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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.

Rangers, Sabres show personality in ‘Road to Winter Classic’ debut

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All apologies to Epix, but “The Road to the Winter Classic” series just feels right heading to NBCSN.

The documentary series that gave us memorable moments like Bruce Boudreau avowing his love for ice cream, Boudreau unleashing a fugue state of locker-room profanities, and also great moments not featuring Boudreau is set to debut at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight, spotlighting the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres as they approach the outdoor extravaganza.

[2018 Winter Classic: Sabres vs. Rangers]

For fans who want to see more personality from hockey players, this is manna from heaven. The good stuff goes beyond that, really, as sports documentaries are almost always fun to watch, but it only gets better when the NHL is involved.

To whet your appetite for well-filmed and well-scored peeks behind the curtain, enjoy some teasers for the first episode.

In the video above this post’s headline, you’ll note Alain Vigneault and the Rangers discussing things getting back on track as the team adjusts to a different core, including the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk.

The best stuff, for me at least, comes when there’s humor, and that’s where the next couple of videos shine.

First, we have some nice self-effacing fun from Zach Bogosian, who provides much of the banter for the Sabres’ charity bowling event:

Next, here’s some fun-goofy footage of Rangers players taking the subway to practice:

Note: the NHL should mandate that players wear their uniforms in more inorganic situations, as that’s always fun. Plus it really would align with the advertising practice of having hockey players in their sweaters, even when they’re at restaurants or making toast.

Anyway, “Road to the Winter Classic” should be a good time, and should find a fitting home on NBCSN. It should pair well with tonight’s Bruins – Red Wings game, which you can read more about here.

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.

Hall among injured Devils, but it could be much worse

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When people see a hard knee-to-knee collision, the general reaction is to a) wince at the possibility for something serious and b) debate the dirtiness of said check, if you’re into that sort of discussion.

New Jersey Devils fans must have grimaced last night, as Taylor Hall had a real scare in a collision with Kurtis MacDermid of the Los Angeles Kings, which you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

There may have been extra grunts as this was arguably garbage time in the game, as the Devils were up 4-0 in a game they would eventually win 5-1, and Hall put on a show, including scoring this goal:

Well, Hall and the Devils didn’t go totally unscathed, but most N.J. fans will breathe sighs of relief at today’s update. Head coach John Hynes labels Hall day-to-day, with Thursday’s game at Montreal being ruled out, but there’s no structural damage to the prolific forward’s knee. The injury is considered a contusion.

So, a mostly dodged bullet there, and while the Devils are a little damaged, the injury news is generally heartening.

Like Hall, Kyle Palmieri has been ruled out for Thursday’s contest against the Habs. The Bergen Record’s Andrew Gross reports that Palmieri is in a walking boot and will probably miss a week of action. With Marcus Johansson also a little banged-up, the Devils must show some resiliency, yet the bounces go their way to some extent even here, as other teams are missing key players for longer spans of time.

This injury update seems like a worthwhile excuse to exalt Hall’s fantastic 2017-18 season, so let’s take a quick look at how special he’s been.

Hall of a time

The 26-year-old (yes, he’s still that young, and his birthday came on Nov. 14) had a perfectly fine first season with New Jersey, scoring 20 goals and 53 points in 72 games. It was the third straight season in which Hall scored on fewer than 10 percent of his shots on goal, connecting on 8.4 percent. He was an impressive possession factor, as he’s been for much of his career.

In 2017-18, he’s producing some of the best work of his woefully underrated career.

Hall has 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 30 contests, leading the Devils by 11 points. With a 1.03 points-per-game average, he’s on one of the best paces of his career, and if this knee issue is truly minor, he could set some career-highs. Sadly, inopportune injuries have been almost as much of an unfortunate theme for Hall as has been “lottery luck.”

It will be tough for Hall to top his best-ever work in 2013-14, when he scored 27 goals and 80 points in 75 contests, but perhaps he’ll finish closer to 80 GP and match at least one of those marks?

Of course, Hall likely values a possible first playoff run more than any individual milestones.

You hear that sort of talk quite frequently with players, yet that cliche is virtually guaranteed to be the honest truth for Hall. If anyone deserves the sort of bounces that have been going the Devils’ way so far this season, it’s this long-suffering left winger.

So here’s hoping that his knee issue really is minor, and he can get back to reminding observers that he’s one of the best wingers in the NHL.

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.

Another league changes its rules, thanks to David Leggio

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In what should come as no surprise, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga has changed its rule regarding when a goaltender goes and pulls a David Leggio when facing an odd-man rush.

According to Wednesday’s league announcement, should a goaltender purposely dislodge his own net to prevent a scoring chance, a goal will be awarded. The original league rule, which followed IIHF guidelines, awarded a penalty shot.

[Goaltender David Leggio knocks own net off again to avoid breakaway (Video)]

The change was in response to Leggio’s actions on Friday night while playing with EHC Red Bull München. With Ross Mauermann of the Fischtown Pinguins skating in on a breakaway, the netminder turned and knocked his net off, stopping play and eliminating the scoring chance.

Leggio, who was also fined an unspecified amount for “gross unsportsmanlike conduct,” would go on and stop the penalty shot during a 5-2 Munchen victory.

Appearing on NHL Network earlier this week, Leggio told E.J. Hradek that from where he stood he thought he was facing a 2-on-0 and not a 1-on-0 breakaway, which is why he went to the move he pulled in the AHL in 2014. (The AHL would tweak its own rule that awarded a penalty shot to also eject the goaltender.) If he would have realized it was just a simple 1-on-0 breakaway, he said he would have preferred to face that rather than a penalty shot.

“When I was at the World Championships playing for USA, I went in the game and [Russia] had a 3-on-0 with Ovechkin and Tikhonov and surprise, surprise, they scored,” he said. “That would have taken some courage to do it in that situation. So I figured out the rule [and] if this ever happens again let’s take the percentages and take the penalty shot instead.”

Leggio added that during his second year in Germany, when the league implemented 3-on-3 in overtime, he spoke with officials to clarify what the rule was in that situation. When he was informed the punishment would only be a penalty shot, he knew he could pull off his famous move at during an odd-man rush.

You can love what Leggio did or you could think it’s a cheap move, but you have to give him credit for knowing the rules and taking advantage of them. Two leagues in two different countries have now tweaked their rulebook because the Williamsville, N.Y. native found a creative way to prevent a scoring chance.

Leggio is also now 2-for-2 in stopping penalty shots following a net dislodging, so maybe he’ll move on to another country next season and keep that streak going.

Stick-tap to Christian Baumeier for the translation help

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brandon Dubinsky out 6-8 weeks with face fracture after Kassian fight (UPDATE)

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Tuesday was just a day to forget for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not only did they get obliterated by the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, but they also lost center Brandon Dubinsky to injury.

Dubinsky was shaken up after taking punches from Oilers forward Zack Kassian with under two minutes remaining in the game.

As you can tell from the video above, Kassian dropped the gloves and started going after the Jackets forward, who was just ducking for cover. Dubinsky took a few good shots before skating off the ice very slowly.

After the game, John Tortorella didn’t take any questions from the media, but Aaron Portzline of The Athletic dropped an update on Dubinsky’s condition Wednesday morning, Tweeting that he suffered a “fractured cheek/orbital bone” by his left eye. Stitches were required above and below his eye and the team is unsure if surgery will be needed.

UPDATE:

“Brandon suffered an orbital bone fracture that will keep him out of the lineup for six to eight weeks,” said Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “At this time, the damage has not affected the function of his eye and long-term vision. He will continue to be monitored closely by our medical team.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.