2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two

Under Pressure: Brad Richards

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, we pick … Brad Richards

Brad Richards is probably used to pressure.

For years, he’s been making big money — stemming in part to his Conn Smythe run with the Tampa Bay Lightning — but largely because he’s often been one of the most prolific offensive players in the NHL. Either way, his consistently large checks (Cap Geek estimates his career earnings at $85.78 million) often meant that being a very good scorer, but rarely top-10, left people occasionally disappointed. If nothing else, he’s been in “prove it” mode, especially recently.

But in Chicago, he’ll face a different kind of pressure.

From “overpaid” to a bargain?

Following being bought out by the New York Rangers, the 34-year-old is now a low-risk, high-reward bargain at a $2 million cap hit. Any money-related questions will instead revolve around “can he make big money next summer?”

Instead, the bigger pressure will come from proving that he can cure what’s been ailing the Blackhawks in bad times and even some good times as well: not having a quality second-line center.

While there’s a chance that Teuvo Teravainen might grab the role he’s being groomedfor, the expectation is he’ll need to acclimate himself to the NHL game and should find himself in the AHL for at least portions of the 2014-15 season.

In other words, the Blackhawks would prefer that Richards can be their short-term second-line center. So what are the odds he pulls it off?

A lot rests on Coach Q

That’s a tough call. If you can set aside Richards’ rather disconcerting work in the last postseason or two, he at least put up the kind of boxcar numbers you hope for; he scored a very nice 20 goals and 51 points for the Rangers last season. Anything in the realm of that production would be great for Chicago, especially since a second-line gig could mean working with some combination of Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and so on.

Most signs point to Richards needing to be sheltered, though, which makes the argument that it’s imperative to put him with a guy who gets a lot of offensive zone starts in Kane (both were in the top five in easiest zone starts last season). While Richards’ possession stats look very good in the regular season — and glaringly worse in basically every measurable way during the postseason, for whatever reason — he also played what seemed like an offense-only role that might limit his versatility if his skills really are declining as much as it appeared at times during the Rangers’ deep run.

The burning question

It’s weird to imagine a guy taking a cut in salary as someone who might be a scapegoat, but Richards lands into a situation that could be lucrative … unless he just doesn’t “have it” anymore.

Basically, if he thrives, he can make a lot of money and maybe even win a second Stanley Cup. If he flounders, Richards could find himself as someone facing blame if Chicago gets eaten alive when he’s on the ice during the postseason.

With all that in mind, there’s a lot riding on the 2014-15 season for Richards, even if the potential spoils of victory would come in about a year or so.

Report: Kadri’s throat-slashing gesture being reviewed by NHL

Nazem Kadri
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Nazem Kadri‘s throat-slashing gesture is under review by the NHL, according to TSN.ca.

The Maple Leafs forward made the gesture while sitting on Toronto’s bench last night in Calgary, moments after he was laid out by Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The NHL first started cracking down on the throat-slashing gesture in 2000. Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.

Fix coming? Blues activate Schwartz after 49-game absence

Jaden Schwartz
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After Tuesday’s loss to the Jets — the Blues’ fourth in their last six games — head coach Ken Hitchcock said his club has “got to play harder than this” and “got to compete at a lot higher level than this.”

He then added “it’s up to us to fix it.”

Well, help is on the way.

On Wednesday, the Blues activated forward Jaden Schwartz off injured reserve, after he missed the last 49 contests with a fractured left ankle. Schwartz is expected to be in the lineup on Friday when the Blues take on the Panthers in Florida.

The 23-year-old should provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Schwartz had four points in seven games before getting hurt, and that came on the heels of a successful ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career highs in goals (28) and points (63).

The Blues’ first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall), Schwartz is a 17-18 TOI per night guy, so he’ll be a big presence almost immediately. His return also inches the team back to full health, though there’s still a ways to go — Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen are still week-to-week with knee and lower-body injuries, while Steve Ott is out until late February following hamstrings surgery.

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

‘Very upset’ Jokinen blasts NHL’s handling of Abdelkader-Barkov hit

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You can add Jussi Jokinen to the list of Florida Panthers livid with Justin Abdelkader‘s hit on Aleksander Barkov.

“I’m very upset,” Jokinen said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t know if I’m too emotional because that’s my best friend on the team. It looked really dangerous.”

Barkov was knocked woozy by a big Abdelkader check during Detroit’s 3-0 win over the Panthers on Monday. The hit forced the young Finn from the game, and also forced him to miss yesterday’s contest in Buffalo.

Abdelkader wasn’t fined or suspended for the hit and, according to the Sun-Sentinel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety didn’t contact him at all.

It’s also worth pointing out that Abdelkader wasn’t penalized at the time of the incident.

But that didn’t stop Nick Bjugstad and head coach Gerard Gallant from calling the hit “cheap,” with Gallant suggesting Abdelkader left his feet to make the hit, and caught Barkov in the jaw.

Jokinen put the onus on the league to wipe out checks of this nature.

“There are too many hits like that an no suspensions,” he explained. “Fans want to watch Barkov, not those guys. The league has to do a better job of taking those hits out of the game.”

Florida and Detroit next play on Mar. 19, in case you’re wondering.

With winless home stand, Avs blow ‘good opportunity to pick up some big wins’

Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, left, of Sweden, and center Mikhail Grigorenko, of Russia, react as time run out in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016 in Denver. The Canucks won 3-1.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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When the Colorado Avalanche came out of the All-Star break, they were presented with a four-game home stand and a great chance to build an even bigger playoff cushion.

Last night, that home stand ended with a 3-1 loss to Vancouver. In the four games, the only point they managed came in a 4-3 OT loss to Dallas. Colorado’s still in a playoff spot, but only by two points over Minnesota, which has played three fewer games.

“Unfortunately for us, we had four games at home (and) a good opportunity to pick up some big wins, and we didn’t do it,” head coach Patrick Roy told the Denver Post.

The loss to Vancouver was painful for a number of reasons. First, the Canucks are one of the teams chasing Colorado for a wild-card spot; they’re now just four points back of Colorado, with three games in hand. Second, the Avs couldn’t convert on a pair of 5-on-3 power plays, which always hurts. Third, the Avs trailed 2-1 going into the third and couldn’t muster much of a push. In fact, it was Vancouver that scored the only goal in the final 20 minutes. And the Canucks had to play the period without two key players, Alex Edler and Brandon Sutter.

“I’m looking around the league, and everybody goes through tough times,” said Roy. “It’s not a period of time when you feel sorry for yourself. You have to find solutions and ways to bounce back.”

The Avs kick off a three-game road trip Thursday in Ottawa, with stops in Detroit and Buffalo on Friday and Sunday, respectively.