Esa Lindell

Bortuzzo on suspension: ‘I’m not a malicious player’

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When the St. Louis Blues visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night they will be getting veteran defenseman Robert Bortuzzo back in the lineup following his four-game suspension for repeatedly cross-checking Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson in the back a little more than a week ago.

That incident has received plenty of attention not only because Bortuzzo is a repeat offender, but also because Arvidsson was injured as a result of the play and will remain out of the Nashville lineup for several more weeks.

Bortuzzo spoke on Monday ahead of his return to the lineup and said that while the cross-check was “maybe a little excessive,” his intent is never to injure an opponent. He was also asked if multiple offenses has caused him to develop the wrong kind of reputation around the league.

“I’m going to play the game hard,” Bortuzzo said, via The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford. “I feel like I do a good job of walking the line. I’m not going to go through all my instances. I’m sure it’s easy to dissect things for other people.

“The temperature of the game is high at times. Again, I’m not a malicious player. I’m not out here trying to injure people and I stand by that. It’s a game I have to play, on that edge, and I’m proud of the way. I play hard without being malicious.”

The problem for Bortuzzo here is that it is very easy for other people dissect things because he keeps giving other people things to dissect. He has an extensive track record of cross-checking incidents, including one on New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson that was virtually identical to the one that earned him his most recent suspension.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked about the Avridsson play on Monday ahead of their game, and on top of calling it a “horse [expletive] play,” he added this, via the Daily Herald:

“Nothing against guys that play hard,” Toews said. “That’s why I love playing this team (the Blues) because they play us hard all the time. But to me (the NHL is) doing everything to get rid of head shots and get rid of head injuries, but that to me seems like an intent to injure.

“Just because it’s not contact on a guy’s head doesn’t mean it’s not just as severe. So I thought it was pretty bad.”

On top of these two incidents there was a cross-check away from the play last year that injured Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, a cross-check against Boston’s Jordan Szwarz that resulted in a fine, and that incident with Dallas’ Esa Lindell in last year’s playoffs where Bortuzzo became frustrated with his opponent flopping.  The bottom line here is this is now three times he has been disciplined for cross-checking incidents (two fines and a suspension) on top suspensions for two different kinds of infractions.

The tape does not lie, and he is very much a repeat offender which is going to put a pretty big target on his back in the eyes of the league. If he steps over the line again the next suspension could be significant. 

Related: Blackhawks will be shorthanded for game on Monday

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blue Jackets’ Milano scores ridiculous between-the-legs goal vs. Stars

Sidney Crosby scored a wonderful highlight reel goal despite hard-working defense, yet he has some competition for Wednesday’s best one-man effort.

Sonny Milano hasn’t always been able to justify being selected 16th overall in 2014 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there have been flashes of brilliance when he’s avoided landed in John Tortorella’s doghouse. The 23-year-old authored his best NHL effort so far against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, beating Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop, making a great move and then finishing his chance with the sort of between-the-legs move you’d see in a shootout.

You’re just not supposed to be able to that at full speed in NHL action, particularly against quality players and Bishop, who finished second in Vezina voting in 2018-19.

That goal ended up standing as the game-winner as Columbus beat Dallas 3-2 on Wednesday, too.

So, which goal do you prefer: Milano’s (above this post’s headline) or Crosby’s from the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 OT win against the Colorado Avalanche?

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Benn, Seguin are still Dallas Stars under the most pressure

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.

$26.5 million. That’s the combined salary for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in 2019-20.

Such big money would mean big pressure for any duo in hockey, but it could be especially tense for Seguin and Benn. After all, Seguin and Benn can’t feel too confident that the Dallas Stars have their backs if they suffer through cold streaks. Quite the opposite seems to be true, actually; Stars CEO Jim Lites memorably threw them under the bus with a profane diatribe last season, and the Seguin – Benn duo is even more expensive with Seguin’s Super Mario extension kicking in.

If one or both of them suffer from bad puck luck, guess what? Such excuses are just a [stream of expletives] to the Stars’ execs, apparently.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | X-Factor | Three questions]

You can spread the tension out to other top players, but it’s unclear if that will make things a whole lot better.

Joe Pavelski‘s first year comes at a cost of $8M, while Esa Lindell‘s asking price is especially steep for 2019-20 with a $7M salary. While Ben Bishop figures to be a bargain at $5.5M if he plays near his 2018-19 level, the overall picture is that the Stars are still a very top-heavy team.

With bigger paychecks come bigger responsibilities, leaving these top stars – particularly Benn and Seguin – under pressure.

On the bright side, the makeup of this Stars team might just relieve some of that burden.

Pavelski’s had plenty of experience at center, and can also move over to the wing, giving him the potential to line up with one or more of Seguin, Benn, and Radulov. Benn, in particular, could benefit from taking on lesser matchups against middle pairing defensemen, as Benn has slowed a bit with age, as plenty of other power forwards do once they hit age 30.

If Roope Hintz blossoms as some expect, and Corey Perry rebounds as the Stars hope, then even better.

In a sense, Lites’ comments shine a light on another element of the Stars that’s under pressure: management.

GM Jim Nill has “won” or made the Stars one of the winners of plenty of summers, with shrewd trades and bold free agent gambits, yet Dallas has stumbled as much as its made strides. Along the way, they’ve spent plenty of money, and are estimated to scrape close to the salary cap ceiling next season. It’s easy to look at young players like Hintz and Miro Heiskanen and think of a bright future, but there’s a lot of “now” pressure with a team that’s expensive, and that much heavier on pricey veteran talent after adding Pavelski.

Last season, the Stars managed a delicate balancing act thanks to brilliant goaltending, and getting enough scoring from Benn, Seguin, and Radulov. The hope is that an offseason of promising tweaks will make it easier to manage this juggling act.

Even so, it seems like this team will still lean heavily on Benn and Seguin, which could mean even more drama if they buckle under the pressure.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Stars sign Esa Lindell to six-year, $34.8 million contract

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Esa Lindell has become a cornerstone of the Stars’ blueline over the last couple years, so naturally Dallas wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. The Stars announced that he signed a six-year, $34.8 million deal.

That’s his first big contract after his two-year, $4.4 million deal expired. He would have become a restricted free agent this summer.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on May 23) set career-highs with 11 goals and 32 points in 82 games this season. He logged 24:20 minutes per game, including an average of 3:14 shorthanded minutes.

“Esa is a consummate professional who has proven himself dependable in every situation and is just an absolute workhorse,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “When you combine his strength, conditioning, hockey IQ and skill, he has become an integral part of this team. Along with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, the three make up the foundation of a blueline that will not only be a strength for our club, but one that will be as good as any in the NHL for the foreseeable future.”

Speaking of Heiskanen and Klingberg, the Stars now have the trio signed to pretty reasonable contracts. Lindell’s annual cap hit is $5.8 million through 2024-25 while Klingberg is at $4.25 million through 2021-22 and Heiskanen still has two seasons left on his entry-level deal.

Lindell’s deal isn’t too far off from Shea Theodore‘s seven-year, $36.4 million contract signed in September after he scored six goals and 29 points in 61 games while averaging 20:21 minutes. Nate Schmidt (six-years, $35.7 million) and Jakob Chychrun (six-years, $27.6 million) are two other recent comparable, but they’re not ideal examples because Schmidt was set to become an unrestricted free agent while Chychrun was coming off his entry-level deal.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Bishop, Stars edge out Blues in critical Game 5

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The St. Louis Blues certainly didn’t make life easy for Dallas on Friday, but the Stars were prepared. Ben Bishop out dueled Jordan Binnington to lead Dallas to a 2-1 victory in Game 5, putting the Stars up 3-2 in the series.

Dallas gained an edge early when Tyler Seguin set up Jason Spezza, who smashed the puck past Binnington. Spezza’s glory years might be behind him, but he’s been a huge factor in this series with three goals already.

Beyond that goal the first period was fairly even, but Dallas nevertheless went into the intermission with the lead.

The edge grew to 2-0 at 6:13 of the second period when Esa Lindell‘s backhander hit Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in the leg on its way to the net. Lindell had 24 career goals and none in the playoffs prior to that marker, but it proved to be the game-winner.

With the game slipping out of their reach, the Blues significantly altered their lines and it seemed to help.

St. Louis got some life when Jaden Schwartz capitalized on Bishop’s mishandling of the puck to end the Stars goaltender’s shutout bid at 8:26 of the third frame. Jamie Benn was charged with a hooking penalty just 21 seconds later to give the Blues a critical power play, but Dallas killed it off.

In the end, St. Louis was 0-for-4 on the power play Friday night, which was a key to Dallas’ win. Bishop was also critical. Even though he looked bad on the Schwartz goal, Bishop still stopped 38 of 39 shots. St. Louis out shot Dallas 15-5 in the third period in a desperate, but ultimately futile attempt to alter the course of this game.

As for the fact that the Blues did look better in the third, while that’s noteworthy, it means a little less given that the Blues also had a strong third in their 4-2 loss to Dallas in Game 4. That didn’t seem to provide them with any momentum leading into Game 5 and the same might prove true for Game 6.

St. Louis’ back is against the wall now. Either they bounce back in Game 6 or their season is done.

Blues-Stars Game 6 from American Airlines Center will be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.