NHL tells players to buzz off over rule change

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On Monday, we learned that the NHLPA would submit a ‘band aid
solution’ to the NHL’s proposed head-shot rule, which would make
blind-sided hits the head illegal. Some felt that the NHLPA’s attempt at
delaying an immediate rule change was a big ‘up your’s’ to the league
that is tied to disputes between the league and the PA.

I wasn’t so certain it was just a matter of politics and the players
wanting to ensure there wasn’t an off-the-cuff rule change being
instituted in the midst of the season without completely covering every
aspect of the rule change in the summer. The NHLPA had originally wanted
any and all head shots made illegal two years ago but the league shot
that down; now the NHL just wants to make some head shots illegal.
There’s going to be some natural hesitation on the part of the players.

After last night’s news that the NHL Board of Governors had gone
ahead and approved the rule without prior agreement by the NHLPA, it’s a
certainty that politics are at play here when both sides should solely
be focused on player safety.

Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, used the opportunity to
blast the NHLPA. From TSN:

“Our Board can enact rule changes at any time with or without
Competition Committee approval,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in
response to the NHLPA statement. “To the extent the Competition
Committee has approved the rule change in advance, it is entirely
insulated from PA challenge.  To the extent it is not a Competition
Committee-approved rule, the PA is free to challenge under whatever
“theory” they may have available to it. We have been attempting to work
through the PA and the Competition Committee for 10 days now on what
the League considers to be a very important issue.  To the extent we do
not receive NHLPA or Competition Committee sign-off or approval, we
will consider all available options and make a decision in the best
interests of the League and the players.”

Basically Daly is saying that the NHL has the ability to institute
any rule change they want at any time, and that getting the NHLPA
approval is just a matter of common courtesy. Since the PA wanted to
drag its feet and slow the process down, the Board of Governors went
ahead and approved the change anyway.

It’s important to clarify, however, that there is not a new ‘rule’
being instituted this season that would add a minor or major penalty to
the rule book. The change would allow for supplemental action for blind
sided hits, so that future Matt Cooke-style hits could actually be
punished.

After news broke that the BOG had approved the change, the NHLPA
released the following statement.

“Under the CBA, the League’s proposal cannot take effect until it
first receives the support of the joint NHLPA/NHL Competition
Committee, and then is endorsed by the NHL Board of Governors,” NHLPA
senior spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Tuesday night in a statement.

“To date, the Competition Committee has neither agreed on a proposal,
nor forwarded a proposal to the Board of Governors for its vote. As
we have previously stated, the NHLPA’s Competition Committee members
are finalizing their response to the NHL’s proposal regarding blindside
hits to the head and will be responding back to the league this week.”

So, the NHL passed a change that the NHLPA had not approved and the
PA says the league cannot do that according to the CBA. In fact, under
league rules the NHL can make a rule change without the player’s
consent. The PA would then follow up with a grievance to be heard by an
arbitrator, most likely months down the road. Meanwhile, the new rule
would still be in place.

The NHLPA’s statement was followed by a response by Daly to Pierre
LeBrun of ESPN.com:

Daly continued: “Without trying to throw anyone under the bus here,
let’s be real. This is a rule that’s intended to make the game safer
for the players. Its a no-brainer. The PA needs a hockey person, or at
a minimum a player, who is willing to take charge, to step up and make
a decision in the best interests of the game.

“It’s one thing to ‘punt’ on all the more mundane issues surrounding
the game until the Union has a new Executive Director and a clear
direction. We are used to that. But this is different. Someone needs to
show leadership, and they need to do it fast.”

This is a mess of massive proportions, and both sides have mud on
their faces.

The NHL can make it sound like they have nothing but the players
interests and safety at heart, but in reality this rule change is
nothing but a reaction to the public outcry over the dangerous hits
we’re seeing this season and how the league has maintained they can’t
punish players for them.

If they truly cared about these hits,
then the proposed rule change two years ago would have been passed.
Instead, the general managers just happen to meet the day after Matt
Cooke’s disastrous hit on Marc Savard and the NHL decided that this
might be a good time to get a change in place. And instead of addressing
all head-shots, the NHL focuses on a very specific type of hit relative
to two very specific hits we’ve seen this season. Not very proactive at
all.

The NHLPA on the other hand, finally sees a change come down the
pipeline but only including part of what they originally proposed just a
few years ago. It’s a change that is certainly needed, but the PA
decides that they want to control how this goes down and releases a
statement that they will send along a counter proposal. It slowed the
process down, and the NHL responded with their own “Eff You!” and passed
the rule on their own and trashed the NHLPA during the process.

So instead of a needed rule change that everyone agrees needs to be
in place getting passed with handshakes all around, we have the NHL and
the PA using this very public opportunity to circle each other in a
political battle that leaves both sides looking bad.

At some
point, we’ll all get around to actually trying to make the game better
and then possibly marketing the sport to more fans. That would be an
ideal concept.

The Buzzer: Lightning dominate, Sabres rally and Gaudreau shines

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Three Stars

1. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point was a big part of the Lightning’s dominant offensive showing in Chicago on Sunday night when they scored six goals and put 55 shots on goal. Point was a factor in three of those goals, scoring one of them and assisting on two others to give him five goals and eight total points on the season. We know the Lightning have superstars at the top of the lineup, but it is the emergence of secondary players like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Point himself over the past four years that have made this team such a force in the Eastern Conference.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames. With Mike Smith struggling in the early part of the season could backup David Rittich start to steal some playing time away from him? He has certainly made a strong case for himself over his past two starts, including Sunday’s game in New York where he stopped 43 out of 44 shots in a 4-1 Flames win. In his two starts this season he has now stopped 67 out of 70 shots.

3. Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres ruined the Ducks’ celebration of Paul Kariya on Sunday night by scoring four consecutive goals to erase what was a two-goal deficit midway through the second period. Kyle Okposo started the rally with his first goal of the season late in the period, and then helped complete when he set up Rasmus Ristolainen‘s game-winning goal early in the third period. Okposo had recorded just three assists in his first eight games before Sunday, so it was a much-needed big night for him on the scoresheet.

Ducks defense looks awful again

The Anaheim Ducks have been relying on their goalies — particularly starter John Gibson — more than any other team in the league this season, surrendering shots and chances at an unsustainable rate.

So far, Gibson has been able to keep them in it and steal a bunch of wins.

This weekend Gibson and Ryan Miller were not able to bail them out.

After getting outshot by a 45-18 margin in a 3-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night, they were outshot 45-28 in their 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. That is 90-46 over two games in 48 hours. That is … terrible.

They are giving up more than 37 shots on goal per game and have been outshot by a ridiculous margin on the young season.

This team looks like a house of cards teetering on the verge of a collapse if their goalies slip up even a little bit. This is, quite simply, not a good hockey team right now no matter what their record says.

Highlights of the Night

Johnny Gaudreau was a big part of the Flames’ win in New York on Sunday night by scoring a pair of goals, both of them coming on wonderful individual efforts. His second goal — which was also his 300th career point — was the best of the two.

The Lightning were dominant all night and it started very early with this slick Nikita Kucherov goal to put them on the board first.

He made that look easy.

Factoids

The Tampa Bay Lightning set an NHL record for most shots in a single period when they recorded 33 in the second period (we highlighted that here). They also set a franchise record for most shots on goal in a game.

The Calgary Flames won their first game at Madison Square Garden since 2008.

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Calgary Flames 4, New York Rangers 1

Buffalo Sabres 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Blackhawks’ defense still has long way to go

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been off to a better-than-expected start this season, especially when you consider they had Corey Crawford, arguably their most important player, for just two of their first seven games entering Sunday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That surprising start has been primarily due to Jonathan Toews‘ offensive resurgence, Alex DeBrincat‘s continued rise to stardom, and some good fortune in a bunch overtime/shootout games. They still have their flaws, particularly on their defense, and wow did a lot of those flaws get exposed on Sunday night against one of the league’s best teams.

The defense should have been viewed as the weak link on the roster heading into the season, and so far there has not been much to change that perception.

That is especially true after Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Entering Sunday’s game the Blackhawks were 26th in the NHL in goals against and 25th in terms of shots allowed per game. Neither number is anywhere close to good enough, and they are almost certain to be looking even worse after Sunday’s game that saw the Lighting set an NHL record and completely overwhelm the Blackhawks in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate.

At times it looked like two teams playing two completely different sports.

Just consider these two numbers: 55 and 33.

What do those numbers represent?

The former is the number of shots on goal the Blackhawks surrendered to the Lightning for the entire game, while the latter is how many they gave up in the second period alone, setting an NHL record for most shots on goal in a single period. During that second period the Lightning outshot the Blackhawks by a 33-5 margin and outscored them 3-0. It was, to say the least, the difference in the game.

It also helped show just how far the Blackhawks’ defense has to go to make them a serious contender in the meatgrinder that is the NHL’s Central Division.

It is only the ninth time since the 2010 season that a team recorded 55 shots on goal in a game that did not go to overtime.

The Blackhawks have been trending in the wrong direction defensively (both from a shots and goals perspective) for several years now as that core on defense has gotten older or moved on to new teams. Once a team that dominated opponents territorially and never let them set up shop in their end, the Blackhawks are now a team that consistently bleeds shots and scoring chances against and needs its goaltenders to be great to have a chance.

There are several problems with the unit.

First, Connor Murphy has not played a singe game this season as he recovers from a back injury. He was probably one of the team’s best defenders a year ago and has been a major loss at the start of the year.

Gustav Forsling, who has shown promise over the past two years, has also not played yet this season due to a wrist injury.

When it comes to the players that are in the lineup there just isn’t enough high end talent here.

At the top you have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both of whom were cornerstone pieces of the Blackhawks’ mini-dynasty between 2010 and 2015, but are now on the wrong side of 33 and are a fraction of what they once were (especially Seabrook). Once you get beyond them there is just a stunning lack of quality depth as they have tried to piece together a makeshift unit of various veteran free agents like Jan Rutta, Brandon Mannning, Erik Gustafsson, and Brandon Davidson.

None of them are particularly great.

Henri Jokiharju, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, has shown a ton of promise this season and is already playing some big minutes and being given a major role at the age of 19. But he’s still 19, and he’s going to have some growing pains at times and he had a particularly tough time on Sunday matching up against the Lightning.

Jokiharju and 2018 first-round pick Adam Boqvist are going to be the future of that unit, and the return of a healthy Murphy at some point should help at least a little bit in the short-term.

But they are probably a few years and a lot of help around them from being where they need to be as a unit. Even with the strong start to the season the Blackhawks’ best hope to contend this season is going to be continued strong play from their forwards and the return of a healthy and productive Corey Crawford.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ducks retire Paul Kariya’s No. 9

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Before the Anaheim Ducks played host to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night they honored the career of one of the best — and most important — players to ever wear their uniform by officially retiring Paul Kariya’s No. 9.

Kariya, the No. 4 overall pick in the 1993 draft, was the first player ever selected in the NHL draft by the franchise and quickly became the organization’s first superstar, playing nine seasons with the club between the 1994-95 and 2002-03 seasons. During his time with the Ducks he scored 300 goals and 369 assists (669 total points) in 606 games, and was a central figure in the team’s run to the 2002-03 Stanley Cup Final.

It was during that series where he was knocked out by New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens. Concussions and injuries would later derail his career and ultimately lead to his early retirement following the 2009-10 season.

He is among the top-five players in Ducks history in games played, goals, assists, and total points, while his 1.10 point-per-game average with the team is first in franchise history.

After playing for the Ducks he also spent time with the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, finishing his Hall of Fame career with 402 goals and 989 points in 989 games.

His number is now in the rafters in Anaheim next to his longtime linemate and teammate, Teemu Selanne.

Prior to Sunday’s game all of the current Ducks players wore jerseys with the No. 9 on the back.

You can see highlights of the jersey retirement ceremony in the video above.

Later this season the Ducks will also retire Scott Niedermayer’s No. 27.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Maple Leafs looking for their ‘mojo’ after back-to-back losses

Associated Press
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“We got to get our mojo back.”

The sky is far from falling in Toronto, but Mike Babcock knows the secret of his Maple Leafs is finally out.

The Leafs dropped their second straight game for the first time this season on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

That loss followed a 3-0 shutout defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the week, the first time Toronto’s dominant offense had been blanked this season.

There have been a few firsts over the past two games, but perhaps for every team in the league, there’s finally a blueprint out there on how to find success against Toronto.

The Leafs have constructed high-danger chance after high-danger chance since the start of the season (they’re third in the NHL with 92 of them) but over the past two games, they haven’t converted on any of them.

Toronto generated 20 high-danger opportunities over the two games but just couldn’t sort pucks into the back of the net in those contests.

Since getting zero goals off 20 chances over their first two games, Toronto had been on a tear, converting 10 goals off chances over their next five games in five-on-five scenarios.

In simpler speak, the likes of Auston Matthews and Co. haven’t been scoring at the same rates they were before their mini-slump here. The well has run dry when playing five-on-five right now and it’s been detrimental to Toronto’s success.

Babcock said after Saturday’s game that his team is finding out it’s hard to score in the NHL. And team’s adjust.

The better you are, the bigger the bullseye when another team takes the ice across from you. And the book on the Maple Leafs is that they’re fast, they transition well and they work well in space.

“The last couple nights, [we] haven’t won enough battles and races. You don’t feel very good about what’s going on,” Babcock told TSN on Sunday. “You have to get back to work, [and hopefully] let your ups be longer than your downs.”

Clog those lanes, play a little tighter and bog the game down seems to be doing the trick over the past two games.

Toronto’s schedule doesn’t get much easier with back-to-back games against the Winnipeg Jets in a home-and-home mini-series next week. The Jets won their second straight game for the first time this season and are beginning to find scoring from all four of their lines.

Winnipeg is a big and bruising team that can frustrate opposing offenses. Quickly righting the ship will be a stiff challenge in the coming days.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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