“You know what, I’m too old to freaking throw stones anymore."
- Free agent Todd Bertuzzi, who never received a call from his former team, the Calgary Flames, about a contract renewal.
“You know what, I’m too old to freaking throw stones anymore."
- Free agent Todd Bertuzzi, who never received a call from his former team, the Calgary Flames, about a contract renewal.
The Blue Jackets have been the most pleasant surprise in the NHL this season, but it's still going to take convincing for the hockey world to believe they're for real.
We’ll totally understand if you’re having just a little trouble getting on board with the 2016-17 version of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After all, you’ve probably been burned before.
Their fan base certainly seems to be wary. Despite the fact the Blue Jackets are the surprise of the NHL and have emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting teams in the league, they drawn fewer than 12,000 in three of their past four home games. Even their coach thinks the team has work to do to earn their fans’ trust. “I want our team to have a chip on their shoulder,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch recently. “I think they should. We’re trying to get respect in the league. Quite honestly, we should be disrespected because of where we’ve been.”
That won’t last long if the Blue Jackets keep this up. The league’s best power play continues to fuel one of the league’s hottest teams and has landed them at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings for the second time this season. Last week’s rankings in parentheses:
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (15)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
4. St. Louis Blues (2)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (5)
6. Montreal Canadiens (7)
7. New York Rangers (4)
8. San Jose Sharks (11)
9. Boston Bruins (20)
10. Calgary Flames (27)
Is there a bigger bargain or a shrewder off-season signing than Sam Gagner?...Steve Mason went from one of the worst goalies in the NHL early in the season to one of the best of late. His save percentage in his first 16 games was .892, but has improved to .947 in his past five… If Marc-Andre Fleury wants to get traded, he’s not doing himself any favor with his play lately…The Blues completed a 4-0-1 home stand with the game going into overtime…With Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford already out, the Blackhawks lost defenseman Brent Seabrook in their 4-0 win over Arizona Tuesday night…How will the Canadiens and the surprising Alexander Radulov respond to the injury to Alex Galchenyuk?...The injury-ravaged Rangers saw Rick Nash go down with a groin injury and Matt Puempel to a concussion in their 4-2 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night…Joe Thornton passed Brendan Shanahan for 25th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with an assist in a 2-1 win over Montreal last week…Anyone who predicted David Pastrnak would be in Rocket Richard Trophy contention a third of the way into the season is looking very bright at the moment…The Flames were already one of the hottest teams in the NHL without Johnny Gaudreau, then won their first two with him back in the lineup.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Washington Capitals (11)
12. Edmonton Oilers (14)
13. Ottawa Senators (12)
14. Los Angeles Kings (1)
15. New Jersey Devils (23)
16. Detroit Red Wings (16)
17. Nashville Predators (3)
18. Minnesota Wild (19)
19. Anaheim Ducks (10)
20. Winnipeg Jets (17)
Capitals coach Barry Trotz had some pointed words to Alex Ovechkin about his penchant for taking minor penalties of late. No cracks in the foundation, though. Just a frank discussion…The Oilers game Tuesday night against Buffalo was touted as Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, the kind of narrative the Oilers have learned to accept. “Every night it’s Connor vs. Somebody,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan…Goalie Craig Anderson started in the Senators’ 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, but did not travel with the team for a three-game California trip to be with his wife as she undergoes treatment for throat cancer…The usually stingy Kings have given up 11 goals in their past three games. “That’s too many goals,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter…Devils winger Taylor Hall on the aftermath of his clean, but devastating, hit on Philip Larsen Tuesday night: “I feel terrible.” Not to be trite, but Hall should not be feeling terrible about the way he has played since returning from a knee injury. He has five points in his past two games…Goalie Jimmy Howard will be back in uniform for the Red Wings when they host Columbus Friday night, but will have a difficult time pushing Petr Mrazek out of the crease…After missing four games with an upper-body injury, James Neal scored a goal in a 4-3 Predators’ win over Colorado Tuesday night…Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose career was revived when he came to Minnesota, will make his 300th career start tonight in Toronto…Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle could not pull Jonathan Bernier during his team’s 8-3 loss to Calgary because backup John Gibson was battling a stomach virus…Over the past 30 years, only Teemu Selanne and Alex Ovechkin have scored goals at a better pace than Patrik Laine of the Jets is scoring them now.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. New York Islanders (26)
22. Tampa Bay Lightning (22)
23. Carolina Hurricanes (25)
24. Buffalo Sabres (29)
25. Florida Panthers (24)
26. Vancouver Canucks (18)
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
28. Dallas Stars (28)
29. Arizona Coyotes (21)
30. Colorado Avalanche (30)
With points in each of their past five games, four of them wins, the Islanders are easily on their most successful string of the season…The Lightning could get Ryan Callahan, Jason Garrison and Jonathan Drouin back for their home game against Vancouver Thursday night…Jordan Staal, sidelined for the past four games with a concussion, likely won’t be available to the Hurricanes for a three-game road trip through California that begins tonight…After playing almost 500 games in the minors, defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer made his NHL debut in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime win over Washington Tuesday night… Panthers have gone to overtime in four of their five games GM Tom Rowe has been behind the bench. They’ve won one in overtime, lost two in OT and one in a shootout…Philip Larsen, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher after a hit from Taylor Hall Tuesday night, was released from hospital in New Jersey Wednesday morning and was cleared to return to Vancouver while the Canucks continue on a five-game road trip…After waiving Jhonas Enroth, the Maple Leafs search for a backup goalie continues. They signed Karri Ramo to a professional tryout contract and assigned him to their farm team. That should cure everything…The Coyotes have been outscored 14-6 and have averaged 41 shots against per game in an 0-3-1 month of December…All nine of Matt Duchene’s goals this season have come on the road. The Avs could use that kind of production at the Pepsi Center, where they’re 4-8-1 this season and recently went 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand.
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.
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
Faced with the prospect of not being able to fly to a game this weekend, Jerry York wasn't about to let that stop him from coaching Boston College.
Back in the late 1970s, Jerry York was the youngest coach in the nation. Now he’s the second oldest, behind Red Berenson, who turned 77 yesterday. York is in his 45th season behind the bench of a Division I team and he’s coached a mind-boggling 1,740 games. He’s won 1,025 of them, which is exactly 100 ahead of Ron Mason, who’s No. 2 on the all-time wins list. He’s guided five national championship teams and put countless players in the NHL, from Hall of Famer Rob Blake to current NHLers such as Johnny Gaudreau, Cory Schneider, Brian Boyle and Patrick Eaves.
In other words, he had perhaps earned the right to sit this one out. The 71-year-old dean of Division I hockey could have told associate coach Greg Brown to take the bench for one night. But faced with the prospect of not being able to fly to South Bend, Ind., to coach his Boston College Eagles against Notre Dame Saturday night because he’s recovering from surgery to repair a detached retina, York instead went old school for the 900-mile, 18-hour journey.
While the rest of the team chartered out of Boston Friday afternoon for a 90-minute flight, York had his director of hockey operations, John Hegarty, drive him to Albany Thursday afternoon. From there, York hopped an Amtrak train bound for South Bend that got in at about 8:30 Friday morning. And the most stunning thing about all of this is that York did this coach one game, not a weekend series. In fact, he figures Saturday night’s game will go until about 10 p.m., which means he’ll be able to take an Uber from the Compton Family Ice Arena to catch the midnight train that will let him retrace his steps, meaning he should get back to Boston sometime Sunday evening.
York missed six games early in the season while he was recovering from the surgery, but wasn’t about to sit any more out. So there he’ll be Saturday night, behind the Eagles bench, sporting an eye-patch and trying to help his team improve on its 8-0-1 record in Hockey East. It’s already the best start of any team in league history, but that’s not what is motivating him. It’s the passion for coaching that still drives him.
“All I need is a parrot on my right shoulder and I’ll be a buccaneer,” York said. “I think for me, this was a telltale sign that I still want to do this, that I have the passion to do it. This was a key indicator, if I didn’t want to do it I think that would be telling me something. I see Red Berenson at coaching conferences and we both like golf and other things, but I’d still rather be coaching than doing anything else. I love being behind the bench and I love tying up my skates at 2:30 every day.”
And York has a lot to be excited about this season. Despite losing seven players to the NHL from last year’s team, the Eagles have been a Hockey East juggernaut this season. Despite losing seven underclassmen to the NHL, the Eagles are the top team in their league and with an overall record of 13-5-1 has them the No. 4-ranked team in the nation. They’re second in the NCAA in goals scored with 71 and their goal differential of plus-30 is No. 1 in the nation.
This is despite losing Miles Wood and Steven Santini to the New Jersey Devils, Alex Tuch and Adam Gilmour to the Minnesota Wild, Zach Sanford to the Washington Capitals, Ian McCoshen to the Florida Panthers and goalie Thatcher Demko to the Vancouver Canucks. And Jeremy Bracco, who sits third in the Ontario League scoring race with 50 points already this season, left the Eagles early last season to jump to major junior hockey.
“We have 13 freshmen this year,” York said. “That’s a lot of new guys. We were prepared to lose maybe three guys (to the NHL), but we got surprised and we had to scramble. We had to almost rebuild the whole program.”
It has helped that freshman Joe Woll, a third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has more than filled the void left by Demko. The 6-foot-4, 202-pound native of St. Louis has been the team’s backbone and a large reason why the Eagles have given up only nine first-period goals in 19 games this season. They’re also outscoring their opponents 28-12 in the second period. The Eagles are led offensively by a small, skilled kid by the name of Gaudreau from New Jersey, just as they were two years ago. Matthew Gaudreau, whose brother Johnny won the Hobey Baker Award with the Eagles three years ago and turned pro with the Calgary Flames, leads the team with 6-16-22 totals in 19 games.
“This isn’t the most talented team I’ve ever had,” York said, “but it’s the most enjoyable for me to coach in a long time.”
The game against Notre Dame will be the last before the holidays. That means York won’t have to get on a plane until a trip to Pittsburgh after Christmas. He sees his doctor Dec. 23 and hopes to be cleared to fly after that. If not, he’ll likely be on the train to Pittsburgh because he’s not about to let a long travel day keep him from behind the bench.
“It’s not in my fabric,” he said of the prospect of missing games. “I feel just like Punch Imlach.”