Deaths of Boogaard, Rypien prompt NHL to examine its support programs

The hockey world was shaken by Monday’s news of Rick Rypien’s death at age 27, which came about two months after Derek Boogaard’s untimely death at 28. Many reacted to Rypien’s death with great sadness, from teammates to fans and even former opponents. Yet there was also sizable contingent of people looking for someone beyond Rypien to blame, with several onlookers casting that gaze at the way the NHL handles players dealing with personal issues.

I believe that it is unfair to cast blame on the league and its teams, especially since the deaths of Rypien and Boogaard were both such personal and complicated matters. Sadly, that’s the way society often reacts to tragedies that are difficult to accept: by finding the easiest target to blame.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to claim that the league’s support program ranks among the best in sports, he admitted that the league and its players association will examine its substance abuse and behavioral health program after those two sad, high-profile deaths.

“My guess is we’ll talk at the appropriate time with the players’ association, making sure that we’re comfortable with all of the mechanisms and programs we have in place, which are extensive,” Bettman told The Canadian Press at the league’s research and development camp on Wednesday. “I don’t think any sports league does more than we do but maybe there’s more, as we focus on it, that we need to focus on. I know it’s always hard for people to accept, but sports is a microcosm of society in general.

“And life isn’t always easy.”

Union executive and former NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider echoed Bettman’s sentiments.

While referring to the NHL-NHLPA support program as “very strong,” union executive Mathieu Schneider indicated that he shares Bettman’s desire to look closely at ways it might be improved.

“I think there certainly has to be some work done in addressing issues,” said Schneider, the NHLPA’s special adviser to executive director Don Fehr. “If anything could have been done that would have helped those players, if anything can be done to help future players, we certainly need to do it.”

The Canadian Press article states that the league and NHLPA try to limit the amount of details revealed about the program to protect those who undergo treatment, but Schneider said that players are aware of the services made available. Those services include access to counselors and a 24-hour help line.

Both Boogaard and Rypien tried to get help. One of the saddest details about Boogaard’s death was that it reportedly came the day after he left treatment. Rypien took a leave of absence on two occasions – most recently in November 2010 – to try to deal with his personal issues.

To some, that might be proof that the system isn’t working, but it’s also clear that attempts were made to help both players work out their issues. Let’s not forget that the program seemed to benefit Nashville Predators forward Jordin Tootoo, although anyone familiar with these situations will acknowledge that battling personal demons is often a gradual process with ups and downs.

One thing Schneider brought up is a crucial factor for anyone dealing with depression and other issues: communication. That’s an area that Schneider believes players could work on.

“Maybe it would have been better had Rick been able to lean on some teammates and guys there for support,” said Schneider. “But those type of things have always been kind of taboo. You just don’t talk about it.”

Again, these are complicated situations that don’t always have obvious resolutions. That being said, it’s good to hear that the league and its players association will discuss ways to improve the process. It would be wrong to say that the NHL doesn’t care about helping its players, but there’s always room for improvement.

The Buzzer: Connor McDavid does not miss a beat in return

Connor McDavid shines in return The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights

What matters more: a hat trick, or a two-goal, two-assist night? Maybe the tiebreaker can be who ends up the winner.

I’m going with that, and thus handing Sunday’s top star to Karlsson. “Wild Bill” broke a 20-game goal drought with the third hat trick of his NHL career. The Ducks almost ended up spoiling his big night (more on that here, and in a moment), but Vegas held strong. Now the Golden Knights are on a six-game winning streak.

For all we know, a Karlsson hot streak could be the difference between Vegas winning the Pacific Division or not.

2. Adam Henrique and Nick RitchieAnaheim Ducks

Both Henrique and Ritchie authored those two-goal, two-assist nights discussed in the first star section.

Henrique provided the greatest dramatics, as his two goals unexpectedly sent Sunday’s Golden Knights – Ducks game to OT.

Henrique now has 23 goals and 37 points in 62 games this season. It would be tempting to call the 30-year-old a possible trade deadline target, but his $5.825M AAV extends to 2023-24, so I’m not sure teams really want to take that type of risk.

3. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers managed remarkably well without number 97, but it must have been exhilarating to get him back. Perhaps it even gave Oilers GM Ken Holland the extra push to trade for Mike Green later on Sunday?

Either way, it was a promising return by McDavid. The all-world player scored a goal and two assists, pushing his 2019-20 totals to 31 goals and 84 points in just 56 games. It’s pretty staggering that players are skilled enough to generate such numbers in a very clamped-down NHL (even if games are slightly higher scoring lately).

Anders Lee (2G, 1A), Jordan Binnington (32 out of 33 saves) and Anton Khudobin (31 out of 32) rank as other players worthy of honorable mentions. When in doubt, go with McDavid, especially during a return from injury.

Highlight of the Night (yes, from a great return by Connor McDavid)

Is it wrong to describe this as “vintage McDavid?” McDavid celebrated his return with a triumphant, very “McDavid” goal:

Factoids

  • The Blues have only allowed two goals total over the last four games, all wins. That’s only the eighth time they’ve managed to allow two or fewer over a four-game span during their history. Remarkably, they last pulled off the feat in February 2019. (NHL PR)
  • Speaking of the Blues, they will face the Wild in the 2021 Winter Classic.
  • If Calgary makes it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, chalk it up to being scrappy. They’re an NHL-best 14-4-1 on the road since Nov. 23. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • The Canadiens traded Ilya Kovalchuk to the Capitals, while the Oilers snagged Mike Green from the Red Wings. Zach Bogosian signed with the Lightning.
  • For better or worse, the Stars continue to play with a small margin for error. They’re tied with the Blue Jackets for the most wins in one-goal games this season with 18. (NHL PR)
  • Sabres goalie Jonas Johansson earned his first NHL win. (Sabres)

Scores

WSH 5 – PIT 3
BUF 2 – WIN 1
DAL 2 – CHI 1
NYI 4 – SJS 1
CGY 4 – DET 2
STL 4 – MIN 1
VGK 6 – ANA 5 (OT)
EDM 4 – LAK 2

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.

Golden Knights salvage OT win after stunning Ducks comeback

Golden Knights hold off Ducks to win in OT
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The Ducks saved a wild comeback worthy of William Karlsson (aka “Wild Bill”), but the Golden Knights ultimately salvaged a 6-5 OT win.

Golden Knights stay hot by squeaking by in OT

Karlsson admitted it as much: Vegas started to run out of gas. After all, the Golden Knights completed a stretch of three games in four nights.

After going 20 games without a goal, Karlsson exploded for his third career hat trick. Shea Theodore‘s overtime-winner pushed the Golden Knights’ winning streak to an impressive six games.

Vegas: 76 points in 64 games played (34-22-8)
Edmonton: 73 in 62 (33-22-7)
Vancouver: 72 in 61 (33-22-6)

As you can see, the Oilers and Canucks rank as big threats to that Pacific crown with games in hand. That only cements the thought that this would have hurt very, very badly if the Ducks rampaged back for a win.

Adam Henrique nearly rallied that victory. He scored the Ducks’ two last goals to send the contest to OT, and also generated two assists for a four-point night. Nick Ritchie also factored heavily into the proceedings with two goals and two assists of his own.

Anaheim is in sell mode, and at a crossroads. But could this once-proud franchise serve as a pesky upset threat down the stretch?

Also, one wonders if Peter DeBoer felt a sense of deja vu. The Golden Knights were collapsing late against a California team, only this time he was behind Vegas’ bench, and his team was facing the Ducks. Oh yeah, and the Golden Knights were the overtime winners this time around.

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.

Trade: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Oilers trade for Mike Green Red Wings
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Nostalgia seems to be in the air during NHL trade deadline eve. After Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to Washington, the Detroit Red Wings sent defenseman Mike Green to the Edmonton Oilers in a trade on Sunday.

To the Oilers: Mike Green

To the Red Wings: “A conditional pick in 2020 or 2021” plus Kyle Brodziak. Red Wings retain 50 percent of Green’s $5.375M salary.

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reports the salary retention, and also the conditions of that pick:

Assessing the Mike Green trade for both teams

Overall, this seems like a no-brainer for the Red Wings. They need to stockpile picks, so getting a fourth that could become a third — especially in 2020 — is pretty nifty. That’s especially true because, frankly, Green’s perceived value has never been lower.

So far in 2019-20, the 34-year-old only has three goals and 11 points in 48 games.

That’s a far cry from his days as a near-Norris-winning high-scorer. If the knocks on Green’s game were unfair back then, they feel more accurate now. Consider, for instance, his poor showings by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM Charts:

Mike Green RAPM chart trade to EDM

He’s very limited overall, but as a specialist who can potentially boost the Oilers’ offense? That makes him more interesting. There’s no denying that Ken Holland approves of Green’s game, being that he was his GM in Detroit and now Edmonton.

What do you make of the Oilers’ decision to trade for Mike Green? Was the price right or a little too rich? Again, I think Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman did very nicely with this one.

The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis is very much plugged into what the Oilers need, and he provided pretty effusive praise. At worst, it’s not much of an investment for Edmonton, although I’d still argue it’s solid work by Detroit.

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.

Blues keep heating up, cruise against Wild

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After a troubling lull early in 2020, the Blues are heating up again. St. Louis soundly defeated the Wild 4-1 on Sunday, pushing the Blues’ winning streak to four games.

Top Central Division teams pushing Blues

Again, the Blues have been heating up — and they haven’t been given much of a choice. At least, if they want to win the Central. The idle Avs are on a nice roll, while the Stars won their Sunday game.

Blues: 82 points in 63 games played (36-17-10)
Avalanche: 79 points in 61 GP (36-18-7)
Stars: 78 points in 62 GP (36-20-6)

Considering Colorado’s games in hand, it looks like the Central race could end up being close. Managing at least one round of home-ice advantage might come down to grinding out wins like the one the Blues managed on Sunday.

As much as Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington credit the play in front of them, goaltending’s been a considerable factor in the Blues’ success. Marcus Foligno ended Binnington’s shutout streak at 142:51, but the larger point remains that it’s tough to score vs. St. Louis.

Wild get an extra push to sell at trade deadline?

The Wild built a modicum of confidence by winning two games in a row before this one.

Minnesota seemed to put forth a pretty good effort, at least early on. Sunday stands as another game where they may shake their heads at missed opportunities. Minnesota’s man advantage went 0-for-4, and also allowed a shorthanded goal that took any steam out of a comeback bid.

The Wild ended Sunday outside of the West’s top eight with 65 points in 61 games played. While this loss doesn’t condemn them outright, you have to wonder if GM Bill Guerin might be a little bit more willing to sell off another piece or two.

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.