NHL

NHL not tough enough with preseason suspensions

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When it comes to the court of public opinion the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is always going to be a no-win position.

Their job is a brutally difficult, thankless one that by its very nature is going to anger almost everyone watching the NHL. No player receiving a suspension is going to be happy about it, while their team and fans will usually think the punishment is too harsh. Meanwhile, the other side is always going to come away thinking the punishment wasn’t severe enough. Then there is always the neutral third parties in the middle that have no rooting interest with either team and will always be split with their opinions.

In short: It’s a job that a lot of people like me (and you!) enjoy yelling about. Sometimes we think they get it right; sometimes we think they get it wrong.

When it comes to Max Domi‘s suspension for the remainder of the preseason for “roughing” (the official wording from the league) Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the near universal consensus seems to be a gigantic shoulder-shrug and the understanding that this isn’t really a punishment.

[Related: NHL suspends Max Domi for remainder of preseason]

Sure, it goes in the books as a “five-game” suspension, because the Canadiens still have five games remaining in the preseason. And it will impact Domi in the future if he does something else to get suspended because it will be added to his history of disciplinary action that already includes a one-game suspension from the 2016-17 season for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game. This roughing incident, it is worth mentioning, also occurred while Domi was attempting to instigate a fight. Too soon to call that sort of action with him a trend, but it’s close.

The problem is that he isn’t losing anything of consequence as a result of the “punishment.”

He will not miss a single regular season game.

He will not forfeit a penny of his $3.15 million salary this season.

He basically gets to take the rest of the Canadiens’ preseason games off (and he would almost certainly sit at least one or maybe even two of them anyway, just because that is how the preseason works) and be rested for the start of the regular season on Oct. 3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The only possible defense (and that word should be used loosely) of the DoPS here is that because the Canadiens have five preseason games remaining, and because suspensions longer than five games require an in-person hearing as mandated by the CBA, the league would have had to handle this incident with an in-person hearing to take away regular season games. In the eyes of the CBA, a suspension for five preseason games counts the same as five games in the regular season.

The only logical response to that defense should be: So what? Then schedule an in-person hearing if that is what it takes and requires to sit a player that did something blatantly illegal (and dangerous) for games that matter. Players tend to waive their right to an in-person hearing, anyway.

When it comes to dealing with suspensions in the postseason the NHL seems to take into account the importance of those games and how impactful even one postseason game can be in a best-of-seven series. If we’re dealing in absolutes here the same logic is applied, because had Domi done that same thing in a regular season game he probably doesn’t sit five games for it.

In the history of the DoPS “punching an unsuspecting opponent” typically results in a fine or a one-game suspension, unless it is an exceedingly dirty punch or involves a player with an extensive track record of goon-ism. The only two that went longer were a four-game ban for John Scott for punching Tim Jackman, and a six-game ban for Zac Rinaldo a year ago for punching Colorado’s Samuel Girard. Both Scott and Rinaldo had more extensive and troubling track records for discipline than Domi currently does.

If you want to argue semantics and say that Domi was suspended for “roughing” the point remains the same, because only one roughing suspension over the past seven years went longer than one game, and none went longer than two.

So looking at strictly by the number of “games” he has to miss he did, technically speaking, get hit harder with a more severe punishment than previous players.

But at some point common sense has to prevail here and someone has to say, you know what … maybe this translation isn’t right and we have to do something more. Because, again,  and this can not be stated enough, he is not missing a meaningful game of consequence or losing a penny of salary for blatantly punching an unwilling combatant (one with a history of concussions) in the face, leaving him a bloody mess.

The point of handing out a suspension shouldn’t just be for the league or an opposing team to get its pound of flesh when a player does something wrong and champion the fact they had to miss “X” number of games.

It should be to help deter future incidents and aim for meaningful change for the betterment of player safety around the league. That is literally why it is called “the Department of Player Safety.” It is supposed to have the safety of the players in mind. And that was the original goal of the DoPS — to try and put a stop to blatant, targeted hits to the head that were ruining seasons and careers (and, ultimately, lives).

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No one with an ounce of common sense is looking at this and thinking that this suspension does anything close that. And the NHL has to know that, too. How so? Because when a player does something in a previous season or postseason that warrants a suspension that will carry over to the following season (as was the case with Raffi Torres in 2011-12, and then Brayden Schenn in 2015-16), that carryover suspension starts with the regular season games — not the preseason games.

This, of course, is not the first time the league has handed out what is, ultimately, a meaningless suspension that only covers meaningless games.

Last year there were two such suspensions, with Washington’s Tom Wilson earning a two preseason game suspension for boarding St. Louis’ Robert Thomas, which was followed by New York’s Andrew Desjardins getting a two preseason game ban for an illegal check to the head of Miles Wood the very next night.

(It should be pointed out that upon Wilson’s return to the lineup in the preseason he earned himself a four-game regular suspension for boarding).

During the 2016-17 Andrew Shaw (who like Domi was playing in his first game with the Canadiens following an offseason trade to add more grit, sandpaper, and energy) was sat down for three preseason games for boarding.

There were four other similar suspensions in 2013-14.

Since the formation of the DoPS at the start of the 2011-12 season, there have been 21 suspensions handed out for preseason incidents. Only 12 of those suspensions carried over to regular season games. Of those 12, eight of them occurred during the initial DoPS season when the league was far more aggressive in suspending players (there were nine preseason suspensions handed out that season alone).

That means that over the previous six years only four of the 11 incidents that rose to the level of supplemental discipline resulted in a player missing a game that mattered.

That can not, and should not, be acceptable.

So, yeah. Five games for Max Domi. Given the circumstances, it is not even close to being enough.

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.

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy lead Lightning clinic against Blue Jackets

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Here’s some homework: find a superlative that hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success this season.

Go ahead, we’ll wait…

The class of the NHL was dishing out harsh lessons once again on Monday night, putting on a clinic against the Columbus Blue Jackets — a good hockey team, by all accounts — who were completely muzzled by the NHL’s best team in a 5-1 loss on NBCSN.

No team sucks the soul out of an opponent quite like the Lightning. No goalie steals their will away like Andrei Vasilevskiy. No one demoralizes defenses like Nikita Kucherov.

Is it even in question anymore of who the Vezina will be handed to in June, or the Hart at this point, too?

In Kucherov’s case, you might as well give the Art Ross now, as well. He entered the game with 94 points in 59 games and exited with 99 in 60 after an incredible five-point night.

‘Kuch’ scored twice in the first period, both silky smooth goals, set up Steven Stamkos on the power play in the second period, and then provided both primary assists on Brayden Point‘s 46-second brace in to begin in third.

Vasilevskiy can barely be scored on these days after he made 39 saves in Tampa’s sixth straight win.

The 24-year-old ‘tender came within 1:45 of his third straight shutout. He showed no love for the Dallas Stars in a 32-save blanking on Valentine’s Day last Thursday and then put up a 20-save performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

The Russian once again looked calm and clinical in Monday’s win, much like he’s done all season.

The Blue Jackets came into the game on fire, winning five of their past six to move into third in the Metropolitan Division (tied with Pittsburgh). The Blue Jackets were 0-for-4 on the power play, including a dismal four-minute stretch in the third after Kucherov clipped Seth Jones in the face with a high stick.

Both teams play again on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, while winning isn’t a concern after Tampa took it’s 45th ‘W’ of the season on Monday, what will be of some concern heading forward for the Lightning is the status of Victor Hedman, who didn’t emerge for the second period and was ruled out by the team with a lower-body injury.

Jon Cooper told NBC’s Pierre McGuire during the telecast that he didn’t think Hedman’s knock was a serious one. Time will tell on that, however.

Speaking of McGuire… he came within inches of getting drilled by an errant puck during the game. What an incredible angle.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Bruins visit Sharks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The battle of two of the NHL’s hottest clubs will take center stage in California on Monday night.

The Boston Bruins, winners of five straight (and points in 10 straight at 7-0-3) will look to make it a season-high six against a San Jose Sharks team that’s won seven of their past eight contests (7-1-0).

A large part of the Bruins’ current run has been the play of Brad Marchand, who 13 points n his past seven games, including four goals in his past five. Marchand got off to a “slow” start with 24 points in his first 28 games of the 2018-19 season. In the 30 he’s played since he’s amassed 16 goals and 46 points to sit with 70 with a lot of hockey still to be played.

The impressive bit in Boston’s streak is they’ve been doing it without David Pastrnak, who’s out after having surgery on his left thumb. Even without his team-leading 31 goals, the Bruins have scored 13 times in their past three games.

Suppressing scoring is what the Sharks have done over their past six wins, allowing exactly two goals in each of those games. They’ve been buoyed by at least five goals in three of their past five games.

The Bruins will have to contend with defenseman Erik Karlsson, who return to the lineup Saturday after missing nine games with a groin injury. Karlsson has been on fire with 28 points in his past 19 games.

Up front, Joe Pavelski continues to scores with five goals in his past eight games and 31 on the season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Monday, Feb. 18, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS

Brad Marchand – Patrice BergeronDanton Heinen
Karson Kuhlman – David KrejciJake DeBrusk
Joakim Nordstrom – Trent Frederic – David Backe
Sean KuralyNoel AcciariChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

SHARKS

Timo MeierLogan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Lukas RadilBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Erik Karlsson
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Randy Hahn (play-by-play) and Bret Hedican (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning face off against Blue Jackets on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have won five straight games and have done so in dominant fashion. They’ve scored five-plus goals in four of the five wins, and have posted back-to-back shutouts, last allowing a goal in their 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Feb. 12. Tampa is 7-0-2 in the month of February (last regulation loss – Jan. 30 – lost 4-2 at PIT).

With 92 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are 15 points ahead of the Flames and San Jose Sharks (77 points) for most in the league. They’ve been in first place in the NHL since Nov. 29 and are looking to capture the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. They are currently on pace to win 61 games this season, which would be one shy of the NHL record (set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 – 62 wins).

Columbus beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on the road on Saturday, their fifth win in the last six games (5-1-0 record). This stretch of winning follows a five-game losing streak from Jan. 18 – Feb. 2 (all in regulation). Sergei Bobrovsky has led the way, starting all six games (5-1-0 record) with .924 SV% and 2.17 GAA.

Artemi Panarin, who leads Columbus with 67 points, scored tiwce goals in Saturday’s win against the Blackhawks. He now has four goals in the last four games and has recorded 22 pts (11G-11A) in his last 15 games.

While Panarin leads Columbus in points, it’s Cam Atkinson that leads the team with 32 goals, his second career season with 30-plus goals. He’s got 12 points (eight goals) in his last 13 games, including three goals in the last four games, and is averaging a point per game this season (32G-23A; 55 points in 55 games this season).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets
Where: Nationwide Arena
When: Monday, Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Blue Jackets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosTyler Johnson
Yanni GourdeBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliJ.T. Miller
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteMathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi Panarin – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cam Atkinson
Nick FolignoBoone JennerJosh Anderson
Eric Robinson – Alexander WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Kole Sherwood – Riley NashLukas Sedlak

Ryan MurraySeth Jones
Zach WerenskiDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonMarkus Nutivaara

Starting goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Anson Carter.

Winning with Binnington: Blues goalie making most of chance

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Jordan Binnington doesn’t let much get to him.

When junior goaltending coach Greg Redquest put him through the paces of a post-practice skate, he came away seeing the same chill Binnington.

”He doesn’t sweat,” Redquest said. ”He’s just too cool.”

Binnington is playing cool and has made the St. Louis Blues the hottest team in the NHL. After finally getting his call-up from the minors at age 25, Binnington is 12-1-1 with four shutouts in his first 14 starts and the Blues have won 10 in a row to go from out of the race to firmly in a playoff position.

When Binnington made his first start Jan. 7, St. Louis sat dead last in the Western Conference, nine points back of a playoff spot. The Blues turned to him to make a difference. No pressure, kid.

”With a little bit of pressure comes opportunity, right?” Binnington said. ”You try to do your best to feel confident and prepared for the moment, so you just work hard off the ice and on the ice in practice, and when the moment finally comes, hopefully you’re prepared. That’s kind of how I looked at it.”

It has been a near-perfect look. Binnington has stopped 356 of 380 shots for a 1.58 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He’s the first goalie since Curtis Sanford in 2005-06 with multiple 30-save shutouts.

That kind of play is just what the Blues needed to crawl out of a hole dug before Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as coach.

”He’s played really well,” Berube said. ”He’s stopped the ones he’s supposed to stop, and he’s looked really confident in net, and aggressive.”

A lack of confidence has never been the problem. Redquest, who coached Binnington for four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, said the goalie’s technique has always been on point, with the need for just a few tweaks here and there.

The mental part of the game was a work in progress. Redquest, who still works with Binnington in the summer, said if a bad goal gets in, sometimes he’d just ask about what Binnington did the previous night to get his mind off it and back on track.

Binnington hasn’t allowed many goals, but he has shown an uncanny ability to shake them off, not allowing more than four in a game so far.

”If the puck goes in, it doesn’t bother him,” Redquest said by phone Monday ”(Blues veteran goalie) Jake Allen, he plays a little bit deeper in the goal than Jordan. Jordan comes out and challenges a bit more and everything hits him, and it’s just hitting him. And he’s so patient. He won’t overplay anything.”

So what took so long for Binnington to get this chance? Mostly a numbers game, with the Blues committed long term to Allen and rotating Brian Elliott, Carter Hutton and Chad Johnson into the crease in recent years.

Binnington bided his time in the American Hockey League, competing and building a friendship with Pheonix Copley along the way. The two came to blows in a game last year but are now both in the NHL.

”I think we both understood that having that competition is healthy and it pushed us both to be better goalies and learn from each other,” said Copley, who is the Washington Capitals’ backup. ”We had a really beneficial relationship for both of us.”

Binnington earned AHL All-Star honors last year and had three shutouts in his first 16 games this season under head coach Drew Bannister and assistant Daniel Tkaczuk, whom he knew from juniors. Bannister noticed a more confident and mature goalie than the one he knew from several years earlier when it came to brushing off adversity.

”Jordan himself off the ice has had to adjust himself, too, and not kind of let things bother him,” Bannister said. ”In the past, Jordan, that was probably part of his game where he let things bother him and it worked into his game. I think you see a goalie that believes in himself and obviously his teammates believe in him.”

His AHL teammates believed in him, and when Johnson didn’t work out and was put on waivers, Binnington got the opportunity he had been waiting for and fit right in with the Blues.

”That’s where your surroundings come in,” Binnington said. ”There’s good people around you that can keep you going in the right direction and believe in yourself. If the opportunity came, you want to be prepared for it, so that’s kind of what my mindset was. Thankfully, it came.”

The Blues are thankful, too. They’ve played better in front of their goalies since Berube took over, but Binnington making so many expected and unexpected saves has changed the course of St. Louis’ season.

”Obviously he’s playing outstanding,” center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”With Binner coming in with the way he’s been playing, I think it’s a spark. I think he’s coming in excited and playing with great energy. It provides a spark, for sure.”

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