Sean Avery accuses Wayne Simmonds of making homophobic remarks during preseason game

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People who follow the New York Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers’ rivalry should be accustomed to games getting very contentious. That being said, tonight’s preseason match featured more than just bad blood.

There were two incidents that will leave many shaking their heads, but the headline-grabber involved Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds is being accused of making some off-color remarks to Sean Avery less than a week after he dealt with a disgusting display of racism from at least one fan in London, Ontario. Simmonds didn’t really deny making the comments, although he didn’t confirm them either.

Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert pointed to a video that indicates that Simmonds made a homophobic comment to Avery. Various sources report that Avery confirmed those rumors, while Simmonds vaguely said that “language was exchanged.” Simmonds said he didn’t recall the specific words he said, a response that left many rolling their eyes.

Here are some quotes from both sides. (For a full video of Simmonds’ comments, click here.)

“To be here now having to answer the questions about what he did is disappointing for me. I’m disappointed for him,” Avery said.

(snip)

“Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while there,” Simmonds said. “I don’t recall everything that I did say to him but he said to me some things I didn’t like and maybe I said some things that he didn’t like. I can’t recall every single word I said.”

The incident gains relevance because it was Simmonds and Avery

It’s naive to assume that these types of comments are uncommon in sports, as sad as that might be. This case is more noteworthy because of the two parties involved, though. Some might lose some respect for Simmonds after tonight, especially after what happened last week. (That seems unfair since Simmonds didn’t make a big deal about the awful banana-throwing incident, but that won’t change the way some feel about this situation.)

Avery is also a notable recipient of that comment for two reasons.

1. Avery has been outspoken regarding the topic of gay rights, although it’s hard to imagine that Simmonds allegedly made those remarks for that reason.

2. On the flip side of the coin, Avery has been accused of troublesome comments of his own in the past. Georges Laraque claimed that Avery called him a “monkey,” although the Rangers pest denied that accusation.

Again, these kinds of comments might be commonplace in trash-talking, but that doesn’t make the situation acceptable. The bottom line is that both scenarios are extremely disappointing.

There’s some talk regarding whether or not NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan should take action. Some fans might insist that the league shouldn’t intervene in trash-talking situations, but Avery’s six-game suspension in 2008 is just one example of the NHL sidelining a player for a remark or gesture rather than an ugly hit. It’s tough to speculate about what might happen here – if anything at all – but there is some precedent to players being suspended for words or gestures rather than actions.

A more straightforward issue

Speaking of handing out suspensions, the Rangers-Flyers game might provide Shanahan with something a little less nebulous to deal with. As you can see from this video, Tom Sestito caught Andre Deveaux with a check from behind. In a twist that might seem fitting to some and stomach-churning to others, Sestito essentially replaced Jody Shelley, a depth player who received a hefty suspension for a check from behind. Sestito seemed worried about a possible similar punishment, while Rangers head coach John Tortorella said that the hit was even worse than the one Shelley delivered.

Jagr shines in an ugly game

The game was flat-out ugly through the first two periods, with the Rangers tallying 38 PIM and the Flyers ending up with 39. That’s not to say that there weren’t moments of beauty, though, as Jaromir Jagr made his home preseason debut a tantalizing one by scoring two goals and one assist in a 5-3 win.

Chances are, that nice output will be forgotten long before the Simmonds-Avery incident, though.

Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late head coach

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Ten members of the Humboldt Broncos reunited on Wednesday night during the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. The survivors of the April 6 bus crash that killed 16 players and staff were on stage to help give out the first Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to their late head coach Darcy Haugan.

The award, presented “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society,” was voted on by the public after fans submitted candidates, and the field was then narrowed down to three finalists.

From the NHL:

Haugan left a lasting impact in Humboldt, Sask., as well as every other community that was fortunate enough to have him as a resident or involved in junior hockey. He changed the lives of many of his players, always being there for each one of them and never hesitating to give them a second chance. He fought for his team and had their backs – he was the coach and mentor everybody wanted. Haugan believed strongly that the game is not about making hockey players; it is about making amazing human beings. He did just that, building up young leaders who also developed strong hockey skills along the way. His presence would fill the room and his love for the game was undeniable. Haugan died doing what he loved, surrounded by the young people he dedicated his life to. Haugan left behind, in all of those he touched, his spirit and passion for the game, his love for his beautiful family, and his example of dedication to his community.

Haugan’s wife, Christina, accepted the award in his honor.

The other finalists were Debbie Bland of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League and Neal Henderson of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club.

The NHL Foundation is donating $10,000 in Haugan’s memory to the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association, a charity important to the coach.

On Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson will bring the Stanley Cup to Humboldt on Aug. 24 that will involve a skills competition at the Broncos’ home rink.

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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.

Hall (barely) beats MacKinnon for first Hart Trophy

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Being that Art Ross and Ted Lindsay winner Connor McDavid wasn’t even a finalist, it’s clear that being indispensable to your team factored heavily into the 2017-18 Hart Trophy voting.

With those unspoken parameters in mind, it makes sense that the MVP race ended up being so close between runner-up Nathan MacKinnon and winner Taylor Hall. Anze Kopitar ranked a distant third, but he could take comfort in being a finalist and also taking home his second Selke.

Sometimes you need to dig deep into “With or Without You” stats to realize how much a player stands above his teammates. You merely need to glance at the gap between Hall’s scoring (93 points, sixth-best in the NHL) and the next highest-ranked Devil (Nico Hischer with 52). Hall clearly dragged the Devils to an unlikely playoff berth, scoring that many points in just 76 games.

Nathan MacKinnon, meanwhile, finished with 97 points in 74 contests, yet he enjoyed a bit more help as Colorado’s top line was rounded out by fantastic wingers in Mikko Rantanen (84 points) and Gabriel Landeskog (62).

Now, the trickier part is figuring out if McDavid deserved to either win it or at least be a finalist. Ultimately, the PHWA viewed Hall as the “player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team,” no doubt weighing a playoff appearance in their decision:

As you might expect, the deeper voting is quite interesting. Kopitar narrowly edged Claude Giroux for third place, while there’s an interesting list of players who managed a single vote: Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Victor Hedman, and Eric Staal. Drew Doughty got a fourth place vote while Hedman receive one fifth, yet Hedman ended up the Norris winner.

During certain seasons, the Hart Trophy is an easy call. This was one of the tougher years to truly pinpoint a top season, but the beauty for hockey fans was because there were so many great choices.

However you feel about who should have been the actual winner, Taylor Hall generated an absolutely brilliant season.

For a player who was traded for flawed reasons and blamed far too often for his teams’ failings, it must be awfully sweet to receive such high recognition. It can’t hurt that this award came after his first-ever postseason appearance, either.

Naturally, Hall has his eyes on the sort of celebration that Alex Ovechkin is enjoying right now, but Hall’s 2017-18 season was “a long time coming” in its own right.

And, yes, the Oilers must weep at the thought that they voluntarily gave up an opportunity to deploy the 2018 Hart winner (Hall) and the 2018 Art Ross winner (McDavid) on the same team.

GM of the Year George McPhee adds another award for Golden Knights

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George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights continued a big night for the franchise as he was named 2017-18 General Manager of the Year during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. Earlier, Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award for top coach, William Karlsson was named winner of the Lady Byng and captain Deryk Engelland took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

The NHL’s 31 GMs and a panel of League executives, print and broadcast media voted on the award following the conclusion of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Using the NHL’s expansion draft rules to his advantage, McPhee made shrewd deals to add draft picks and impact players while creating the franchise’s first-ever roster. Success came right off the bat and the Golden Knights ended their inaugural season by becoming the first modern-era expansion team from the four major North American professional sports league to win its division. By advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, Vegas became the third team in NHL history to win multiple playoff rounds in their first season.

McPhee was presented with the award by actress Lynda Carter and Nicklas Backstrom, the player he drafted in fourth overall 2006 while GM of the Washington Capitals.

Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning were the other finalists this year.

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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.

Pekka Rinne finally wins first Vezina

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After being a finalist three other times and serving as the Nashville Predators’ top goalie since 2008-09, Pekka Rinne finally won his first Vezina Trophy.

Rinne delivered an outstanding season, going 42-13-4 with a 2.31 GAA, a sparkling .927 save percentage, and eight shutouts. During his previous Vezina finalist finishes, Rinne finished second (in 2010-11 and 2014-15) and third (in 2011-12).

For much of this past season, Andrei Vasilevskiy seemed to be the frontrunner for the Vezina, and he finished with strong numbers. Still, a sputtering finish allowed Rinne to pass him by.

It seemed like the Vezina voting essentially came down to Rinne, Vasilevskiy, and “everyone else.” Connor Hellebuyck ended up emerging as the third finalist, edging plenty of quality choices among the rest of the pack.

Actually, as you can see from the voting, Vasilevskiy didn’t even finish second. This might be a good time to note that NHL GMs vote for the award instead of players or the PHWA.

As you can see, 10 goalies received at least a third-place vote. Vasilevskiy didn’t get a single first-place one, while non-finalists Frederik Andersen and Marc-Andre Fleury grabbed one No. 1 nod apiece. Interesting stuff.

Much like Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist, Rinne is a goalie who managed to win a Vezina despite an inauspicious start to his career. Rinne was selected in the now-non-existent eighth round (258th overall) in 2004 and now owns a Stanley Cup Final appearance, 311 wins, and a Vezina. Not too shabby.