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Reactions to the death of a hockey icon: Bob Probert dead at 45

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bobprobert-gettyimages.jpgWith the shocking news of the passing of Bob Probert today at the age of 45, it’s tough to gauge just what the reaction would be to losing a guy whose aura on the ice was one that instilled fear in opponents. He was the rogue sheriff in a somewhat lawless era of the NHL. An era where the “code” dictated the laws between enforcers and an era where messing with another team’s superstar could turn a hockey game into a now abused cliché about how you went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.

I’m old enough to say that I was at the perfect age to believe that Bob Probert was an indestructible force in the NHL. A guy who would stand up for your teammates no matter what and he’d make “the bad guys” pay for their transgressions and he would do it out of respect for his teammates and for the game itself. After all, if there wasn’t guys like Bob Probert out on the ice taking care of business when their teammates were wronged, who was going to handle it? Back in the 80s, the league wasn’t stepping in to mete out punishment, it was up to guys like Probert to do so and he earned the respect of everyone on the ice in doing so. What’s not to love about a guy that does that pulls the respect card like that? Sure the guy had problems in his personal life. He fought demons with cocaine and alcohol abuse for years. He was arrested. He was banned from going to some road games because he wasn’t allowed to cross the border. What makes people love a guy with so many flaws like this? He was kind to those off the ice. A man with a huge heart who would take the time to ask how you were doing even though his celebrity status should’ve meant he never had to do that. He would do it anyhow, just like how any of us regular schmoes might if we were in those superstar shoes. Bob Probert was just a regular guy that made it big and we rooted for him to do well because it felt like he was one of us making it big.

What are others saying about this iconic figure of skill, protection and pugilism on the rink and a caring man off of it? The plaudits are many. Join us after the jump to read more.

Mitch Albom – Detroit Free Press:

Young kids won’t understand our fascination with Probert. They don’t make his kind anymore. They don’t encourage it and they don’t tolerate it. But there is a reason you still see people wearing his jersey at Joe Louis Arena, more than 15 years since he last played for Detroit.

Coming up in the 1980s, Bob Probert was the sort of warrior they now model video game characters after. Relentless. Brutal. Single-minded. Unafraid of blood. He was an enforcer, a goon, a guy whose main purpose was to make sure nobody messed with his team’s stars. Someone touched Steve Yzerman? Bob Probert touched back hard. Someone ran the goalie? Probert ran him harder.

Don Cherry reflects on Probert the fighter and showman. Reading all of this piece by Chris Johnston – The Canadian Press is a must.

Cherry remembers attending a game where Probert was set to have a rematch with Troy Crowder after the two had staged a memborable fight earlier in the season. Everyone in the building was abuzz with anticipation.

“I said to the linesman before, ‘If they get started don’t break them up.’ The linesman said, ‘Are you kidding? I want to see it, too,”‘ recalled Cherry. “The puck was up in the other end and everyone was watching Probert and Crowder. I remember he hit Crowder so hard, his helmet went about 10 feet in the air.

“It was a dandy.”

Joey Kocur, a teammate and opponent of Probert’s on the ice reflects on a lost friend.

“My favourite memory of Bob would be sitting down before a game, going over the opposing lineup and picking and choosing who would go first and if the goalie would be safe or not,” Kocur said in a statement. “It was great to be able to go out on the ice knowing that he had my back and I had his.

“He was like the brother I never had.”

Versus’ Adrian Dater hears from both Ian Laperriere and Stu Grimson, legendary fighters in their own right.

“He was the scariest player I ever played against, for sure,” Philadelphia Flyers fighter Ian Laperriere said. “I never fought him, but he chased me around a lot.”

Stu Grimson elaborates a bit more on Probert the man off the ice.

Grimson said he got to know Probert better when their careers were both over. Together, they were part of a contingent of ex-players who went to Afghanistan to visit with Canadian troops several years ago.

“We got to sit down and talk more and it was good. We played a lot of ball hockey with the troops and had a good time,” Grimson said. “I locked horns with Bob probably more than anybody else in my career. We always had a kind of unspoken connection, that most fighters do.”

Aaron Portzline of the Puck Rakers Blog caught up with Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley, a guy whose career was really carved through by what guys like Probert did years ago. Shelley has nothing but admiration for the man.

Shelley called him “Mr. Probert” when he asked Probert to fight in the first period.

“When I asked him to fight the first time, I heard the words come out of my mouth, and I thought, ‘Oh god, I’m done.’ He said no problem. The puck dropped and there we go.”

Shelley never met Probert away from the ice, he said.

“I never got to shake the man’s hand and say thanks to him,” Shelley said. “Thanks for the great memories, thanks for showing us younger guys the way, and thanks for giving me a chance to “go” with him when I was just a young guy coming up in the league.

“But, you know what? I got to meet him on the ice, doing his business. And that’s a special way to meet him.”

(Photo courtesy: Glen Cratty/Allsport/Getty Images)

The Buzzer: Is it too early to give Pettersson the Calder?

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Three Stars

1. Elias Pettersson

What’s easier: giving Pettersson the top star of Sunday, or just cutting through the red tape and handing him the Calder right now?

OK, the NHL can’t do that. After all, someone might close the 11-point gap between Pettersson (30 points) and every other rookie (Colin White‘s in second with 19), especially if the league is robbed of the glory of more Pettersson in the event of an injury.

His special Sunday really highlighted the gap between the Canucks wunderkind and everyone else. Pettersson scored the game-winning goal to go with four assists for a five-point performance. The kid is special, and you really don’t need the “for a rookie” caveat.

2. Brock Boeser

Normally, it might be best to lean away from placing two teammates in the top three, but sometimes you just have to acknowledge the truth. These two forwards are a blast to watch. The Boeser + Pettersson combo doesn’t merely make the Canucks palatable. If you’re not ready to go, they can absolutely dominate, stealing games for Vancouver in the process.

Boeser collected a hat trick as the Canucks bombarded the Blues by a 6-1 score:

3. Josh Morrissey

This is a tough call, as Morrissey’s teammate Mark Scheifele and Ducks forward Ondrej Kase also deserve serious consideration with their own three-point Sundays.

Morrissey gets the nod because his goal was a game-winner (Scheifele had three assists, while Kase’s goal and two assists lacked the GWG). Granted, it was the GWG in a lopsided game but … hey, we’re splitting hairs, here.

There were some nice goalie performances, yet with Mikko Koskinen being the only guy getting a shutout – and a light one, needings 24 saves – let’s hand the bronze to a skater.

Morrissey celebrated his first game in a week by collecting those three points as the Jets routed the Flyers. Along with the goal and two assists, Morrissey managed a +2 rating, three SOG, and one blocked shot.

Highlights

Admittedly, it’s strange to use the word “harmonious” to describe a hockey play, especially when Brad Marchand is involved. Such a description comes to mind here, though, as Marchand, David Krejci, and Torey Krug combine for an absolutely beautiful overtime game-winner:

While it doesn’t match the sheer beauty of that Krug tally, Connor McDavid scored the only goal of Edmonton’s 1-0 win against Calgary on another nice bit of puck movement:

Sunday featured at least a couple throwback “pad-stacking” saves, including this one by John Gibson:

Not hockey, but if you have even a passing interest in the NFL, this Miami Dolphins play is just bodacious. Honestly, “Miami Miracle” doesn’t even feel too over-the-top.

Lowlight

Here’s not how to help Cory Schneider, a goalie who’s been struggling for quite some time: the Devils were guilty of three own-goals on Sunday, with this one possibly being the most egregious:

Factoids

Montreal’s tight win against Chicago is more impressive when you realize the procession of penalties they faced, particularly during a high-stick-happy third period:

Could Mikko Koskinen be the latest goalie to flourish under Ken Hitchcock? He already started off pretty well for Edmonton, but the “low-event” Oilers have really helped him heat up:

More impressive: Marc-Andre Fleury‘s wins total(s), or his sweet, sweet pads?

Scores

VAN 6 – STL 1
WPG 7 – PHI 1
BOS 2 – OTT 1 (OT)
MTL 3 – CHI 2
ANA 6 – NJD 5 (SO)
VGK 4 – DAL 2
EDM 1 – CGY 0

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Milan Lucic gets in heavyweight fight after thunderous hit

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Much to the Edmonton Oilers’ chagrin, Milan Lucic isn’t the all-encompassing threat he once was. To be more precise, he’s not exactly the type who will score enough to justify his $6 million cap hit very often these days.

Lucic is still an enormous human, however, and sometimes you get a taste of what made him such a menacing presence in the past. Sunday stood as one of those examples, as Lucic delivered a thunderous check on Calgary Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic, then went toe-to-toe with Anthony Peluso in what seemed like a pretty even fight.

(You can watch it all in the video above.)

If you’re around an old-school type, you’ll probably overhear something about how this fight somehow propels the Oilers to victory rather than Ken Hitchcock’s patented “Connor McDavid scores the only goal” formula. Lucic kindly obliged following his first scrap of 2018-19:

Either way, the Oilers snagged a 1-0 win against the Flames, and Lucic looked like a beast, at least for that stretch. It hasn’t always been pretty, yet Edmonton will take it, especially when “it” qualifies as a win against their nearby rivals.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Nearly 30K stuffed animals fly during Calgary Hitmen’s Teddy Bear Toss night

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The WHL’s Calgary Hitmen fell short in their quest to reclaim the Teddy Bear Toss world record.

One week after the AHL’s Hershey Bears saw 34,798 teddy bears fly to their ice and break the Hitmen’s 2015 record, the crowd inside the Saddledome made it rain with fur Sunday afternoon after Kaden Elder’s first period goal. The 18,015 fans, many of whom brought large plastic bags filled with stuffed animals, helped break a franchise Teddy Bear Toss record with a total of 29,635, up from the 28,815 collected three years ago.

“It was an awesome experience and something I’ll never forget,” Elder said via the Hitmen website. “The atmosphere in the rink was unbelievable with all the fans and the teddy bears. It was definitely an adrenaline rush and when it went in I was thinking about the celebration and kind of zoned out because I was trying to just take in the moment and enjoy every second of it. It just a surreal moment.”

After a 41-minute cleanup delay, the Hitmen went on to win 6-3 over the Kamloops Blazers.

The Hitmen have now collected a total of 377,583 stuffed animals since their first Teddy Bear Toss promotion in 1995.

The event helps benefit 70 local agencies, including the Salvation Army, Calgary Food Bank, Siksika Nation and Hospice Calgary. The Hitmen will spend Monday delivering some of stuffed animals to Alberta Children’s Hospital.

MORE: Teddy Bear Toss season is the best season

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Can Coyotes keep playoff hopes alive without Raanta?

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One of the saddest phrases in sports is “[Player X] would really have been something, if only they could stay healthy.”

Some argue that avoiding injuries counts as a “skill,” and it’s plausible that certain players may simply be better at staying healthy than others, but there are still instances when the injury gods feel awfully cruel.

We’re rapidly approaching that point with Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta.

Even with a challenging start to 2018-19 (just a .906 save percentage over 12 games), Raanta’s been fantastic for the Coyotes so far … when he’s been able to actually play.

That caveat was frustrating last season, as Raanta missed crucial chunks of time – most painfully being unhealthy as the Coyotes went without a win in October 2017 – yet was essentially elite when he could play, generating a splendid .930 save percentage in 47 games.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, it’s looking like 47 Raanta appearances would have been a gift compared to the likely reality. The team announced that the 29-year-old goalie is out “indefinitely,” while The Athletic’s Craig Morgan provided a more detailed (and more troubling) update: Raanta might miss the rest of this season.

Brutal.

It’s fair to wonder if this might become the story of Raanta’s career.

Again, the Finn fought nagging injuries last season, and this year’s been even worse. At 29, he’s not ancient, but Raanta isn’t exactly a spring chicken, either. (If you need a glum example of how quickly a goalie can start looking older-and-more-fragile, look at all of the injury headaches Carey Price has been dealing with at just 31.)

That said, Raanta’s limited starts pre-Arizona came from him being a backup, not necessarily from injuries. There’s the hope that, in hindsight, these past two years will look like speed bumps rather than Raanta’s promising career hitting a brick wall. If nothing else, Raanta is listed at just 6-0, so he’s not one of those prototypical towering goalies whose huge frames only increase odds of additional injuries.

Either way, Raanta’s lengthy absence deals an enormous blow to the Coyotes’ fledgling playoff hopes.

You could argue that they’d be in tough to land a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs even with a keyed-in Raanta. As of this writing, Arizona’s record is 13-13-2 for 28 points in as many games, leaving them in 12th place in the West (five points behind Vegas for the final wild card spot, and seven behind Anaheim for the Pacific’s third seed).

Various projections aren’t totally dismissing the Coyotes’ chances of waging a comeback, but few give them much better than a 20-percent shot to pull that off … and those odds likely only drop once you factor in Raanta’s absence.

The Coyotes haven’t just been without Raanta, who’s been sidelined since Nov. 27. Backup goalie Darcy Kuemper has been hurt, too, making way for Adin Hill and waiver claim Calvin Pickard. To Hill’s credit, he began with a four-game winning streak and currently boasts a .939 save percentage, but his larger history indicates that he probably won’t be able to produce such results over the long haul.

All of this leaves Coyotes GM John Chayka in a tough spot.

If you’re the Coyotes, do you try to trade for a more seasoned goalie, particularly one on an expiring contract?

Or, do you do the uncomfortable and all-too-familiar, and punt on the season?

This Coyotes team is structured largely to compete, with an increasing number of longer-term contracts crowding the team’s salary cap.

Granted, the Coyotes have an interesting player or two. Would someone pay up some futures to land, say, Alex Galchenyuk? The 24-year-old’s endured a quiet first season with Arizona (just 11 points in 21 games), but there’s plenty of talent there. While Galchenyuk isn’t on an easy-to-move expiring contract, his deal doesn’t last much longer, as his affordable $4.9 million cap hit runs out after 2019-20. If you’re a contender, would you hand the Coyotes some futures to add some skill for Galchenyuk, particularly if the Coyotes absorbed a contract you wanted to get rid of (and/or retained some of Galchenyuk’s salary?).

It’s not pleasant to discuss who the Coyotes might sell off in a trade, and it’s even more unpleasant to wonder if Raanta will be injury-prone for the remainder of his career, but Arizona at least needs to ponder these scenarios. They might not have much of a choice, even if Raanta technically finds a way to play a bit toward the end of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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