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Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are defended and treated

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There has always been a perception among fans — and sometimes even among people within the game — that the NHL’s star players “get all of the calls” and get some sort of preferential treatment from the league.

Just think of how many times you’ve heard somebody say something along the lines of, “Well, if that had happened to Sidney Crosby, what would the response be? He would be suspended forever!”

And that’s not just message board fodder among fans, either.

That is a sentiment that has been shared by actual players and coaches in the NHL (Alain Vigneault literally made that exact argument once) . The likely answer to that question is that nothing would happen because in Crosby’s career he has been on the receiving end of exactly one play that resulted in a suspension. It was one game to Brandon Dubinsky for breaking a stick over his back on a cross-check.

While star players do tend to draw more penalties, that has more to do with the fact that they tend to have the puck more often than most players, and are usually defended “harder” than most players. All of that attention will eventually result in some penalties. But probably not as many as there could be. And it’s not because of some sort of bias from the league’s officials or preferential treatment.

If anything, the rest of the players in the league get an even longer leash against them than they would other players. It’s almost as if the skill works against the stars because there is a belief that they should be good enough to play through it, or that the playing field is somehow being leveled.

We were reminded of this when Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau was sidelined with a broken finger this past week, an injury that the team believes was the result of a slash from Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal (it was one of many slashes Gaudreau was on the receiving end of during the game).

The Wild’s approach to defending Gaudreau, by far the Flames’ most dangerous offensive player and one of the most dangerous in the entire NHL, wasn’t anything out of the ordinary when it comes to defending top players. Teams will be willing to do whatever it takes to slow them down, and it usually involves everything from tight checking, to “playing them tough,” to some active stick work like we saw on Gaudreau.

One of Gaudreau’s own teammates, veteran forward Troy Brouwer, didn’t seem to be as upset as his team’s general manager because of the way he himself goes after other team’s star players.

“I know in my game I give a lot of top players good whacks and stuff,” Brouwer said via the Calgary Sun. “You obviously don’t want to let it be happening to your team, but star players are going to be keyed on. It’s no different than what we do (to the opposition).”

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane argued on Friday that it is a method of defending that really doesn’t serve much of a purpose, and that it needs to be called more.

“I don’t like the play, I don’t like the slash to the hands,” Kane said, via TSN, referring to the Gaudreau injury. “I don’t know what it’s real purpose is, even as a defender, slashing the hands of another player. I don’t know what you can really accomplish with that play. We are always taught in here to keep our stick on the ice and go after the puck instead of slashing the hands. Only thing it can result in is maybe breaking a stick or taking a penalty. I’m not a big fan of the play. I’ve dealt with it in the past  where your fingers get slashed, and I know a lot of guys have dealt with it in the league, it’s just something that, I don’t know if you can really do anything about but it’s something that should be called more and it should be a penalty if you’re going to do that.”

He added that it’s come to the point where a star player had to get injured for everybody to take notice and that perhaps it will now be called more often.

But that seems like a long shot because, again, this stuff has been happening for years (generations, even).

For a while there was a thought process that the teams themselves could do the job of the league and put a stop to it by employing enforcers that would serve as a deterrent (the Gretzky-Semenko/McSorley strategy). But teams eventually realized that along with wasting a valuable roster spot on a player that wasn’t actually helping all that much, the enforcer didn’t really prevent that sort of physical play from happening, and if anything, helped create even more violence. When the Bruins employed Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic for all of those years they seemed to be on the receiving end of more cheap shots than any other team in the league (you surely remember Matt Cooke on Marc Savard and John Scott on Loui Eriksson).

The enforcer or team toughness didn’t stop it or prevent it.

Oilers coach Todd McLellan was recently asked on more than one occasion about the treatment Connor McDavid receives from other teams, and seemed to accept that it is simply the reality of the NHL. He added that they can not always have a bunch of guys going over the boards to fight every time their star player gets touched.

And even if they did, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

The game is too fast and decisions are made too quickly for a player to stop themselves from using their stick on an opponent because they are fearful that somebody might respond physically. If a player has it in his mind that he has to take a couple of extra whacks at Johnny Gaudreau, or Patrick Kane, or Sidney Crosby in an effort to slow them down, they are going to do it no matter who is lurking on the other team’s bench.

In the end, the only thing that stops it is a more emphatic crackdown from the league when it comes to the way the game is officiated and supplemental discipline is handed out.

As long as things remain the same in those areas, the league’s star players are going to keep taking extra abuse.

The Buzzer: Connor Hellebuyck’s sixth shutout; Staal, Granlund combine for eight points; Penguins cruise

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Players of the Night:

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets: Hellebuyck’s sixth shutout of the season — a 34-save effort in a 4-0 win against the St. Louis Blues — set a new franchise record. He’s now just two wins away from tying the team’s franchise record for wins by a goalie at 32.

Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild: Staal and Granlund basically had their way with the New York Rangers in a 4-1 win. They each scored twice and also assisted twice on each other’s goals. Feasting on the Rangers is pretty easy these days, but it was an impressive night for the duo nonetheless.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Goals No. 32 and No. 33 tonight, including quite the rip on his second one. Added an assist as well in a 6-3 win for the Golden Knights over the Vancouver Canucks. What a player he’s turned into.

Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins: Kessel has two goals and an assist and Malkin and Guentzel each had a goal and two assists. The Penguins are already scary on offense, and they just added Derick Brassard on Friday. Three-peat, anyone?

Highlights of the Night:

Saucy little number:

Patrik Laine makes it look so easy:

Slick feed game:

Ugly suit night for the Winnipeg Jets:

https://twitter.com/NHLGIFs/status/967262571605778433

Trade of the Day:

The three-team deal that happened, then it didn’t and then happened again

Penguins land Derick Brassard on second try in wild three-team deal.

Own goal of the night:

Troy Stecher got a little unlucky on this one:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Wild 4, Rangers 1

Penguins 6, Hurricanes 1

Jets 4, Blues 0

Blackhawks 3, Sharks 1

Golden Knights 6, Canucks 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Why the Golden Knights got involved in Derick Brassard deal

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If Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is to be believed, getting forward Ryan Reaves and a draft pick while not having to give up anything but some cap space was the meal ticket.

McPhee, who spoke to the media in Las Vegas during the first intermission of their game against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, said they added grit to their lineup with Reaves after the Golden Knights were one of three teams involved in a wild trade that ultimately sent Derick Brassard from Ottawa to Pittsburgh.

Reaves, McPhee said, is a tough guy who can do more than just dole out physical punishment.

“Ryan is a big strong guy that brings some grit, some strong depth to our hockey club,” McPhee said. “He’s a unique player. These players, tough guys in this league, many of them have been rendered obsolete because they can’t play. (Reaves) can play.

The deal was convoluted, McPhee admitted, saying that it’s something that happens with three teams involved. He said it took four transactions to make it work.

“We gave up some cap space, we have a lot of cap space and a minor league player to do this, so we picked up two assets,” McPhee said. “I thought it was a good deal for our club.”

McPhee said he spoke with Pittsburgh a couple days ago, and the deal for Reaves came together quite quickly. He said the issues with the deal were more on the side of Ottawa and Pittsburgh and once those were worked out, the deal was made.

McPhee said he doesn’t necessarily believe the club needs to make moves.

“But if there are opportunities to make the club a little bit better, one percent, two percent, three percent, you do it if it’s not going to affect chemistry,” he said.

This may only be part of the story here for the Golden Knights.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported that Vegas may have got involved in the deal to block the Winnipeg Jets from getting Brassard.

Even though the Jets and Golden Knights wouldn’t meet until the third round of the playoffs — a lot would have to go right for that to happen — Vegas essentially made sure that if the scenario ever came to fruition, they wouldn’t have to deal with Brassard in the series.

If true, that’s some next level stuff by McPhee and Co.

McPhee played down those reports in his presser, saying it wasn’t a “material” part of the deal.

“We saw an opportunity to pick up Ryan Reaves and a draft pick in what was a simple transaction for us,” he said.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Jets were disappointed not to land Brassard after going “hard” after him. The move would have solidified Winnipeg’s spine, with Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Brassard and Adam Lowry down the middle. Winnipeg’s already a scary team without Brassard’s services. The fear factor would only have improved with him.

The Jets, reportedly, offered three pieces for Brassard, in what was a “solid” package. Given what Pittsburgh sent Ottawa’s way, that likely means a first-round pick, a roster player and a high-level prospect.

The Jets are now forced to look elsewhere, and perhaps they have the league’s newest team to blame for it.

A Jets-Golden Knights series would have a little more on the line if it comes to be this spring.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Penguins land Derick Brassard in three-team deal

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There likely won’t be a more wild trade before the deadline than the one that took the better part of Friday to finally be completed.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had Ottawa Senators forward Derick Brassard in their grasp, then lost him, and then snatched him up again.

Penguins defenseman Ian Cole was headed to a bad team, then he wasn’t, and then he was again.

And somehow Ryan Reaves is now with the Vegas Golden Knights and the NHL’s newest team is retaining a bunch of salary.

The first trade: Penguins receive Derick Brassard; Senators get a first-round pick, Ian Cole and intriguing goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson.

This deal was rejected by the NHL for “improper use of salary retention,” so it was back to the drawing board for all involved.

The second (and actual) trade: Penguins receive Derick Brassard; Senators get a first-round pick, Ian Cole and intriguing goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson. This didn’t change.

Penguins also acquire a 2018 third round draft pick and prospect forward Vincent Dunn from the Senators; and they also get prospect forward Tobias Lindberg from the Golden Knights.

Vegas receives Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-rounder (Vancouver’s) from the Penguins and also retains 40 percent of Brassard’s salary.

Why the Penguins made the trade: It’s been no secret that the Penguins have been looking for center help since losing Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino. Brassard fits that bill, and honestly, stands as a nice upgrade.

At 30, Brassard is still at or near his prime. The Penguins get Brassard for two playoff runs, as his $5 million cap hit runs through 2018-19.

Brassard’s quietly enjoyed a strong season in Ottawa, as he has 18 goals and 38 points in 58 games. He’s just one point shy of tying his 2016-17 total, even though that came in 81 contests. The former Rangers forward is battle-tested in the postseason, too.

No doubt about it, this is a contending team being aggressive to try to win a third straight Stanley Cup. Brassard makes an already-impressive offense that much deeper.

The inclusion of Cole helps make the money work for the Penguins, even if it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh still has some questions on defense.

Why the Senators made the trade: The Senators are in liquidation mode, and to start, this trade helps Ottawa get a first-rounder back after giving one up in the Matt Duchene trade. Granted, the Penguins’ first-rounder could be very low – they’d love it to be the 31st selection – but it’s a key return for the rebuilding Sens.

Gustavsson, 19, isn’t just a throw-in, either. He was a second-round pick (55th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. With Craig Anderson already 36, the Senators need to look to the future, and Gustavsson has a chance to be a part of the picture in net.

You can argue that Ottawa’s returns aren’t fully documented yet, as they might move Cole for even more futures:

This is also worth noting from a Senators perspective:

Why the Golden Knights made this trade: 

This one deserves a¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Vegas gets some grit in Reaves and a pick, but get roped into 40 percent of Brassard’s salary for some reason or another.

Who won the trade?

Senators fans are unlikely to be happy with the team cleaning house, particularly with players who helped them make a deep playoff run remarkably recently. Still, they’re diving in with a reset, if not a rebuild, and this is a decent return. Getting a bit more for Cole could help, and Gustavsson’s development will play a significant role in how this move is viewed in hindsight.

The Penguins are going for it, as they have been for some time. Brassard fills a serious need, and while defense is an issue for Pittsburgh, Cole found himself as a healthy scratch and obviously on the way out at times.

This is all about the present for Pittsburgh, and it’s easy to justify such a thought process. Let’s not forget that Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel are 30 while Evgeni Malkin is 31. You never know when the championship window might slam shut.

Your excitement regarding the Penguins’ side hinges on how much you like Brassard. Not everyone is blown away by what he brings to the table.

This is an obvious case of two teams going in different directions, and thus looking for very different returns. Which team got the best value out of the deal, though?

It’s worth noting that the Penguins gave up a first-round pick and a prospect last summer to get Reaves.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Trades fantasy hockey owners should root for

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Trades can really liven things up for a sport, so here’s hoping that the intriguing Michael Grabner to Devils move is the catalyst for a memorable stretch of swaps.

While there’s always the risk that a player will struggle to get acclimated to a new city and new teammates, trades can also provide a boost in fantasy hockey. As we wait for more deals to trickle in, it might be fun to picture changes of scenery. Here are some moves fantasy owners should root for.

[More on the Grabner trade.]

Elephants trotting around the room

Look, asking the Senators to trade Erik Karlsson is asking a lot.

It could be quite a late-season boon for owners who’ve been burned a bit by a season that’s not up to his honestly ridiculous standards. Complaining about a defenseman generating 42 points in 55 games is silly, but considering that Karlsson often goes in the first or second round, and fantasy sports are kind of silly by nature, well …

Anyway, a move to a contender could really help him. Maybe he’d enjoy short-term puck luck (his shooting percentage this season is 3.4 percent, half of his career average of 6.8). Considering his puck dispersal skills, setting up teammates who are likely more skilled and more motivated at this point in the season could really be electric.

Max Pacioretty also stands as interesting.

With a 7.7 shooting percentage, “Patches” is also lacking when it comes to lucky bounces. More than that, it has to be a drain on him to lose so often, particularly in a hockey-obsessed market like Montreal. Being “one of the guys” on a contender could really do him good.

Also, it’s been noted, yet it must be said: Pacioretty’s really never played with a great center. Imagine what he could accomplish with a legitimate No. 1? With his contract expiring after 2018-19, the motivation should be there, too.

Some others worth noting in this category:

  • Evander Kane has dealt with injuries and the frustrating knowledge that he’s never suited up in a playoff game in his career. With an expiring contract at age 26, you could argue that Kane has the most on the line of just about any of the most realistic trade targets in the NHL.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, yet with comparable sniping skills, you have Rick Nash. Much like Pacioretty, Nash is getting his goals now after a prolonged slump. While Kane has never tasted playoff play, Nash surely would like to show that he’s more “clutch” than his critics believe.
  • Mike Green got roasted a bit in this PHT roundtable, but that’s based on real-life play. From a fantasy perspective, Green could be fascinating. That said, he plays a huge role in Detroit, and might actually see a downgrade if traded. So maybe he’s a coin flip?
  • Ryan McDonagh and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are both defensemen who will likely be affected by what happens with Karlsson, as they do too see contracts expire after 2018-19. McDonagh seems more likely to move than OEL, yet both could really thrive on better/more driven teams down the stretch.

[Dion Phaneuf: better in fantasy than reality.]

Lightning round

OK, now onto a handful of names that might not come up much/at all, but would be a lot of fun.

  • Goalies with more fuel in the tank: Sorry, Antti Niemi, but there are better options out there for goalie rentals, even with Petr Mrazek off the market. The Coyotes might want to keep Antti Raanta around, but it would be intriguing to see what he could do for, say, the Hurricanes. Raanta’s save percentage is up to .922 this season. Since 2014-15, Raanta is tied with Carey Price and Corey Crawford for the NHL’s best save percentage at .923.

Raanta would be the gem in my eyes. Still, there are some other interesting considerations. Would the Sabres trade sneaky-good Robin Lehner? Could Jaroslav Halak help someone if the Islanders decided they’ve had enough?

  • I’ve stated that the Coyotes would likely lose if they traded Max Domi. Domi’s fantasy owners and new team could enjoy modest-to-significant gains, however.
  • This is more tangential: Jeff Carter might be nearing a return. With that in mind, the Kings might actually be a more beneficial landing pad for a player than maybe they’d seem. It sounds like they’re happy to get Tobias Rieder, though.
  • As always, root for the Oilers to trade skilled players (note: they’re saying they are leaning toward tweaks this time, for what it’s worth). You may very well see that player burn them for making such a move, possibly right away.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.