Jason Brough

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 20: Ladislav Smid #3 of the Calgary Flames skate with control of the puck against the San Jose Sharks during the second period at SAP Center on January 20, 2014 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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‘Too big of a risk’ — Smid to sit out season with neck issue

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Ladislav Smid will not play this season for the Calgary Flames. The 30-year-old defenseman is still dealing with a neck issue, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize his life after hockey.

“At this point it would be too big of a risk, I feel like, to try to play through my neck issues,” Smid said, per NHL.com. “I think the year will help me. Hopefully my neck will settle down a little more. I’m only 30 years old, so I would like to be out there helping the team, but it is what it is. You have only one health. It’s not like I’m retiring. But for this year, I’m going to have to sit out.”

Smid is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He only played 22 games for the Flames last season, and just 31 the season prior.

The Flames are reportedly bringing veteran defenseman Nicklas Grossman to camp on a tryout. If necessary, they could also consider bringing Kris Russell back, or explore signing another free agent like Dennis Seidenberg.

Lucic aims to give the Oilers ‘an identity’

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 09:  Milan Lucic #17 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on during the second period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on February 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Some will roll their eyes, and maybe even note that John Tortorella was saying the same sort of stuff.

But Milan Lucic is earnest in his desire to change the culture of Edmonton Oilers.

“This is a team that hasn’t really had an identity over the last couple of years and I think that’s the first thing we need to establish,” Lucic said yesterday, per the Edmonton Journal. “You have the right coach, you have the right GM and you have the right superstar to lead the way. It’s just about everyone having the right attitude and mindset in order for that all to come together.”

Lucic signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Oilers on July 1. The 28-year-old was brought in by his old general manager in Boston, Peter Chiarelli, with whom he celebrated a Stanley Cup championship in 2011.

For all that money, Lucic will be expected to score, provide leadership, and play the kind of heavy, physical hockey that Chiarelli believes is necessary for the Oilers to be successful. The GM also brought in big wingers Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian last season.

“We’re in a heavy division, we’re in a really heavy division,” Chiarelli said after landing Lucic in free agency. “You looked at guys like Connor [McDavid] and Leon [Draisaitl] at the end of the year when you go up to California, those are tough matchups. You’ve got to be able to wear down the opposition, too, and that’s what the big guys do. You’ve got to be able to play, at the end of the day you have to be able to play and all those guys you mentioned can play.”

“It kind of gives us that swagger, that meanness that we have been looking for,” McDavid added. “We tried to do that a little bit last year in adding a couple of bigger bodies and it definitely helped, but now you have the addition of Lucic and those guys we added before. We definitely have that mean streak that other teams won’t want to be pushing us around.”

While nobody really believes the Oilers are ready to compete for the Stanley Cup, there is significant pressure on them to improve. The last time they made the playoffs was 2006, and they’re moving in to a new downtown arena this season.

Said Chiarelli in May: “We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.”

The following month, he traded Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson — a deal that was largely panned by NHL observers, but one that Chiarelli felt he needed to make.

Evander Kane’s excuses don’t sit well with Buffalo columnist

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 01: Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up to play the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center on March 1, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Yesterday in Buffalo, Evander Kane took a small share of the responsibility for his latest legal woes, but he deflected more than he accepted.

From the Associated Press:

Saying his recent off-ice legal problems “come with the territory” of being a professional athlete, Sabres forward Evander Kane acknowledged Thursday that he needs to be more careful when putting himself in potentially troublesome situations.

“These things unfortunately happen more often than not, and they’re becoming more and more prevalent each and every day if you look around other sports,” Kane said. “For me, it’s trying to stay out of that kind of stuff and kind of picking my spots better.”

Suffice to say, those remarks did not sit well with at least one member of the local media. Wrote John Vogl of The Buffalo News:

If Kane was being honest with his answers and comments, he’s bordering on delusional.

Instead of attempting to paint himself as a victim, Kane would have been wise to at least appear sorry. Maybe he believes he’s done nothing wrong legally. The courts will decide that. But he certainly brought bad publicity to the organization that gave up a fortune to get him and pays him a fortune to play, and being sorry for that would have been appropriate.

Being put in handcuffs on the streets of Buffalo in broad daylight, as Kane was in July, should be a blow to a person’s ego. Not Kane. He got a long-awaited fresh start by leaving Winnipeg, and he doesn’t even care that he blew it.

For a lot of people, Kane’s credibility has simply run out. He is currently dealing with two separate legal issues. The first relates to an incident at a downtown Buffalo bar, where he’s alleged to have grabbed three women by the hair and neck. (He pleaded not guilty.) He is also being sued by a woman who is accusing him of injuring her in a hotel room. (In a counterclaim, he called the woman’s allegation’s “a sham.”)

Vogl did not even mention that the 25-year-old winger was suspended a game by the Sabres last season after partying at the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto and missing practice in the morning. (He said after that incident: “It’s something that I can promise you won’t happen again and it’s something that I’m definitely going to learn from.”)

In 2013, Kane admitted to throwing three punches at a man in Vancouver, but claimed self-defense.

Less than two years later, he was traded to Buffalo after a run-in with his teammates in Winnipeg. He later accused the Jets of not giving him enough support.

Related: The curious case of Evander Kane vs. Winnipeg restauranteurs

After finally winning a playoff series, expectations are ‘even higher’ for Islanders

New York Islanders' Johnny Boychuk, right, celebrates his first goal with John Tavares during the first period of the NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Coming off their deepest playoff run in 23 years, the New York Islanders open training camp hoping to build on that success and go even further.

The Islanders overcame injuries down the stretch last season to earn a playoff berth for the second straight year, and third in the past four, while reaching the 100-point mark in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1982. New York then beat Florida to win a postseason series for the first time since 1993 before losing to Tampa Bay in five games in the second round.

“It was frustrating but you learn from it and you move on,” defenseman Travis Hamonic said at the team’s media day Thursday. “It was good for our team, for our fan base to see that and have an opportunity to win the first one in a long time. It sets our bar and our expectations even higher.”

The Islanders open camp Friday as a different group from the one that dispersed in May after their loss to the Lightning. Free agent signees Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau are here, replacing departed longtime stars Kyle Okposo (Buffalo), Frans Nielsen (Detroit) and Matt Martin (Toronto).

Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, totaled 25 goals and 21 assists last season in 78 games for Winnipeg and Chicago. The 31-year-old left wing has 210 goals and 256 assists in 12 seasons. Chimera, 37, had 20 goals and 20 assists for Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington and has 163 goals and 206 assists over 15 seasons. Parenteau, back for his second stint with the Islanders, had a career high-tying 20 goals and 21 assists for Toronto last season. For his career, the 33-year-old Parenteau has 101 goals and 167 assists in 424 games spanning eight seasons in the NHL.

“I think everybody’s excited to get on the ice together and start practicing and start the season,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “We’ve made the playoffs two years in a row and obviously want to get the third year and do better.”

The Islanders will be missing some key faces at the start of camp with coach Jack Capuano, captain John Tavares (Canada), goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss (Europe), and veteran forward Nikolay Kulemin (Russia) playing in the World Cup in Toronto. Capuano will likely be back soon with Team USA having played its final game Thursday night after failing to advance to the semifinals.

“We’ve known for a while that they’d be gone,” Hamonic said. “I’m sure it’s going to have a different feel to it but this time of year everyone’s pretty excited to get out there. There’s a lot of coaches, a lot of people and things are going a hundred miles an hour. Just kind of roll with the punches.”

The Islanders just finished a weeklong rookie camp for their top prospects, and some of the veterans and newcomers also held informal workouts on their own.

“At this point just skating on your own and informally is starting to get old,” Ladd said. “So, it’s exciting to get going, get the group together and start working toward that goal of winning the Stanley Cup.”

 

REPLACING MARTIN: With Martin’s departure, there’s a void on the Islanders’ vaunted fourth-line, and Cal Clutterbuck knows his former teammate will be hard to replace.

“It’s tough to have Matty gone,” Clutterbuck said. “I don’t think there’s a physical presence like that, as big a presence in the league as Matty is. That’s a loss but I think there’s some guys Casey (Cizikas) and I will be able to play with that’ll be able to do some of the same things.”

YOUTH ON DEFENSE: After bringing in veterans like Lubomir Visnovsky and Marek Zidlicky to round out the defensive pairings the last few years, the Islanders will likely be going with a younger player this year. Hamonic, Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey and Calvin de Haan are the established stalwarts on the blue line. The leading candidates for the sixth spot include Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech – all of whom have made contributions when given a chance.

 

As training camp opens, the Rangers’ defense goes under the microscope

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Ryan McDonagh #27 and Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers line up for the national anthem prior to a game against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
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Keith Yandle logged almost 20 minutes per game for the New York Rangers last season, and nobody played more on the power play.

Dan Boyle also played significant minutes, and he was second to Yandle in terms of power-play time.

So with Yandle and Boyle both gone now, it leaves the obvious question — how are they going to be replaced?

“Obviously, there’s ice time available,” said head coach Alain Vigneault, who “figured” he’d be asked about the blue line when he met Thursday with reporters.

“There’s roles available, as far as both Keith and Dan were a little bit more offensive oriented. So there’s opportunity there. There’s opportunity for a veteran guy like Ryan McDonagh to take a little bit more, to a younger guy like Brady Skjei to take a little bit more.”

Vigneault mentioned young Dylan McIlrath as another candidate to play more. The Rangers also signed offensive defenseman Adam Clendening and traded for Nick Holden in the offseason. Veterans Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Kevin Klein are still with the club as well.

How the defense performs could largely determine how the Rangers do as a team. The forward group has plenty of skill, speed and youth, and of course there’s Henrik Lundqvist in net.

“We still believe that we’re a very strong hockey team,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.

“I see good speed, which is something that I like. As you guys know, I like to play a fast, high-tempo game, and we’d like to continue that. And that’s why we’ve got training camp here, to get everyone on the same page.”

Related: Vesey signing caps an impressive, value-heavy summer for Rangers