Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Updates from some previous blog posts and other news from around the NHL

From my article on September 3 , I mentioned that Charlie Coyle was going to be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. He’s not going anywhere. Coyle and the Wild agreed to a 5 year, $16 million deal. Coyle was not the only Wild player to come to terms on a contract extension, Jonas Brodin signed a new deal with the Wild worth $25 million over six years. Both deals were announced last week. (The article's here at Training Camp Starts on Sept. 18). Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund are due to become restricted free agents at the end of this season. I wouldn't be surprised if they sign extensions before the season's over. 

In other Minnesota Wild news, the line of Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter, and Jason Zucker have combined for 7 goals and 7 assists. Jason Zucker is the leading the Wild in goals scored with 5. 

Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar
This is an interesting situation …The Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers are playing tonight. However, the Kings will not have a full roster for this game tonight. Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is currently suspended as a result of his arrest on domestic violence charges. As a result of a cap situation (Voynov is still being paid while he’s suspended), the Kings will not be able to call up a player to take the place of forward Anze Kopitar, who is out because of an upper-body injury, and will play 11 forwards. The Kings have to have cap space available for if (and when) Voynov is reinstated.  As of right now, the Kings have had conversations with the league about some possible cap relief due to this situation, but nothing has come from it. 

Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils players honoring 2 slain
Canadian Forces Members
This past Saturday night, the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto MapleLeafs jointly honored two Canadian Armed Forces members who were killed last week in two separate attacks. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, was killed on October 20 outside of Montreal when he and a Canadian Forces colleague were both struck by a car (the suspect was later killed by police). Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, was killed last Wednesday when he was shot while standing guard at the National War Memorial before the shooting attack on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (the league rescheduled the Ottawa-Toronto game to Nov. 9 in wake of the shooting attack). The Pittsburgh Penguins had the Canadian National Anthem sung before their game last Wednesday night before their game with the Philadelphia Flyers in showing of support following the shootings. 

With the NHL having recently done events for their annual “Hockey Fights Cancer,” the Pittsburgh Penguins have announced that 20-year-old defenseman Olli Maatta will undergo surgery next week to remove a potentially cancerous tumor from his neck. According to ESPN.com, the tumor was found during a pre-season physical and he underwent further tests, but was cleared to play.  He will be out for at least four weeks while recovering from surgery. I would like to wish him good luck, along with a speedy and full recovery. (This is the second health scare in as many seasons for the Penguins. Defenseman Kris Letang suffered a minor stroke last season. Letang has since made a full recovery and has returned to the ice.)

New York Rangers' defenseman John Moore is looking at a suspension on his illegal hit to the head on Erik Haula during last night's game (Moore received a match penalty for that hit, which means the hit is automatically reviewed). John Moore is a repeat offender, as he was suspended last year for the same hit to the head against Montreal's Dale Weise (in which he received a two game suspension). Moore has an in-person hearing with the league's Department of Player Safety and is looking at a suspension of at least 5 games--possibly more. The Rangers' Chris Kreider was also ejected from last night's game as a result of the boarding penalty and game misconduct for his hit on Jonas Brodin. Kreider will not be facing additional punishment from the league for that hit. 

While I was typing this article, I did see an article come across twitter that "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe suffered a stroke. From taking a quick glance at the article from prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com, it's being reported that Howe suffered the stroke on Sunday and that he's unable to stand without assistance and he's had difficulty speaking.  My thoughts go out to Mr. Hockey and his family during this time. 

It's been a busy and crazy week in the National Hockey League. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is there a conflict of interest with Chris Pronger working for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety while still under contract with the Philadelphia Flyers?

On October 10, 2014, it was announced that the Flyers’ Chris Pronger was hired by the NHL to work in its Player Safety Department. However, Chris Pronger hasn’t officially retired as an NHL player and he is still under contract with the Flyers until June 30, 2017.

Seriously, how can that be possible? Doesn’t that put Chris Pronger in a situation to where he could possibly consult on possible punishment against one of his Flyers’ teammates? Last, why isn’t he playing?

Chris Pronger during his playing days with the Flyers.
I’ll answer the last question first. Chris Pronger (who has also played for the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, and St. Louis Blues) hasn’t played an NHL game since November of 2011. On October 24, 2011, Pronger was hit in his right eye in a game against Toronto and has had problems ever since and was diagnosed with an ocular concussion. Last year, it was acknowledged by Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren that Pronger will never play hockey again.

Pronger said this about the injury and the lingering problems in an article on USAToday.com
"My brains were pounding out of my head," (Dave Isaac, USAToday Sports, October 15, 2014)

The Flyers have Chris Pronger on their long-term injury reserve list, which means that the Flyers won’t take a salary cap hit on Pronger’s contract AND Pronger is still being paid. Like I stated earlier, he has not officially retired as an NHL player, even though it has been acknowledged that that he will never play in another NHL game again. 

Chris Pronger shortly after his "career-ending" eye injury
According to Helene Elliott stated this in an article recently for the Los Angeles Times:

“Pronger won't judge cases involving the Flyers, but he's likely to weigh in on incidents involving their opponents, so he can influence whether a player is suspended before facing Philadelphia. Ron Hextall, the Flyers general manager, told reporters last weekend that he tried to clear the muddied waters and get Pronger off the team's cap but was told by NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly the collective bargaining agreement prohibited such a move. (LA Times, 10/14/2014).

There was a statement in Elliott’s article from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stating that he “foresaw no problem” and that “He's done playing, and he gets paid no matter what, from the Flyers…He doesn't owe them anything."

The NHL seems to be making up the rules as they go. In my opinion, Chris Pronger should officially retire as a player before taking the job with the Department of Player Safety. He shouldn’t be getting paid by both the Flyers (being on long-term injured reserve) and the league. It is a conflict of interest and the only person who seems to be benefiting from it is Chris Pronger himself. It looks bad for the league. There have been statements stating that Pronger will be recused from any incidents involving the Flyers (Brian Leetch recused himself from any incidents involving the New York Rangers because that is where he spent most of his career).

Pronger, himself, stated in the USAToday.com article that he sees himself as an “advisor” and goes on to state:

"If you think I can persuade (Quintal, who dolls out the discipline) that much, then you're a better man than me," Pronger said. "And by the way, for the record, Shanny had a conflict with each and every team he played on. Any person who is in the player safety department on the former-player side is going to have a conflict somewhere. I understand there's money involved, but you're gonna have a conflict somewhere, somehow, a relationship with a player, GM, guys they've played with, teams, owners. There's gonna be conflicts all up and down the line."

I don’t agree with that statement because when Brendan Shanahan (who is now working for the Toronto Maple Leafs as president) was working for the league, Shanahan had already retired as a player, where Pronger still officially hasn’t. Stephane Quintal has also retired as a player before he started working for the league.

I do not think it's fair to the players who are currently playing in the NHL to have someone like Chris Pronger, who is considered to be an "active" player, in a significant role with the league. 

This statement in Elliott’s article best sums it up:

“It looks bad that Pronger is being paid by a team while working for the NHL (and apparently contradicts Article 26 of its collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players Assn.). It's also shaky for the Flyers to be allowed to skirt the cap with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge agreement that Pronger won't retire. What could redeem this is Pronger's intelligence and resume, assets that merit allowing time to see if he can avoid favoring the hand that's feeding him.

This is proving that Chris Pronger was allowed to “play dirty” on the ice (he was suspended eight times during his playing days), and he’s being allowed to “play dirty” with this new position he now has. It also shows that the league (Gary Bettman, Stephane Quintal, etc.) thinks they don’t have to abide by certain sections of the Collective Bargaining Agreement if it works in THEIR favor.

The best thing for this situation is for Chris Pronger to announce his official retirement as a player. I also believe that it would be best if players were retired for a certain period of time before being approached about/hired for positions by the league office.  

Here are the links to the articles I used to read more into this:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hello Hockey Season!!!

I don’t know about you, but I was counting down the hours on Thursday until the puck dropped on the 2014-15 Minnesota Wild season.

For the Minnesota Wild, they were coming off a play-off run that included beating the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the play-offs. Ironically, the Minnesota Wild was the team that Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy last faced as a goalie before he retired after the 2002-03 season. It seemed very fitting that the Minnesota Wild handed him his first play-off series loss as an NHL head coach. As we all know, the Wild ended up facing the Chicago Blackhawks and lost that series in six games…

Fast-forward to October 9, 2014. The date of the home and season opener for the Minnesota Wild and their opponent that night—none other than the Colorado Avalanche, 
who the Wild knocked out in the first round courtesy of an overtime goal scored by Nino Niederreiter.

The State of Hockey flag going around in the stands during
 the introductions (courtesy of the Minnesota Wild on Twitter)
The Wild came out with all cylinders firing from the start. They must have gotten the memo that it was okay to shoot at the net because they were making shots on goal. The Wild did take two minor penalties within the first seven minutes in the first period and held the Avalanche to ZERO shots on both times they had the man advantage.

The first goal of the season was scored by Jason Pominville at 14:54 in the first period with assists by Mikael Granlund and Ryan Suter. The Wild had the shot on goal advantage at the end of the first period 17-5. The Avs were unable to get any kind of offense going and the Wild’s defense looked solid through one period of play.

Then came the second period….

Jared Spurgeon opened the scoring in the second period to make it 2-0, followed with goals scored by Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, and Ryan Suter. Again, the Wild outshot the Avs in the second period 21-8. The Avs had their third power play opportunity and were held without a shot again. 
The Wild's Erik Haula taking a shot against
Avs Goalie Reto Berra
(Courtesy of Chad Graff, Pioneer Press)

Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled from the game and replaced by Reto Berra at the beginning of the third period. The Wild managed 10 more shots during the third period and basically made Nathan MacKinnon (2014 Calder Trophy winner) and Gabriel Landeskog non-factors in their first game of the season. Landeskog didn’t take a shot during the game.

The Wild broke a franchise record for shots on goal in a single game with 48. Darcy Kuemper recorded his first shutout of the season, having only faced 16 shots from the Avs. In addition to the offense, the Wild’s penalty kill held the Avs to zero shots on all four power play chances they had. The Wild totally dominated the first game of the season, but they knew Saturday night was going to be a whole different story in Colorado. 

The Wild simply outplayed the Avalanche on Thursday night. Avs' Captain Gabriel Landeskog made this statement to the Star Tribune's Michael Russo:

"...that's what happens. A team that wins battles looks that good against a team that doesn't" 

Patrick Roy did make an idiotic and controversial statement to the Denver media on Friday. I am not going to repeat that statement or discuss it because (in my opinion) it doesn’t need to be rehashed. I will say is that it shows the idiotic and “goon” mentality on the part of Roy and his statement is uncalled for. 

Round two Saturday Night in Denver----

Heading into Saturday night’s rematch in Denver, the Wild knew the Avs were not going to make it easy on them. It was the Avs home opener and they knew they got embarrassed on Thursday night in Saint Paul.

The Wild once again came out at the start shooting at Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov. Charlie Coyle started the scoring for the Wild with his first goal of the season coming in at 1:51in the game, with assists from Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin.  The Wild had their first power play of the game and managed to rack up eight shots on goal during the man-advantage. They also outshot the Avs in the first period 15-9.

The Avs' Jan Heidja pushing Nino Niederreiter into Semyon Varlamov
 that resulted in a goal for the Wild being waived off. (Andy Cross, Denver Post)

The Avs definitely brought the physical game, even though there were cheap shots made. Minnesota native and former Gopher Erik Johnson was assessed a major penalty and tossed from the game for his hit on Erik Haula late in the first period.  The Wild ended up with three minutes of power play time (two minutes of the five minute major were negated due to an “interference” call on Thomas Vanek). 

Thomas Vanek and the AVs Jan Heidja battling for a puck
during Saturday night's rematch in Denver
(courtesy of twincities.com/David Zalubowksi, AP)

Jason Zucker added his first goal of the season at the 11:50 mark of the second period from Thomas Vanek and Matt Dumba to make it 2-0 Wild. The Wild still managed to pull off 10 shots on goal, while the Avs managed to post 11shots on goal during the second period. 

Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:58 left in the game for an extra attacker and they had a 6-on-4 power play when Matt Cooke got called for interference with 2:33 left to play. The Wild managed to kill off that penalty with some spectacular goaltending by Kuemper. Parise scored on an empty net to seal the deal for the Wild with three seconds left for a 3-0 win. The Avs managed to out shoot the Wild 10-9 in the third period, but the Wild still held the shot advantage 34-30 for the game. 

Darcy Kuemper’s play in the net Saturday night was amazing to watch. Charlie Coyle stated in the Pioneer Press that “He came up huge on a number of occasions and bailed us out a few times when we had a defensive lapse…We didn’t play bad, but he definitely helped us out big time.” (Chad Graff, Pioneer Press 10/12/2014). Right now, I would have to say Kuemper is definitely making his case known to be the Wild's #1 goalie. 

After watching these first two games of the new season, I think it's safe to say the Wild are a much different team than they were this time last year (after starting the season 0-1-2 in their first three games). All eight Wild goals were even-strength goals. However, the Wild need to work on their power play. They are 0-8 so far this season with the man-advantage, even though they have taken more shots on the power play. Overall, the Wild have definitely added excitement to this new season and it's going to be a fun season to watch!

The Wild are one of two clubs to start of the season with back-to-back shut outs (the San Jose Sharks are the other, both Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock have each recorded a shut out this season for the Sharks). Darcy Kuemper is the youngest goaltender to open the season with back-to-back shut outs at 24 years old. 

It was also announced this morning that the Wild have come to terms on a six-year contract extension with Jonas Brodin. I haven't read anything on that new deal, yet. But knowing he's now locked in for a while, that is a good thing. 

The Wild are off until Friday. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Favorite Hockey Memes and e-cards

It IS October and with that, it’s like Christmas for us hockey fans—the 2014-2015 NHL season starts this week. More importantly, the Minnesota Wild season starts on Thursday, October 9. (I can already hear that “Let’s Play Hockey” in my head!)

In honor of the season opener, I thought I would compile my favorite hockey memes and e-cards (I can’t leave those out!) These have been compiled from the internet, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

(FYI--this MAY become a regular thing!)

So, here we go! 

These two memes about the officiating are ones I found during the 2014 Stanley Cup play-offs. Some of the officiating was HORRIBLE! 

Definitely was true during the playoffs! 
Another good one from the playoffs 

This meme I had actually posted on my Instagram account during the first round Avalanche-Wild series. 

I had to include one about Sidney--can't stand him at all, but I will not deny the fact that he is a good player (and an excellent diver).

I had to include this one--I'd say the comparisons are true.....

One of my favorite hockey e-cards. I had to include this after having to listen to someone talk about football being better than hockey....

This will be me come Thursday night 


I had to include this minion pic! 

This is just a sample of what I have. Let me know what you think. If you have some good ones and are on twitter, this blog is on twitter at @stickshappen. The e-mail for this blog is stickhappensblog@gmail.com

Happy Hockey season everybody!! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My thoughts going into the second season of the Big Ten Hockey Conference.

Along with the start of the NHL season being right around the corner, so is that of the college hockey season. The Minnesota Golden Gophers open the 2014-2015 season with an exhibition game on Saturday against Northern Alberta Institute of Technology at Mariucci Arena.

This season marks the second season of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. I will be honest with you, I am NOT a fan of the Big Ten Hockey Conference at all. (I am also not a fan of the hockey game broadcasts on the Big Ten Network—that could be a whole other blog post in itself, actually).

For those who are wondering, could Minnesota (and Wisconsin) have stayed in the WCHA conference if they wanted to? The answer is no. The Big Ten Conference has in their charter that if any six member schools have a team in a particular sport, those member schools would have to join the Big Ten conference in that sport. (Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State had to leave the CCHA to join). I knew it was inevitable when Penn State announced that they were moving their men’s hockey program from ACHA to NCAA Division 1 status.

As an alum of the University of Minnesota (class of 2002), I was used to attending WCHA conference games at Mariucci Arena (along with some trips to St. Cloud, Duluth, and Grand Forks) while I was in college—along with the big rivalries with St. Cloud State, UMD, North Dakota. (The rivalry with Minnesota State-Mankato became another big one in recent years). The WCHA (as I knew it) was one of the most storied conferences in collegiate Hockey history with Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin winning NCAA championships and Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and UMD have all made appearances in the NCAA tournament.

When it was announced that the Big Ten Hockey conference was starting in 2013, I was disappointed. The reason why is that Minnesota and Wisconsin would have to leave the WCHA, the status of the big rivalries between North Dakota and the in-state schools were put into limbo—were those going to be allowed to continue in some form? (There are no worries about the border battle because that would still continue).  There isn’t really a rivalry with Michigan State and Ohio State in men’s hockey, even though there is somewhat of a rivalry with Michigan.

In looking at the schedule for this season, Minnesota will play UMD on October 10, but that game will be in South Bend, IN. Minnesota will also play Bemidji State at Mariucci on October 24-25, then have a home-and-home series with St. Cloud State the weekend of Halloween. The Gophers will have another home-and-home with Minnesota-Duluth on November 14 and 15. The second annual North Star Cup will consist of Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota St.-Mankato and Bemidji State this season. Minnesota and North Dakota will not be playing against each other this year again in regular season action (Minnesota and North Dakota did face off against each other in the Frozen Four—remember the goal scored with .6 of a second left on the clock??) (Schedule information courtesy of gophersports.com). Minnesota and North Dakota won’t face each other again in the regular season until the 2016-17 season at Mariucci. (Minnesota and North Dakota will also face off in the 2017-18 season at Grand Forks).

In looking at the upcoming season, Minnesota will face its Big Ten conference foes twice. The usual Border Battle Rivalry with Wisconsin is still intact.  The series that are going to be hard for me to be excited about are the series between Penn State and Ohio State. Penn State needs to establish its men’s hockey program and I think it will be a few years before that series becomes any sort of a rivalry. I really don’t see much of a rivalry with Ohio State because Minnesota has beaten Ohio State in the series between the two teams and really didn’t meet a whole lot in the regular season before the start of Big Ten play.
Minnesota did come away with the first Big Ten regular season title (even though they lost in the first game of the Big Ten Conference tournament) and Minnesota is also the pre-season favorite to win the conference title again this season.

The Big Ten Hockey Conference tournament will be held this season in Detroit, which is something else I don’t understand. Other than it being hosted at Joe Louis Arena, I don’t get why it’s in Detroit this year. When Minnesota and Wisconsin were in the WCHA, the WCHA tournament has been hosted in St. Paul every year since the Xcel Energy Center opened and those tournament games sold out every year (that’s part of the reason why Minnesota calls itself the “State of Hockey”).

Time will tell if my attitude towards the Big Ten Hockey conference will change. Right now, I’m not a big fan of the Big Ten Hockey conference.