A.J. Messier Photography
A.J. Messier Photography
Philip Larsen got knocked unconscious, the Canucks retailiated without knowing what happened, and they could have hurt their teammate even worse in the process.
The incident was horrific. We can all agree on that.
Tuesday night in New Jersey, Vancouver Canucks blueliner Philip Larsen skated behind his net to retrieve a puck. He had no idea Devils left winger Taylor Hall was pursuing the same puck. They collided heavily. Larsen bashed his head on the ice and was knocked out cold.
It was a scary scene, undoubtedly, one that understandably evoked a ton of emotion from Larsen's teammates. It was hardly a surprise to see a flurry of Vancouver players swarm Hall and make him fight.
It was a shame, however, for multiple reasons. First off, the hit wasn't dirty. It wasn't even a deliberate bodycheck. Hall leaned back on his skates to slow his momentum and held out his arms as if protecting himself from imminent impact. It was more of a crash than a bonecrushing hit. We can debate whether Larsen's head was the principal point of contact – I don't believe it was at all – but it's irrelevant when assessing Hall's guilt. There was no intent there. He won't be disciplined by the NHL for an accident.
And yet, thanks to the sport's culture of immediate and forceful vengeance, Hall had to fight anyway. In the spur of the moment, in the heat of elite competition, players are simply too jacked up to take a breath and assess the situation. They see a comrade fall and, in mere milliseconds, seek and destroy whoever caused the harm.
“You always have a problem with a hit when one of your guys gets hit hard," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins told the Vancouver Province's Jason Botchford after the the game. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a clean hit. You have a problem when a guy gets hit that hard. I think all coaches would.”
The ironic thing about this tough-guy mentality is that it could end up pushing one of the toughest things about hockey out of the game: good, clean hits. If the swarm mentality goes on much longer, the only guys willing to lay opponents out with big hits will be those ready and willing to drop the gloves right afterward. Sooner or later players might decide it's not worth sitting five minutes and/or risking injury just to put a lick on a guy. And, in Hall's case, he wasn't even trying to drill Larsen.
Will we ever stop seeing players attacked after clean hits? I doubt it. The revenge assault is a crime of passion, a snap decision. But maybe, just maybe, the Canucks and players all over the world can learn a bit from what happened right after Larsen got hit. Watch:
The first instinct, sadly, is not to help Larsen, but to destroy Hall. Center Michael Chaput immediately starts a fight. That causes a pileup of players from both teams – all around the unconscious Larsen. It's downright disturbing to see him getting kicked in the head by his own teammates’ skates. Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom tries to box out Larsen and keep him safe. Markus Granlund tries as well but has to step over and onto Larsen in the process. It’s a miracle Larsen wasn’t cut. None of that would've happened had Chaput thought of Larsen first.
The ugly scene is a reminder that, right after a teammate takes a massive hit, the first priority should be to protect him. The best way to do that isn't to attack his attacker. It's to attend to the teammate first. There's plenty of time to review what happened and take down the perpetrator's number for later in the game. That's what jumbo-tron replays are for. And, in cases like Hall's, the violence would be averted altogether if players watched the replay and realized it was an accident.
Sadly, the idea is a pipe dream, and I don’t expect players to learn from Larsen's fate anytime soon. But we can always hope.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
At least two teams are reportedly interested in acquiring the Sedins for their full cap hit and Canucks veterans could draw interest at the trade deadline. The Kings are looking to clear cap space by moving out Teddy Purcell.
The ongoing struggles of the Vancouver Canucks this season generated some speculation over possible roster moves.
In early November, it was reported GM Jim Benning was in the market for a 20-goal winger. At one point, the Canucks were linked to Buffalo Sabres left wing Evander Kane, but Benning reportedly ended that inquiry.
By late-November, The Province's Jason Botchford suggested the Canucks could get an early start on deciding which players to move by the March 1 trade deadline. He felt veterans such as Ryan Miller, Alex Edler, Alexandre Burrows and perhaps even Daniel and Henrik Sedin could be on the move.
Unless those players want out of Vancouver, however, that's not going to happen. All carry some form of a no-trade clause in their respective contracts. Benning tells Botchford he won't move them unless they ask to be dealt.
Botchford said he knows of two teams that would be willing to acquire the Sedins for their full combined salary-cap hit of $14 million. If the Canucks were to pick up part of that cap hit (which runs through 2017-18), he thinks more clubs would be interested.
The sticking point, of course, is the Sedins' willingness to be traded. So far, they've given no indication that they want out of Vancouver. As Botchford points out, such a move would likely have to take place in the off-season.
Even if the Canucks put the Sedins on the block, they're unlikely to fetch a significant return. While they're still putting up solid numbers (17 points in 26 games), the 36-year-old twins are well past their prime. Teams aren't going to give up a lot for a couple of fading stars. Picks and prospects, sure, but nothing that would immediately reverse the Canucks' fortunes.
As for Miller, he and Canucks management could be willing to work out a contract extension. Botchford's collegue Ben Kuzma doubts the Canucks place the 36-year-old goalie on the block by the trade deadline.
Kuzma notes Miller's stats aren't great this season. However, he feels he'll still be a good fit with Jacob Markstrom, buying some time until promising goalie prospect Thatcher Demko is ready to move up. He wonders if Miller might be agreeable to a two- or three-year deal worth between $4-$4.5 million per season. That's a significant pay cut from Miller's current $6-million annual salary.
Considering Miller's no longer an elite goaltender, he probably won't get much better than that on the open market. He could test next summer's free-agent market, but will likely find few decent offers. He could prefer to avoid uncertainty over his future by staying in Vancouver for a reasonable contract.
KINGS TRYING TO FREE SPACE WITH PURCELL MOVE
Los Angeles Kings left wing Teddy Purcell cleared waivers over the weekend. Signed as a free agent last summer to a one-year, $1.6-million contract, the 31-year-old managed only two points in 12 games this season. Illness and a lower-body injury sidelined him in October, and he was a healthy scratch in the Kings' last four games.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggests contract and budget issues explain why Purcell, who exceeded 40 points three times in his career, went unclaimed. LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen reports of some trade talk with another club prior to Purcell hitting the waiver wire.
With 21 of 30 NHL teams carrying $2 million or less in cap space, moving Purcell's cap hit is difficult right now. The Kings obviously want to shed his salary without taking any back in a deal. They could be waiting until later in the season to find the right deal.
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.
The Rangers started the season as one of the league’s hottest teams, but have come back down to earth lately. Getting back on track will be a bit harder without the services of Rick Nash for the next week.
Another year, another ailment for Rick Nash, but luckily for the New York Rangers winger this one won’t be keeping him out of the lineup long-term.
Nash, 32, was forced to the leave the Rangers’ loss to the New York Islanders early on Tuesday, suffering a lower-body ailment that put him out of the game, and an MRI on Wednesday revealed that Nash will be sidelined for somewhere in the neighborhood of one week due to a groin injury.
Considering Nash was forced out of action due to the injury, that he’ll miss only one week is about as good as the news could be. Most Rangers fans would have thought the worst when Nash was forced to leave the game, especially given he missed nearly a quarter of the 2015-16 campaign due to a knee injury.
Being out for a week would force Nash, currently third on the Rangers in scoring behind J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes with 18 points, to miss anywhere from four to six games, depending when he’s feeling fit to return to action. Only one of those games are divisional games, which is a slight bonus, but the set of games against the Chicago Blackhawks is certainly a pair the Rangers could use Nash for, and getting by the New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets without Nash in the lineup is going to require someone else stepping up.
Nash is in the midst of quite the bounce back season, too. While it may be a far cry from his remarkable 2014-15 campaign in which he scored a career-best 42 goals to go along with 69 points, Nash has already potted 11 goals this season and, prior to his injury, was on pace for another 30-goal campaign.
Even if Nash reaches the 20-goal mark this season, though, it would be a step up from his past campaign. He managed only 15 goals and 36 points in 2015-16, making for the lowest full-season goal total of his career.
Nash isn’t the only injury concern for the Rangers right now, however. New York will also be without Matt Puempel for the foreseeable future due to a concussion and Mika Zibanejad’s broken fibula will likely keep him out of action for at least another month, if not more.
The Rangers, who started the season as one of the league’s hottest teams, are just 4-5-1 in their past 10 games.
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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.”