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Paul Byron shouldn’t have been expected to fight

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Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron is not a player you expect to see in a fight.

Listed at only 5-foot-9, 163 pounds, the 29-year-old Byron entered Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers having been involved in only four NHL fights in more than 450 career games (including playoffs and preseason). It is not something he does, and on the rare occasion he has, it has happened against players that are comparable to him in stature.

But there he was, early in the first period, dropping the gloves and squaring off with the significantly larger and presumably stronger MacKenzie Weegar.

It went horribly for Byron, who stumbled off the ice, did not return to the game, and is not joining the Canadiens on its current road trip for Thursday’s massive game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game that could very well decide which team gets the eighth and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

[Related: Panthers’ Weegar knocks out Byron with nasty uppercut]

He was no doubt only fighting Weegar because that is what was expected of Byron as part of the NHL’s “code.”

You see, earlier this season Byron concussed Weegar with an ugly hit to the head that resulted in Byron being suspended three games by the NHL Department of Player Safety.

But because there is still a culture of on-ice retribution in today’s NHL game, it was expected that Byron was going to have to answer the call and drop the gloves with the player he had previously wronged, no matter how ridiculous it may have seemed physically.

Byron’s agent, J.P. Barry, was extremely critical of this whole mindset when he told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday, “This was not a hockey fight,” while pointing out the massive size difference between the two players.

Weegar said after the game, via The Athletic, that he simply asked Byron if he wanted to fight, and that if he had declined he would have been willing to let it go. Obviously Byron didn’t decline, likely because he felt he was doing the right thing and the thing he was supposed to do given the circumstances.

Unfortunately, he ended up suffering the consequences.

There are no doubt a lot of people in hockey that will salute Byron for doing this, even after seeing the ugly result.

This is wrong.

This is wrong because Byron was already given his punishment when he was handed one of the longest suspensions the league has issued this season for a player safety incident, also costing him more than $18,000 in salary.

But it is not just the suspension itself that matters here.

The hit itself was very bad and deserving of every game and penny it ended up costing Byron. Maybe even more, you could argue.

What matters here is that the Department of Player Safety worked exactly the way it was supposed to work and, ultimately, designed to work. You can quibble with the number of games they ended up giving him for the hit. Maybe you think it deserved more, especially since Weegar was injured as a result of the play.

But the purpose of the department isn’t to just hand out suspensions for an arbitrary number of games, randomly punishing players for their wrongdoings.

As I wrote earlier this season regarding the Department’s continued dealings with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, it is not there for you or your team to get a pound of flesh and feel better about what happened to your player.

It is there to improve the safety of the game and the players by changing the way the play, and ultimately eliminating the types of play that result in suspensions.

The hope, in an ideal world, is that they have no suspensions to issue because players have learned how to play the game in a way that they are not deliberately out to hurt people. Obviously that will never happen because it’s a fast, chaotic game with a lot of collisions for 60 minutes a night, and there are some players that, unfortunately, do not have that mindset.

Sometimes the line will be crossed. Sometimes players will do bad things.

But you still want to make them more aware of how they are playing, where they are hitting people, and how they are hitting people, so the department has to exist and sometimes has to hand out punishments.

Byron understood that immediately.

On the day he was suspended he issued the following statement on Twitter.

In short: A normally clean player delivered a bad hit that had a bad result.

That player was punished by the league for delivering the bad hit, while that player also accepted responsibility for it, apologized for it, and tried to learn from it.

That should have been the end of it because the system worked.

Just because what unfolded on Tuesday night was an accepted practice 25 or 30 years ago, when there was no such department to police these things, no standard for what was illegal, and when the game was the wild west in terms of cheap shots and goonism, does not mean it should be accepted today.

That is the point Barry tried to make with LeBrun on Tuesday. An excerpt, via The Athletic (subscription required):

“I truly believe this exact situation is Exhibit A for re-examining our current rules for fighting,” continued Barry, one of the game’s most influential player agents. “If the fight is patently retribution for something that happened long before this game was ever played how is that allowed to occur without being addressed?”

Again, pretty strong points.

“I’m sure we will hear from many others tomorrow (Wednesday) who see things much differently than me and will say ‘look at Paul Byron, what a warrior, he answered the bell.’ These are the people that believe in the old `code.’ It’s time for Player Safety to be the new `code.’ What really matters is eliminating avoidable concussions wherever we can in our player safety rules going forward.”

Byron had no business fighting Weegar on Tuesday night, and there was no reason for him to feel pressured into doing it because everything about the incident was already handled and settled three months earlier.

Now Byron himself is out, dealing with the effects of an unnecessary blow to the head (which is the most important thing here), and also potentially impacting the Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs.

The entire thing is extremely frustrating.

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.

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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 make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports