NHL

NHL not tough enough with preseason suspensions

23 Comments

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).

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

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.

It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

Getty
1 Comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.

2017-18

44-32-6, 94 points. (5th in the Central Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

IN:

Ryan O'Reilly
Tyler Bozak
David Perron
Chad Johnson
Patrick Maroon

OUT:

Vladimir Sobotka
Patrik Berglund
Tage Thompson
Carter Hutton
Scottie Upshall

RE-SIGNED:

Nikita Soshnikov
Robby Fabbri
Joel Edmundson

The St. Louis Blues got off to a strong start in 2017-18. Early on, it looked like they were going to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. The Blues won 10 of their first 13 games (10-2-1) thanks to impressive performances from players like Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Taranseko, Alex Pietrangelo and company.

Everything appeared to be great. But near the end of the calendar year, the season started going off the rails. St. Louis wound up losing seven of nine games between Dec. 12 and 29. Things didn’t seem to get much better in the new year. The magic that had been surrounding the Blues early on in the season appeared to be gone.

[Under Pressure: Allen | Breakthrough: Dunn | 3 Questions]

Losing one player to injury shouldn’t be the reason for a season to go off track but looking back, it definitely appears as though losing Jaden Schwartz to an ankle injury did just that. When Schwartz went down on Dec. 9, he had racked up an impressive 35 points in 30 games. After that, they clearly weren’t the same team anymore.

Schwartz was a key cog during their early run, but if a team can’t survive one injury then they probably weren’t that good to begin with.

As always, starting netminder Jake Allen went through his usual ups and downs. His numbers weren’t always terrific, but he still had a 17-6-2 record at one point. When the team started slumping, their starter wasn’t able to help get them out of a hole.

In late December, Allen had even lost his starting job to Carter Hutton for a while (Hutton started 10 of 14 games between Dec. 30-Feb. 2). But Allen and the Blues managed to put together a six-game winning streak in March, but it still wasn’t enough to secure a berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When the Blues decided to trade pending free agent Paul Stastny at the deadline, some players (i.e. Brayden Schenn) voiced their displeasure in the media. Sure, they were in the middle of a tight playoff race, but GM Doug Armstrong obviously didn’t believe that his team was good enough to do any damage even if they did sneak into the postseason. It might not have been a popular decision, but Armstrong was doing what was best for his group in the long run.

So after missing the playoffs, he decided it was time to make some significant changes to his roster. They added plenty of depth down the middle in the form of Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak and they also added wingers that can chip in offensively like David Perron and Patrick Maroon.

With the new additions and Schwartz and Robby Fabbri now healthy, the Blues appear to be a legitimate threat to make the postseason.

Prospect Pool:

Robert Thomas, 19, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Thomas has emerged as one of the best prospects in the game. The youngster had an outstanding OHL season with London and Hamilton, as he put up an impressive 24 goals and 75 points in just 49 games. He also performed very well for Team Canada at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship, where he accumulated six points in seven games. But Thomas isn’t only just an offensive force, he’s also capable of playing a 200-foot game. Even though he’s still a teenager, the 19-year-old has a legitimate shot of cracking the Blues roster this season.

“I’m excited about Robert. What I like, what coaches like, is he’s got a well-rounded game,” coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “Robert’s a guy who’s going to learn quickly. He’s a very coachable kid, he’s a smart player, plays well on both ends of the ice. Another right shot, but a guy that’s got a lot of elements, a lot of high hockey intelligence to his game that could really give him a chance to come in and make our team.”

• Jordan Kyrou, 20, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – 2016 second-round pick

Kyrou put together an incredible final season in junior in 2017-18. The 20-year-old had 39 goals and 109 points in just 56 games with Sarnia last season. That’s even more impressive when you consider that the second-leading scorer on his team finished the year with 73 points.

The young forward will now make the full-time leap to the professional ranks. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not he is capable of cracking the Blues’ opening-night roster or not. But with all the additions the team made during the off-season, they probably won’t be able to keep both Thomas and Kyrou, so that might be an interesting camp battle. Unfortunately for Kyrou, he can be sent to the AHL and can be recalled to the big club anytime they need him. If Thomas doesn’t stick, he has to go back to junior for the season.

• Klim Kostin, 19, C, San Antonio Rampage (AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder was the last pick of the first round in his draft year, but he’s shown that he should have gone much earlier than that. Kostin made the leap right to the North American professional ranks last season, as he spent the year in the AHL. He finished the year with a respectable six goals and 28 points in 67 games, which isn’t too shabby for a player who was 18 for most of the hockey year. Kostin will need more seasoning in the minors, but he’s shown that he has a bright future ahead of him.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stanley Cup visits Humboldt Hockey Day, memorial site

Associated Press
1 Comment

For all that the community of Humboldt has been through over the past several months, a little bit of joy washed over the rural Saskatchewan town on Friday.

Humboldt hasn’t left the minds of those in hockey communities around the world since a tragic bus crash tore through the hockey world and claimed the lives of 16 players and team staff on April 6.

Chandler Stephenson of the Washington Capitals, a Saskatoon native, made a promise before the playoffs began that if they won he’d take it to Humboldt.

It was a classy gesture at a time when a community was stricken with grief, but on Friday, the Stanley Cup champion got a chance to make good on the pact he made just days after the horrific accident as Lord Stanley paid a visit to the town of 6,000 as part of Humboldt Hockey Day organized by the NHL and the NHLPA.

The Cup made an emotional stop at the site of the crash at the intersection of Highway 35 and 335, where a memorial now stands with crosses bearing the names of those lost along with hockey sticks, flowers, stuffed animals and other tokens of remembrance.

Philip Pritchard, the ‘Keeper of the Cup’, tweeted out, “While their Stanley Cup dreams went unfulfilled, we thought we’d bring Stanley to them. God Bless,” along with pictures of the Cup in the middle of the memorial site.

From there, it went to Humboldt’s home rink, Elgar Petersen Arena, where Stephenson was joined by several NHLers, including Brayden Schenn, Brayden McNabb and Brett Kulak along with around 3,500 people from the town.

The Canadian Press reported that Stephenson met with some of the parents of the players involved in the crash.

“It’s tough … listening to some of the parents,” Stephenson said. “It’s tough to talk to them (to) … give your condolences. Nothing can replace a life, so you just try to help out as much as you can and that’s what this day is all about.”

Stephenson used to play with members of the Broncos, including Kaleb Dahlgren, who was one of 13 to survive the crash.

“That means so much to me,” Dahlgren told CP. “I know those people that lost their lives there would really appreciate that. I appreciate it too. It’s nice to honor that and it really does mean a lot.”

#HumboldtStrong


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

Building off a breakthrough: Travis Konecny

Getty Images

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers have a couple of players who could be restricted free agents in the summer of 2019. One of them in Konecny, who posted 24-23—47 in 81 games last season while averaging 14:54 of ice time. He was most productive with linemates Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, chipping in 27 of his 47 points at 5-on-5 with those two. The top line chemistry was unmatched as all three produced career seasons.

That was a big difference from 2016-17 when he was mixing time with Couturier, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn during a rookie season that produced 10 goals and 28 points in just over 14 minutes of ice time a night.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: JvR | 3 Questions]

He learned from those rookie year benchings, minimized his mistakes and took smarter risks. All of that combined for a breakout season and the trust of head coach Dave Hakstol that he can hold his own on the top line.

But how much of his success can be attributed to the seasons of Couturier and Giroux? Konecny wasn’t as productive during early and late seasons stints off the top line and the defensive side of his game also suffered away from those two. Which should probably tell Hakstol to keep the 21-year-old with them, seeing as how well they work together and that there could be more to his game that’s yet to be unlocked.

“I think I’ve narrowed my game to where it’s effective for me and the team,” Konecny said in March. “This is good for me, I’m learning a lot. Honestly, I’m trying to play as safe as I can and as smart as I can and gain the trust of the coaching staff. Things like good defense leads to good offense, everyone says it, and cliché, but it seems to be working. I was worried about making mistakes before earlier this season. As of right now, I’m playing with a confidence that if I can’t make a play this time, I’ll get a chance to make a play the next time.”

————

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.

Blues’ attack suddenly looks deep with O’Reilly, Perron

Getty Images
5 Comments

Even during their best moments in 2017-18, the St. Louis Blues were top-heavy.

For a while, it really seemed like the combo of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn might just be potent enough to propel St. Louis into a playoff spot. It ultimately didn’t work out, though.

If you want a snap shot of how much St. Louis depended upon a small handful of scorers, consider that a) Paul Stastny finished sixth on the team in points with 40 despite being traded and b) only six players (counting Stastny) ended up with 40+ points in 2017-18. Asking so much of a select group of standouts simply wasn’t sufficient for St. Louis.

The good news is that GM Doug Armstrong made bold moves to get the Blues back in the hunt.

Most clearly, Armstrong sold off a bucket of assets (whether you look at it as a great bounty or “quantity over quality”) to land a fantastic two-way center in Ryan O'Reilly. ROR’s 61 points would have ranked third on the Blues last season, and only Vladimir Tarasenko (331 points) generated more than O’Reilly’s 295 points since 2013-14. The addition only becomes more tantalizing once you realize that ROR’s value comes in more than his already-strong scoring.

And, hey, it sure sounds like he’s motivated. Maybe he’ll put up even bigger numbers with the Blues? The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reports that O’Reilly spoke of bringing a Stanley Cup to St. Louis during his presser today, and he didn’t apologize for his comments about the toll losing took on him in Buffalo.

“I stand by (those comments),” O’Reilly said. “I feel like I have a spark in me now. There’s something different. I don’t regret anything that’s happened.”

While O’Reilly is the biggest addition, David Perron should provide another boost to the Blues’ offense as he returns to St. Louis once again.

It’s tough to picture Perron generating another impressive run like he did with Vegas in 2017-18. Despite being limited to 70 games, Perron produced more assists (50) than he scored points (46) in 82 games with the Blues in 2016-17.

One would probably pencil a reasonably healthy Perron into more of a 45-50 point range in 2018-19. The good news is that the Blues are essentially paying for that, as his $4M cap his is quite modest.

And, hey, maybe a versatile Blues attack might help him get a little closer to last season’s career-high of 66 points than some might expect?

Tyler Bozak ranks as the other noteworthy addition, actually landing a bigger cap hit but less term (three years, $5M cap hit) than Perron. Opinions vary on the former Maple Leafs center, yet he generated 43 points last season and is only one year removed from scoring 55. Slotting Bozak in as a third-line center makes it all a much easier sell.

Delightfully for the Blues, there are a few other potential boosts.

  • Maybe they’ll enjoy some better injury luck?

It has to be frustrating for the Blues to see Jaden Schwartz stuck in a bit of a holding pattern thanks to poor breaks health-wise. This past season counted as such, as he was limited to 62 games played. If Schwartz can flirt with a full 82, more people will likely realize that he’s a very, very good player.

The dream scenario would be if Robby Fabbri enters 2018-19 healthy.

Fabbri’s 2017-18 campaign was derailed before it even started, as he needed surgery after re-injuring a knee that’s been giving him major issues. If the smaller player loses a step permanently, that would be a rough break for the Blues, and really a sad loss for fans, as a healthy Fabbri can be dazzling.

It’s dangerous to assume that he’ll be A-OK, yet if he’s at or near full-strength, the Blues would really be cooking. Despite receiving limited ice time so far during his career, Fabbri has generated about a point every other game (66 in 123) at the NHL level, including scoring 18 goals as a rookie in 2015-16.

  • Dust off your Matchbox 20 jokes?

The Blues could see the graduation of some prospects to boost their offense, as well, with Robert Thomas standing out.

NHL.com’s Lou Korac passed along a rather fascinating scenario where Thomas would center a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and … Ryan O’Reilly at left wing?

If Thomas could crack the lineup, people might need to really reach into Rob Thomas’ discography if they want to keep the jokes fresh.

***

For all we know, we could look back at the O’Reilly trade as a huge win for Buffalo, instead of the Blues/”everyone wins” consensus. There are plenty of other stumbling blocks that could surface, including worse injury luck.

Still, as it stands in early July, the Blues look a lot more potent than they did heading into 2017-18, and way stronger than they appeared even in late June.

It’s the kind of roster that might just make their opponents wake up at 3 a.m. feeling lonely.

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.