Hitchcock not happy with ‘tug of war’ hockey being played vs. McDavid

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Things have been going great for the Edmonton Oilers ever since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench, with their 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night being just their fifth loss, and only the third in regulation, in 14 games under their new coach. That run has propelled them back into a playoff position in the Western Conference for the time being and is at least giving fans some hope another year of Connor McDavid‘s prime will not be wasted.

Still, Sunday’s loss was one that did not seem to sit well with the Oilers’ coach because of the way McDavid was defended by the Canucks. Specifically, he did not like the “tug of war” brand of hockey the Canucks were using on the league’s most dominant offensive player behind the play without any calls going in their favor.

For the game, the Oilers were shorthanded five times to just one power play (though, in fairness, two of the Oilers’ penalties were delay of game penalties while a third was a too many men on the ice call).

After the game Hitchcock was asked about the penalty differential.

“I’m not going to comment on the penalties,” said Hitchcock. “The stuff that really bothers is what’s happening to Connor. That really bothers me. Because we’re a league that’s supposed to showcase our top players. You don’t want to give them all the freedom, but the tug-of-war on him was absolutely ridiculous today. That’s a little a bit discouraging to be honest with you. I can see the whacking and hacking when he has the puck, it’s all the stuff behind that doesn’t allow him to showcase his speed and if that’s what we want, then that’s fine. I think it’s a real disservice to a player like him.”

In response to a follow-up question he said McDavid is “not allowed to play give and go … it’s give and hold.”

Let’s start with the fact that Hitchcock is one million percent right about everything he said there. It is a disservice to players like Connor McDavid to have to fight through that, and it is a disservice to the game and the league, and it should not be what anyone wants to see.

Every other league looks for ways to make it so its star players can shine and show off their skill, while the NHL seems to be just fine with its superstars having to fight through chaos that should, according to the letter of the law, be penalties.

Wayne Gretzky had to deal with it. Mario Lemieux had to deal with it. Sidney Crosby had (and still has to) deal with it. McDavid has to deal with it. It stinks.

What is amazing about all of this coming from, of all people, Ken Hitchcock, is that he saw most of his greatest successes as an NHL head coach come during an era when that brand of tug-of-war hockey was a mainstay across the league, with his teams (specifically the ones in Dallas) being one of the leading culprits in defending other team’s star players in such a way.

The dead puck era, the clutch and grab era, whatever name you want to call it, Hitchcock benefitted the most from it and he made no apologies for it, and quite honestly, he shouldn’t have. If that is the way the league was going to call it, more power to him for taking advantage of it.

Maybe his strategy has changed over the years (though, he has talked in the past about wanting to create more flow in the game).

Or maybe finally having a generational talent on his team and seeing first hand what they have to fight through has opened his eyes to how frustrating that style of hockey is, especially when the league is more than happy to let it go.

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.

 

Bruins sign Zdeno Chara to one-year extension

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Zdeno Chara will be back for a 22nd season in the NHL in 2019-20.

The Boston Bruins announced on Saturday morning that they have signed the 42-year-old defender to a one-year contract extension that will pay him $2 million in base salary, and another $1.75 million in performance-based bonuses.

Chara has appeared in 55 games this season, recording four goals and seven assists for a Bruins team that has been one of the NHL’s best.

When he returns next season he is going to join a small list of defenders to skate in the NHL beyond their age 42 season. It is a list that includes only Chris Chelios (who played until he was 48), Doug Harvey, Tim Horton, Lester Patrick, and Allan Stanley.

He has spent the past 13 seasons of his career with the Bruins where he has been a consistent rock on their blue line. Obviously at this point in his career he is not the same dominant player that he once was, but he has still been a solid performer that has played more than 20 minutes per night on the team’s top-pairing next to Charlie McAvoy. When that duo has been together this season the Bruins have controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, via Natural Stat Trick. They have been together for most of the past two seasons when both are healthy and have been an outstanding pairing for the Bruins.

Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defender during the 2008-09 season with the Bruins and has been a finalist five other times, including during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup winning season in 2010-11. He finished fifth in 2012-13 when the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup Final.

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.

The Buzzer: Silfverberg plays OT hero; Donato helps Wild

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Three Stars

1. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

Silfverberg was involved in three of Anaheim’s four goals during their 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks. After helping set up the Ducks’ first two goals, Silfverberg put the game to bed 38 seconds into overtime to clinch the victory for Anaheim.

2. Ryan Donato, Minnesota Wild

One-third of Minnesota’s “Kid Line” set up both Wild goals during a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals. The two points earned helped move Minnesota back into Western Conference wild card spot with seven games to go. Donato now has 13 points in 14 games since being dealt to the Wild.

3. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell tallied twice and assisted on the OT winner, helping the Ducks to go two-for-three on the power play. The goals were Rakell’s first in seven games. He now has 13 on the season.

Highlights of the Night

• Silfverberg has five multi-point games this season and four in his last 18 games:

Jordan Greenway powered his way to the net for his 12th of the season and finished off with some nice stick handling:

Factoids of the Night

• Donato’s assist on Greenway’s goal was the 10,000th point in Wild franchise history.

Scores
Wild 2, Capitals 1
Ducks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)

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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.

Lightning’s Gourde suspended two games for illegal check to the head

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Yanni Gourde has been suspended two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his hit to the head of Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night.

The Tampa Bay Lightning forward went to lay a hit on Staal and ended up getting his head, leading to a match penalty and an ejection. Staal, who missed 32 games this season while dealing with a concussion, left the game before returning and scoring Carolina’s second goal in a 6-3 loss.

“I haven’t really watched or seen it but, you know, it’s a fast game, things happen,” Staal said afterward. “Obviously, you never want to see those hits. I was fortunate enough to come out of it feeling all right.”

DoPS head George Parros said the head check was avoidable in the department’s suspension video.

“While we acknowledge Gourde’s argument that Staal is bent low and stumbling as he plays the puck, this hit does not meet any of the criteria for unavoidable head contact,” Parros said.

Gourde, who has no history with the DoPS in his 179-game career, will miss the Lightning’s games against St. Louis on Saturday and Boston on Monday. He is eligible to return next Saturday vs. Washington.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Gourde forfeits $10,752.68 — money that goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

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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.

Ducks give discouraging update on Eaves, Kesler

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Back in 2016-17 Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Kesler was wrapping up the first year of a six-year, $41.2 million contract extension and still looking like one of the league’s best shutdown centers.

He finished with 22 goals and 58 points for a Ducks team that reached the Western Conference Final, and was also the runner-up for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.

The two years that have followed, including the 2018-19 season, have not been kind to him.

After appearing in only 44 games a season ago due to injury, the 34-year-old Kesler has been limited to just 60 games this season and has missed each of the past seven due to a hip injury. In the two years he has combined for just 13 goals and 22 points, and it sounds like the Ducks do not expect to see him on the ice again this season, while there should be some serious doubt as to what his future might hold.

“We’re going to meet with the doctors tonight, [Kesler] and I,” general manager and interim head coach Bob Murray said on Friday, via the Ducks’ website. “[Kesler] has to get everything in his life in order as to what he has to do in order to play. It’s not exactly good for his body, the things he puts himself through. We need to take full inventory of where he is in his life and go forward from there. The agent and I have talked a bunch.”

Kesler still has three years remaining on his contract after this one at a salary cap hit of $6.875 million per season. Between him, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry the Ducks have more than $23 million per season tied up in three players all age 33 or older over the next two full seasons (plus a third season for Kesler).

With the Ducks badly struggling on the ice this season with one of the league’s worst records it does not leave them in an ideal situation. 

Kesler’s status is not the only troubling one that Murray addressed on Friday.

He also mentioned that forward Patrick Eaves is dealing with a lot of the same issues that he dealt with a year ago when a post-viral syndrome limited him to just two games.

He has only appeared in seven NHL games this season.

“He’s had a setback,” said Murray. “Texted with him yesterday. There is no new diagnosis or anything. This is a very troubling situation, and everybody is doing the best they can with it. There is no diagnosis, and he’s just struggling again with everything. Like [Kesler], we hope he gets better so he can have a normal life. I don’t want to speak for him, but he’s just struggling. It’s more like what he had last year. He’s experiencing some of the same issues as last year. Let’s just leave it at that.”

Eaves joined the Ducks in the middle of the 2016-17 NHL season and has scored 132 goals in 633 career games with the Ducks, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings, and Ottawa Senators.

Related: After year away, Eaves had a blast in return to NHL

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.