"When you go minus-2 on your power play, it's not a good sign."
- Thrashers coach John Anderson on giving up two shorthanded goals in a 5-1 loss to New Jersey.
"When you go minus-2 on your power play, it's not a good sign."
- Thrashers coach John Anderson on giving up two shorthanded goals in a 5-1 loss to New Jersey.
Scott Aarssen in his Clangus jersey
The Braehead Clan wore jerseys to pay tribute to their league-best mascot, Clangus, over the weekend, and the uniforms are glorious.
We’ve seen teams throughout the minor professional ranks dress as everything from Star Wars characters to the lovable Italian plumbing superheroes from Nintendo’s Mario games, but the EIHL’s Braehead Clan went head-to-toe with a brand new style.
In order to help raise some funds for the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, the Clan decided to go all out in a getup that paid homage to their mascot, Clangus. Voted the league’s best mascot two years running, Clangus, a highland cow with a messy mop, was well deserving of the honor, and the Clan did right by their furry friend.
The detail of the jersey is what really makes it, too. Not only does Clangus’ face adorn the front of the sweater, but the team had jerseys that appeared to have the texture of the mascot’s fur and the helmet decal was nothing short of brilliant.
Instead of going with a simple side sticker, the Clan had a helmet-top design constructed that saw two horns reach up to each side of the helmet with a mop of hair, colored just like that of Clangus, falling down the front. Check this photo of Kyle Wharton in which the decal gives the illusion that the defenseman is wearing a set of horns:
That’s good work from the Clan, who also had an ‘Air the Bear’ stuffed toy toss during the outing which saw close to 1,500 donations. All told, the auction effort helped raise £4,000 for charity, which equates to roughly $5,000 USD.
Unfortunately for Braehead, the game’s result wasn’t nearly as great as the jerseys or charity effort. The visiting Dundee Stars skated to a 6-4 victory.
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Consensus 2017 top prospect Nolan Patrick is not medically cleared to play at the World Junior Championship due to an injury that has kept him out of action since mid-October, but that doesn't necessarily mean his draft stock is falling.
As far as foot-in-mouth stories go, this was my worst. It’s late 2011, and I’m in Sarnia to oversee a photoshoot featuring Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov. Both are highly touted for 2012 draft, but Galchenyuk is hobbled by a knee injury that will keep him out of all but two games. Gamely, the youngster takes part in the shoot despite a brace on his leg. I try to make small talk with the American-Russian teen. “You must be excited about the world juniors, eh?”
A pall descends on the conversation as Galchenyuk politely reminds Idiot Ryan the knee injury will keep him from going for gold with Team USA. I apologize and do not attempt any more small talk. But here’s the positive to my anecdote: Despite the injury, Galchenyuk was drafted third overall by Montreal and, the next season, helped Team USA win gold at the WJC. In fact, Galchenyuk turned out to be one of the best players in that draft. Right up there with him would be the No. 5 pick by Toronto – Morgan Rielly. Coincidentally, Rielly also missed most of 2011-12 with a knee injury, but the Leafs still took him early. Not that Rielly was kicking back in rehab. “I was concerned,” he said. “You’re a young kid going through something you’ve never gone through before. You want to be a part of your draft year – to compete, to prove yourself.”
Which brings us to Nolan Patrick, the fantastic all-around center for the Brandon Wheat Kings. You may have heard of Patrick, the consensus top prospect for 2017, but you haven’t seen much of him lately. That’s because Patrick was laid up most of the season after sports hernia surgery in the summer, and, like Galchenyuk, Patrick will be forced to miss the World Junior Championship due to his injury. Hockey Canada announced as much on Monday, adding that no replacement has been named for the 18-year-old. And with Windsor’s Gabe Vilardi also struggling through injuries in his draft year, we’re seeing 2012 all over again.
Injuries are tricky for prospects. The main concern, as one scout told me, is whether or not the malady is chronic in nature. That was the fear with Tyler Benson last season. The Vancouver Giants pivot had a painful cyst on his back, then a lower body injury that torpedoed his campaign. One GM I spoke to at the combine pointed out Benson lost essentially a year of development and that was a strike against him. But in the end, Edmonton stepped up and grabbed Benson 32nd overall. So far, he has rewarded the Oilers with a bounce-back campaign in the WHL.
But I can’t say injuries mean nothing in drafting, because we’ve seen the flipside. Brett Connolly missed nearly his entire draft year with a hip injury but still enticed the Lightning enough for them to pick him sixth overall. Connolly did put up points in his next year of junior, but he never turned into an impact NHLer. He’s now on his third franchise in Washington. Was his development path altered by the hip problem, or did the injury obscure his ceiling? These are the questions that keep scouting directors up at night.
As of now? Patrick and Vilardi are great bets to go high in 2017. Since Patrick’s September birthday caused him to miss eligibility for the 2016 draft by mere days, he has a track record already. And Vilardi was an impact OHL rookie whose latest affliction was an appendectomy, which only happens once. “We have lots of info on Gabe and Nolan,” said one scout. “You’re talking about players you could call ‘elite’ prospects.”
And there’s plenty of hockey to be played, especially for Vilardi, who is guaranteed an extended season since Windsor gets an automatic bid for the Memorial Cup as host.
Injuries are a part of the game, and they rarely happen at good times. But if history had been different and Galchenyuk played his full season with Sarnia, would he have gone first overall, before his teammate Yakupov? These are the fateful decisions NHL teams have to live with.
Connor McDavid missed a crucial part of last night's overtime loss to Minnesota for what turned out to be nothing. But it was absolutely the right move by the NHL.
Connor McDavid was absolutely right. It was a “shitty time” to take him out of the Edmonton Oilers lineup last night for the 20-minute concussion protocol. The Oilers were on their first of two consecutive power plays and on the verge of nine seconds of a 5-on-3. You want the best young player in the world out on the ice in those situations. Who knows? It may have led to the Oilers losing a point in the standings that they might desperately need to make the playoffs, or even win the Pacific Division, at the end of the season.
But here’s where Connor McDavid was dead wrong. The first was when he said, “Obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling,” then said, “I grabbed my mouth and they took that as something that it wasn’t.”
My guess is that the concussion spotter in Toronto had absolutely no idea how McDavid was feeling when he grabbed his chin after falling chin-first on the ice last night. He also had no idea whether McDavid had suffered a concussion. We've certainly seen players have concussions for far seemingly less serious incidents. And that’s exactly why McDavid was pulled off the ice. So if you want to point fingers here, don’t blame the guy who was watching Edmonton’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild from the war room in Toronto. If you’re trying to lay blame, find it with the 100 or so former NHL players who are suing the NHL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to protect them from head injuries.
Go ahead, blame Dan Lacouture and Mike Peluso, former NHL tough guys whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the effects of head injuries. Blame the family of the late Derek Boogaard. All enforcers who knew the risks of their profession? Fine. Then point the finger at former 50-goal scorers Dennis Maruk, Blaine Stoughton and Gary Leeman, who are also on the docket. Those guys were probably a lot like McDavid, wanting to stay in the lineup and doing whatever it took, including lying about concussion symptoms, to do it.
The reason McDavid was pulled off the ice after he fell is because the league is responding to a lawsuit that could be very, very serious. Another reason McDavid was removed from the game was that the player, his coach and his teammates are the last, absolutely last, people who can be trusted to tell the truth, particularly in the middle of a game. Another reason is the NHL really likes what Connor McDavid brings to the game and it would rather not have him on the sidelines. Think of it this way. If McDavid had been allowed to continue playing and had been diagnosed with a concussion today, we all would have been screaming about how the concussion spotter abdicated his responsibility.
“That’s a sensitive subject right now, not just in hockey, but all sports,” Wild winger Zach Parise said in a between-periods interview. “When it comes to your head, you want to be on the cautious side. I’m sure everyone is doing it for the right reasons. You don’t want a guy like (McDavid) missing a lot of time. He’s good for the game.”
Would Parise have felt differently if it were he or one of his teammates being pulled off the ice for the same reason? Perhaps. But a lot of people are missing the point here. You can’t advocate for player safety, then rail against those who are keeping players safe by taking precautionary measures. “They’re there for our health and doing the best job possible to look out for us. We respect that,” McDavid told reporters after the game. “But at the same time, they have to respect the time of the game, what’s going on in the game.”
No, no they don’t. And not only do they not have to respect the score, the importance of the game or what’s at stake, they have the duty to not respect any of those things. Because when it comes to a players’ long-term health and his brain, none of those things matters one iota in the grand scheme of things.
Undoubtedly there will be a hue and cry when a star player is removed from an important playoff game, only to come back later after passing the concussion test. It’s coming. Expect it. A team might even lose a game, and subsequently a series, because of it. But the NHL has to stand firm here and, given the litigation it’s facing, there’s little doubt it will do just that. We keep hearing that talented players should just have to live with being targeted by opponents, which actually makes no sense. But if you’re going to operate your league on that basis, then you also have to live with not having those players at crucial times. Because the alternative is just too great a risk.
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.