The Buffalo Sabres started the fights Sunday night
, but the Maple Leafs are feeling the pain. The great irony? This is the exact recipe that worked so well last season for Toronto.
The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Sabres won a combined four of 14 games against the Leafs in 2013. In many of those losses, the defeated club grumbled about the winner's tactics. Head coach Randy Carlyle loves a tough team that plays a hard game and Toronto did, leading the NHL in fighting majors.
The best example was probably Feb. 9 in Montreal, a 6-0 Toronto victory that featured several wild third-period fights, a biting accusation and a Rene Bourque concussion when he came to Canadiens teammate Brian Gionta's aid against Colton Orr.
The Canadiens were incensed. The Maple Leafs? Unapologetic. And Toronto's improvement to a playoff team made some of their smaller, less-physical opponents realize, "We're going to have to deal with this."
Orr and Frazer McLaren are injured right now, but that hasn't stopped the flying fists. The team averages more than two fights per game in the pre-season. The formula doesn't look like it will change. Why would it? Worked for them.
Ottawa added Matt Kassian in March. Montreal waited for the summer to go get George Parros. John Scott's Anchor Bar arrival isn't new, but the Sabres have worried about their toughness since Boston's Milan Lucic ran over Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.
There was no legitimate reason for Scott to target Phil Kessel. Corey Tropp sure looked like he wanted to try his luck with the bigger Jamie Devane. (Biggest concern: that Tropp is okay after his head hit the ice.)
Think Carlyle will have his group riled up in the next meeting (Nov. 15)? What about Orr and McLaren, assuming both are healthy? Now, though, their opponents feel better prepared.
"This is what you did to us last year," these teams are saying. "This year, we're going to fight back."
1. Asked a few players what they thought of Scott/Kessel. The majority thought Kessel was justified in his actions. On Monday, Scott told reporters in Buffalo, "I wasn't going to try to hurt him. I was just trying to send a message." The thing is, there is no way in the moment Kessel knows that. If he gets hurt, how much does it cost him, especially since he and the team are working on a long-term extension? The one thing a couple did say was he could have skated away from Scott before puck drop. That was the only "out" he had.
2. Here's why I have no problem with the three-game exhibition suspension: my opinion on this stuff changed after Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore. Moore skated away, turtled and was still badly injured. John Scott is a powerful guy. If he connects, even without all of his force, Kessel could get hurt. Imagine, if that happened, the fallout we'd be seeing. The damage to Kessel and the sport is not worth it. If the Sabres want to rough up Kessel, do it with punishing checks or hard play. Fighters should not be targeting non-fighters.
Sounds like Edmonton's decision to take Steve MacIntyre on waivers was made very late in the process, within maybe 30 minutes of the deadline. Would guess the Buffalo/Toronto brawl
affected their thinking.
We've now seen two occasions where fighters removed each other's helmets prior to a scrap. Krys Barch and Brett Gallant
avoided coincidental minors last week. Monday night, Aaron Volpatti and Kevan Miller did it. The referees reacted by giving them the penalties anyhow. That was an interesting development, as there is no specific rulebook language against this. The Ontario Hockey League did anticipate this issue when it introduced similar legislation in 2009, enacting a rule that reads, "If a player should remove an opponent's helmet or undo a chinstrap prior to or during an altercation, such player shall receive an automatic game misconduct penalty in addition to any other penalties assessed and a one (1) game suspension." Maybe we eventually see that.
5. Some people really hate the helmet rule, but I'll take that instead of Tropp's blood all over the ice.
It did not go unnoticed that Ryan Miller participated in the fighting. He referred to himself as a "tradeable asset
" in our HNIC interview last weekend, but the Sabres told both he and Thomas Vanek it was critical they set a positive example while still in Buffalo. There is no doubt he saw this as a chance to do that. "I understand I'm a big of part of [creating a positive atmosphere]," he said. "The way I bring myself to the rink and the way I perform on the ice is obviously a part of that. This isn't all about what the Sabres can do for me."
7. Miller, by the way, is a big supporter of the goalie equipment crackdown. "It's a situation where, when you speak out about these things, guys are going to look at you and say, 'Oh yeah, thanks a lot,'" he said. "But, when you really get down to it, we're just trying to protect the scope of the game. It might not be about this year or next year, but where's it going to be in five or ten years? You have to have an even playing field. It shouldn't come down to how much extra space can you fill in with your chest protector, your pants, your knee pads, your pads...What position are you going to get into to stop the puck? And I know everyone has got a different body type, but we're not going to go anywhere with that...Gotta play with what God gave you, so we're just trying to keep it more to the sport and not so much throwing furniture in the way."
8. Clarkson's 10-game suspension
and cap problems it creates don't only affect the unsigned Cody Franson. and cap problems it creates don't only affect the unsigned Cody Franson. GM Dave Nonis made it very clear last weekend that if Morgan Rielly makes it on merit, he will be there no matter the crunch. The rookie's hit is just above $925,000 with bonuses that could affect next year's cap. Is that still possible?
9. Zack Kassian's five-game penalty
hurts Vancouver in a similar, but smaller way. His hit of $870,000 isn't as bad, but it tightens things when they were hoping to see if anything interesting became available from teams feeling the squeeze (maybe a centre). Prior to the ban, the Canucks had about $2 million US to play with.
10. If Cody Franson is serious about Europe, he loses control over his potential destination. If he plays any games in another league after the NHL season begins, he must clear waivers. Seems unlikely.
There is a conspiracy theory that the "jersey tuck" crackdown
is simply setting the table for ads on sweaters. There's no way Oswald acted alone, but I generally hate conspiracies. Anyway, I did look into it and was told "not imminent" aside from what already exists with the current sponsor, Reebok. Another good point: if the NHL was to sell these ads, they probably wouldn't be located along the bottom, which is where tucking occurs.
12. That's not to say the idea hasn't been discussed. At a sales conference a couple of years ago, Brian Burke (then Toronto's GM) said the Maple Leafs were dead-set against the idea because of the iconic nature of their logo and jersey. A one-time Canadiens employee said the same thing in a different conversation.
A lot of debate about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins's extension
(seven years, $42 million US). Here is why Edmonton did it: the Oilers believe in their young core as players and people. They believe that if you do this instead of the bridge contract, you save money, because the cost of the next one only goes up, never down. It sounds like the biggest initial issue in these discussions was term; at one point, Rick Valette, Nugent-Hopkins's agent, wanted shorter, but the team liked this idea instead.
The biggest argument against Edmonton's decision is, "Why?" Nowhere in the CBA does a team have greater control over a player than after the entry-level deal. See: Subban, PK; Kadri, Nazem
. The Oilers are seriously dabbling in analytics and one of the theories pushed by this analysis is that paying big money for scorers after the age of 31 is madness. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are heading into what are, statistically, the scoring primes of a player's career, so why not pay them then? It's a fascinating debate.
15. The other argument against RNH's extension is his shoulder injury. The doctor advising the Oilers on this is Dr. Tony Miniaci, an orthopaedic surgeon at the renowned Cleveland Clinic. If he says things should be okay, teams generally are comfortable with that.
16. Edmonton's plan is clear: Hall is the salary ceiling. He got a $6 million cap hit, and no one is getting more than that. He didn't get any no-move or no-trade clause, so none of the younger generation is getting that. (Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are eligible for such clauses after their seventh seasons, or midway through these extensions.) That was huge for the Oilers, not that they are looking to trade any of these guys. Teams, players and agents will tell you that avoiding that kind of protection costs extra. You rarely get guys to take discounts without it.
17. Exception: Sam Gagner. Gagner did take less, with a cap hit of $4.8 million US. He does have a no-move in 2014-15. It doesn't kick in until then because he is not yet eligible, but Craig MacTavish delivered a verbal promise that Gagner would not be dealt in 2013-14.
18. If Hall is the guy setting the standard, it seems sensible to name him captain.
19. Finally on this topic: look at where the NHL thinks the cap is going. We're talking the potential of $80 million US in a few years. Let's say five Oilers -- Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov -- get that. Tying up approximately 30 per cent of the cap in those players is not bad business.
20. One player to watch closely this week: Oilers defenceman Anton Belov. They chased him hard after the world championships, only to see his pre-season arrival delayed by visa issues. It's possible he goes to AHL Oklahoma City for a short time, "but he's going to play in the NHL, unless he's a complete washout," as one source said. Suffice it to say the Oilers don't believe the worst-case scenario will happen. He looks very comfortable and confident.
21. A few teams are circling around Jets defenceman Paul Postma, wondering what is their plan for him. He's caught in a numbers game, especially with Jacob Trouba making a push at the big club. What they do know is there is no way Postma clears waivers. He's got too much talent and a good-value contract (two years, $712,500 average). If Winnipeg does decide to deal him, there will be interest.
22. Kevin Cheveldayoff's two-year extension
now puts him under contract for five seasons. That's big-time security. There was some surprise at this, but you have to understand owner Mark Chipman. He is very loyal to his people. When Cheveldayoff got there, Chipman wanted to keep many who were already in the organization. Now, Cheveldayoff is part of that.
23. Also wonder if the whole Seattle expansion possibility is part of this. One of the potential owners is Don Levin, who employed Cheveldayoff at AHL Chicago and remains a fan. Should Levin get that team when/if it happens, this blocks the chances of a raid.
24. Andrew Ladd on the Jets: "We need to find an identity and a way we need to play every single night. I think too many times in the past couple of years, we've been inconsistent in the way we played...some games run-and-gun, some games strong defensively...You just can't have that variance...Too many times we were too loose, and we just don't have the firepower up front to run-and-gun with teams."
25. Ladd on Winnipeg's $90-million US summer spending spree (Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler): "I wasn't surprised. When I first went to Winnipeg...that was the message that they gave to me, that when it came time to sign guys, that they would do it."
26. Ran a list of Buffalo's six first-round draft choices over the past four years past Ron Rolston and asked how many would be on the team for the start of the season. That's Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. His answer: "Three or four." But the only one he would single out was Psysk. It's time for a deeper look at him.
27. There is a sense Ristolainen might be farther ahead than Buffalo thought. However, Rolston made it very clear that no one will be rushed. "We're only keeping players who are ready," he said. "If they will be making youthful mistakes, we can deal with that. But if they are not ready, they will not be here."
28. At no position does that create bigger questions for the Sabres than centre. Cody Hodgson, Grigorenko and Johan Larsson have combined for 165 NHL games. Larsson played wing at AHL Houston but played centre in international competition. Rolston started Tyler Ennis on the side, but didn't like how little Ennis was getting the puck, especially when his middleman was a lefty passer. Look at the guys Buffalo must deal with on a regular basis.
Mason Raymond was signed by Toronto
off his tryout contract and Chuck Kobasew has a chance in Pittsburgh. Tom Gilbert's in Florida and it sounds like there are some teams looking at him. Had heard Phoenix, but they've got a lot of defencemen under contract, so barring a move, I'm not sure how that would work.
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As the Panthers move towards a sale, lots of questions about relocation. First, the team has an excellent lease with Broward County for 15 more years. But more importantly, commissioner Gary Bettman never changes owners without some guarantee of staying put. When Jim Balsillie tried to buy Pittsburgh, it was seven years. The new Phoenix deal
is for five, but the only reason it's that short is the banks demanded it, not because the owners wanted it. Bettman wants to see how his teams will do under the new CBA.