Canadiens mascot Youppi at the Kraft Hockeyville ceremonies in Roberval, Quebec. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/NHLI via Getty Images)
The first of our weekly look at the best images from the NHL and beyond..
Canadiens mascot Youppi at the Kraft Hockeyville ceremonies in Roberval, Quebec. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/NHLI via Getty Images)
The first of our weekly look at the best images from the NHL and beyond..
They sure teased us there during the first two weeks of the season. But we should have known all along that the NHL would go back to its defensive ways.
Boy, the NHL sure had us there for a while. During the first two weeks of the season, players were filling the nets like it was the Bill Clinton administration. The first three nights of this season, there was an 11-goal game, a 10-goal game, three nine-goal games and two eight-goal games. Rookie Auston Matthews turned in a record on the first night of the season by scoring four goals in his NHL debut and his team still lost the game.
Good times. Yup, good times. And like all good times, it inevitably had to come to an end. Because NHL. The orgy of scoring we saw early in the season has been replaced with what seems like a record number of loop passes from the defensive zone. And why are defensemen doing this at such a regular pace? Because trying to get the puck through the neutral zone along the ice is almost impossible.
Through the first 356 games of this season, NHL teams have scored a total of 1,880 goals. Those are real goals. The phony ones teams are awarded for winning the NHL’s skills competition are not included. That means teams are scoring at an average of 5.28 goals per game this season, which if it sticks, will mean scoring is at its lowest in the NHL since The Dead Puck Era™.
To put that into perspective, consider this: the Edmonton Oilers scored a total of 2,114 goals in the five seasons that spanned from 1981-82 through 1985-86. Even if they had recorded a shutout in every one of those 400 regular-season games, they’d still have averaged more goals per game (5.285) all by themselves than what both teams are scoring this season. Think about that for a minute.
Whatever the effect there was on goal scoring early in the season has clearly dissipated. After the first two weeks of the season, teams were scoring at a clip of 5.92 non-shootout goals per game. Since then, teams are scoring at just 5.04. As Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter recently put it, “Then NHL is a 3-2 league.” Unless it’s 2-1 in a shootout.
There were a number of theories as to why scoring was so high early in the season. Some thought it was because the 168 NHL players who played in the World Cup were in mid-season form and therefore, so much further ahead of their teammates. Another theory held that there were so many young players in the league who were not only dazzling fans with their scoring, but making the kinds of mistakes that result in goals going in on their own net. The third was that some early-season injuries to goalies were forcing a number of teams to use backups.
Whatever the case, the NHL has adapted the way it always does. Of course it doesn’t help that the NHL allows the Minnesota Wild to hack away at Johnny Gaudreau’s hand, with Eric Staal finally dealing the killing blow and breaking it with a third try, with impunity. Then you have Gaudreau’s own teammate Troy Brouwer basically saying he does that kind of stuff a lot, so all’s fair, then goes out and proves it by going after leading Calder Trophy candidate Mitch Marner’s hand with a two-hander a couple of weeks later. When these things go unpenalized, few in the hockey community point out that, you know, you’re not supposed to do that and it’s not such a good idea to target the best young players in the league. And those who do get shouted down by hockey people who claim these kids should be wearing more protective gloves to guard themselves from something that happens a hundred times a game. Well, if that’s the case and it does actually happen a hundred times a game, that tells us something about why scoring is so low in the first place.
While other leagues try to encourage offense, the NHL does almost nothing. Certainly nothing radical. It’s been more than a decade since the league reinvented itself after the 2004-05 lockout, but much of what the league has eliminated has crept back in. The league and NHL Players’ Association continue to work toward streamlining goalie equipment at what seems like a sloth’s pace. Ideas to limit shot blocking or reconfigure the goal posts so more pucks will go off the post and into the net are seen as far too radical.
Meanwhile, the goals continue to dry up. According to the Elias Sports Bureau at this point last season scoring was slightly lower than it is this season, but rallied to end up at 5.34 goals per game. Each of the past five years, goal scoring totals have been essentially identical, never going below 5.31 or above 5.34. That could very well be where we end up this season. The biggest difference between this season and last, said Bob Waterman of Elias, is that scoring didn't vary that much from Day 1 to the end of the season in 2015-16, but there was a glut of goals early this season.
The modern-day low for scoring is 5.14 goals per game in 2003-04, the season before the NHL unshackled its star players. If it breaches that number, it would hit a 61-year low (5.07 was recorded in 1955-56). Perhaps that might be enough to push the NHL to do something about it. Or not.
It might have made sense to keep pending free agent Ben Bishop all year – if the Lightning were healthy and not in a dogfight for a playoff berth.
The Tampa Bay Lightning endured 2015-16 holding onto the year's most coveted unrestricted free agent to be. General manager Steve Yzerman weathered a storm of rumors and clutched Steven Stamkos tightly. The Bolts had a real shot to win the Stanley Cup after reaching the final the previous year, so treating Steven Stamkos like a UFA trade deadline rental made sense. Tampa Bay ended up re-signing its captain, of course, but even if that hadn't happened this past summer, retaining Stammer was the right move.
A year later, the Lightning once again hold an elite UFA to be. This time it's goaltender Ben Bishop and, once again, they're faced with the decision of whether to trade or retain their star. Only this time, dealing that star may be the smarter move.
It goes without saying that to keep Bishop all year is to risk losing him for nothing. Unlike with Stamkos last year, it's more of a guarantee than a risk with Bishop. The Lightning signed "backup" goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5-million extension in July. Bishop should command something like Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne money, a seven-year deal at $7 million per. That's out of the cash-strapped Bolts' price range with restricted free agents such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin needing new contracts next summer. On top of that, Tampa can only protect one goaltender in the expansion draft. Bishop is as good as gone.
The fact there's pretty much no chance of bringing Bishop back is one obvious reason to consider dealing him now, but we knew that as recently as the summer. Yzerman even admitted at the draft he would have to deal a goalie. It might've still been worth retaining Bishop all season for the sake of a Stanley Cup push, but things are so much more complicated than expected for this Bolts team through early December. Additional reasons to push for a Bishop trade have piled up.
1. Injuries, obviously
The Lightning have lost center Stamkos for four to six months after he tore his meniscus in mid-November. Right winger Ryan Callahan is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Right winger Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Jason Garrison have been nicked up of late, too. This team isn't quite a walking infirmary, but the Stamkos injury is monumental, and the Bolts need all the healthy bodies they can get. That's because…
2. The Lightning are mired in an (unexpected) playoff dogfight
We at THN picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. Through Monday's games they sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the last wild-card spot. Every team behind Tampa has games in hand. The Bolts have played as many games as any team in the East. We can blame the Stamkos injury, but that doesn't make it any less true that this team is suddenly no lock to reach the Big Dance, and scoring goals, Stamkos' specialty, isn't this team's weakness. The Lightning rank 16th in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.63. That's down from 2.41 (fifth) last season. They sit 13th in 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 at 54.44, down from 51.92 (sixth) last year. Tampa has regressed defensively, allowing more shot attempts. This team has needs to address on defense. And guess where the Bolts' surplus of talent lies?
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for No. 1 duty
Tampa has two high-end, starting-caliber goaltenders. And we know Vasilevskiy, 22, is the future. He's been one of the game's top netminding prospects since even before Yzerman and Co. drafted him in 2012. Vasilevskiy has a sparking 6-2-1 record with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts, and that stat line is no fluke. He's merely doing what he was always projected to do. So why not hand him the reins and use Bishop on the trade market to plug another hole?
4. The Lightning can still win this thing
I never would've supported the idea of dealing Bishop mid-season even a month ago, but so much has changed. This team needs help. It's also very much worth saving. The Lightning remain as talent-rich as any team in hockey, so they should continue to treat themselves as contenders, especially if Stamkos can return in time for the post-season. We've learned in this peak-parity era any team can win the Cup as long as that team gets in. That's where Yzerman has a bit of work to do. Having an elite goaltending tandem is great, but it's a luxury for a team in need of a top-four defenseman and perhaps another power forward who can play in the top six. This season isn't worth giving up on. The Bolts should chase a championship. At first, keeping Bishop looked like the best way to do so. Now the opposite is true.
5. Ben Bishop still has peak value
Bishop hasn't been his Vezina Trophy finalist self early in 2016-17, with a pedestrian .910 SP in 18 appearances, but that small sample size won't torpedo his trade value. Any suitors out there know who he is: an upper-echelon starting goalie. Bishop, however, seems to break down physically at some point almost every season. The big fella has become a yearly injury risk at 30. There's always a chance he gets hurt before Yzerman strikes a deal, so the time to act is now. Is there a market yet? It's tough to say. We won't see true contending teams looking for a big-splash rental just yet, but we may have a few also-rans needing immediate help to climb back into the race. The team repeatedly linked to Bishop is the Dallas Stars, and they still make sense, maybe now more than ever. The Stars have struggled so far and continue to get lackluster goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Bishop would rectify their problem in a hurry. It's risky to take on a pending UFA, of course, but what if Dallas sent one back in the form of, say, Johnny Oduya? Tampa get its veteran D-man, Dallas gets its star goalie. Tampa would need to take back one of Niemi or Lehtonen and may have to include a second body for the money to work, but such a deal could still make sense, especially for two teams in different conferences.
Keeping Bishop all year would've been a best-case scenario for Yzerman, but he no longer has that luxury. The Bolts' bad luck has created a need for reinforcements right now. Dealing Bishop is the best way to save this team.
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
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.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
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.