Jason Brough

Told you so? Torts approves of Canucks’ youth movement

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Remember when John Tortorella called the Canucks “stale” and said they needed more “youth”?

Yeah, so does he.

“I said it to you guys when I left, I think that is what needed to happen there,” Tortorella told visiting Vancouver reporters today in Columbus. “They are in good hands. When you are going that route you need to stay patient because there are going to be some bumps.”

The Canucks have multiple youngsters on the roster this season. Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen are 19, Bo Horvat is 20, Ben Hutton is 22, and Sven Baertschi is 23. Four of those five were first-round draft picks.

The one disastrous season Torts was behind Vancouver’s bench, 2013-14, he didn’t have the luxury of NHL-ready, young talent. Zack Kassian was the youngest regular, and he was 22.

Tortorella’s Blue Jackets host the Canucks Tuesday in Columbus.

Pronger believes concussions will be reduced (with his help)

Chris Pronger
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TORONTO (AP) Chris Pronger took more than a few physical liberties with opponents during his playing career.

Intimidation was part of what made the big defenseman a Hockey Hall of Famer.

On the wrong side of the NHL law eight times, Pronger had an “open-ended budget” for fines and suspensions.

That’s his past. Now years removed from it, the bespectacled Pronger gives off the aura of a studious executive as he continues his work in the NHL’s department of player safety.

Being an executive is Pronger’s future, just as it was for previous Hall of Fame inductees Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake. Pronger was once the subject of trouble and now joked that he’s the “hall monitor.”

“I’m learning an awful lot not only on the player safety side – I get to go to the GMs meetings and the board of governors meetings and kind of be a fly on the wall,” Pronger said. “It’s been a great opportunity to kind of learn the business side of the game.”

Post-concussion syndrome ended Pronger’s career in the fall of 2011 after he took a stick in the eye. He’s still under contract through the end of the 2016-17 season and is on the Arizona Coyotes’ roster after the Philadelphia Flyers traded his contract last summer.

Because it has been more than three years since his final game, the Hall of Fame clarified its bylaws to make Pronger eligible in 2015.

He goes in with fellow defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Phil Housley and Angela Ruggiero, forward Sergei Fedorov and builders Peter Karmanos Jr. and Bill Hay.

Pronger still has problems with his eye, but called the symptoms “manageable.” Even though Pronger is now 41, Flyers president Paul Holmgren hoped he’d still be playing.

“In my opinion if he’s still healthy today, he could still be a good player because when he had the puck, when he didn’t have the puck, he could slow the game down,” Holmgren said.

“He just had that innate ability to control the pace of a game because of his size and his hockey sense and his ability to make plays, his ability to defend.”

In player safety, it’s Pronger’s job to help Stephane Quintal and the rest of the department dole out fines and suspensions. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Pronger has been “terrific” in his job.

“I remember when we decided to bring him aboard and he wanted to be a part of it, there was some commentary about how could you take a player as skilled and terrific as he was who had been disciplined eight times and put him in player safety,” Bettman said.

“That’s exactly what we wanted from him because he knows the game, he understands the game, he’s committed to the game and I think he’s thriving on the opportunity he’s had to be a part of the game again.”

Pronger said he has a greater appreciation now for the effect of concussions and other injuries than he did several years ago. In a fan forum over the weekend, he said concussions should continue to trend downward as players are more educated.

“I see it getting better,” Pronger said. “The game is very fast and reactionary. … It’s more the targeted, predatory stuff that we’re trying to eliminate.”

Pronger was known for some of that himself, by his own admission. And the NHL’s rules have changed to go against some of the stuff he was best at.

And yet executives still consider a place for players such as Pronger today, in part because he’s smart enough to adjust his game.

“The game’s changed, but it’s still a man’s game,” Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke said. “It’s still belligerence and testosterone and fearlessness. These are still valuable commodities to us.”

Pronger’s eagerness to play on and over the edge is also important now as he polices the NHL.

“He’s been very, very successful,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “He’s added a different insight, a different perspective, which has been very valuable to Stephane Quintal and his team. Does it surprise me? Not at all because he’s a smart guy, he’s thoughtful about the game.”

Four impressive numbers, by four impressive Hall of Famers

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3 — Different teams that Chris Pronger helped to the Stanley Cup Finals. He won it all with the 2007 Ducks; he lost in the finals with the 2006 Oilers and 2010 Flyers. In all three of those years, Pronger was new to the team. So he joins, they go to the finals. And yes, all three of those teams have struggled to replace him. The Oilers haven’t even been back to the playoffs since he left.

7 — Times Nicklas Lidstrom was awarded the Norris Trophy. If that doesn’t say “dominant defenseman of his generation,” nothing does. The only other defenseman to be recognized more was Bobby Orr, who won the Norris eight times. (Doug Harvey also won it seven times.)

2 — Times Sergei Fedorov won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward. Wayne Gretzky never won a Selke. Nor did Mario Lemieux. Sidney Crosby hasn’t won it. Neither has Alex Ovechkin. And as everyone knows, Fedorov was no defensive specialist. When he won his first Selke in 1994, he finished second to Gretzky in scoring. The Great One had 130 points; Fedorov had 10 fewer. But it was the two-way Fedorov who was awarded the Hart Trophy.

1,232 — Career points by Phil Housley. No American defenseman has come within 200 points of that total. Heck, only one American-born forward has more points than that: Mike Modano, with 1,374. Housley scored at least 60 points in each of his first 11 seasons, from 1982-1993. He nearly cracked 100 points in 92-93 with the Jets, falling only three points shy. Only three defenseman — Orr, Paul Coffey, and Brian Leetch — have ever had more assists in a single season than Housley had (79) that year.

Bettman unsure if Beijing Olympics represents ‘an opportunity to grow the game in China’

Gary Bettman
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If the 2022 Winter Olympics had been awarded to Almaty, Kazakhstan, the NHL may already have pulled out of the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

But because they didn’t go to Almaty — they went to Beijing, China — the NHL has so far kept its options open.

“That’s a discussion we have to have to determine whether or not there is an opportunity to grow the game in China by using the Winter Games with NHL players as a catalyst,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today, per NHL.com. “That’s the question. I don’t know the answer.”

Bettman did say that “there was no aftereffect and no wake left behind” by the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. Which is consistent with comments he’s made in the past about the NHL’s participation in Games outside North America.

So Beijing would have to be different for the NHL to be convinced.

It’s not believed the NHL would skip 2018 and participate in 2022. It’s both or neither.

The players, by the way, are already on board.

Related: Ovechkin will ‘definitely’ go to South Korea for 2018 Winter Olympics

Burke doesn’t want bigger nets either

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Brian Burke is with Sidney Crosby. The Calgary Flames’ president of hockey operations doesn’t like Mike Babcock’s idea to make the nets bigger.

“That is such an extreme measure to increase scoring that that would have to be the third or fourth of several steps in my opinion,” Burke said today (video). “Goaltending equipment maybe looked at first.”

Crosby, like Burke, also believes that goaltending equipment should be addressed first.

But unlike Crosby, Burke isn’t necessarily in favor of trying to create more goals.

“I don’t think we need a high-scoring number in the game to generate interest,” Burke said. “I think we need scoring chances. … A big save is an exciting play, too.”

For Burke, increasing the size of the nets would be messing with history.

“You’re rewriting the record books if you change the size of the nets,” he said.

Of course, Babcock has argued that not doing anything is what’s actually messing with history, because today’s goalies are so much bigger than the ones in the past.

“By refusing to change you are changing,” Babcock said in 2013. “Purists would say you can’t do it because you’re changing the game but by not changing you are changing the game.”

It all depends how you see it, we suppose.