Paul Kariya announces retirement from NHL, blames head shots for shortened career

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Another NHL legend is calling it quits and this time it’s under more heartbreaking circumstances. Paul Kariya is retiring from the NHL after 15 seasons in the league and after a career filled with terrifying head shots that saw him miss plenty of games for it and all of last season thanks to the aftereffects of the damage from concussions.

Kariya finishes his NHL career as a point per game player, something that in itself is rare to find these days. Kariya played 989 games over 15 seasons and finished with 989 points and 402 goals over a career that saw him play for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues. A smaller player with speed to burn, Kariya was a dynamic goal scorer after coming out of the University of Maine. The skills he had were the stuff of legend and the kind of thing that saw him team up with Teemu Selanne in Anaheim to help lead the Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals.

Kariya issued a statement through his agent Don Baizley announcing his departure from the league:

“Today, I announce my retirement from professional hockey.  I would like to thank all of those who have been part of so many great memories – my teammates, coaches, team management and staff.  I am also very grateful for the support I have received over the years from the fans, especially those in Anaheim, Colorado, Nashville, and St. Louis.  It was my dream to be a professional hockey player in the NHL from my minor hockey days in North Vancouver and Burnaby, through junior hockey in Penticton, college hockey at the University of Maine, and the Canadian National Team.  I would not have achieved it without support from all of these people and organizations.”

Kariya’s career wasn’t all goal highlights however as he was also on the receiving end of some of the most disturbing body checks and cheap shots the league has seen. Kariya told The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek today that he was retiring from hockey and took aim on the numerous illegal head shots he took from the likes of Gary Suter, Scott Stevens, and Patrick Kaleta that helped put an end to what was an amazing career.

Kariya’s words were pointed and forceful and the brand of thing everyone in the NHL and NHLPA should start listening to if they plan to get serious about cutting back on concussions and punishing players who target the head.

“If you want to get rid of it, I’m a believer that you don’t go after the employees, you go after the employers,” said Kariya. “The first concussion I had, on a brutal, blindside hit, the guy got a two-game suspension. That was in 1996. The last one, from (the Buffalo Sabres’ Patrick) Kaleta, was exactly the same play, and he doesn’t get anything.

“If you start at 10-game suspensions and go to 20, that sends a message to the players. But if you start fining the owners and suspending the coach, then it’s out of the game.”

Kariya went on to say that every hit that ever knocked him out came as a result of an illegal hit.

“Every single one,” he reiterated. “I’m not saying you’re going to ever eliminate concussions completely because it’s a contact sport, but if you get those out of the game, then you eliminate a big part of the problem.

“A two-game suspension? That’s not enough of a deterrent.”

The kinds of punishment that Kariya is suggesting to employ are the sorts of ideas that have been kicked around from people on the Internet both connected directly to the game and those who are just fans. Severe suspensions as well as fining teams for actions that happen on the ice are the kinds of things Mario Lemieux spoke of when trying to curtail thuggish behavior and continued suspensions.

Kariya calling it quits also makes us wonder how other players who have had serious concussion problems are going to handle their careers going forward. Players like Kurt Sauer, Peter Mueller, and Marc Savard have all had major complications with concussions and their effects on them even months and years after suffering the injury. If the NHL and NHLPA weren’t already worried about how they look when it comes to looking the other way on these injuries, they’ve now got a big time face to put on the issue in Kariya.

It’s sad to see any favorite player retire from the league, but in Kariya’s case it breaks your heart to see it because it was essentially taken from him thanks to the actions of those around him. Fans will debate which hits were clean or dirty, but the fact remains that players are suffering at the hands of other players and the inability of the league and player’s association to get things figured out to change things for the better.

Zach Hyman suspended two games for hit on Charlie McAvoy

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman was suspended for two games thanks to his late hit on Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins.

Hyman received a major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, which was considered interference. He also fought with Matt Grzelcyk following that check on McAvoy. It’s plausible that Hyman lost his cool as the Maple Leafs were on their way to a 6-3 loss to the Bruins on Saturday.

The league notes that the check came well after McAvoy released the puck, describing Hyman’s infraction as a “late, forceful, high hit.” The “predatory nature” of the hit also factored into Hyman being suspended.

Here’s video of the hit, along with the NHL Department of Player Safety’s explanation for the suspension:

 

Flyers’ Robert Hagg ejected for checking Kyle Connor from behind

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The Philadelphia Flyers did not have a very pleasant start to their Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg.

Already trailing 5-1 late in the second period, defenseman Robert Hagg was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking Jets forward Kyle Connor from behind into the boards.

Here is a look at the play.

Connor went straight to the Jets’ locker room for the remainder of the second period but was back on the bench for the start of the third period.

That play resulted in a little scrum after the fact that also saw Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien get a two-minute minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.

Given that Hagg was ejected from the game you can be sure the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will take an extra look at it. We will likely find out later on Sunday or Monday if it is worthy of any additional discipline.

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’ Zach Hyman to have hearing for late hit on Bruins’ McAvoy

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Given all of the late hits that have happened around the NHL over the past couple of weeks that did not result in a disciplinary hearing, it was easy to think Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman was going to avoid any supplemental discipline for his hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy on Saturday night.

But this one may have been too late to ignore.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday that Hyman will have a disciplinary hearing for interference.

Hyman was ejected from the game for the hit, while McAvoy, who just recently returned to the lineup, was injured as a result.

You can see the play in the video above.

[Related: Maple Leafs’ Hyman ejected for late hit on Bruins Charlie McAvoy]

There have been a number of controversial, late hits around the NHL in recent weeks from Ryan Reaveshit on Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson (that left Wilson concussed and still sidelined), to Tom Wilson’s hit on New Jersey Devils forward Brett Seney, to this hit by Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie on Pittsburgh Penguins defender Jusso Riikkola.

All were clearly late hits that were initiated long after their opponents had moved the puck.

While Reaves and Wilson were ejected for their hits, they did not rise to the level of supplemental discipline because they did not target the head or result in significant head contact. That is usually the line the NHL draws for late hits unless it is an egregiously late hit. This one did not appear to contact the head, but it was definitely late and sent McAvoy dangerously into the boards.

None of these hits are acceptable or examples of good clean hockey. They are not even examples of a player “finishing their check.” They are reckless hits on players that are not eligible to be hit, and in some cases are resulting in injuries. If those types of hits continue the NHL will have to start doing more than just ejecting and penalizing the players that distribute them.

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.

Devan Dubnyk mired in worst slump since joining Wild

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When he joined the Minnesota Wild during the 2014-15 season Devan Dubnyk helped turn around what was quickly becoming a lost season. At the time of his acquisition the Wild were going through a brutal six-game losing streak, were under .500 for the season, and pretty much everyone around the NHL was waiting for then-coach Mike Yeo to take the fall for the struggles.

Instead of firing the coach, the Wild attempted to address what was at the time their single biggest issue — goaltending.

So they sent a draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dubnyk, and in his first start with the team stopped all 18 shots he faced in a shutout win over the Buffalo Sabres.

From that point on the Wild were fine for the remainder of the season.

Dubnyk more than solidified the goaltending position, recorded a .936 save percentage in his 39 starts after the trade, finished in the top-five in Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy voting, and even won the Masterton Trophy.

In the three full seasons that followed he has been one of the most consistent and durable goalies in the league. He played at least 60 games each season, he never had a save percentage lower than .918, while his overall mark of .920 was sixth best in the league. His even-strength number of .929 was fourth best in the league.

He has been, by pretty much every objective measurement, one of the best goalies in the league.

That is what makes his current struggles for a suddenly-slumping Wild team so surprising.

After getting benched early in Minnesota’s blowout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night (he gave up three goals on the first six shots he faced) his season save percentage is down to .907, while he is currently mired in the worst extended slump of his Minnesota tenure.

Following that game Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said it would be sitting there and lying to say he isn’t concerned about Dubnyk. He also added he was concerned about a lot of players on the team, but that his goalie is definitely one of them.

Just how bad has it been for Dubnyk lately?

In his past nine appearances he has managed only an .857 save percentage, a level of play that has been unheard of for Dubnyk in Minnesota. It is not only his worst nine-game stretch since joining the Wild, it is rare for him to have a stretch of play where his save percentage dips under .900.

If you break the past four seasons down to nine-game stretches he has only been under .900 over nine games just 10 percent of the time.

He has been under .910 just 20 percent of the time.

That performance has played a big role in the team’s recent struggles.

The question is how much of a concern this should really be for the Wild?

On one hand, his recent track record is what it is. He’s been outstanding for more than three full years with the Wild, and he was probably a lot better than he got credit for when he was getting crushed behind some abysmal Edmonton teams.

But he’s also 32 years old, and there are a lot of miles on those tires, especially since becoming the starter in Minnesota.

Since Jan. 14, 2015 (when he was acquired) Dubnyk’s 253 games played are 14 more than any other goalie in the league, while only four others have appeared in more than 230. He has played more than 800 more minutes than any other goalie in the league and is one of only three goalies to face more than 6,800 shots (Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist are the other two).

He’s faced 7,137.

That is a huge workload.

Given how good he’s been for so long it’s probably more than a little premature to suggest he is starting to break down. Especially when goalies are just like any other position in the league where players are prone to hot streaks and cold streaks. The NHL season isn’t about consistency for anyone; it’s about peaks and valleys where even the best players go through extended slumps. This is just one of the first times we have seen this extended level of play from Dubnyk in a few years.

But he is also not getting any younger and the Wild are still leaning on him pretty heavily.

If nothing else it is something to watch for the Wild as the season progresses because when he is at his best he is going to give them a chance every night. Lately, though, he hasn’t been at that level and it’s been one of the problems plaguing the Wild.

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.