Joe Thornton hit the showers early on Saturday night, getting tagged with a major and game misconduct for a spear on Blues center Paul Stastny. Officials made the right call, too.
Joe Thornton has never been all that afraid of mixing it up or using some stick work here and there to let opponents know he’s going to be in their face all night, but even the most wily of veterans can have their best attempt at a sneakily dirty play backfire. That’s exactly what happened midway through the Sharks’ Saturday meeting with the St. Louis Blues.
Shortly after the midway point of the second period, Thornton got mixed up with Blues center Paul Stastny, who delivered a subtle hack to the upper thigh of Thornton. As retaliation, Thornton used his stick blade as a pitchfork and dropped a slight stab into the gut area of Stastny, causing him to buckle and stumble before he got back to his feet.
At the time the play happened, it was hard to tell exactly what referees were about to tag Thornton for, but the eagle-eyed officials picked up the spear and they came down hard on Thornton for his transgression. He was handed a major penalty for spearing and given the gate:
The more rough and tumble of hockey fans may look at the play and scoff at Thornton getting handed both a major and game misconduct for a spear that really didn’t look all that bad, but by the letter of the law, the officials got it right.
Rule 62 pertains to spearing, and the penalties handed out for Thornton’s actions fit the crime. According to rule 62.3, a major penalty is handed out to any player who spears an opponent and makes contact, with rule 62.5 indicating that any major penalty for spearing is to be paired with a game misconduct. The only thing that would have saved Thornton in this instance — aside from, you know, not spearing Stastny — would have been if he missed Stastny with the stick. A spearing attempt that misses an opponent can be met with a double minor.
While there’s no certainty that Thornton will receive a fine for spearing Stastny, he has opened himself up to potential supplemental discipline. He has only a minor history with the Department of Player Safety over the past several seasons, with the lone incident coincidentally occurring against St. Louis. Thornton received a two-game ban for a hit on Blues winger David Perron back in November 2010.
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If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you need speed. And for players on their way up through the ranks, skating acumen is going to be the price of admission for an NHL job
I was having a conversation with an NHL team scout yesterday, which is one of the best parts of my job. I learn so much from these chats and not just about the draft prospects we are discussing, but of the bigger picture as well. While discussing the pros and cons of some prospects, we began to talk about skating and its place in the game today. Simply put, it's becoming a must-have.
"The No. 1 priority is skating," said the scout. "Even if your hockey sense or skills aren't the greatest, at least we can point you in the right direction."
We all know it's a fast game today and you just have to look at all the recent champions to validate the skating argument. Team Canada's World Cup squad suffocated opponents with their skating, taking away time and space at both ends of the ice – though their excellence in the puck possession department dramatically narrowed the amount of time they had to use their speed on the defensive end.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup this past summer thanks to a team that had speed up and down its lineup. Think about it – how many Penguins from that team would you characterize as slow, by NHL standards? Maybe a couple, at most? Meanwhile, teams had to contest with Sidney Crosby, Carl Hagelin and Kris Letang, among many others.
At the world juniors, Team USA won gold with a similarly dangerous lineup, trotting out the likes of Colin White, Clayton Keller and Jack Roslovic to terrify teams.
What's really interesting for me is how speed is going to change bottom-six roles in the NHL. We're already seeing it, with teams employing fewer enforcers, but how far can the concept be pushed? Roslovic might be the perfect case study to keep an eye on, because as a prospect of the Winnipeg Jets, he's got a lot of talent ahead of him in the form of Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor. But if Roslovic, who is leading AHL Manitoba in scoring as a rookie, despite missing games due to the world juniors, is ready for the NHL leap next season, why hold him back if he can contribute from the third line? If defense is coming from speed these days anyway, it seems like a pretty nice way to get more skill in the lineup.
Tampa Bay will have a similar query to address in a year or two when prospects such as Mitchell Stephens, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph come knocking on the door. All three have skill, but they can also skate and play with grit. It's a great problem to have if you're the Lightning.
What happens to prospects that aren't blessed with foot speed? Well, it's going to take them a little longer. We're seeing it with Dylan Strome, whom most of assumed would be full-time in Arizona this season. But thanks to his abundance of other talents and attributes, Strome can zero in on improving on his speed and strength, knowing that an NHL career is close. It can certainly be done, but he'll have to watch out for all the young burners out there on the fast-track while he does it.
The Breakaway Challenge is no more, but the often ridiculous event at the skills competition offered up some fantastic moments and great laughs. Take a look back at the five best attempts.
The highlight of the NBA’s all-star weekend, almost without fail, is the Slam Dunk Contest. The event has delivered moments like Michael Jordan’s foul line dunk, Vince Carter’s forearm in the rim jam and last season’s phenomenal showdown between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine.
It would only make sense then that the NHL would try its hand at imitating the event, creating the Breakaway Challenge as its version of the dunk competition. The goal was simple: wow the crowd with incredible displays of puckhandling or win them over with props and creativity. Most players went for the latter, and it’s been one of the more ridiculous and comical events at the all-star weekend over the past six skills competitions.
However, after its six-season run as one of the weekend’s events, the NHL has decided to do away with the Breakaway Challenge, according to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos. The news only a couple of weeks before the league is set to head to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game and is at least a slight indication that some new competitions could be part of the format.
With the Breakaway Challenge no more, though, let’s take a look back at five of the very best and most memorable moments from the contest:
5. Johansen gets some help, but Voracek one-ups him
Ryan Johansen had the Columbus crowd in the palm of his hands by using an Ohio State jersey as a prop, and he really got the crowd on its feet by getting a youngster to help bury a shot. It was a great moment, for sure, but Jakub Voracek really got the crowd laughing by stealing Johansen’s idea with the help of another kid on hand: diminutive Flames star Johnny Gaudreau.
4. Ovechkin is the new Captain Canada
If this is the end of the Breakaway Challenge for good, then Alex Ovechkin will go down as the greatest participant the competition has ever had. He won the first ever event in 2008 and with the chance to defend his crown in 2009, he pulled out all the stops, getting a hand from fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin and endearing himself to the Montreal crowd with an interesting choice of headwear.
3. The transformation of Burns
It almost doesn’t matter which team you support when it comes to Brent Burns. He’s an absolute stud on the blueline for the Sharks, he’s one of the most exciting players in the game, he’s got a unique love of animals and he has a Harry Potter tattoo. That last one will only please a certain generation of fan, but it’s indicative of the personality he brings. Burns also isn’t afraid to make light of his grizzled appearance, and he pulled off the perfect gag at the 2016 All-Star Game.
2. SuperKane takes center stage in Ottawa
Ovechkin was the king of the Breakaway Challenge for three straight All-Star Games, and it took a superhuman performance by Patrick Kane for someone to finally take the crown from the ‘Great 8.’ Kane went prop heavy with his attempts, but the clever use of an “exploding” puck was really the topper.
1. Subban pays tribute to greatness
As he continues his career well into his 40s, Jaromir Jagr’s status as one of the game’s most beloved players grows, and that seemingly goes for both players and fans alike. So, how do you win over an entire crowd and one of the greatest players the game has ever seen in one breakaway attempt? Well, you throw on a mullet, a Jagr jersey, some Cooperalls and cap it off with a salute.