To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he believes players are learning how to hit and check without violating the league's new safety rules.
Bettman spoke Tuesday after vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan gave his address on the final day of the board of governors meeting.
Shanahan gave Pittsburgh forward James Neal a five-game suspension earlier in the week for kneeing Boston forward Brad Marchand and scheduled an in-person hearing for later this week with Bruins forward Shawn Thornton for grabbing Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik from behind, throwing him to the ice and punching him.
Bettman said the league has been proactive about eliminating dangerous hits to the head, and only about 50-100 of the approximately 55,000 hits in a season are problematic.
"I believe the sense of the room is that Brendan Shanahan and the department of player safety has the confidence of the board of governors. He certainly has my confidence," Bettman said. "It's about modifying an element of the game's culture and we think we've made positive, dramatic steps forward."
In other topics, Bettman said there are no current plans for expansion despite interest from various markets. Seattle, Quebec City and Ontario are among the markets believed to have interest in adding a team.
Hamilton, who left Sunday night's game in Toronto during the first period, went back to Boston to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff.
In addition to Hamilton and Paille, the Bruins will be without Loui Eriksson (concussion), Chris Kelly (broken leg) and Adam McQuaid (lower body) Tuesday. They’ll also be missing Shawn Thornton, who is out indefinitely as he awaits Friday's disciplinary hearing with the league.
On the bright side, defenseman Johnny Boychuk is expected to return Tuesday after missing two games with a back injury.
Eriksson suffered his second concussion in a five-week span during the first shift of Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden. He exited the game after he was on the receiving end of a major check by the Penguins’ Brooks Orpik only seconds after the opening faceoff.
Eriksson had trouble getting to his feet, but made it to the bench before he was taken to the locker room. There was no penalty on the play.
It was announced a few minutes after Eriksson left the ice that he would not return.
Eriksson missed five games earlier in the season with a concussion suffered on a hit by the Buffalo Sabres’ John Scott.
Johnson, who impressed during training camp, has played in 23 games for the P-Bruins this season, recording 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points, including a plus-seven rating.
The month of December is typically a time when NHL general managers get together with their scouting staffs and evaluate where they are and, more importantly, where they are going as an organization. It's a time when enough of the season has been played to have a real good idea of what you've got on your roster.
With this in mind, here is my take on the major issues facing each Eastern Conference team as the halfway point in the season nears, and what course of action each might take.
The problem: The injury bug has bitten big chunks out of the Bruins' finely crafted Stanley Cup-contending lineup.
The fix: In survival situations, it is often not the initial emergency that proves fatal, but the judgment-impairing panic that sets in afterward. Boston is in the middle of an injury thunderstorm, but it has the depth and veteran leadership to close ranks and weather it. The Bruins are the class of a weak Eastern Conference and need to use this midseason challenge as a team-unifying opportunity. I'd stand pat.
The problem: The cleanup from Buffalo's disastrous, culture-changing 2011 plunge into free agency is in full throttle. The Sabres have some intriguing trade deadline auction items (Steve Ott, Matt Moulson and Ryan Miller), but they need an architect in place before they start building their new house.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Thornton was assessed a match penalty for an incident at 11:06 of the first period during Boston's 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at TD Garden. During a stoppage in play, Thornton attacked Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, slew-footing him to the ice and punching him twice in the head.
Orpik suffered a concussion and was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to the hospital. He was released shortly after and cleared to return with the team to Pittsburgh.
Because Thornton received a match penalty, he did not travel with the Bruins on their road trip and is suspended until his hearing. A suspension would be the first of Thornton's career.
In a game with plenty of ugliness, Neal's cheap shot to an equally unsuspecting Marchand was the most senselessly bizarre. One wonders how the suspension will effect Neal's standing with the Canadian Olympic group. It's not just the five games he'll miss, but the question of whether in a tournament in which special teams will play a prominent role, you can afford to have someone on your team who has so little self-control.
One NHL executive at the board of governors' meetings in California suggested that if Orpik had simply fought Thornton -- as Thornton had wanted after Orpik's heavy hit on Eriksson -- none of this would have happened. Oy.
If there is a problem the league's GMs and competition committee need to address, it's the notion that players should have to fight after delivering a legal body check. Whatever happened to simply taking a hit?
The sooner the league moves to punish players who go looking for fights in the aftermath of clean hockey hits -– there was no penalty assessed on the Orpik hit on Eriksson –- the sooner we have fewer incidents like the debacle in Boston on Saturday.
Lightning bitten by injury bug
While the Bruins deal with several injuries and the loss of Thornton (and continue winning, by the way), no team has it quite as bad as the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After being relatively injury-free through the first six weeks of the regular season, Tampa Bay lost Steven Stamkos to a broken leg in November and has been besieged by other key injuries since.
"It was exactly like the injury dam broke," head coach Jon Cooper told ESPN.com Monday.
The Lightning have piled up 101 man-games lost to injury, and at one point last week had 13 players in the lineup with fewer than 100 NHL games to their credit, and eight with fewer than 50 games.
On the night the Lightning got defensemen Eric Brewer and Radko Gudas back from injury, Keith Aulie and Victor Hedman both went down with long-term injuries. The two defensemen join Stamkos and veteran winger Ryan Malone among those with significant injuries.
One of the first things Cooper did when talking to his players about the spate of injuries is to make it clear they weren't going to use them as an excuse for on-ice performance.
"The one thing we'll never do is use injuries as an excuse because once you do that, we're done as a team," Cooper said. "The mindset has been, 'These are the 20 guys we're going with on any given night, now how do we get the most out of them?'"
But the rash of injuries that totaled more than 2,800 games of NHL experience has tested the team's organizational depth and forced players to play out of their comfort zone. Valtteri Filppula, for instance, is now the team's No. 1 center and Tyler Johnson is in Filppula's normal spot on the second line, meaning both are playing against a class of players they're not used to seeing.
Overall, Tampa has four rookies among in the top 30 in scoring among first-year players.
The team has held its own since Stamkos went down, going 5-5-2 overall and 4-1-1 at home. The team defense and goaltending have been excellent, but the team's offense has, perhaps predictably, gone south.
"The problem is we're really struggling to score," Cooper said.
Surprise for Sabres?
Among the interesting names being bandied about for the vacant Buffalo Sabres GM job is that of Tim Murray. The current assistant GM in Ottawa, Murray had a hand in building the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup winner in 2007 as director of player personnel responsible for college free agents.
He has also served with the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers in various scouting capacities. Bloodlines don't hurt, either, and Murray is the nephew of current Ottawa GM Bryan Murray and former NHL head coach Terry Murray.
Fisher making a Selke case
Of all the trophies hockey writers vote on, the one that gives us most pause is narrowing the field for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best two-way forward. It is always difficult to balance the offensive side of the game with the work a player does killing penalties, taking key draws and shutting down the opposing team's top players.
So we listened with interest as Nashville head coach Barry Trotz talked about his top shutdown center, Mike Fisher. The team has struggled and Fisher's offensive numbers (seven goals, 12 points) aren't what he or the team hoped for, but he remains a key figure even though his work goes largely unnoticed.
"He's always been a guy, top centerman in the league, he ends up playing a lot of times head-to-head [against opposing stars] and I think he hasn't got any credit for that here the last couple of years," Trotz said in a recent interview. "He's scored and all that, but he's sort of under the radar and I think this year, especially this year, he's played really back to the level that I think has made him a real hard player, a Selke candidate.
"His numbers are modest, but they're solid for our team. He plays against the top guys almost every night. He plays heavy minutes and he plays a heavy game. He doesn't play a light, shadowy game.
"At the end of the night, you know you played Mike Fisher. At the same time he still operates on the penalty kill, still operates on our power play," Trotz continued. "Plays head-to-head against people, plays in all the key situations, takes key faceoffs, him and Paul Gaustad. He really is a guy who is very important to their team, but at the same time contributes on both sides of the puck.
"He's not a pure shutdown guy; that's why I don't think he gets the credit that he deserves. It's a hard league and he's a hard guy to play against."
Phaneuf will not play against Los Angeles on Wednesday and at St. Louis on Thursday. He loses more than $66,000 in salary.
Phanuef hit Miller during Toronto's loss to Boston on Sunday night at Air Canada Centre when Miller's back was turned. No boarding penalty was called. Miller left the game, but Bruins coach Claude Julien said he wasn't worried about the defenseman's condition.
Phaneuf had a phone hearing Tuesday with NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan.
Until he accepted a move to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline last season, Iginla had played his entire NHL career for the Calgary Flames -- a span of 17 years.
The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer returns to the Saddledome Tuesday night for the first time as a visiting player.
“Coming in it doesn’t feel like I’ve left,” Iginla told reporters after the Bruins’ practice Monday afternoon. “Honestly, it feels like coming home.”
The Penguins reached the Eastern Conference finals, but were stopped by the Bruins, a team he spurned in favor of Pittsburgh.
The Bruins reached the Stanley Cup finals with a four-game sweep of the Penguins before losing the Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks.
During the summer, Iginla was a free agent for the first time in his career. While he was testing the market, the Bruins suddenly were in need of a top-line right wing after Nathan Horton signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Iginla thought his chances of playing in Boston had come and gone. He thought he had burned that bridge already. Still, he had his agent contact Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who later admitted he was stunned by the phone call.
Both sides agreed Iginla would be a good fit in Boston, so a deal was struck and the Bruins signed him to a one-year, incentive-laden contract worth $6 million.
“Thankfully and fortunately there was interest and I was thrilled,” he said. “The Bruins obviously are a great organization, a top team. They had an opening and it’s a great sports city. I was just thrilled to have another opportunity to go there and I felt fortunate because I wasn’t sure if that opportunity was going to be there.”
When the Bruins’ team bus arrived at the Saddledome for Monday’s practice, it was as though the favorite son had returned. Iginla described the attention as “funny” and admitted he received plenty of ribbing from his current teammates.
Iginla said Tuesday’s game will be a thrill for him and his family, but said he doesn’t know what kind of reception he will receive from the fans.
“I don’t have a lot of expectation,” Iginla said. “I hope it’s positive. I feel that, in terms of parting ways, as far as leaving the team, I guess it was kind of coming and I don’t think there were a lot of hard feelings as far as I know. I hope it’s positive.
“I had great experiences here. I loved playing here. I’m going to enjoy playing here [Tuesday] and being back in the Saddledome.”
As a member of the Flames, he played over 1,200 games, scored more than 500 goals and played in six All-Star games. He reached the postseason only six times, and with the exception of 2004, the Flames never got past the first round.
Now that he’s returning to Calgary as a visiting player, he really hasn’t had time to think about his time as a Flame.
“It’s something I haven’t put a lot of deep thought into it,” Iginla told reporters. “Just trying to enjoy it. Just come back, and to me it feels like coming home. To see my family, friends and familiar faces, honestly just trying to enjoy it, play well and win. I’m not thinking anything more, just come back, enjoy it. It will be something I’ll always remember.”
He planned on spending Monday night at dinner in the city, but once he arrives at the rink in the morning for skate, he would be focused on the business of extending the Bruins’ winning streak to three games.
“I am enjoying it and I look forward to the game,” Iginla said. “It feels great to be back home.”
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Big-spending clubs got the news they wanted to hear here Monday evening, the NHL delivering a salary cap projection for next season that goes up a healthy $6 million or so.
"These are preliminary estimates, it's in that range,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the first day of meetings with owners. "And I said to the board there shouldn't be any issue or consternation, if that's the cap level, it's because the revenues have gone up. And that's a good thing."
The cap will rise from the current $64.3 million maximum to around $71 million, Bettman told owners. Essentially the cap is back up to where it was last year when teams were allowed to spend up to $70.2 million in the lockout-shortened season.
"I think $71 million is an indication that the NHL is healthy and that's good for everybody," St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said.
"The business is certainly healthy and it’s recovered quite well, and that gets reflected in an equal partnership with us and that was nice to see," said Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.
The drop to $64.3 million last summer was a tough pill to swallow for top-spending teams, who struggled to get under the maximum entering this season; it also left a number of free-agent players without a job or with low-paying offers come August because teams simply ran out of cap space.
For big-market teams, a push up to $71 million is a help.
"Yes ... but there’s spending money and spending it wisely," Chiarelli said. "We’ll keep trying to spend it wisely, for the most part, and try to ice a winner."
That was a comment echoed by Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis, another team that stands to benefit form a higher cap.
"None of us know what the actual number will be at the end of the day, but a projected number in that range just adds flexibility for us and adds the opportunity for us to spend that money wisely," Gillis said. "And if we can do it wisely, then we look at it as opportunity."
For the smaller-market clubs, it’s a tougher adjustment, the cap floor is expected to rise to around $52 million. And a cap at $71 million will be daunting for some.
"I think the way to look at it is it’s just that hockey’s doing so well that revenues are going up," said Nashville Predators GM David Poile, his team among the smaller-market clubs in the league. "I think that’s all good news. We’ve got to move with everybody else. There’s a lot of components in the way this whole thing’s been put together. There’s revenue sharing for teams like ourselves that it always works out. I think the main thing you’ve got to focus on is how good the business is doing. This is fabulous just the way the game has been growing. The fact that we’re playing these outdoor games is going to create a lot more interest than we’ve ever had before. As far as I can see it, there’s just a lot of good things happening."
Indeed, the higher the cap goes, the more teams like Nashville and Carolina get to pocket from revenue sharing. So there’s that.
The salary cap projection, meanwhile, is one of the more important nuggets governors pick up here every year at their December meeting. It allows them to budget/plan accordingly, especially when it comes to some of the bigger contract extensions that are in the works. Whether it’s Montreal with P.K. Subban, Toronto with Dion Phaneuf or San Jose with the troika UFAs-to-be in Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton, knowing a more precise cap number for next season should clarify things to a degree moving forward in those respective contract negotiations.
CANADIAN TV DEAL
The 12-year Canadian TV deal was explained and then ratified by the oard as well on Monday evening. Who’s going to say, "No," to $5.2 billion CDN ($4.9 billion U.S.).
Brendan Shanahan cancelled his flight to Pebble Beach on Monday so he could deal with discipline matters, namely suspending James Neal for five games. But Shanahan is expected to be here Tuesday to address owners on Day 2 of the board of governors meeting.
Shawn Thornton's hearing still hasn’t been officially set, but it’s expected to be either Thursday or Friday, given that Shanahan will be at Pebble Beach, as will the Bruins general manager.
The fallout from Saturday’s mayhem between the Penguins and Bruins continued to generate buzz at the owners’ meeting.
"We’re a physical team and we usually have incidents that involve physicality," said Chiarelli on Monday night. "With that comes these types of things. It’s something you deal with. I respect Shawn as a player, he’s come over to us and done very well for where his career had been. There’s no fallout other than we’re going to have a player that contributes to our team who will be suspended. He usually handles his business in a respectful way. This time he lost control a little bit."
COYOTES’ OUTDOOR GAME?
Well if they can hold an outdoor game in Los Angeles, why not Phoenix, right?
A source confirmed Monday before the meeting that the Coyotes have pitched to the NHL the idea of hosting an outdoor game next season in conjunction with the Arizona Cardinals hosting the Super Bowl. It's a similar idea to the two New York outdoor games around the Super Bowl this season.
A league source said it was still premature at this point to confirm any potential cities for outdoor games next season.
FLAMES’ ROSTER FREEZE
The NHL’s roster freeze goes into effect Dec. 19 at 11:59 p.m. ET, but for the Calgary Flames, it went into effect Monday night (10 days prior) as per Brian Burke’s longtime custom wherever he’s worked. Burke, president of hockey operations in Calgary, said Flames GM Jay Feaster agreed to pick up his tradition.
"It was to up to him and we’re doing it," Burke told ESPN.com Monday before the meeting. "I’ve always felt the league’s freeze is inadequate for players to arrange travel for their families, especially the Europeans. I don’t think players should get traded at Christmas time. So I put this in many years ago on my teams, I think it’s fair to the players. If you’re from the Czech Republic, it’s pretty hard to make flights on Dec. 19 if you think you might get traded. This just gives players piece of mind and I think they’re entitled to it."
Orpik was knocked unconscious by Boston's Shawn Thornton in the first period of a 3-2 Bruins' win on Saturday night. Orpik left the ice on a stretcher when Thornton grabbed Orpik from behind, threw him to the ice and punched him.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Monday that Orpik was unconscious for "30 seconds or more."
Orpik flew home with the team, but is out indefinitely. Bylsma said Orpik is "doing quite well" but offered no timetable on a possible return.
Pittsburgh recalled defenseman Brian Dumoulin from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League to take Orpik's spot on the roster.
Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's senior vice president of player safety, announced the suspension Monday afternoon.
At 11:06 of the first period, Marchand lay on the ice in front of the Bruins' bench when Neal skated by and his knee made contact with Marchand's head. Marchand was shaken up on the play and tended to by a team trainer before going to the locker room.
Neal was given a two-minute minor for kneeing. Marchand returned to the bench a few minutes later and remained in the game.
"With a clear view of Marchand, and plenty of time to avoid him, Neal skated directly through Marchand's head with his left knee," Shanahan said in his video discussing the suspension.
"While looking down directly at Marchand, Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg, ensuring contact is made with Marchand's head," Shanahan said. "While Neal does not kick or violently thrust his leg toward Marchand, it's our belief after reviewing this incident that this is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with the fallen player."
Boston coach Claude Julien said the Bruins, who play the Flames in Calgary on Tuesday, are moving ahead.
SLOWLY BUT SURELY, statistical analysis is coming to hockey. At least one-third of NHL teams are using advanced metrics to evaluate players, and next-level numbers are leaking into game-day stories and blogs. The NHL has given this stats boom a boost by making shooting, power play and penalty data since 1997 available on its website, alongside "real-time scoring stats," which include hits, blocks, giveaways and takeaways. It's a fascinating trove of data, and hockey metricians have begun to boil and stir the numbers into all sorts of concoctions.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider