FILE - This Dec. 8, 2010, file photo shows Pittsburgh Penguins\' Matt Cooke (24) playing in an NHL hockey game between the Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, in Pittsburgh. Cooke has been hit with a four-game suspension by the NHL. The league made the announcement on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, a day after Cooke hit Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin from behind in a 4-1 loss. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
Author: The Hockey News
Penguins F Matt Cooke suspended 4 games by NHL for hit on Blue Jackets D Tyutin
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Penguins forward Matt Cooke has been hit with a four-game suspension by the NHL.
The league made the announcement on Wednesday, a day after Cooke hit Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin from behind in a 4-1 loss. Tyutin was pummelled face first into the boards. He quickly got back on his skates.
Cooke will miss Thursday's home game against Los Angeles, as well as road games against the Islanders, Rangers and Colorado.
He will forfeit US$87,804.88 in salary. Cooke was also suspended for two games on Nov. 28, 2009.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Ondrej Pavelec made his season debut one day after getting the call up to the Jets, and he brought the crowd to their feet with an awesome stick save that stole a sure goal from the Coyotes.
Ondrej Pavelec spent 99 days with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, and in his one day with the Winnipeg Jets this season, Pavelec already went out and made arguably the best stop any Jets goaltender has made this season.
Wednesday’s outing against the Arizona Coyotes started shaky for Pavelec, who was taking his first turn in goal since closing out the 2015-16 campaign with a victory over the Los Angeles Kings on April 9. Pavelec was beaten on the first shot he faced, a low wrister from Josh Jooris, and it seemed like it could be again one of those nights.
Pavelec corrected his play, though, and made a spectacular save in the second period. After the Coyotes flipped the puck in on goal, Tobias Rieder was able to beat Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien to the loose puck and cut towards the corner, spotting a trailing Alexander Burmistrov. The pass isolated Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey in a 2-on-1 situation, which led to Burmistrov faking a shot on goal before sliding the puck across to a wide-open Radim Vrbata.
Pavelec, who had committed to the fake shot, was down and out when Vrbata received the pass, but the Jets netminder stuck out his paddle, turning aside what should have been Vrbata’s 11th goal of the campaign.
It was the best stop Pavelec made on the night and one that came at a big moment. Had the Coyotes scored, the Jets would have entered the third period protecting a one-goal lead instead of entering the final frame with a comfortable two-goal cushion. The Jets gave Pavelec some extra room to work with in his return to the NHL, too, by netting two goals less than a minute and a half apart midway through the third for a 6-2 lead.
In a way, the first-shot-first-goal followed later by an awesome save perfectly encapsulates Pavelec’s time in Winnipeg. He has been shaky at times and had some difficult outings along the way, but his highlight reel is long, including a number of saves that, realistically, he had no business making.
Regardless of the victory, the Jets are still likely going to be looking for more from their starters down the line, be it Pavelec, Connor Hellebuyck or Michael Hutchinson. The three goals allowed by Pavelec marks the fifth-straight game and sixth in seven outings that the Jets have surrendered three or more goals against.
The search is on for the next coach of the Islanders following the firing of Jack Capuano, and a familiar face could be in the mix after New York received permission to speak with Gerard Gallant.
Speaking to media Tuesday about the firing of coach Jack Capuano, Islanders GM Garth Snow said there was no clearcut timeline on when the organization would plan to bring in its next coach and replacement for current interim bench boss Doug Weight. That said, Snow reportedly isn’t wasting much time looking into his options.
That Snow is, or possibly was, considering Gallant for the position should come as no surprise. Gallant’s work behind the Panthers bench was fantastic, especially his work with the group during the 2015-16 season which saw Florida post the most wins in franchise history and finish atop the Atlantic Division.
It would be interesting to see what Gallant could do in New York, though, given how he turned around a Panthers team that had mustered only 29 wins two years prior. In his first season behind the bench, the Cats improved by 25 points and posted nine additional wins. That was followed by another nine-win improvement and another 12 points in the standings. The Panthers struggled early this season, which led to Gallant’s firing, but some saw Florida’s change in direction as a move made as much because of philosophy as it was the team’s on-ice performance.
Beyond Gallant’s recent track record of turning around struggling clubs, Gallant has a history with the Islanders organization spanning two seasons. In 2007, Gallant came aboard as an assistant with New York and he remained with the team until 2009, working under coaches Ted Nolan and Scott Gordon. Snow was in his first few years as the club’s GM during Gallant’s years as an assistant with the Islanders, and the two certainly have a relationship from that time with the club.
Turning around the Islanders won’t simply be about finding the right coach, though. New York’s off-season moves, which included letting Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen walk while dishing out big money for Andrew Ladd, haven’t paid off in the least and the inability to build around captain John Tavares has been apparent. The Islanders aren’t likely to simply hire the first former NHL bench boss they can find, either, and the process of hiring a coach is almost certain to take longer than a few days or weeks.
This is a crucial time for the Islanders, who looked ready to take a step forward but are instead sitting in the Eastern Conference basement. Whether Gallant lands the job or the New York chooses to go another direction, it’s not a decision the team will be making overnight.
With Morgan Rielly sidelined, another one of Toronto's top defensemen comes to the fore. Can Gardiner continue to play strong with a bigger burden on him?
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been remarkably healthy this season – must be all that kid blood – but when Morgan Rielly went down with a leg injury early against Buffalo, the squad was put to the test. As the remaining left-shooting D-men, Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick were tasked the most. And Gardiner, who came into the NHL as a bit of a wild horse on the back end, proved why he is being trusted more this season.
“He was huge,” said center Auston Matthews. “Going down to five ‘D,’ he came up big. That was really positive for us, being able to shut them down and come out with a win.”
Gardiner ended up playing 29:24, the most any Maple Leaf has played in a game this season. And they seemed like hard minutes; Toronto had to come back from a 2-0 deficit, then defend right to the final buzzer as the Sabres unsuccessfully (but gamely) attempted to tie a 4-3 game. But for Gardiner, making simple plays and letting the forwards push the pace was the key: in the end, Toronto dominated possession 60-40.
“I don’t feel terribly tired,” he said afterwards. “It depends on the game – you play 29 minutes but it’s all in the offensive zone, but another game it’s all in the defensive zone, so it just depends.”
The evolution of Gardiner has been interesting to witness. He’s the best possession player on the team this year and has been one of the best for the past few seasons. He’s a little more responsible with the puck now and is on pace to smash his previous season high for points (his record is 31 and right now he’s at 22 with half a season to go), while playing the same amount of minutes he has been for the past couple years.
“My stats are better than they usually are, offensively,” Gardiner said. “But more importantly, I feel like I’m a more all-around player, playing against tougher competition at times. My goal was to be more consistent and I think I’ve done that.”
Gardiner was a hot-shot prospect back in his Minnesota high school days, playing for the Minnetonka Skippers. High school games in the state run 17-minute periods and teams aren’t very deep, which means top players get a lot more ice time than they would elsewhere. I asked Gardiner if the Buffalo game reminded him of his time with the Skippers and he had a laugh.
“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “I played over half the game back in the day, for sure.”
Rielly is now listed as day-to-day and will miss Toronto’s game against the New York Rangers on Thursday. Given how much offense the Rangers can put up, this will be another good challenge for Gardiner, even though he won’t have to play as many minutes. Some folks have questioned whether or not Rielly is a No. 1 defenseman and while I feel he has the skills and just need a little more help (his partner is Nikita Zaitsev, an NHL rookie, albeit a good one), it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Leafs to have Gardiner evolve even further when it comes to defensive play. The spotlight will be on Gardiner for the short term, so let’s see what he can do.