Chara speaks up about Pacioretty hit; Habs owner questions NHL, Canada’s Prime Minister and Donald Fehr voice concern

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There’s been a lot said from all sides about the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident and the NHL’s subsequent failure to impose punishment on Chara for his dubious hit that broke Pacioretty’s neck and gave him a severe concussion. While Pacioretty was released from the hospital today the war of words and debate rages on everywhere.

It started earlier today with Zdeno Chara reaffirming his take on the situation and serving to further infuriate Canadiens fans and those who disagreed with the NHL not suspending him. CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty spoke with Chara who said he was relieved to not be punished.

“[Pacioretty] is in the hospital,” said Chara. “He has the right to be emotional, and I respect that. As hockey players, we all feel bad when something like that happens no matter whether you’re the home team or the visiting team. There’s always concern when somebody gets hurt.

“It was a hockey play. It wasn’t intentional. That’s not my style. I never try to hurt anybody. It’s not what I attempted to do.”

As for the talk of the incident being investigated by Montreal police, Chara is well aware of what’s going on there.

“I’ve got some media info on [the police investigation] this morning,” said Chara. “I’m focusing on the game and playing hockey. We’ll see”

While Chara had his say today, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson issued a letter to Canadiens fans stating that they’ve made it clear to the NHL they do not agree with their decision. Molson joins Penguins owner Mario Lemieux as a member of the league’s Board of Governors who has publicly come out and lambasted the NHL for their lack of action concerning violent acts on the ice. While this incident differs greatly from what happened in Long Island between the Penguins and Islanders, it’s the alarming lack of safety for players that’s at the forefront of discussion.

Molson was direct and to the point with the NHL regarding his concerns.

Our organization believes that the players’ safety in hockey has become a major concern, and that this situation has reached a point of urgency. At risk are some of the greatest professional athletes in the world, our fan base and the health of our sport at all levels. Players’ safety in hockey must become the ultimate priority and the situation must be addressed immediately. As a proud father of three hockey players, I want to help create a healthy and safe experience for them, and I certainly never want any family to go through what the Pacioretty’s are experiencing at this moment.

We understand and appreciate hockey being a physical sport, but we do not accept any violent behavior that will put the players’ health and safety at risk. On this specific issue, I am asking for the support of the 29 other NHL owners, to address urgently this safety issue. And I am willing to play a leadership role in coordinating this group effort.

The words are powerful and Molson willing to embrace a leadership role rather than lecture from the pulpit takes what Lemieux did just last month and increase the vigor which league executives are trying to go about changing things. As always, our issue on matters like this when owners speak out is we’re wondering where the outrage and concern was when other players suffered horrible injuries because of terrible hits on the ice.

We know things matter differently when it affects you directly, but if things are boiling down this much so that teams are waiting until they’re dealing with a mess directly before speaking up about problems they see with the game, we’re in for a long wait before any sort of changes are made. After all, if teams continue to act disinterested as long as they’re not affected, change will never come about.

One of the sides in this whole affair that can help change things for the better as they see fit is the NHLPA. Executive Director Donald Fehr issued a statement pertaining to everything surrounding this situation. Disappointingly, Fehr made it more of a point to direct attention to how the rink is built rather than how players treat each other on the ice.

“Player safety has always been, and continues to be, a great concern to the Players’ Association. In that regard, issues involving the boards and glass in NHL arenas have been a longstanding focus for the players. The serious nature of the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty in Montreal this week reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter. We will be inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place. We will continue to gather feedback from the membership, to ensure the safest possible work environment for our players.”

Dancing around the real problem of making sure players have some sense of respect for each other on the ice is disappointing but I suppose if they’re going to get the rinks to be safer that’s one very small step in the right direction. Whether that helps curtail the amount of violence players have toward one another remains to be seen. Addressing the players to make sure they’re not out to maim each other would make a bit more sense than simple architecture work.

As we’ve seen through this ordeal, it’s the sort of hot topic that brings out everyone to make a comment on things. Air Canada made their statement last night (to which commissioner Gary Bettman fired back upon today) and now Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is speaking his mind as well. Harper, in typically politically correct ways, spoke about how player safety should be a bigger concern in the sport.

“I just say this as a hockey fan, I’m very concerned about the growing number of very serious injuries, and in some cases to some of the premier players in the game,” Harper said at an event in Toronto on Thursday.

“I don’t think that’s good for the game and I think the league’s got to take a serious look at that for its own sake.”

Government figures speaking up on a hot topic is nothing new, but in the NHL is something a bit different. Getting noticed like that from on high doesn’t reflect well upon the the league and keeping off government radar in matters of safety should be a concern for the league.

We’re sure the NHL didn’t intend to have this much attention drawn to the sport in such a negative fashion, but we’re also pretty sure Zdeno Chara didn’t intend to break Max Pacioretty’s neck either. Unintended consequences are sometimes the hardest ones to deal with. We can only hope the NHL is prepared to continue facing up to the public backlash for not acting upon a violent hit that resulted in a horrible injury for the second season in a row.

Rangers go college route, hire David Quinn as new head coach

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David Quinn will be leaving his post with the Boston University men’s hockey team to replace Alain Vigneault as the new head coach of the New York Rangers.

“We are excited to announce that David will become the next Head Coach of the New York Rangers,” said Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton in a statement. “In a coaching career that has spanned over two decades at the collegiate, pro, and international level, David has helped his teams achieve success while simultaneously teaching the game and helping his players develop on and off the ice. He is the ideal choice to bring our loyal and passionate fans the winning hockey they deserve.”

Gorton had pursued Jim Montgomery after firing Vigneault on April 7, but the former Denver University head coach decided to take the open job with the Dallas Stars. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Gorton was looking for someone who could communicate well with young players and possessed strong team-building skills. None of the bigger names on the free agent coaching market like Dave Tippett, Dan Bylsma and Darryl Sutter, were on his radar. 

In five years behind the bench with the Terriers, Quinn, who replaced Jack Parker in 2013, had a 105-68-21 record, which included four trips to the NCAA tournament and a national title game appearance in 2015. He becomes the fifth head coach — following Ned Harkness, Herb Brooks, Bob Johnson and Dave Hakstol — to jump from the college ranks to the NHL.

(The hiring of Quinn also means that USA Hockey will have to look for a new head coach for its World Junior team after announcing in April he would take that job.)

Quinn’s deal is reportedly for five years and worth in the neighborhood of $12 million. Per College Hockey News’ Mike McMahon, the Rangers original offer of four years, $8 million was rejected before they added a year and bumped up the salary per season.

At BU, Quinn helped develop current NHLers like Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy, Clayton Keller and one of the top prospects in next month’s entry draft, Brady Tkachuk.

Quinn is no stranger to the NHL. Before arriving at BU, he spent the 2012-13 season as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, three years after taking over the head coaching duties with their AHL affiliate in Lake Erie.

The Rangers missed the playoffs this season for the first time since 2010. Gorton threw in the towel in February, signaling to the fan base he was ready to re-tool on the fly and look toward next season. The roster is littered with a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with this summer, per CapFriendly, and with nearly $25 million in cap space to play with this summer, it’s not hard to imagine them being back in the postseason next spring.

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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.

Barry Trotz takes his turn at the Capitals’ hot lap ahead of Game 7

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It’s the final gameday for either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals as Game 7 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) arrives in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning have been here before as this is their third straight conference final that will end with a Game 7. The Capitals, well, their history is well-documented, but they’re feeling good and loose, as evidence by head coach Barry Trotz taking the “hot lap” on Wednesday morning.

Via NBC Washington, here’s the hot lap backstory:

The weird tradition began in the first round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus when Jay Beagle grew tired of waiting for the ice to freeze over following a fresh Zamboni cut. Beagle’s teammates implored him to wait a little longer for the ice to cure, but he grew impatient and took it upon himself to kick off the skate by racing around the rink, a la the fastest skater competition at the All Star Skills competition.

A new skater is selected after each road loss and Alex Ovechkin, who uses it to “wake up” his legs, took over the duties in the second round against Pittsburgh. Since the Lightning won Game 5 at AMALIE Arena, it was time for a new skater and the 55-year-old Trotz got involved.

“That came out of nowhere. Obviously, we had to change it. We lost here last time,” said Trotz. “I look at it this way, real simply — they called my number. At this time of year, you’re all in. So I was ready. I was surprised. I was a little bit worried about the turns because the rudders haven’t been sharpened all year. You didn’t see a lot of crossovers there. I used body mass and weight to dig in. It was a little bit of a slow lap.

“You’re all in. This time of year it’s fun. They call your number. You step up to the plate, you’ve gotta do it.”

That answers any questions about whether the Capitals are feeling nerves ahead of what Ovechkin described as “probably biggest game in my life, this team, organization probably.”

MORE:
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Locking up Evander Kane is smart business for Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck at the trade deadline when they acquired Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. No one was really sure how Kane would fit in with his new team, but he made enough of an impact that the Sharks are reportedly about to hand a new seven-year contract extension, according to Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet.

The report suggests that Kane’s new contract will come with a cap hit in the $7 million range. Locking up the enigmatic winger for that long could be seen as risky, but the fact that he’s going to be 27 years old when the season starts takes some of the risk out of the new deal.

When the trade between the Sharks and Sabres went down in February, many speculated that Kane would be nothing more than a rental. After all, if San Jose extends him, the second-round pick they’re sending to Buffalo becomes a first-rounder in 2019. Kane fit in so well on the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi that it appears as though they don’t mind giving up their top selection in next summer’s entry draft (can you blame them?).

Oh, and by the way, the 2019 pick is lottery protected, according to the Associated Press. So if the Sharks were to fall apart next season, they could push the selection to 2020.

Kane hit a bit of a rut during his time in Buffalo, but it’s hard to blame him? No one should be making excuses for a millionaire on skates, but these guys are human, too. The Sabres haven’t played meaningful hockey in so long that daily motivation is probably hard to come by.

In San Jose, it became clear pretty early on that Kane was going to be comfortable in his new surroundings. He had 20 goals and 20 assists in 61 games before the trade and nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks. In the postseason, he added four goals and one assist in nine contests.

As you’d expect, all of his advanced metrics went up after he moved to the West Coast. According to Natural Stat Trick, his CF% went from 49.94 in Buffalo to 53.60 in San Jose. His FF% 50.80 to 55.03, his SF% went up by almost six percent. When Pavelski was on the ice with Kane, his CF% was 56.11. When Pavelski was on the ice without Kane, his CF% was 46.27 percent. Playing together clearly made both players better.

There’s a risk anytime a team hands out a long-term contract. In this case, Kane hasn’t been the most consistent player over the course of his career, so there’s a little cause for concern. But it’s also important to note that power forwards that can skate and that are under 30 rarely hit the open market. Even if they do hit free agency, you never know how well they’ll fit in with your current group of players. This situation is already different in that respect because the Sharks had a couple of months to evaluate him in their building, with their players. He fits.

Handing over roughly $50 million over to Kane likely means that they’ll be out of the running for John Tavares, but there’s no guarantee that the Islanders captain will go there if he hits the market anyway.

GM Doug Wilson is making the right decision here.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options

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WASHINGTON — When you think of the Washington Capitals’ power play the first thing that probably jumps into your mind is Alex Ovechkin casually standing on top of the left circle, waiting for somebody to lob a perfectly placed pass directly into his wheelhouse, and then him bombing a one-timer at the net. If you are a fan of the Capitals or have no rooting interest in the outcome of the game it can breathtakingly fun to watch. For everybody else there has to be a sense of inevitability to it all because you know where he is going to be, you know what is going to happen, and you know your team is probably not going to be able to stop it.

It is perhaps the most dominant play in the league, and it is a big part of what makes the Capitals power play such a valuable weapon for them. It is not the only weapon the Capitals have on the power play.

Entering Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) the Capitals power play is clicking at 29.8 percent, which is an absurdly efficient rate. Among teams that have played at least 15 games in a single postseason that is the second-highest mark in league history (up from the fifth highest a few days ago when we last looked at these stunning numbers) trailing only the 1980-81 New York Islanders.

What makes the unit so difficult to defend is that is it has so many different options that can — and will — beat you.

The Ovechkin option is the obvious one, and the one that gets most of the attention both in terms of how the unit is talked about and defended.

In the second round the Penguins tried to take that option away from the Capitals by shading a player over into Ovechkin’s office and trying to keep him from unloading his one-timer on net. In terms of shutting down Ovechkin, it kind of worked. He didn’t score a single power play goal in the series (the only series this postseason in which he has not scored a power play goal, and only the fifth playoff series in his career he did not score a power play goal) and was limited to just five total shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play time That is only 0.25 shot attempts per minute, a shockingly low rate for Ovechkin. By comparison, he attempted 27 shots on the power play in 37 minutes of power play time (0.729 shots per minute) in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and has attempted 22 shots in 20 minutes of power play time in the first six games against Tampa Bay (1.1 shot attempts per minute).

The problem the Penguins ran into: All of that focus on Ovechkin left T.J. Oshie and John Carlson (17 shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play ice time, including a massive goal in Game 5 of the series where he was able to walk down the middle of the ice wide open) alone to beat them. And they did. Even with Ovechkin being a non-factor on the power play in terms of shot attempts and goals, the Capitals power play still managed to convert on 26.6 percent of its power play opportunities in the series. The top power play unit in the NHL during the regular season (Pittsburgh) converted on 26.2 percent of its chances. So … still great. Still better than everybody else.

The problem with shading over to Ovechkin and making it a 4-on-3 everywhere else is the “everywhere else” is also filled with talented players that form a cohesive unit that is masterful in what it does. They find the open area. They find the open man. They put the puck exactly where it needs to be to allow for the best and quickest shot possible. 

While the Ovechkin one-timer is the notable play, the Capitals have seemingly perfected another one-timer that takes advantage of all of the attention that goes to Ovechkin. That would be where T.J. Oshie drifts into the soft area in the middle of the penalty kill box and creates just enough space to get a shot of his own. That play has worked numerous times for the Capitals in these playoffs. So far Oshie has a team-leading five power play goals this postseason, with four of them coming from this exact location, standing directly between four opposing players.

This is T.J Oshie’s office.

(He scored a power play goal just seconds after that screen shot).

Three of them were by the one-timer from there and one was a deflection from that spot. The fifth was a rebound off of a scramble in front.

Perhaps the biggest of those goals came in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to break what was at the time a scoreless tie in the second period. This went in the books as the game-winning goal.

After the game on Monday Oshie talked about what makes that play work and gave a lot of credit to the presence of Ovechkin.

“I think the biggest thing there is No. 8 over in his office,” said Oshie. “How teams play us all depends on where he is and how they want to play him. For me it’s just a matter of a couple of feet here and there to find that soft area, whether it’s [Nicklas Backstrom] or [Evgeny Kuznetsov] typically they are able to find a way to get that puck into the wheelhouse and it’s up to me to find the hole.”

So, in a way, Ovechkin still drives the success even if he is not the one doing the damage. This is definitely a case of making players around him better. It is still up to those players to make it work. They do exactly that, and it is what makes the Capitals’ power play almost impossible to defend. If they didn’t make it work the whole thing would fall apart and the “shadow Ovechkin” approach might actually create its desired result: Stop the power play. That is not at all what happens.

Take away Ovechkin’s office? Oshie and Carlson are going to beat you in the middle of the ice. Try to clog the middle of the ice? Ovechkin will once again be lurking above the circle with nobody around him. It is a no-win game. The only way to truly stop them is to just stay out of the penalty box.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.