Given the way the last 10 days or so have gone in this space, I would be totally remiss without commenting on Alexander Ovechkin's hit-push from Sunday afternoon's game at Chicago.
When Maxim Lapierre shoved Scott Nichol of the Sharks last week, I said that this could have been so much worse than it turned out to be. More than a few fans and reporters said that the push wasn't that hard, so Lapierre shouldn't have been suspended.
A week later, here is my point.
The Ovechkin shove wasn't that hard. However, Brian Campbell was in a vulnerable position and - awaiting final test results - looks like he will be out long term.
Before I get the "it's a man's game" line, I know it is. I want more battles in front of the net. I want the open ice hit to stay. But I want accountability for thoughtlessness.
It's not like Ovechkin has a squeaky clean record. He got off light last year with his hit on Sergei Gonchar of the Penguins. If Ovechkin gets his shoulder in front of Campbell, fine - run him into the wall. But there is absolutely no defending yourself when you are pushed that close to the boards.
What is Campbell supposed to do? Not go back and get the puck? The old time tactic (perfected in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final by the Flyers) was to dump the puck into Bobby Orr's corner and then punish him when he went back to collect it. That's fine. That's the tough part of the game.
Ovechkin's play wasn't tough. It was careless and Ovechkin didn't appear to understand that in his comments after the game. In my mind, if Lapierre needed to be suspended then Ovechkin does as well. That is the toughest part of the suspension debate. If the play is worthy of a suspension, it can't matter whether it is Lapierre or Ovechkin.
One more note before I get deluged from Cap's fans. What would you have thought if Jonathan Toews shoved Mike Green into the boards like that? You would not have been happy, nor should you have been.
Thankfully, there was some great stuff this week as well. Henrik Sedin became the Canucks' all-time assist leader (passing Trevor Linden) and moved just three points behind Ovechkin for the scoring lead. Here are some numbers you might be surprised with. Henrik and his brother Daniel are right at the top of the NHL in points per minute played. Twenty minutes of ice time is a good night's work for forwards in the NHL. If you take all the top forwards, average their points out per 20 minutes played, Ovechkin is first at 1.46 points per 20 minutes, Daniel is second at 1.42 per 20 minutes and Henrik is third at 1.39. There is a considerable drop-off to the group, including Sidney Crosby and Alexander Semin at 1.18 points per 20 minutes.
There are 27 forwards in the NHL that play more than Henrik – impressive! Also, the twins also donated $1.5 million to B.C. Children's Hospital this past week. As their reputations grow on the ice to that of elite players - and that will be tested again in the playoffs - more people are finding out they are very special people off the ice as well.
When I look at the Top 10 scorers, I am simply amazed with the season that Steven Stamkos is having. His shot is something to behold (a near perfect release) and it looks like it is from a textbook when you slow it down. His hand position, the timing of his weight transfer and his lightning release should be a standard on any shooting video. Much has been written about the help he received training with Gary Roberts off the ice but also learning of how hard you have to work to be a pro. Most NHLers learn this after getting battered around at camp - when they find out how strong pros are. Stamkos was lucky enough to have a terrific mentor. I also saw something in the preseason that may seem small, but it struck me as something pretty cool. You know the soccer game you see the players warm up with? In Winnipeg, I saw Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Marty St. Louis play a three-man game using a gate as the net. I laughed at how hard Marty played. Pretty soon, it was evident that Stamkos was playing the same way. He may look like he's 15, but he is very competitive.
So Stamkos is also very lucky to be around St. Louis - who plays every game like it's his last - and is an example of how skill has to be married with heart. And some guys have hearts that are just bigger than others.
1) Anyone else waiting for the Avs to fade away? Every time I think they are about to land with a thud, they bounce back. They tanked a huge home game against Vancouver six days ago, then shut out Florida. And Craig Anderson made 48 saves Sunday in a 5-3 win at Dallas. Sometimes I believe they are escape masters, but they have done it all year.
2) The Coyotes finish the season with 11 of their last 15 on the road and they started that with a 3-2 shootout win in Atlanta. Ilya Bryzgalov has a league-leading eight shutouts, Lee Stempniak has six goals in five games for the Coyotes and two shootout wins in a row ended on the stick of Adrian Aucoin. I wonder if he's ever had a breakaway in an NHL game?
3) Last Wednesday, Tyler Myers might have had the ugliest four-point game you will see. Check out the highlights. The puck was bouncing all over for him - and those are nights that when you put your head on the pillow, you giggle at how great the game can be.
I love hearing your passion for the game come out when commentating. It was very evident when Maxim Lapierre hit Scott Nichol from behind the other day. My question is about Ryan Kesler. Do you think he has a chance to win the Selke as the best defensive forward in the game? He is an awesome two-way player in my opinion. Also, is it your voice in the Molson Canadian TV commercial about outdoors in Canada?
Doug - NB
Absolutely, Kesler has a chance for the Selke! He is a tenacious checker, is the Canucks top face-off man, kills penalties, and plays hard minutes. His 13 game point streak is an illustration of his complete game. Pretty good timing too, as Kesler is a restricted free agent this summer. And no, that isn't my voice on the commercial, but I am available!
My question is, what can the Leafs realistically do for next year? I know that the only "valued" commodity that they have is Kaberle, so Brian Burke will more than likely have to move him. He'll likely try to get a mid-late round 1st round pick for him, or maybe a scoring forward, but in your opinion is there anything else that Burke can do? Does he have any other options, or is next year a write off as well?
Chad in London
The Leafs have a couple different avenues to go in the summer. I wouldn't assume that Kaberle is an automatic trade. Look at the defence. With Kaberle, there's six pretty solid players - including an emerging Carl Gunnarsson who will still have some ups and downs. It never sounds like Brian Burke is looking at rebuilding in five years - there is always more immediacy in his comments. I wouldn't say next year is a write off - depending what your expectations are - but one word of caution. Don't fall in love with players over the last 15 games of the season. That is a good look-see time, but is not a season long, true test for any player.
What is your unabashed take on the job Paul Holmgren has done as GM of the Flyers? While he seemed to pull off some really good trades, we Philly fans feel like his management of the cap and the willingness to hand out no trade clauses to players with HUGE contracts has doomed the team to mediocrity for the next foreseeable future.
The Flyers are lucky they have an owner that is willing and able to pay a lot of money to players that are not in Philadelphia anymore. Remember Mike Rathje? An extra year for Derian Hatcher? The Flyers have had over $60 million in payroll the last couple years, but Mr. Snider has helped bail out some rather large mistakes. I am not sure the Flyers will love Chris Pronger's deal, for example, in a few years. That deal runs out when Chris is 42 and can't be bought out. The Flyers have spent themselves into a corner and will go into the playoffs with waiver pick-up Michael Leighton and a career back-up in Brian Boucher. No room to add another goalie.
I believe the hitting has been the same for many years, the problem in my eyes is the equipment the players wear today. They're like ROBOCOPS on the ice, let's get some of the armor out of hockey! Do these guys even get black and blues anymore? Keep up the great work! You're still one of my favorite ISLANDERS of all time!!!
Matthew - NYC
Actually, the hitting is far different in my opinion. Players now finish checks all over the ice far more consistently than in years past, and the actual number of hits per game is way up. I do agree that the equipment has to be modified, but that is a contributing factor, not the sole factor with some injuries. It really doesn't seem too hard does it? Soften the cap on elbow and shoulder pads and suspend players more harshly for offenses. I think most agree on that.
So, I watched the dismal Jackets - Kings game tonight. Since the game was over in 20 minutes, my mind wandered to why free agents choose to sign in certain places. As a Kings and Ducks fan, I got to watch Sammy Pahlsson win a Cup in Anaheim. I realize money is always a factor, but how much could he really have left on the table to leave Anaheim to go to Columbus? My real question is whether there is pressure from within the NHPLA or amongst the players to take the money, thereby further pushing the salary cap, which raises the minimum and "helping" a union brother? Or do some players not really care that much about the Cup and just try to set themselves up for life after hockey? Does it change for guys after they win a Cup?
Thanks for your time,
Sometimes a player leaves because there is no room for him to be re-signed on his old team. That is the case in a lot of instances. There is no pressure, at least I've not heard of it, of the PA pushing a player to go to a certain place. Look at it this way. If you are a player, and you have a chance to live and play in city where you and your family are comfortable and the PA wants you to go to a different place so you could prop up the average salary, what would you do? I'd go where I wanted to. At some point, money is of course a factor. I do hate when someone says "it's not about the money" when they sign for huge dollars. Of course it is, but lots of guys leave a good spot for "greener pastures" and wish they could go back. See - Jason Blake.
I think possibly the best addition at the deadline was that of Wojtek Wolski by the Phoenix Coyotes. My only question is why did Colorado trade him? He was a young player having a solid year. He isn't unrestricted this summer, so what gives?
Davy - Weston, Ontario
Inconsistency played a part in this trade, but the Avs did receive another young player back in the deal in Peter Muuller. Wolski is a restricted free agent in the summer and already makes $3.1 million. Meuller will be coming out of his first contract at $850,000 - finances definitely factor in here.
My question involves the Olympic hockey players. Which player surprised you the most with their play and which player disappointed you the most?
Without a doubt, I was surprised that the pressure didn't affect Drew Doughty at all. He was so good, that the coaching staff promoted him to greater minutes early in the tournament. I was disappointed in Joe Thornton's play. I kept waiting for him to push his pace, to move faster with the puck, and it never happened. He is such a pleasant guy that it's easy to hope he does well, but his tournament play flat-lined.
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