Craig Adams of the Chicago Blackhawks is upended in front of the goal against the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Craig Adams of the Chicago Blackhawks is upended in front of the goal against the Colorado Avalanche. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
ECHL defenseman Anthony Calabrese is “lucky to be alive” after a “careless, reckless” hit, and Tyler Murovich, who delivered the blow, has been given a 12-game suspension as a first-time offender.
There are few plays scarier than seeing a player hit from behind and sent headfirst into the boards. That kind of play is made that much harder to watch when knowing the severity of the injury suffered.
During an ECHL contest on Nov. 24 between the Norfolk Admirals and Atlanta Gladiators, ECHL veteran Tyler Murovich delivered an incredibly dangerous shove to the back of Anthony Calabrese, a 24-year-old defenseman who’s only 12 games into his ECHL career.
The result of the hit was frightening. Calabrese was left laying face down on the ice, near motionless. The Admirals rearguard would eventually be placed on a stretcher, taken from the ice and transported to hospital.
Brutal check from behind leads to 12-game ban in the ECHL... pic.twitter.com/ytfd9AwKDd— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) December 5, 2016
The ECHL took quick action when it came to the hit, handing down an immediate indefinite suspension and fining Murovich for his actions. And after days of deliberation, the league came to a conclusion on the exact length of Murovich’s ban, giving him a 12-game suspension for a “careless, reckless” hit. Murovich will be kept out of action until Jan. 5.
That may seem harsh to some given that Murovich is a first-time offender, but given the severity of Calabrese’s injury, it actually seems like a somewhat light punishment.
As a result of the hit, Calabrese suffered broken C7 and T1 vertebrae. In simpler terms, he broke both his neck and his back. Oh, and he also punctured his lung. In fact, Calabrese told The Virginian-Pilot’s Jim Hodges that doctors told the young center that he’s “lucky to be alive.”
“It was a miracle, and they say I’m going to make a full recovery,” Calabrese told Hodges. “It’s going to be a long road, but I’d rather be alive than be in a wheelchair the rest of my life.”
What helped Calabrese escape with his life, he told Hodges, was advice he had gotten early in his career from a high school coach. Calabrese was taught that if he was ever going into the boards head first to lift his chin and turn to the side in an attempt to avoid taking the brunt of the impact with the top of his head.
“That’s honestly the only thing that registered in my mind when I was going in: at the last minute, pick my head up,” Calabrese told Hodges. “I remember picking my head up and turning it to the right.”
Thankfully, doctors told Calabrese that he can eventually return to the ice and that the injuries suffered from the hit won’t cost him his career. His spinal cord, he told Hodges, wasn’t damaged due to the hit. And, as hard as it may be to believe, doctors said it was the “best possible break” in a situation such as Calabrese’s.
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While the loss of the two centers is a crushing blow in the short-term, this team is positioned too well to lose assets in a hasty trade scenario
The Montreal Canadiens will be without top center Alex Galchenyuk and fellow pivot David Desharnais for at least six weeks, perhaps even eight. Both players sustained knee injuries in recent games and the news is obviously not good. But GM Marc Bergevin would make it even worse by jumping into a hasty trade.
True, the Habs now look skeletal down the middle (though Tomas Plekanec isn't a horrible choice for the top line and Andrew Shaw can help out), but this is a short-term problem. Montreal is the top team in the Eastern Conference right now and with netminder Carey Price, they can win more than a few games in the next month or so just on the strength of his gifted play. And the Shea Weber-led defense has been better than expected, so even if the Habs are super-boring and conservative until February, they'll get some results.
Will Montreal still be on top by then? Maybe not, but as long as they don't lose like, 20 games in a row, they'll still be in a playoff position with enough runway left to climb back up the rungs. And as the Los Angeles Kings have proven twice already, you can win the Stanley Cup as long as you get into the playoffs, particularly if your goalie is one of the best on the planet (caveat: being a great possession team helps and the Canadiens are only middling).
But a trade is not the way to go, particularly since the Canadiens aren't deep to begin with. They don't have many attractive pro prospects right now – unless they can drum up interest in a Charles Hudon or Nikita Scherbak – and their best recent draft pick is defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who should be seen as untouchable. I mean, if Pittsburgh offers up Evgeni Malkin for the 2016 first-rounder and a couple other goodies, you make that trade – but I don't think that's going to happen.
If anything, Montreal needs to build their pipeline up, instead of taking assets away from it. The Canadiens ranked just 23rd in the NHL in our most recent Future Watch edition and Sergachev was the only pick they made in the first two rounds this summer. They do have two second-rounders for 2017 (their own and Washington's selection), but again: they need those.
Galchenyuk and Desharnais will be back and in all likelihood, the Canadiens will still be in a playoff position. The short-term may seem a little bleak, but the price of a quick patch isn't worth the long-term loss. Patience is a virtue here.
From big off-season acquisitions struggling to oft-maligned players proving their worth, the NHL has its fair share of players who are hard to figure out.
I'm still confused.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NHL's five most confusing teams, at least from my perspective. These were the teams that I just couldn't figure out. Were they good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? I'd spent the season trying to work it out, and come up empty.
As it turned out, I wasn't alone. More than a few readers confessed to being confused by those teams too, not to mention several others. It was like having a support group. A support group of confused hockey fans, all watching the games unfold with their heads tilted like a puppy seeing a toilet flush for the first time.
Well, today I'm going to call another meeting of the confused hockey fan network. But this time, we're not looking at teams. No, today we're going to dive into some specific players that have me perplexed. In most of these cases, I thought I had a handle on things. But now I'm not so sure.
Maybe you can help me out. Or maybe you're just as confused as I am. Either way, I think it will be good for my soul to admit that I just can't figure these guys out.
What I thought I knew: After an up-and-down start to this NHL career, Elliott had settled in to a predictable pattern with the Blues. He'd play well. He'd post strong numbers, sometimes even league-leading ones. And then, just when push came to shove, the Blues would lose faith in him and hand the starter's job to someone else. Maybe it was the backup. Maybe it was a pricey trade acquisition. Maybe it was even a semi-retired legend, in a move we'd all agree to just pretend never happened. But time and time again, the Blues had no faith in Elliott.
And I was convinced that they were wrong. This was the classic case of a team over-thinking things, or maybe letting dressing room politics or a faith in intangibles override basic logic. The numbers didn't lie: Elliott was one of the best goalies in the league. And when the Flames nabbed him at a discount in the offseason, I was sure that they'd found their starter.
Where I'm at now: Sitting around wondering what happened. Which is also where Elliott finds himself most games these days.
Chad Johnson has been a great story, and you can't blame the Flames for riding the hot hand. Elliott got off to a bad start, and when you're a young team that hasn't earned a ton of self-confidence quite yet, you can't let yourself fall too far out of the race. The Flames are being smart here.
But… Elliott is still good, right? Every goalie has the occasional slump, so we can't panic over 13 games. Then again, Elliott's never really done much outside of Ken Hitchcock's goalie factory, and the Blues still didn't believe in him. Did they know something that the rest of us, including the Flames, somehow missed?
What I thought I knew: Remember when Ryan was left off of Team USA in 2014, partly because Brian Burke didn't think he could spell "intense"? What a ridiculous snub that was. Hey guys, 30-goal scorers in their prime don't exactly grow on trees.
Where I'm at now: Has anyone noticed that Bobby Ryan doesn't score 30 goals anymore?
Well, sure, I imagine Senator fans were already in the loop on this one. But it feels like the rest of us have been slow to realize that Ryan just hasn't been the same player in Ottawa that he was in Anaheim. His best year since the 2013 trade was only 23 goals, and that was back in 2013-14. This year, he has just three goals through 21 games.
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen that coming. Ryan was 26 when the trade went down, and in today's NHL, that's already past the peak of many forwards. But the Senators clearly thought they were getting an elite player with some big seasons left in him – remember, we're just two years removed from them handing him a $50-million contract.
Ryan's had to overcome some tough hurdles in his life, including the loss of his mother this summer. It still feels like he could rebound and reclaim his status as a first-line player. But if not, the budget-conscious Senators may be stuck with an ugly-looking contract that they can't really afford.
What I thought I knew: Any Leaf fan who was paying attention was in on this one. Sure, Bozak had put up some decent stats over the years, but he'd done it as Phil Kessel's sidekick, inexplicably getting all the playing time with Toronto's best player and reaping the rewards. And even then, his numbers had been just OK, never topping 50 points in a season and struggling in his own end.
It was a classic case of a superstar propping up an also-ran. And once Kessel was shipped out of town, we'd see the real Tyler Bozak.
Where I'm at now: Hey, it turns out the real Tyler Bozak is pretty good.
Not "first line center" good. Certainly not "team MVP" good, despite some of the sillier hype from the Kessel era. But his production hasn't cratered without his superstar wingman. In fact, it's improved slightly, and he's on pace for the most productive season of his career this year.
Maybe he's benefitting from the Leafs finally having some depth at center. Maybe he's embracing his role as the "dad figure" on one of the league's youngest rosters. Or maybe he was just better than I thought he was all along.
What I thought I knew: He's easily one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league.
Where I'm at now: Pretty much the same place. Which is why what's going on in Dallas right now is so hard to figure out.
Last month, Lindy Ruff made Klingberg a healthy scratch, and everyone went "What?" Then we found out that Klingberg had missed a team meeting, so fair enough — the rules apply to everyone. But then last week he was scratched again, this time for performance reasons.
And sure enough, he hasn't been great this year. He's on pace for the worst offensive totals of his career, and he's getting creamed on possession, where he'd previously been very solid. Sure, maybe nobody would look good in front of that Dallas goaltending. And Ruff is carrying eight defenseman, which makes his decisions tougher. But Klingberg really has looked off this year, and with a 98.5 PDO, this isn't all about bad luck and shaky percentages. Something's wrong.
We're talking about a guy who finished sixth in the Norris voting last year, in just his second NHL season. It looked like the Stars had themselves a poor man's Erik Karlsson in the making. Maybe they still do. But this season has turned a sure thing into a major question mark.
What I thought I knew: No clue. None. He seems like a good guy. Smallish, and without any especially flashy numbers, but he always seemed like a nice underdog story who'd overachieved over the years on a long path towards earning some respect. I usually like those kind of stories.
But over the last few years, Russell has somehow morphed into the poster child for the debate between analytics and old school. And you're not allowed to stake out a middle ground. You have to either think he's the second coming of Scott Stevens, willing his team to victory by sheer force of heart, or you have to think he's hot garbage. Those are your only two options. And you better choose quickly, because as soon as his name get mentioned, everybody is going to start yelling.
Where I'm at now: SO MUCH YELLING!
Honestly, I have no idea. When Russell hit free agency this summer, I thought the big numbers being thrown around were a little ridiculous. So did the league, apparently, since he had to settle for a one-year deal with the Oilers. That seemed like a good fit, and you figured Russell could settle in, put together a decent season, and take another shot at a big UFA payday next year.
No such luck. No, apparently we all have to keep fighting the Great Kris Russell Battle until the end of time. Is he good? Bad? What position does he even play? Nobody remembers.
We have always been at war with Kris Russell. Now pick a side and go yell at somebody about it.
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.
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.”