Rule changes too late for Pitkanen; celebrating past and future Hall of Famers

Ken Campbell
Pitkanen

When the NHL’s 30 GMs meet Tuesday in Toronto, it’s expected the league’s rule changes for this season will be discussed. And the one that will receive the most attention is hybrid icing.

Some love it and others hate it, but one thing is certain. It will virtually eliminate the kinds of injuries such as the one suffered by Joni Pitkanen last April when he smashed into the end boards in a foot race with Troy Brouwer of the Washington Capitals. It was so bad that Pitkanen is out of the Carolina Hurricanes lineup for the entire 2013-14 season. Even worse, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford confirmed to thn.com what has been speculated for some time – that there’s a very good chance the 30-year-old Pitkanen has played his last game in the NHL.

Pitkanen suffered a broken left calcaneus bone in the incident and the recovery has not gone nearly as well as hoped. “He’s not making a lot of progress, so he’ll have to make a decision in the off-season,” Rutherford told thn.com. “The doctor said it wasn’t like any sports injury. It was like a person who had been involved in a car accident.”

Pitkanen, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, has made about $25 million over the course of his career. But if he’s forced to retire because of this, how many millions has he lost because of what was basically an unfortunate accident? It’s not a stretch to suggest Pitkanen, a workhorse defenseman with good size and offensive instincts, might have been able to play another seven or eight seasons. Even if he’d had to settle for $3 million a season, that would have doubled his career earnings.

* There will be no official rule recommendations made at the meeting, but there is speculation the GMs will at least discuss the possibility of a 10-game suspension for goaltenders who leave their crease to start an altercation.

Those of you who are aware of my views on fighting might be surprised to learn your trusty correspondent believes this is ridiculous on so many levels. First, it creates a double standard. So it’s OK for skaters to start an altercation, but not goaltenders? Secondly, 10 games? Seriously? You’re going to give the same number of games to a goaltender who fights as you gave to Patrick Kaleta for almost taking an opponent’s head off?

But if this were to come to pass, it would prove one thing – that if the NHL really wanted to, it would be able to get rid of fighting with one determined and radical change to the rulebook.

Follow the logic here. The NHL really doesn’t like goalie fights. So it punishes them with a 10-game suspension. Guess what happens next? Well, I can tell you what won’t be happening – any more goalie fights. So if you applied that to skaters who instigate fights, you’d have the same result. No player in his right mind would risk being suspended 10 games for a fight.

And just like that, you blow apart the notion that fighting is a part of the game, always has been and always will be and there’s no way you’d be able to eliminate it. Give a guy a 10-game suspension for starting an altercation and you’ll see all fights, both goaltender and skater, reduced to zero.

* With this being his last season in the NHL, Teemu Selanne will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame class of 2017, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the NHL. But with the way Jaromir Jagr is playing this season – he scored his 1,700th career point Sunday night – he probably won’t be joining Selanne in the Hall that year.

Jagr has been the New Jersey Devils’ best forward this season. His ability to protect the puck is still among the best in the league and his instincts around the net are still sharp. If he manages to lead the Devils in scoring this season, he’ll become the oldest player in NHL history to accomplish the feat.

If Jagr continues at his current pace, he’ll finish this season with more than 60 points. It makes you wonder what he could have accomplished had he not gone to the Kontinental League for three seasons after coming off a 71-point season with the Rangers in 2008. If Jagr gets 60 points this season, he’ll have a career total of 1,748. That would leave him 139 behind Mark Messier for second on the all-time list. It’s a pretty good bet he would have been able to average 47 points for those three seasons had he stayed in the NHL, which would have put him ahead of Messier after this season.

“If I would be thinking about numbers, I would never have left to Russia,” Jagr said to reporters after the milestone game Sunday night. “I would probably be 1,900 right now when you look at it. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe not.”

* Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States. And in the hockey world, it’s Hall of Fame induction day. All present will be wearing poppies tonight and those inducted into the Hall will forever share space with men who sacrificed for their countries. Guys such as Milt Schmidt left the NHL and returned to play another decade or more. Some such as Norm Tustin, left for the war and never saw the NHL again. And others, such as Allan “Scotty” Davidson, made the ultimate sacrifice.

Davidson, a winger with the Toronto Blueshirts of the National Hockey Association (precursor to the NHL), left to join the Allied effort in the First World War just two years into a career where he had established himself as one of the NHA’s best players and months removed from leading the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup.

Davidson was killed in action in Belgium in 1915 and while accounts of his death vary, Capt. George Richardson, who led Davidson’s company, offered the following account in a letter announcing his death: “He was absolutely fearless in the face of the greatest danger. On the night of his death, he walked up and gave me his bayonet, his watch and other valuables, saying ‘George, I may never come back, but these Germans are going to catch blazes before morning.’ He walked up to within a few feet of their trenches and hurled bomb after bomb in the midst of the Huns. Two of his companions retreated, but Davidson refused until he had gotten rid of his bombs. Finally he was discovered, surrounded and ordered to surrender. Scotty refused and crashed his last hand grenade against the body of a German officer, blowing him to pieces. We found Scotty’s body the next morning, riddled with bullets and jabbed with bayonets, but he had kept his promise and it was apparent that his death cost the enemy dearly.”

Davidson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1950. Not that anyone requires a tale like this one to gain perspective, but perhaps we should all pause the next time we want to refer to a game or a playoff series as a war or those who participate in them as warriors.