After a crazy weekend with reports of players discussing whether or not Pittsburgh needed an interim captain and more criticisms that the organization doesn't update his injury often enough, the Penguins announced Sidney Crosby is going back to see Professor Ted Carrick. (Carrick was the subject of our Nov. 26 edition of Inside Hockey)
Crosby was at a very low point in his recovery when he reached out last summer to Carrick. It's difficult to know exactly what's going on right now, as information about his condition is closely guarded. (Despite all the complaints, that's how it must be. Concussions are tricky. The Penguins were roasted for saying Crosby had a "mild" one last season. There is no other injury where the recovery period deviates like this. Better to say nothing.)
While it's only natural to be worried about Crosby's future, there is one factor at play now that didn't exist last summer -- Pittsburgh is struggling to make the playoffs.
As we wake up this morning, the Penguins are one point ahead of Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It's not hard to see a scenario where Crosby looked at his team's recent nosedive (six straight losses before last weekend) and said to himself, "I've got to see if I can help."
Any player who cares will try to accelerate the process when his team is losing.
Crosby returned to the ice the same day The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported about a players' meeting that discussed whether or not the Penguins needed an interim captain. There's a lot of debate about what was or wasn't said, but the reaction to it is very interesting.
The general consensus is that Pittsburgh has a great room. "It would surprise me if it was something negative," said one former Penguin. "There are a lot of good guys in there. It's unlike them to be jealous (or anything like that)...And, if there were any issues, Dan Bylsma would be on top of it."
When Crosby returned in November, several teammates (and members of the organization) felt he looked good enough in practice to get back a month earlier. They didn't say it with any malice, but that could be at the root of of this. Players who've never suffered a concussion don't understand the frustration of those who have. It's not like a shoulder or leg injury where you get a timetable and try to beat it. Got no doubt they're frustrated and Crosby might look ok to them. But that doesn't mean he is.
Truth is, we're seeing just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this kind of thing. There's at least one situation right now (not Crosby) where a club is very frustrated with a player's recovery from a concussion, because they think he's ready to try and he won't. The team in question believes the issue now is more psychological than real.
From the outside looking in, it's tough to say who is right.
Look, no one wants to play more than Sidney Crosby. Going back to Professor Carrick proves that he's determined to return as soon as possible. 30 THOUGHTS
Mentioned on Hotstove Saturday night that the teams in the two conferences perceive the playoff routes very differently. With apologies to the New York Rangers, Eastern contenders look at defending champion Boston as the team to beat. The Bruins might not have the most star power, but theirs is the deepest lineup in the NHL.
Philadelphia, for example, realizes its defence will need fortification to handle Boston's four-line attack. And the Rangers refuse to place Sean Avery on re-entry waivers because they don't want the nearly $2 million cap hit if he gets claimed elsewhere.
Can't help but look at Wojtek Wolski's $3.8 million cap hit and wonder if the Rangers will do some maneuvering there too, should it be necessary. Doesn't look like he's a fit right now.
It's interesting to hear other teams talk about the Flyers. If there's one thing they really respect, it's Philly's willingness to make bold decisions. That's why there's a suspicion that if Ilya Bryzgalov or Sergei Bobrovsky doesn't grab a stranglehold on the net, Philadelphia may look at someone else (on a short-term contract) to calm the position.
The West is a different animal. There are four recognized powerhouses -- Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit and Chicago. That's not to say the rest are pussycats (especially the charging Blues), but those are the favourites. Because they play different styles and have different philosophies, it's dicey to add with one specific opponent in mind.
Asked a few Western-based players about what's making the Blues so tough. Very similar answer from several players: "They are always in the right position."
The other thing to watch will be which teams decide to be aggressive and which choose to be patient. "There's a lot of talking going on," is a common comment from both executives and scouts. What it comes down to is who you believe might be available soon, but isn't up for barter now.
Among teams considered ready to make a move are Toronto and San Jose, with Chicago hovering. Brian Burke is one of the game's most aggressive GMs, and Doug Wilson appears ready to add depth as Martin Havlat moves closer to a return. The Blackhawks have the cap space to do something if they wish, a luxury that hasn't always existed as of late.
Obviously, there's a lot of talk about Luke Schenn. But hearing that a few teams are watching Toronto AHL defenceman Korbinian Holzer very closely (Anaheim is one). A few guys who see him much more than I do think he's ready for a consistent shot at the NHL. He's defensive-minded (a good penalty killer) and doesn't back down. Could be part of a package for something.
Burke was damned if he did/damned if he didn't by trying to soothe Schenn, who really likes it in Toronto. The danger in telling a player he won't be dealt is a) things change quickly and b) sometimes GMs feel it's better to lie to a player in case a potential trade falls apart. Jamie Langenbrunner and Teemu Selanne were two players packaged shortly after being told nothing was going on, and it took both a long time to get over it.
It is believed the Blackhawks have some interest in Derick Brassard. Blue Jackets' GM Scott Howson did say Saturday that Brassard, who is showing new life under Todd Richards, may not be traded after all. (Howson's mouth turned into a hermetically sealed vault when I asked about Chicago's interest.) Brassard had a huge blocked shot to preserve a 4-3 win last Friday over Phoenix.
Those who are waiting? It's believed the Flyers covet Ryan Suter, so you've got to save your biggest bullets. David Poile is on record as saying he'll hold back until the last minute. Remember, the Flyers and Predators consummated two pretty important trades over the past few seasons: Peter Forsberg at the 2007 deadline, and Scott Hartnell/Kimmo Timonen for draft picks a few months later. Paul Holmgren must feel pretty confident that if he needs to pull off a complex transaction, he can do it with Poile.
Minnesota is an interesting one, especially since Chuck Fletcher is running out of healthy forwards. Both Steve Yzerman and Doug Armstrong made a special side trip to Vancouver during the World Juniors. They wanted to watch the Wild, who have excess defencemen and a goaltending situation that's worth watching. The team is very excited about goaltending prospect Matt Hackett and Josh Harding is a UFA. Or, do they sign Harding and try to move Niklas Backstrom?
. Minnesota's made it very clear, though, it doesn't want to trade their talented group of young players (many of whom are still in Europe).
Terry Pegula blamed injuries for the Sabres' ugly performance so far, and there's some truth to that. But, every team's got them to some degree. What you can control is effort and, for whatever reason, Buffalo just isn't as competitive on a nightly basis as it needs to be.
One question about Buffalo: Have the massive deals given out to Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino damaged the dressing room? Now, it's not like current Sabres haven't gotten paid. Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy all got new contracts before Pegula took over. (And they matched Thomas Vanek's offer sheet.) But, over the years, several GMs have said it's a dangerous dance when you reward players from outside -- especially in a cap system.
One report last week that Lindy Ruff has a seven-year deal to coach the Sabres. Another said it was six. He told The Buffalo News those guesses were ridiculous. "It's a normal coach's contract. It's not a player's contract." For what it's worth, a couple of people insisted it was four years with an option for a fifth. But there's a lot of dart-throwing here.18.
A Connecticut player supported Avery's denial about spitting on coach Ken Gernander. (Gord Stellick had a great point about this: "Could you imagine a player only getting a one-game suspension for spitting on his coach?") But, what's clear is Avery's angry the Rangers would not re-call him. Sounds like he'd rather get skated hard than play. But, he has to realize he doesn't have the leverage here -- unless he's ready to walk away from hockey.
There was a rumour one of the teams interested in Avery was the Canadiens, who could certainly use some edge. Looked into it. That rumbling was shot down -- quick. With everything going on in Montreal, could you imagine?
The Coyotes say they won't trade Shane Doan. If the team stays, they'll re-sign him. If it leaves, he'll have the choice of where to go as a free agent. There's some skepticism about that, I guess, but Don Maloney stayed true to his word when he said he wouldn't trade Kyle Turris until Turris signed.
Steve Yzerman is taking some criticism for not dealing with his goaltender issues. Think you have to look at the big picture. Tampa overachieved last season. That's not to say the Lightning didn't deserve its success, just that it came quicker than expected. It's not unusual for teams in that position to fall back. But, it makes no sense to trade your best assets unless you're really going to address the long-term goaltending/defence problems. He's got to be smart about this, because it's a move that will determine the on-ice future of his franchise. A bad trade will be devastating to the franchise.
Do think Tampa might've tried Antero Niittymaki as a short-term fix if it wasn't for concerns about his hip.
On January 6, 2011, the Thrashers were fifth in the Eastern Conference, eight points clear of ninth-place Carolina. They proceeded to lose 18 of their next 22. By March 3, they were 13 points out. Couple of current Jets said a major problem was "cheating," both forwards and defencemen going for the home run when it wasn't available. "You're trying to put a pass through three guys. No chance," one said. Seeing a little bit of that, although Winnipeg looked good last night cooling down red-hot Ottawa.
Mark Spector, who hosts a radio show in Edmonton and writes for Sportsnet, asked last week if Jordan Eberle and/or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be upset about not being named to the All-Star team because of injury. The reason? Bonuses. After all, how many guys get named, then removed if they are hurt? Under the CBA, rookies are eligible for two types of All-Star bonuses: one for being named to the team, another for being selected MVP. Each could be worth $212,500. Don't know if there will be grievances, but the situation's been discussed. And, their time away from the game decreases their chance of reaching some other bonuses.
25. Think the NHL and NHLPA should put it in writing: if you're 35 or over, you have the option of playing in the All-Star Game. I don't have any problem with Nicklas Lidstrom or Teemu Selanne preferring to rest. And, it opens room for guys like Scott Hartnell and Radim Vrbata, who desire to go. You need players who really want to be there, because they energize the four-day atmosphere for fans/sponsors. David Backes was like this last year, gleaning the glass for appreciative fans sitting near his bench.
One scout on PK Subban: "After Carey Price, he's the least of (Montreal's) problems."
Here's the story on Geoff Molson: He was replaced as Chairman of the Board in June, but the Canadiens never told anyone -- which is the really strange thing. Molson said he could not be both president and chair. He and Michael Andlauer (another Montreal owner) deny any kind of rift, but there are rumours everywhere that the group isn't getting along during this nightmare of a season. "A total fabrication," Andlauer said.
A few of you tweeted that the Canadiens were limited with Mike Cammalleri because he had a partial no-trade clause. Yes and no. While Kelly Hrudey believes no team should ever be allowed to even ask such a player to change his mind, it does happen quite a bit. It's obvious that Cammalleri was unhappy; in those situations it can be beneficial for both player (through the agent) and team to work together to find a solution.
The most surprising thing to me was Calgary fans complaining that the trade was "mortgaging the future." Cammalleri may be having a rough season, but he's a 29-year-old four-time 20-goal scorer. That's a pretty good asset and more than worth what Calgary gave up.
Couple of products being pushed by hockey people: Pittsburgh' strength coach Mike Kadar created a piece of exercise equipment known as CoreStix
. Kadar, who played for Mike Babcock at Red Deer College, tortured various Penguins a few years ago with a "Swedish Wheel" given to him by ex-King Mattias Norstrom. Now, I guess he's going to torture the rest of us. Meanwhile, Sean Pronger is launching a brand of clothing called JRNYMAN
, which is "Journeyman" without most of the vowels. His blog about life on 16 teams in 11 years is pretty good.
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