Josh Morrissey suspended one game for cross-checking Eric Staal

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Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey will be forced to sit out Game 5 of Winnipeg’s first-round series on Friday after being suspended one game for a cross-check to the head of Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed down the ruling on Wednesday evening. Morrissey had a hearing on Wednesday afternoon after a dangerous cross-check hit Staal in the side of the head in the first period of Tuesday’s 2-0 win for the Jets.

Winnipeg lead’s the best-of-7 series 3-1 as the series shifts back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Friday night at Bell MTS Place.

In the DOPS video, department head George Parros states that while sticks occasionally ride up a player’s back or shoulder while a defender is trying to box out a forward, that simply wasn’t the case for Morrissey.

“[This is] not a routine motion to box out an opponent,” Parros said in the video. “Staal is in Morrissey’s field of vision, there is no on-going battle between the players. Morrissey is in control of the play and initiates contact.

“This is a reckless strike to an opponent’s neck, with sufficient force to merit supplemental discipline.”

Morrissey has not received a fine nor a suspension in 164 NHL games.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

After Tuesday’s game, Bruce Boudreau blamed the cross-check for the Wild’s loss. On Wednesday, Boudreau stuck to his guns.

“Well, usually I’m pretty subjective in that, OK, it was a bad call, but we didn’t deserve to win anyway, or this and that,” Boudreau said. “But that had a definite, … definite impact on the whole game. if you think that it would have been 5-on-3 and he would have been out of the game, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity at the end of the first, we would have started the second on a power play, he was the one, you know, Nino [Niederreiter] had a breakaway and he made a great play defending. It had a definite, definite impact on the game. and if you can score on a 5-on-3, then all of a sudden you’re playing with the lead, you’re not chasing the game. it’s different tactics by them and everything else, so from that standpoint, it impacted the game greatly.”

Following the game, Morrissey said it was never his intention to injure Staal.

“I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” Morrissey said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that. I was glad he was able to come back and play the rest of the game.”

On Wednesday, Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he would have been surprised if Morrissey received a suspension.

“I’m not surprised there’s a hearing,” Maurice said. “You guys have been running it for a day and a half, pretty hard. There’s a penalty there and very most you might look at a fine. Based on what I’ve seen for (plays that) were either suspended or fined for a stick that didn’t hit the head, and some of these others have, there’s no intent. There’s a penalty. They missed it.

“I think they’re nervous about putting a team five-on-three because it happened to us the game before and there shouldn’t have been a penalty call and they’re aware of that. There’s no intent.

“I don’t come out and complain about the refereeing. Things get missed. We clearly felt there was intent on the (Tyler) Myers hit, there was absolutely, in my mind, intent on the hit on (Jacob) Trouba hit from (Marcus) Foligno. I know you all saw it when you weren’t looking at your phones, the (Nino) Niederreiter headbutt to (Ben) Chiarot.

Maurice backed Morrissey, suggesting there was no intent to injure on the play.

“There’s no intent on this. It got played,” Maurice said. “You’ve got a real smart coach on the other bench who has all the focus on that and not on the game now. Why wouldn’t you? Morrissey is a great defenceman for us. If you had a chance to get him out, you’d play it as hard as you could, so I don’t have any problem with that.

“There’s a penalty there and at very most you might look at a fine but thankfully Eric Staal played the rest of the game, played hard, played well, finished all of his checks, played with an edge. So he certainly was able to come back and that’s a good thing.”


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

Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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After completing their four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights began Wednesday as the new favorites to win the Stanley Cup, at least according to the folks at Bovada.

Whether they actually do it doesn’t really matter at this point because this season is already one of the most stunning stories in North American sports history. A first-year expansion team finishing the regular season as one of the best teams in the league, winning its division, and then blowing through an organization in the first round that just a couple of years ago was one of the elite powers in the league is the stuff that gets turned into movies.

The popular consensus on how this all happened always seems to go back to the expansion draft and the rules that opened Vegas up to more talent than any first-year team in league history.

In all fairness to the teams that preceded them, Vegas certainly had an advantage in that area.

It still should not have resulted in a team this good, this fast.

The fact it happened is not an indictment on the rules the league put in place to aid Vegas in becoming an immediate success.

It is an indictment on the NHL’s 30 other general managers, the way they build their teams, the way analyze and value their own talent, and what they value.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The NHL begins to make a lot more sense if you just go into every season with the mindset that nobody really understands what they’re doing, what will happen, or why it will happen, and that everything is just random.

Maybe that’s overstating things. Maybe it’s unfair. Maybe there a lot of variables that go into moves that get made (or do not get made), but every year otherwise smart people that have been around the game forever make inexplicably dumb transactions that just look like a mistake the second they get completed. The 2017-18 season was a treasure trove for this sort of thing. Look no further than the Artemi Panarin trade, or the fact that Taylor Hall is probably winning the MVP one year after being run out of Edmonton.

The expansion draft also exposed a lot of the sometimes backwards thinking that goes on around the NHL.

To be fair, there were some teams that were stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to protecting assets in the expansion draft. A lot of teams were going to lose a good player through no fault of their own, other than the fact they had too many good players to protect.

Nashville comes to mind as one. The Predators needed to protect four defensemen (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis) which meant a really good forward was going to be left exposed. Maybe you can quibble with the fact they chose to protect Calle Jarnkrok over James Neal, but their decision makes sense. Jarnkrok is $3 million cheaper under the cap this season (that extra cap space would come in handy for moves that followed — signing Nick Bonino, trading for Kyle Turris) and signed long-term, while Neal was probably going to leave after this season anyway as an unrestricted free agent.

Pittsburgh was definitely going to lose a good goalie (it turned out to be Marc-Andre Fleury).

Washington was definitely going to have to lose a good defenseman or a good goalie (it turned out to be Nate Schmidt).

Anaheim was kind of stuck because it had to protect Kevin Bieksa (no-move clause) which meant it had to leave Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen exposed. So the Ducks gave Vegas Shea Theodore to entice them to take Clayton Stoner, leaving Manson and Vatanen in Anaheim. That was a lot to give up, but Manson is a really good player and Vatanen was used as the trade chip to acquire Adam Henrique from the New Jersey Devils when the Ducks quite literally ran out of centers.

Vegas was able to get a solid foundation out of that. Fleury has been everything they could have hoped for him to be and probably more. Had he not missed so much time due to a concussion, he might have been a Vezina Trophy finalist (he probably could have been anyway), and he just dominated the Kings in the first-round. Neal scored 25 goals in 71 games, while Theodore and Schmidt look like solid young pieces to build their blue line around.

Those players alone weren’t enough to turn Vegas into an overnight Stanley Cup contender. Other than Fleury, none of them were really the most important pieces on this year’s team.

So who is most responsible for what happened in Vegas?

[Related: Golden Knights sweep Kings, becomes first team to advance to second round]

Let’s start with the St. Louis Blues, a team that has seemingly escaped criticism for the way they handled the expansion draft which resulted in them losing David Perron.

In his first year with the Golden Knights, Perron went on to finish with 16 goals and 50 assists in 70 games and was one of their top offensive players. While his production increased from what it was in recent years, Perron has still been a 20-goal, 50-point player in the NHL with a really high skill level. He’s a good player. Sometimes a really good player.

The Blues decided that it was more important to protect Ryan Reaves and Vladimir Sobotka over him. Why? Who knows. Maybe the Blues soured on Perron because he had a bad playoff run a year ago (which would be dumb). Maybe they figured they weren’t going to re-sign him after this season and he was going to leave as a free agent (more sensible). But even if it was the latter, protecting Sobotka, and especially Reaves, over him just seems like misplaced priorities.

“But Adam,” you might be saying. “The Blues had to protect Reaves so they could trade him a week later at the draft to the Penguins to move up 20 spots in the draft where they selected Klim Kostin, and he’s a really good prospect! It worked!”

Fair. Fair point.

But do you really think Vegas was going to select Reaves over the other players the Blues had exposed? I know Reaves later ended up in Vegas, but that was mostly due to the Penguins having to send a warm body their way in an effort to re-work that convoluted Derick Brassard trade. Reaves barely played once he arrived in Vegas and may never see the ice in the playoffs. And beyond that, St. Louis traded Jori Lehtera to Philadelphia three days after the expansion draft for Brayden Schenn and didn’t feel the need to protect him in order to preserve that trade.

It was just bizarre asset management to protect two bottom-six players over a top-six winger.

Then there’s Minnesota, who ended up trading Alex Tuch — who was a 2014 first-round pick — to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights selecting Erik Haula.

Where teams like Minnesota come away looking bad is that, 1) They may have given up more than they had to in an effort to protect other players, and 2) Not really realizing what they had in previous years.

Tuch, playing in his first full NHL season at age 21, scored 15 goals for Vegas while Haula went on to score 29 goals in 76 games, nearly doubling his previous career high.

Minnesota was another team in kind of a tough spot. It had to protect Jason Pominville (no-trade clause) and one of the players left unprotected as a result was Eric Staal, who went on to score 40 goals this season in Minnesota. They also left a couple of solid defensemen exposed.

Back in November, The Athletic’s Michael Russo wrote about the anatomy of the deal that sent Tuch and Haula to Vegas and the thought process for both teams. According to Russo, general manager Chuck Fletcher’s approach was to clear salary cap space (which was necessary) while also protecting his defenseman so he could trade one for forward help.

All of that ended up happening. Vegas didn’t take a defenseman, and the Wild eventually traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to the Buffalo Sabres for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. When combined with losing Haula (who ended up signing for $2.75 million per season) the Wild definitely cleared a lot of salary cap space. They also ended up getting the short-end of the trade-off talent wise when you consider what Haula and Tuch did. Together Foligno and Ennis scored 16 goals this season.

Tuch scored 15 on an entry-level contract and Haula scored 29.

Here’s where Minnesota is deserving of some criticism: Why wasn’t Haula scoring 29 goals for them? Why didn’t they realize what they had in him, and maybe given themselves a reason to keep him instead of giving him away to protect someone else? Or, perhaps having a trade asset that could have actually brought them something meaningful in return if they had to lose him. Over the past two years Haula was getting third-or and at times fourth-line minutes for the Wild and still scoring 15 goals.

On a per-minute basis he was consistently one of their most productive players. Before you write off his 29-goal season this year as a fluke, just look at what he was doing individually during 5-on-5 play.

Kind of the same. The big difference this season is that in Vegas he had the opportunity to play 18 minutes per night instead of 12 minutes per night. Keep in mind that last year Minnesota had Haula on their roster and decided it had to trade for Martin Hanzal (giving up first-and second-round draft picks) and then gave him more minutes than Haula over the final 20 regular season games and playoffs.

It’s your job as a GM to know what you have. The Wild had Haula and wasted him, then willingly gave him away plus another pretty good young forward.

Then there is Columbus, who traded William Karlsson and a first-round draft pick in an effort to rid itself of David Clarkson‘s contract and to protect Josh Anderson and their backup goalie. Karlsson, of course, went on to score 40 goals. I’m skeptical that Karlsson will ever come close to duplicating this season, and I’m a little hesitant to really fault them too much here because nobody should have expected this sort of a breakout from Karlsson at this point in his career. But the optics are certainly bad when you look at who Columbus was trying to protect.

That, finally, brings us to Florida’s contribution to the Golden Knights roster, and with every passing day and every goal that Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith produce it becomes more and more indefensible.

And it was never really defensible.

The Panthers were looking to shed Smith’s $5 million per year contract and were able to trade him to Vegas for a fourth-round pick. In return, Florida would also leave Marchessault, quite literally their leading goal-scorer from a year ago, unprotected as payment for taking Smith’s contract. Wanting to get out of Smith’s contract on its own wasn’t a terrible thought. It was pricey and he was coming off of a down year. But there had to be a better way to do it than by trading a player as good as Marchessault (no contract is untradeable).

Especially when Florida only protected four forwards and instead opted to protect Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk on the blue line.

Vegas was always going to get some solid players out of the expansion draft, but where would it be this season without Perron, Marchessault, Smith, Haula, Tuch, and Karlsson, players that their former teams all willingly gave away when they did not need to? They would not be playing in the second round of the playoffs, that is for certain.

But that’s not the only thing that Vegas exposed this season.

They went into the big, bad Pacific Division where all of the big, bad big boy hockey teams play and basically skated circles around them.

How many times have you heard somebody say that you need to be big and tough to compete with those teams in the Pacific and their brand of heavy hockey?

Edmonton, for example, has spent three years trying to build a team in that image, wasting Connor McDavid‘s entry-level contract in the process.

Now, look at the roster Vegas assembled.

They entered the year in the bottom-10 of the league in both height and weight and were the smallest team in the Pacific Division.

Of the top-200 tallest players in the NHL, only four of them played in Vegas this season.

Of the top-200 heaviest players in the NHL, only six of them played in Vegas this season.

Even those numbers are a little misleading because a lot of the Vegas players on that list barely played. Reaves was in both the top-200 in height and weight and played 20 games for them. Jason Garrison was in there, and he played eight games, as did Stefan Matteau.

It’s a speed game today and with a clean slate, able to build their team in any way they saw fit, Vegas smartly embraced where the league is and where it is going.

The Golden Knights were definitely given a pretty good hand in the beginning, and they deserve credit for taking advantage of that.

They also exposed one of the biggest market inefficiencies in the NHL. That inefficiency being that nobody really knows what they’re doing.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Josh Morrissey to have discipline hearing for cross-checking Eric Staal

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Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey escaped punishment during the game on Tuesday night when he blatantly cross-checked Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal in the side of the head.

It seems he will probably not be lucky enough to escape a suspension.

The NHL’s Department Of Player Safety announced on Wednesday morning that Morrissey will have a hearing on Wednesday as a result of the incident. It seems quite likely that will result in a suspension that would keep him out of the lineup for at least Game 5. That could be a big problem for the Jets who are already without Tyler Myers on their blue line as they look to wrap up the first-round series.

Morrissey’s cross-check and the missed call that went along with it turned out to be a pretty big moment in the game. The Wild were already on the power play at the time and had it been called would have given them an extended 5-on-3 advantage. That did not happen, and the Wild not only failed to score on the power play but Morrissey helped to set up the game-winning goal just a couple of minutes later.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That sequence prompted Wild coach Bruce Boudreau to argue after the game that the missed call cost his team the game.

Morrissey also made a fine defensive play on Nino Neidereitter in the second period to break up a potential breakaway.

There have already been two suspensions handed out this postseason.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty was suspended one game for an illegal check to the head, while Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was suspended three games for boarding Tommy Wingels.

Morrissey will most likely be the third.

Related: Josh Morrissey cross-checks Eric Staal in the head

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Fleury dominates again, Caps get huge win, Jets push Wild to brink

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Three games on Tuesday night

Winnipeg Jets 2, Minnesota Wild 0 (Jets lead series 3-1)

Well things certainly escalated here, didn’t they? Josh Morrissey might be looking at a suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Eric Staal, while Wild coach Bruce Boudreau argued that the non-call on that play cost the Wild the game. It certainly did not help as it would have given them an extended two-man advantage, while Morrissey stayed in the game to set up the game-winning goal and help make a great defensive play to break up a potential breakaway chance for Nino Niederreiter.

Washington Capitals 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (Blue Jackets lead series 2-1)

Artemi Panarin was the best player on the ice — by a wide margin — with another multiple-point game and some sort of highlight reel play nearly every time he touched the ice. It was not enough for the Columbus Blue Jackets as the Washington Capitals were able to pick up the Game 3 win. It was Lar Eller’s double overtime goal that lifted the Capitals as they finally had a bounce go their way in a playoff game

Vegas Golden Knights 1,  Los Angeles Kings 0 (Golden Knights win series 4-0)

The first team advancing to the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Vegas Golden Knights after completing their four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night with a 1-0 win in Game 4 of their series. If someone had told you that sentence would be possible at the start of the season you would have laughed at them, and rightfully so. Brayden McNabb, the player Los Angeles gave up to Vegas in the expansion draft, scored the only goal on Tuesday night.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. It was, once again, the Marc-Andre Fleury show on Tuesday night. He stopped all 30 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the series, both of them by a 1-0 margin. He was unbelievable in the series, allowing just three goals in the four games. Some of his saves on Tuesday were highlight reel stops, including this late third period save on Anze Kopitar to preserve the one-goal lead.

Then he did it again in the final minute, just getting enough of this Dustin Brown shot.

Remember when Fleury was a concern in the playoffs? Seems like an eternity ago. Since the start of the playoffs a year ago Fleury now has a .935 save percentage in 19 games with four shutouts.

2. Lars Eller, Washington Capitals. Facing the prospect of a 3-0 series hole the Capitals needed somebody to step up in a big situation and Eller just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help them get on the board in their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Was he the best player on the ice? No. Was he the Capitals’ best player? Probably not. He did score the biggest goal of the season for the Capitals — to this point — so that is good enough.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. On the same day that it was announced he is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie, Hellebuyck recorded his first career playoff shutout, stopping all 30 shots he faced in the Jets’ 2-0 win to move them one game closer to winning their first ever Stanley Cup playoff series.

Factoid Of The Night

It has to be all about the Vegas Golden Knights. What they are doing this season is nothing short of amazing.

Wednesday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Boudreau says missed cross-check call cost Wild game

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With their 2-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night the Minnesota Wild are now facing elimination and are without two of their top players — Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — for the remainder of the series. It is not a great position to be in as the series shifts back to Winnipeg later this week where the Jets can end it on home ice.

Adding insult to the loss on Tuesday is the fact the Wild feel they were robbed by the way the on-ice officials allowed Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey to get away with a vicious cross-check to the head of forward Eric Staal late in the first period.

Morrissey was not only allowed to stay in the game, he was not even penalized and then recorded an assist on the eventual game-winning goal in the final minute of the first period.

With the Jets clinging to a 1-0 lead late in the third period, they added an empty net goal to put the game away. An empty-net goal that never would have been scored had the game still been scoreless, as the Wild thought it should have been had the on-ice officials correctly called the cross-check.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“My take is the same take as everybody in the building that saw it,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau after the game (video here). “The refs looked at it and they decided not to call it because we were already on the power play. Cost us the game.”

It wasn’t just the fact that it cost the Wild an extended two-man advantage or that Morrissey helped set up the winner that had Boudreau fuming after the game, but also the fact that Morrissey broke up a breakaway by Wild forward Nino Neiderreiter in the second period.

“We had chances in the second period,” said Boudreau. “Dumba had a great chance and Hellebuyck made great some save on a couple. Nino has a breakaway and it’s Morrissey that breaks it up. He should be out of the game. I can’t believe … still a little heated about it. Got to watch what I say. They were looking right at it and they told us they didn’t see it.”

Morrissey said after the game he never intended to get his stick up that high and it was simply a “complete accident as he was trying to box out on the penalty kill.

Staal was not buying it, or, more accurately, simply did not care about the excuse.

“He cross-check me,” said Staal. “I’m the tallest guy on the ice, he cross-checked me in the neck. There’s not much more you can say. Everyone saw it. I don’t know no one with straws saw it, but that’s beside itself. It is what it is. We go from possibly, should be a 5-on-3 to a goal against eventually and that’s the game-winner.”

The Wild are absolutely correct to to argue that Morrissey should have been thrown out of the game (and he should be suspended) and that the missed call played a huge role in the outcome. Morrissey not only assisted on the game-winning goal, he also played a strong game defensively.

Did that cost them the game, as Boudreau argued? Well, it would also be correct to argue that they had 58 minutes the rest of the game to make something happen or get on the scoreboard and they did not do it.

“It’s pretty obvious that somebody has to step up,” added Boudreau later in his press conference. “This was a 1-0 game that should have been a 0-0 game going to overtime at this stage. Our guys worked their butts off and they didn’t get rewarded for it. Winnipeg played well and they got a goal.”

More: Josh Morrissey cross-checks Eric Staal in the head; should he be suspended?

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.