Mike Grier

Mike Grier

Mike Grier calls it quits after 14 seasons and no new job offers


Mike Grier probably didn’t want to go out like this but after 14 seasons in the NHL, he’s calling it quits. In a career that saw him start and end with the Buffalo Sabres — while playing in Edmonton, San Jose, and Washington in between — Grier was the consummate grinder.

Grier would never win nor play for a Stanley Cup, but his value to his teams was immense. After coming out of Boston University where he was a physical menace with a powerful goal scoring ability, his game adapted well to the NHL.

While he was able to score a few goals early on, he changed into a solid checking forward. That ability to fit into the game and the systems he played is what made him such a true professional.

All that ability, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to see him land a new job this offseason as Grier’s final games were played against the Flyers in the playoffs last season. If nothing else, Grier leaves the game with a hard-hitting legacy that won’t be forgotten.

Wayne Simmonds to meet with NHL over using homophobic slur

Wayne Simmonds

Things are getting a bit worse for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds’ alleged use of a homophobic slur against Rangers forward Sean Avery caught the attention of the hockey world last night. After what Simmonds had to deal with London, Ontario over the weekend in seeing a disgusting racist display made at his expense, seeing the tables turned like this makes the entire situation more difficult to handle.

Simmonds will be meeting with the NHL to discuss the on-ice incident involving Avery. While many fans are thinking that Brendan Shanahan and his hot hand at dealing out suspensions could see Simmonds taken out of action for a period of time for the utterance, this situation doesn’t fall under Shanahan’s “player safety” disciplinary role. Instead, Simmonds will speak with Colin Campbell about the situation.

With a suspension seemingly unlikely, Simmonds would likely face a $2,500 fine for the slur. $2,500 is the maximum fine that can be assessed under the current CBA. We’ve seen the NBA put the hammer down in situations like this, fining superstar Kobe Bryant $100,000 for using a similar slur against an official during a game.

Making things all the more interesting, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is getting in contact with the Philadelphia Flyers about what Simmonds had to say. GLAAD released this statement on the situation today.

“Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink,” said GLAAD Acting President Mike Thompson. “The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility. He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”

While these sorts of things are likely said often between players on the ice to get under each other’s skin, it doesn’t make it right and getting busted using such language makes everyone look horrible. Even worse yet, it’s nothing new for Avery to hear on the ice from opponents as he’s said before that he’s heard it from players looking to get under his skin.

Avery said such slurs remain in wide use in hockey, too. He suspects they may be used against him even more now that he is speaking out on behalf of same-sex marriage.

“People have been calling me names for 10 years just because I like to wear nice suits,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot to get me upset or to get under my skin. I’m O.K.”

Using this kind of language against opponents, be it homophobic slurs or racially-charged slurs, isn’t new and guys have had action taken against them in the past for doing so. Chris Simon was suspended for three games back in 1997 for using a racial slur against Mike Grier.

With as many cameras and as much on-ice audio as we’ve got access to these days, these kinds of situations aren’t likely to go away, but the league has to be smart about how it’s viewed by those who might be warming up to the game. As Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy said today in his great take on this situation:

Forget the impact on fans or Sean Avery or the NHL’s image. When you get bananas thrown at black players or any player gets caught using a gay slur on camera, the essential question is whether that behavior is preventing someone from trying out for a team or skating locally; about whether than behavior is discouraging someone from embracing the game.

This kind of backwards and neanderthal speech, even if used in some horrible form of taunting or pestering an opponent, is the sort of thing that no one should be able to just brush off as “boys being boys.” It’s not likely that things will change, but perhaps now players are going to be more mindful about their methodology for getting another player’s goat and perhaps get a bit of understanding for being a human in the process.

Getting in a guy’s head doesn’t mean you have to go into those deep, dark places for insults. Like a comedian might get by on swearing to get a laugh, there are guys like Bill Cosby that succeeded without ever having to curse or use other foul language. Aggravating an opponent into taking a dumb penalty is an art form and one that doesn’t necessarily need such shameful language.

A recent history of racial incidents in the NHL

Wayne Simmonds

Wayne Simmonds showed a lot of class and character by taking the high road in discussing last night’s awful incident in which an Ontario fan threw a banana at him. While his private thoughts must be at least a bit different from his diplomatic public comments, here’s hoping that he wasn’t hurt too deeply by a bad apple (or a few bad apples) who did such a lousy thing to him in his old stomping grounds.

Sadly enough, you probably have to have thick skin to fight your way to the NHL as a black hockey player. It seems like these terrible gestures are pretty rare – at least at the sport’s highest level – but these moments still bruise the sport’s reputation.

While this isn’t meant to be a complete list, here are some of the more notable moments and interesting stories revolving around the topic of racism in hockey from the last 10 years or so. (Note: this list focuses mainly on the NHL, so feel free to discuss issues at the junior, college and minor league levels in the comments.)

John Vanbiesbrouck and Trevor Daley: The “Bieser” might be remembered for his fantastic, rubber rat-laden run to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals with the Florida Panthers, but others will allow a far less pleasant memory linger. Vanbiesbrouck resigned from his position as the general manager of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after using a racial epithet in regard while discussing current Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley in 2003. Vanbiesbrouck apologized profusely for his ugly comment, but the damage was already done.

Kevin Weekes, Wayne Simmonds and Peter Worrell are among the (hopefully small list of) black players who’ve had bananas thrown at them. Worrell dealt with quite a few other high-profile incidents of racist behavior, including when Craig Berube received a one-game suspension for calling him a “monkey.” As PHT discussed in the post about the Simmonds situation, Georges Laraque also accused Sean Avery of uttering the same racial remark in 2005.

Ted Nolan’s claims of prejudice: Racism isn’t always just a “black or white” issue in hockey. Former Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan is of First Nation heritage, which Nolan claimed was a roadblock as he attempted to land another coaching job. The validity of his argument is up for debate, but it seemed worthy of a mention. Regardless of that dicussion, there should be little doubt that Nolan dealt with his fair share of discrimination.

Different minority groups haven’t always gotten along very well with each other, either, as you can see from an ugly incident involving Chris Simon (Ojibwa descent) and black winger Mike Grier.

Jarome Iginla being left off one 2002 Hart Trophy ballot: Much like Nolan’s claims, this situation isn’t cut-and-dry. There could be plenty of other reasons why one award voter left Jarome Iginla off of his Hart Trophy ballot altogether, but a subset of hockey people still wonder if racism was the true catalyst. (It ended up changing the voting process, so it was a significant moment either way.)

Modern players discuss dealing with racism: Before they became the Winnipeg Jets, the Atlanta Thrashers were trying to improve themselves on the ice and at the box office by adding a relatively large amount of black players to their roster. CNN caught up with some of the Thrashers’ black stars to ask them about racism in the sport.

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American History X and hockey: To finish things off with a random but interesting anecdote, Frank Meeink – a former skinhead who served as the loose basis for Edward Norton’s character in the film “American History X”began to dispel his racist viewpoints when he started playing ball hockey with black players.


Hopefully this was an interesting snapshot of a troubling issue for the sport, but if you want to go back deeper into the history of black hockey players, click here.

Zack Kassian hopes to make Sabres’ roster, walk the line between physical and illegal hits

Zack Kassian

There will be plenty of debate about the wisdom of the Buffalo Sabres’ spending spree, but when it comes to the makeup of the teams’ fleet of forwards, there should be little question that the team leans more toward finesse than last season. From their skilled set of wingers to new acquisition Ville Leino and rehabbed center Derek Roy, the team might lack a bit of sandpaper – especially since rugged defensive players such as Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are no longer on the roster.

His future might not look as bright until the salary cap dust settles, but one forward who might try to fill that physical void is polarizing prospect Zack Kassian. The 13th overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has become notorious for his thunderous – and some might say, dirty – hits, particularly two blows that earned him suspensions.

Kassian admitted that he regrets the hit he landed on Matt Kennedy that earned him a 20-game suspension in his first game with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. He believes that the negative attention from that check on Kennedy bled into the decision to suspend him for what he believes was a clean hit during the 2011 World Junior Championships.

One can debate the validity of Kassian’s claims, but it’s likely that he will make an impact in Buffalo sooner or later. Again, the Sabres need to sort out their cap issues – they’re currently about $3.6 million above the ceiling. Once they do, Kassian could bring an intriguing mix of size, physicality and scoring prowess to the table at an affordable $875K cap hit … if he can manage to avoid getting suspended.

Kassian will try to make the Buffalo Sabres out of training camp next month, but even if he is unsuccessful, logic suggests he will end up in uniform at some point this season. He has so much of what the Sabres seem to need, with a low salary cap hit off the ice and the lurking promise of a massive hit on the ice.

“I need to play with an edge, but I have to make sure I don’t cross that edge,” he said Tuesday. “With all the skill Buffalo has, I think they need some grit and definitely some people that are hard to play against to give those skilled guys some room. I feel like I can fill that job, and hopefully, I can do it sooner than later.”

The Sabres picked Kassian 13th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and they have seen their prospect earn nationwide exposure in Canada for reasons both good and bad. He has been a Memorial Cup champion and a member of Canada’s national junior team, but he has also briefly been the star of junior hockey’s most wanted list.

It’s likely that Kassian will be on the Sabres’ radar until he makes a prolonged impact at the NHL level, but he’ll also get plenty of attention from officials who are aware of his lower moments. If Kassian can find a way to bring that edge without going over the line, he’ll be a serious asset for Buffalo. That might be a big if, though.

Five free agents who could be the missing piece for a contending team

Cory Stillman, Bryan McCabe

All right so there’s just a handful of free agents available out on the market for teams to pick from to try and give them an edge heading into the new season. Most teams do have most of their situations figured out while others are going to need to make a move or two to get under the salary cap. As for those who could stand to add some money or another player to become contenders for the Stanley Cup, their options in free agency are dwindling.

Like all things in life, there are still some diamonds in the rough to be found and that is the case for free agency as well. If your team is lacking a depth scorer, center, or defenseman there are options still out there. If you’re in need of a goalie, the pickings are rather slim (Marty Turco and Pascal Leclaire are it). As for the rest, there are a few guys that could still be helpful contributors to a team in need. We’ve picked out five that could provide the boost needed to lift the Stanley Cup in June.

Cory Stillman
All right, so you need a guy with Stanley Cup experience who can give your second or third line a boost with play making and scoring. How about taking a look at Cory Stillman. Stillman won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and Carolina in 2006. He spent last year with both Florida and Carolina and had 12 goals and 27 assists with both teams. He’s not the ace running mate on the left wing that he was on those two Cup teams, but he’s a guy capable of helping out when he’s given the right minutes.

He’s two years removed from being a more-than solid power play helper and his numbers have fallen off each year since his career-high 2007-2008 season. He’s not the guy you want on your top lines, but you could do worse than having him help out on the third line.

Bryan McCabe
So your team needs a fourth or fifth defenseman who has some skills on the power play. You don’t want to make a move for Chris Campoli, so why not Bryan McCabe? McCabe split last season between the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers and managed to help give the Rangers a slight boost on the power play from the blue line. With both teams, McCabe had seven goals and 21 assists. In 19 games with the Rangers, McCabe had two goals and four assists with both goals coming on the man advantage. McCabe was given a bit more of a load in the playoffs with New York and averaged over 19 minutes a game and adding two assists.

At 36 years-old, McCabe is on the downside of his career and while he’s not going to give you the sort of production an older guy like Nicklas Lidstrom would, if your team has a need for a offensively helpful defenseman, McCabe is there for the taking.


Mike Grier
So you’re in need of an experienced grind line player. Mike Grier is there for the taking. Grier isn’t a guy that’s going to give you much offensive production, but that’s not why you want him anyhow. You want him there to play tough, checking defense at forward and you want him to make life miserable for opponents. You’ll also want him there to play on the penalty kill to further hinder an opposing offense. Grier’s work in Buffalo last season was solid and he’s been that way through his whole career.

At 36 years-old, Grier will give you a hint of offensive help (between 15-25 points) but he’ll be best when playing steadily for 15 minutes a game. If your team’s offense is set and you think you’re a little soft, Grier is worth making a call on.

source:  Kyle Wellwood
Perhaps your team has a weakness at center and has a need to have a guy that is the butt of jokes on the Internet. Who better to get than Kyle Wellwood? Wellwood departed for the KHL last season, but didn’t enjoy it in Russia and came back to North America finding a home in San Jose. There he provided solid work as a depth centerman getting to saddle up on the Sharks’ third and fourth lines. In 35 games, Wellwood had five goals and eight assists but it was in the playoffs that Wellwood left his biggest mark scoring a goal and adding six assists in the Sharks’ 18 playoff games.

As a depth guy, that kind of production is more than solid. Any team looking for help up the middle would do well to get a hold of Wellwood to fill their needs. While there’s another guy out there in John Madden to do the same thing, Wellwood is still young at 28 years-old. After a humbling season, perhaps Wellwood has found his way in the NHL.

source:  Sergei Samsonov
So you’re looking for speed, some scoring touch, and a veteran presence. How about Sergei Samsonov? Samsonov spent last season with both Florida and Carolina, and after a career that started off so promising in Boston, he’s been bounced around of late. After starting out like a potential big time scorer, Samsonov has settled in as a depth contributor as he scored 13 goals and 27 assists with both Carolina and Florida last year. He’s still a power play threat after scoring nine power play goals last year, but giving him top six minutes could be a dicey prospect.

Samsonov turns 33 in October and while he’s not going to be a 29-goal scorer anymore (we think) he’s still a guy that can help out offensively. With Nikolai Zherdev playing back in Russia this year, taking a flier on Samsonov might be worth the trouble.