Movements in the world of hockey Thursday:
American Hockey League
CHICAGO WOLVES-Signed G Craig Kowalski.
Movements in the world of hockey Thursday:
American Hockey League
CHICAGO WOLVES-Signed G Craig Kowalski.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has thrown his support behind a play-in wildcard game for the playoffs. Holland has never had a bad idea...until now.
It’s not often, if ever, that your trusty correspondent disagrees with one of the brightest, most progressive voices in hockey. But when it comes to the notion of holding a wildcard play-in game to give one more team per conference a chance to make the playoffs, that’s where I have to draw the line with one Ken Holland.
Speaking to Gary Lawless of tsn.ca, the Detroit Red Wings GM and the man who brought us 3-on-3 overtime opined that he would like to see the playoff pool expanded to essentially have three wildcard teams instead of two. The wildcard team with the best regular-season record of the three would be guaranteed a playoff berth, while the next two would hold a one-game, winner-take-all event to decide the second wildcard team.
There hasn’t been much of an appetite for this sort of thing among the game's power brokers, thank goodness, but there wasn’t much of an appetite for 3-on-3 overtime at one time, either. Holland can be very persuasive. Not sure if he hypnotizes his fellow GMs by swinging one of his four Stanley Cup rings on a string in front of their eyes, but he has a way of getting them to come around his way of thinking. Here’s hoping they resist the temptation this time.
Here’s why. Because any excitement the wildcard race would create in the markets that are involved would be mitigated by the notion that the league is once again rewarding mediocrity. These teams have 82 games to prove they’re in the top half of the league. That doesn’t seem, at least to these eyes, to be too much to ask. A better idea would be to just give each of the No. 9 seeds a nice, shiny Participation Trophy and send them home for the summer.
Geez, Louise, don’t we have enough parity shoved down our throats by the NHL already? Let’s see, when a team is killing a penalty it is allowed, for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain, to ice the puck with impunity. And if it gets scored on, the penalized player is allowed back on the ice. Players can glove the puck ahead in the defensive zone, but not the offensive zone. The NHL has a draft to ensure that all the best players are distributed fairly. The NHL has a salary cap to prevent rich, large market teams from having a competitive advantage. Teams that lose in overtime or the skills competition get a single loser point for just showing up, which already creates trumped-up playoff races and bogus .500 teams. Someday when the league and the players can agree on it, they'll get around to streamlining goaltending equipment. The NHL awarded a trophy to the best defensive forward for more than 20 years before it decided to get around to establishing one for the league’s top goal scorer. Rather than reward excellence, the NHL has time after time tailored its rules and philosophy to bringing great teams down to the others’ level.
And this would just be another example of that. Last season, the Minnesota Wild limped into eighth in the Western Conference and lost their last five games of the season. The Colorado Avalanche finished five points behind the Wild, losing each of their last six games of the season. Wow, that would have been some game, eh? The only problem is that the way those teams were playing down the stretch, the league might have had to postpone the start of the playoffs to let them finish the game. When you take into account the 11 bogus points the Wild gained for losing in overtime and shootouts, they lost six more games than they won last season. And they still made the playoffs. That’s quite enough, thank you.
Had there been a play-in game in 2011-12, the Los Angeles Kings would have had to play the Calgary Flames in Game No. 83 of the season. If the Flames had won, the Kings would not have gone on to win their first Stanley Cup. If there had been one in 2014-15, the Winnipeg Jets would have faced the Kings and had they lost, we would have been deprived of their first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, one that went four straight, but might have been the closest, most intense and competitive sweeps in the history of the game.
Look, most teams are already in the playoff race until the last quarter of the season. Unless they’re really bad, like say, Colorado is this season. The league constantly trumpets how close its games are, conveniently failing to point out the fact that it’s only that way because nobody scores goals anymore. The NHL loves its parity, but enough is enough. It reminds me of house league hockey where scorekeepers stop adding goals to the winning team if the margin between the teams is more than five goals, as if the kids are too dumb to figure out that they’re actually losing 14-0 if the scoreboard only says 5-0. It’s all a part of the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality that many observers think is adding to a sense of entitlement in kids that they are now taking into adulthood.
I’m not about to wade into that debate at the moment, but one thing I do know is that there’s no place for it in the best league in the world where the players are also smart enough to know when they don’t belong in the playoffs. And it’s the NHL, which stands for National Hockey League, not National House League.
Ryan Spooner’s offensive struggles in Boston have seen his name pop up repeatedly in trade speculation, and the same goes for Jimmy Hayes. Meanwhile, the Canucks seem more than willing to wait on Jake Virtanen’s development.
Boston Bruins winger Ryan Spooner is popping up more frequently of late in the NHL rumor mill. His name first surfaced in late October, when Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Bruins could listen to offers, though he doubted they were shopping him.
Coming off a 49-point performance in 2015-16, the 24-year-old Spooner's managed only nine points in 25 games. Some observers feel his struggles are tied to be played out of position, as he's a center converted to skating at left wing. He's bounced around the Bruins lineup this season.
Given Spooner's ongoing offensive difficulties and his recent demotion to the fourth line, the trade chatter intensified in recent days. On Saturday, Friedman's colleague Nick Kypreos suggested it could make sense for the Bruins to trade the winger to the Vancouver Canucks. He pointed out Spooner worked well on the power play last season with Loui Eriksson, who's now a Canuck.
CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty followed up on Monday reporting multiple sources claim the Bruins spoke with several teams regarding Spooner. One source told Haggerty the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks were among the suitors.
Haggerty claims the Bruins' asking price is a top-six forward, marking a change from earlier speculation suggesting they could seek a top-four defenseman. They'll obviously have to package him with another player, prospect or draft pick to land either type of return.
It's unsurprising the Hurricanes, Isles and Sharks could be interested in Spooner. All three are among the league's lowest-scoring clubs. Factor in his $950K cap hit, and he'd be a bargain pickup for any club seeking an affordable forward with scoring potential.
Those clubs, however, don't have much to offer up in terms of top-six forwards. The Bruins could look at Elias Lindholm, but the Canes are unlikely to move him.
Perhaps the Isles will consider parting ways with Ryan Strome, who's stock has declined since his 50-point performance in 2014-15. Earlier this season, there was talk the Sharks could shop Matt Nieto or Tommy Wingels, though neither can be considered top-six forward material.
BRUINS’ HAYES ALSO IN RUMOR MILL
Spooner might not be the only struggling forward the Bruins try to move this season. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports they wouldn't mind moving winger Jimmy Hayes, who's managed only one goal in 23 games this season.
Hayes, 27, will be tougher to move. He's signed through 2017-18 at an annual cap hit of $2.3 million, plus he's been a bust as a power forward.
CANUCKS WILLING TO WAIT ON VIRTANEN
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman raised some eyebrows among Vancouver fans last week with speculation the Buffalo Sabres could be scouting Canucks right wing Jake Virtanen. The 20-year-old was recently demoted to their AHL affiliate in Utica, NY.
Jason Botchford of The Province reports Virtanen at one point was linked to Sabres left wing Evander Kane. However, he cites Canucks colour commentator Dave Tomlinson telling TSN 1040 the club won't be acquiring Kane and won't trade Virtanen.
Bear in mind Friedman was merely guessing about who the Sabres were following in Utica, and Tomlinson wasn't singling out the Sportsnet analyst. The Kane-to-Vancouver trade talk died out about two weeks ago, largely over what was believed a high asking price by the Sabres. There are no specifics over what that was, but it's thought the Sabres wanted one of the Canucks' good young blueliners.
Virtanen's taking longer than expected to blossom into a full-time NHL player, but he still has plenty of time yet to develop. The Canucks seem willing to remain patient with him.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.). For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Canucks defenseman Philip Larsen was left motionless after taking a big hit from Devils winger Taylor Hall on Tuesday night. Larsen, 27, was taken off the ice on a stretcher, but was responsive before being taken to hospital for further evaluation.
There’s concern for the health of Canucks defenseman Philip Larsen after the 27-year-old was hit hard and stretchered off the ice Tuesday
In the second period of Vancouver’s outing against the New Jersey Devils, the puck got worked behind the Canucks’ net, where Larsen was waiting for a puck that had been sent back for him to pick up. As Larsen turned to receive the puck on his backhand, he turned his head and when he swung back around he was met with a hard check from Devils winger Taylor Hall.
The hit knocked Larsen hard, causing him to fall backwards and slam his head off the ice. A scrum around Larsen broke out following the hit by Hall as Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom and center Markus Granlund attempted to push the pile up away from Larsen, who remained motionless on the ice.
A hush fell across the Prudential Center as medical staffs from both the Devils and Canucks attended to Larsen. After a few minutes, Larsen’s teammates and the medical staffs helped the lifted the defenseman, who was strapped to a backboard, onto a stretcher and wheeled him off the ice.
Thankfully, the Canucks announced Larsen was both awake and responsive before being taken to hospital for further evaluation.
When it comes to the hit by Hall, it’s not so much a dirty hit as it is an absolutely terrible result. As he followed through on the hit, Hall kept his arm tucked, and the contact with the head isn’t so much a case of Hall targeting Larsen as it is the awkward way in which they collided as the Canucks rearguard opened up to his left.
More than anything, it’s the unfortunate contact Larsen’s head makes with the ice that results in the injury to Larsen.
Larsen has played in 16 games this season for the Canucks, registering four assists and averaging nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game. Larsen spent the past two seasons in the KHL before signing a one-year, $1.025-million deal with the Canucks in the off-season.
He was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth-round, 149th overall, in 2008, and has played 141 career games with eight goals and 35 points.
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How good has Devan Dubnyk been for the Minnesota Wild this season? Well, according to his coach: "If he was in Toronto, there'd be no Carey Price."
It’s nowhere on the scale of grand gestures when compared to the ‘triple low-five’ P.K. Subban and Carey Price used to do at center ice, but Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild have a rather interesting post-win ritual. At some point, Staal comes to Dubnyk in the dressing room and says, “You looked like you knew what you were doing tonight,” and the two of them bump fists. “I appreciate that,” is Dubnyk’s response. “I’m just trying to trick everybody just a little bit longer.”
But the fact of the matter is, Dubnyk is not tricking anyone. He’s playing in the best league in the world, one where posers and phonies get exposed pretty quickly. And he’s not only playing, he’s been a dominant force for the Wild this season. Among goalies with a minimum of eight appearances this season, no goalie matches Dubnyk’s .946 save percentage or his 1.65 goals-against average. His four shutouts also leads the league. With 35 saves in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night, Dubnyk was a winner in his 300th career start.
Them’s Vezina numbers. And Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who knows a good sound bite when he sees one, had a pretty bold proclamation when it came to Dubnyk’s status among his brethren in the NHL this season. “If he was in Toronto, there’d be no Carey Price,” Boudreau said. “I’m just saying media-wise. I mean, he hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any game he’s played this year. He’s held us in. It was 17-3 in shots in the third period and they didn’t get any.”
Much has been made of Dubnyk’s renaissance since he adopted a technique known as head trajectory, which in its simplest terms, is tracking the puck with your head instead of your eyes. Before Dubnyk started doing it, he was out of the NHL, skating as a Black Ace as the Montreal Canadiens fourth goaltender in the playoffs. Since then, he’s been an elite goaltender in the NHL and he’s being paid like one on the second year of a six-year deal worth $26 million.
And there might be a reason for that. The past couple of seasons, teams have collapsed in front of their nets more than ever, leaving a bunch of bodies from both teams in the way. In those instances, tracking those pucks has become more important than ever. “You have to pick and choose when I’m going to use my height to find pucks and when I’m going to need to get low,” Dubnyk said. “I think it’s more on the rebounds when those pucks do get through or if they hit shin pads. If you can look first, you’re eliminating moves that don’t seem to happen and you’re just more efficient. I always say it should look relatively boring when I’m back there.”
The ability to self-analyze quickly and adapt also helps. Case in point was the goal scored by Tyler Bozak, who pounced on a turnover, then undressed Minnesota defenseman Matt Dumba before firing a backhander over Dubnyk’s shoulder. Dubnyk was clearly upset with himself after the goal, but instead of falling apart, he steeled his resolve and completely shut the door on the Maple Leafs.
“That goal goes in and I give myself a quick talking to and I realize that’s not my best way to stop a puck and move on,” Dubnyk said. “And just make sure I do it properly the next time.” And for a guy who sees the ice so well, Dubnyk didn’t notice the shaft of Mitch Marner’s broken stick in front of him for the longest time. In fact, it wasn’t until Ben Smith scored. “Was that the stick or the ice? It hit something,” Dubnyk said. “I actually think it was the ice. I’ll have to watch the replay, but it skipped hard.”
Three years ago, when Dubnyk went from Edmonton to Nashville to Montreal in one season and finished in the American League, those kinds of goals would have destroyed him. But that summer, Dubnyk signed with the Phoenix Coyotes and joined Mike Smith, who was plucked off the same scrap heap as Dubnyk a couple of years before. Then came the trade to Minnesota, then he saved their season, got a big contract and hasn’t looked in the rearview mirror…except to appreciate what he has now.
“It’s a position that’s extremely mental and when things start to pile up, it’s not a position you can play if you’re second guessing what you’re doing,” Dubnyk said. “It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for anybody. That whole year that seemed like forever, I always believed I’d get another shot somewhere. I’ve said it before, but it just allowed me to be grateful that I have a job in the best league in the world.”