On defending against Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and how he’s officiated

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Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson is one of the NHL’s brightest young stars and a dynamic playmaker that is capable of changing a game every time he steps on the ice. As such, he is also going to be the focal point for every team defensively and is the kind of player that they want to play against physically.

In just his second season in the league he has already been on the receiving end of some big — and controversial — hits that have resulted in ejections and supplemental discipline.

On Tuesday, in the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, he was on the receiving end of a late hit from Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk that infuriated coach Travis Green after the game.

Here is the play.

It is not the worst hit you will see, but it is clearly late, unnecessary and at a time when Pettersson should not be expecting to be hit. There was no penalty called on the play, even as an official had a direct line of sight to the contact.

Here was Green’s commentary after the game, via TSN:

“I’m so frustrated with it. This guy is one of the best young players in the league. He gets hit and he’s totally defenseless. It’s two seconds after he lets go of the puck. I’ve watched it a couple times. He feels like there’s no way he’s going to get hit like that. He’s in a vulnerable position. Those are hits that the league is trying to get out of the game, especially against top young guys, top players in the league, and I think that Petey’s shown he’s one of those guys.

“And it’s frustrating for me as a coach to see some of the abuse he takes, where (it) doesn’t get called and he works through this. He gets frustrated and they keep, I know he’s not the biggest guy, but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of a player that’s not ready to be hit. It’s very late. That should have been a penalty all day long.”

Neither player talked after the game, but Pettersson addressed it on Thursday, as well questions on the officiating towards him and the way he’s defended by teams across the league. You can watch his entire media availability here.

Pettersson clearly did not like the hit or the lateness of it, calling it kind of a dirty play.

Still, he insisted he is not the type of player to go to the officials looking for a call.

“The refs already have a tough job, I’m not looking for calls. I don’t want to have that reputation about me. If they say I’m embellishing or diving to get penalties — I’m not about that. I’m trying to play hard hockey with respect against my opponents. Of course sometimes I feel I should get a penalty, but that’s something I can’t control. All I can control is trying to play my best hockey.”

He later added:  “I know I get a lot more attention now. I can feel it, get less time with the puck, I feel like I always have a guy around me. I feel like plays like that isn’t what we want in hockey. It’s a late hit, I’m not ready for it. I’m ready for it at first, but then two or three seconds later the hit comes.”

Pettersson also said that Grzelcyk checked on him after the play to make sure he was okay.

A few additional thoughts:

1. The Canucks and Pettersson were absolutely right to be livid about that hit on Tuesday. The problem is I don’t see this as a Pettersson-Canucks issue as much as it is an NHL officiating issue. All too often the grace period for when a hit is acceptable seems to be extended far beyond what it should be. As long as it doesn’t result in an injury, a clear hit directly to the head, or somebody being hit from behind it tends to be ignored.

2. Pettersson does take a beating. Sometimes it gets punished. Sometimes it doesn’t. Along with this hit, other notable incidents include the game in Florida last season when he was body-slammed by Mike Matheson, the flying elbow he took to the face from Chris Kreider, and this incident with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Grzelcyk and Kotkaniemi received no penalties and no league discipline, but Matheson was suspended two games while Kreider was ejected and fined (but not suspended).

3. While those punishments and penalties may seem frustrating and inconsistent for the Canucks, Pettersson does draw penalties far more than than most players in the league. Among the 498 players that have logged at least 500 minutes of ice-time this season, Pettersson is 16th in the league in penalties drawn per 60 minutes. Overall, he’s drawn 24 penalties this season. Though, it is worth pointing out — as the Athletic’s Thomas Drance did on Thursday) the overwhelming majority of those calls came early in the season and have dried up over the past two months. None of those numbers should matter, though. A penalty is a penalty and all anybody should be looking for here is consistency. That, again, is an issue that extends far beyond Pettersson and the Canucks.

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.

 

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced Friday that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”