve got great buddies that have been in the military and they’ve sacrificed for my freedom, so I’d never want to do anything to disrespect that. My standpoint is that I’m standing for every national anthem with my hand over my heart and I’m staring at that flag recognizing those sacrifices. If I’ve got beef with a social justice issue or something else-wise, I’m going to find different avenues that are not disrespectful, especially to those that are military men and women that give me the freedom to do what I do.”

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk told the Edmonton Journal that players have the right to protest, while his head coach Bill Peters does not believe that kneeling during the National Anthem is a sign of disrespect.

“I understand both sides. I don’t think anyone is truly trying to disrespect the flag, to be honest with you,” Peters told the Raleigh News & Observer. “I think people have too much pride in what’s going on in their countries, and they just want to make it better and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler is believed to be the first NHL player to publicly speak out against the comments of President Trump, doing so from his verified Twitter account on Saturday. His comments followed scathing criticism of the President from a number of athletes, including NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, in the wake of what Trump said at the rally. Following Sunday’s schedule of games, a number of NFL players spoke about the protests.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler, when asked if he would support a teammate if they decide to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

McLellan expects Strome to ‘respond and be better’ after sending preseason message

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Ryan Strome played a portion of Saturday’s preseason game on a line with Connor McDavid.

That, according to reports, eventually changed throughout the course of the game, as coach Todd McLellan put prospect Jesse Puljujarvi on the top line in place of Strome.

In part, the move was made to help get Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in 2016, going offensively. In part, the move was made to send an early message to Strome, who was acquired in the Jordan Eberle trade in June. That was essentially the explanation McLellan delivered following the game, according to Sportsnet.

He reiterated that on Monday.

“In Ryan’s case, it was a message that went to him fairly early in the process, just so that he gets it out of his system early,” McLellan told reporters.

“I’d rather do that now than do it two or three games into the year and have him confused or wondering what or why. We sat with him today and went through some video clips and we expect him to respond and be better. We’re still trying to figure him out as he’s trying to figure us out. But we’re going to push him . . . to be the player that we believe he is and hopefully it pays off for him and for us.”

The Oilers continue their preseason schedule tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Strome, 24, has the ability to play both center and on the wing, which should give McLellan more options as he sets his forward combinations ahead of the regular season.

In terms of the message from the coaching staff, Strome called it a “learning process.”

“I saw a couple of the clips that I thought could have been improved on,” said Strome, per the Oilers. “Clean that up and I really just think that at the end of the day you have to get yourself ready for the start of the year. It’s building, and trying to get to where you want to be.”

Ducks’ duo of Getzlaf and Perry could reportedly be reunited

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The Anaheim Ducks appear to be putting the band back together.

With three preseason games remaining for head coach Randy Carlyle to nail down different line combinations ahead of the beginning of the regular season, reports out of Anaheim suggest he may be reuniting a duo that has had success in the past.

From the Orange County Register:

And there appears to be the reunion of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as linemates after the two largely played apart from each other last season. Perry did finish up with Getzlaf in the playoffs after Patrick Eaves went down to injury.

The combination of Perry and Getzlaf has over the years, been able to dominate the opposition at times, using both their size — Perry is apparently the smaller of the two, listed at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds — and skill to help drive the Ducks offensively.

That doesn’t mean they haven’t been subject to separation in the past, just like any other line around the league at one point or another. That included last season, as the pair went through an offensive slump.

Last season, the now 32-year-old Perry scored only 19 goals, which, if you exclude the 2013 lockout-shortened season, is the third lowest total for his entire career, and the lowest since 2006-07. Perry and Getzlaf were once again united during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Ducks looked to jump-start the former while he endured a down year in the scoring department.

“It’s a line I’m comfortable with,” Perry told the L.A. Times at the time of Carlyle’s playoff decision. “We played a lot of the year together and we had some good success in past years as well.”

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.