Nathan Horton’s potentially career-threatening injury a blow to Jackets’ playoff hopes

Adam Proteau
Nathan Horton (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

After he signed a seven-year, $37.1-million contract with the Blue Jackets in the summer of 2013, right winger Nathan Horton appeared in only 36 games thanks to injuries to his shoulder and abdomen last season. And Tuesday night, there was even worse news coming out of Columbus: the 29-year-old is dealing with a degenerative back injury that might be career ending.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Horton, who has experienced back issues for several years, felt the problem worsen this summer while training in Florida and has been diagnosed with a serious degeneration of the lower back area. He may be out of action for at least this season, if not for good. There is a surgery he can undergo to address it, but it’s viewed as a last resort and offers no guarantee of success.

“He’s in constant pain,” Horton’s agent Paul Krepelka told the Dispatch. “He’s in constant discomfort.”

The majority of Horton’s $5.3-million-per-season salary will be covered by insurance and he can be placed on long term injured reserve to free up cap space with which to replace him. But that’s easier said than done for Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Read more

Injury to blossoming star Victor Hedman won’t derail Lightning’s momentum

Adam Proteau
Victor Hedman (Getty Images)

For most NHL teams, losing a burgeoning star on defense like Victor Hedman to injury would be a major, if not catastrophic blow. But if a team (at least, an Eastern Conference team) is equipped to weather the absence of a key cog on the blueline, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite the fact they’ll now be without Hedman for at least a handful of games, if not longer thanks to a suspected broken hand he suffered Saturday against Vancouver, the Bolts are still looking as dangerous as many expected they would after their off-season additions.

When Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman signed free agent blueliner Anton Stralman away from the New York Rangers and traded for former Vancouver Canucks d-man Jason Garrison, he turned a group that included Hedman (who demolished career bests in goals and assists last year), veterans Matt Carle and Eric Brewer, and rugged 24-year-old Radko Gudas into arguably the Eastern Conference’s deepest defense corps. And that argument got much stronger after the Bruins dealt Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders. They’re so deep on defense, they made Brewer a healthy scratch for the first two games of the season. (Gudas is a little banged-up himself, but hoped to return to the lineup as soon as Monday.) There’s more than enough talent and balance there to hold the fort until Hedman returns. (And nobody quite knows when that will be just yet. If their worst fears come true and Hedman’s hand is broken, he’s likely looking at a 4-to-6-week recovery period.)

But even if that defense corps weren’t so sturdy even in Hedman’s absence, the Lightning would still be favored to win more games than not because of two main reasons: Read more

If Semyon Varlamov’s injury is serious, should Avs look at Martin Brodeur or Tim Thomas?

Adam Proteau
Semyon Varlamov (Getty Images)

Prior to the start of the season, pundits were projecting a return to earth for the Colorado Avalanche, who won 52 games in 2013-14 despite having some of the worst advanced statistics in the NHL. They leaned on goalie Semyon Varlamov and a superb shooting percentage on their way to finishing second in the Western Conference, and more than a few observers were expecting that couldn’t last again.

About five percent of the way through the season, at least, both those projections have come to pass. The Avs were shut out in back-to-back losses at the hands of the Minnesota Wild to start the year and only managed four goals in their next two games. And now, worse news: Varlamov has been placed on Injury Reserve thanks to a wonky groin, and there’s no timetable for his return. And in Colorado’s first game without him Thursday – a 4-3 loss to Ottawa that saw the Avs blow a 3-1 lead after the first period – they sure looked like they missed him, especially when backup Reto Berra left the game after being hit by Kyle Turris in his crease and third-stringer rookie Calvin Pickard had to step in.

And now they’re potentially facing a serious quandary: if Varlamov’s injury is serious, do they go out and acquire veteran help? Read more

John Scott demolishes Mikhail Grabovski; Was the hit clean? You decide

Adam Proteau
John Scott (Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

John Scott’s brief career as a member of the San Jose Sharks has already led to headlines both good and not-so-good. In his first game with the organization Tuesday, the enforcer scored (after scoring just twice in 236 career NHL games before that) – but Thursday on Long Island, the Sharks winger was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, levelling Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski with a check that knocked him out of the game.

Grabovski was picking up the puck and in the process of turning when Scott skated into him, flattening the Belarusian pivot. Scott almost sheepishly made the hit, being careful not to leave his feet, but he still caught Grabovski completely unaware. Judge for yourself whether the hit was clean: Read more

AHL drops 12-game suspension on Trevor Gillies; is it enough?

Trevor Gillies (Getty Images)

The American Hockey League came down hard on Adirondack Flames forward Trevor Gillies Monday, suspending him 12 games for viciously assaulting Rochester forward William Carrier Friday. But some would argue they didn’t come down hard enough, and that hockey as a whole still has a ways to go to give real teeth to their punishments and truly dissuade players from becoming repeat offenders like Gillies, who was suspended twice (for a total of 19 games) in his justifiably brief NHL career (57 games from 2009-11). But that doesn’t make it any less stomach churning to watch him snap and smash Carrier’s head into the ice. See for yourself:

Gillies apologized for his actions, but these are now three separate incidents in which he was a genuine danger to his opponents. Here are the examples of what got him suspended in the NHL: Read more

Kudos to OHL boss David Branch for new program promoting mental health

Adam Proteau
David Branch (Tara Walton/Toronto Star)

One of the hallmarks of David Branch’s tenure as commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League has been his willingness to take the lead when it comes to athlete safety. He did so again Monday, launching a new campaign to educate junior hockey players on mental health issues.

The campaign, “Talk Today”, was formed in concert with the Canadian Mental Health Association and will provide tools to help players and hockey staff to identify mental health issues. As part of their mission in this regard, the league will conduct mental health and suicide-awareness workshops, stage community awareness events at games, and develop mental health coaches and champions to remove the stigma associated with the disease.

Eradicating that stigma is one of the most important parts of the program. Read more

Canes lose Jeff Skinner to another concussion – and NHL’s cannibal mentality continues

Adam Proteau
Jeff Skinner (Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images)

For a few years, Carolina left winger Jeff Skinner has been one of the game’s more marketable up-and-coming players – a photogenic, well-spoken young man whose on-ice skills can be a difference maker.

That is, when he’s well enough to play the game. Unfortunately for Skinner, he’s involved in a game where headshots are still far too acceptable, and athletes’ health far too negotiable. That’s one of the reasons why Skinner has lost parts of two of his four NHL seasons to concussion-related injuries – and now will miss parts of a third straight year for the same reason. The Hurricanes are poorer for it, the league is poorer for it – and Skinner is poorest for it, both now, as an athlete unable to perform, and later, as his cognitive abilities are threatened further into his lifetime.

In the two years Skinner has been healthy, he’s averaged 32 goals and nearly 59 points per season. But he lost 16 games to a head injury in his sophomore campaign, and another five games to a concussion in February of 2013. Now, he’s sidelined indefinitely with another concussion after this blatant headshot Sunday from Washington’s Matt Niskanen:

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Niskanen’s brutal elbow on Skinner is grounds for suspension

Jeff Skinner (Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images)

As if the pre-season hadn’t been horrid enough for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Raleigh squad already lost Jordan Staal to a long-term injury when he broke his leg in an exhibition game and now there’s concern over 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, who was walloped by Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen in the opening minutes of the Canes’ final tune-up. Here’s the play in question:

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