Mike Schafer - Cornell

Back to Class: Cornell’s head coach is good at airing out grievances

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night for a doubleheader featuring Union College taking on Princeton at 7:30 p.m. ET followed by Nebraska-Omaha at Denver. 

If you’re not familiar with Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, you’re missing out on one of the more unique personalities in college hockey. He leads a consistently strong team year in and year out and he demands a lot of his team and from everyone else as well.

After seeing his team get swept by Denver University this weekend, he focused his frustration not upon the opponent but on the WCHA referees instead as Avash Kalra of College Hockey News shares.

“It’s disgusting,” said Schafer, who has won five ECAC tournament championships as head coach at Cornell. “I won’t come back to the WCHA. I’m just not coming back out here. I pride ourselves in traveling everywhere. It was a great game besides that. The kids competed hard. Both teams. They’re well coached. The rest of it was disgusting.”

What set him off? The penalties his team got hit for in their 2-1 loss on Saturday night.

Cornell had two players kicked out for contact to the head penalties and then a litany of penalties at the end of the game including a spearing major, a major for obscene language, and a penalty for abuse of officials. In all they piled up 76 penalty minutes.

While it’s good for headlines (yeah, hello, right here) and for getting attention, it’s not Schafer’s first go-around in sounding off at officials. Heck, he’s even been suspended for ripping ECAC officials in the media, in the playoffs no less.

Opinions on him are wide ranging. He’s much beloved in Ithaca and rather roundly disliked elsewhere in the ECAC and it’s usually because of stuff like this. It’s tough to win friends when you threaten to not go back to play a team because of the conference they play in and their officials. That kind of “I’ll take my puck and go home” attitude is seen as childish.

What gets lost here in all the bluster is his suggestion for conference neutral officials for non-conference games is a good one. It’s something that’s done in other college sports, so why not hockey?

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Quinnipiac on fire: Give it up to the Bobcats. They’re 10-0-0 in the ECAC and 16-3-2 overall. They haven’t lost a game since November 6 (to AIC of all teams) and are unbeaten in 14 straight. Coach Rand Pecknold is pulling all the right switches these days.

Denver snapping out of it: After cooling off for a spell, Denver University is on a roll. Their sweep of Cornell tacked on to a sound drubbing of Boston University gives them three solid wins in a row out of conference. That might come in handy when it’s really Pairwise time to pick the tournament field.

Alber out: Boston College’s Patch Alber is out for three months after injuring his knee against Alabama-Huntsville. BC can’t afford to lose veteran leaders on the blue line like him.

College Hockey, Inc. doing work: Give it up to College Hockey, Inc. for hiring former Notre Dame player Kyle Lawson and promoting the super excellent Nate Ewell to a top position.

(Photo: Adriano Manocchia via CHN)

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.