30 Thoughts: Hockey socks and safety | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Hockey socks and safety

Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | 09:55 AM

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Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson suffers a torn Achilles when checked by Penguins forward Matt Cooke (24) on Feb. 13. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press) Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson suffers a torn Achilles when checked by Penguins forward Matt Cooke (24) on Feb. 13. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

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There are always going to be injuries. This is a confined, high-speed, high-contact sport. But looking at Erik Karlsson's Achilles tear, I can't help but think the NHL and the NHL Players' Association should be doing more about it.

As this blog was finished Monday night, approximately $150 million US worth of NHL players sat on injured reserve. Thanks to the lockout and the compressed schedule, there is legitimate concern that number is going to get worse.

There are always going to be injuries. This is a confined, high-speed, high-contact sport. But looking at Erik Karlsson's Achilles tear or Ryan Miller's mask-related concussion from 2010-11, I can't help but think the NHL and the NHL Players' Association should be doing more about it.

The equipment debate isn't new. The players fight ferociously for the right to choose their own gear. But it's hard to support that argument after seeing all of the safety measures added to the new collective bargaining agreement.

There are limits on training camp lengths and practice sessions. There are now four mandated days off per month. In an effort to fight Ambien abuse, teams must give their players nine hours off after arrival at a road hotel. That last one is particularly important. But the sincerity behind these efforts is completely undermined by unacceptable equipment being worn across the league.

Nobody wants to see Karlsson or Miller or anyone else injured. They are great players and we want them on the ice. Those two will make a combined $77 million over the lives of their current contracts. No problem with that here. They've earned it. But at some point, doesn't the person signing the cheques have the right to say, "Can I protect you as much as possible?"

One of the counter-arguments is, "Well, where does it stop? Should owners be able to mandate visors, too? What about those plastic skate guards that protect the feet?"

My argument is this -- you've got to wear a sock. And a goalie has to wear a mask. Let's worry about that stuff first.

The NHL is not completely innocent. There have been complaints for years about the Reebok socks, that they are too thin and too dangerous. But nothing's been done. Eric Engels, a Montreal-based reporter, sent along a presentation he does for a cut-resistant sock called "Gladiator." It is made of a fibre called Dyneema (I was going to post some of the photos he includes of skate cuts, but they are disgusting).

There are better options out there.

Since I was once a 20-ish male, I understand that age group doesn't always take safety very seriously. So let's look at it the Kevin O'Leary way, ie. through the bank account.

If there's one word the players really hate, it's "escrow." Basically, 10 per cent of each paycheque is frozen in an account. Players and owners split hockey-related revenue. If it turns out the players' share is higher, this money is used to equalize things. If a wounded individual is put on long-term injured reserve, his cash comes off the cap. But it still counts against the players' share of HRR. The more guys out of the lineup, the more teams spend on salaries and the worse escrow gets.

If the Ottawa Senators do fall down the standings without Karlsson (and Jason Spezza, for that matter), that hurts the players, too. Ottawa is a high-revenue team yet no Canadian club depends more on walk-up than it. (NOTE: One source said it would be more accurate to describe the Senators as a "middle 10 team" in the revenue rankings). How much of a crowd will be lost in the regular season, never mind the even-more-profitable playoffs? NHLPA membership gets 50 per cent of the ticket sales, merchandising and concessions. It should be about safety. But we all understand what makes the world go 'round.

Money, of course, is why this isn't an 82-game season. These injuries don't just hurt the body. They hurt the bank account.

One last thought. If I owned a team, I'd consider forcing players to wear the Dyneema-style socks and say, "Grieve it." In real life, we're all subject to workplace safety rules. Safe socks and goalie masks are not unreasonable requests.


1. Senators fans were buoyed by positive comments from Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne about his own recovery from a torn Achilles. And this from Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who suffered a similar injury in 2007: "What's really going to help [Karlsson] is that he has no reason to rush. By the time he is ready to go, the season will be over. I rushed back [in less than four months] because it was the fathers' road trip and I wanted to play ... I realize looking back that I wasn't ready. Because of that, it was two or three years before I was 100 per cent."

2. There is a lot of debate as to why Vancouver forced veteran forward Manny Malhotra to sit. But a couple of sources, including one player (not Bieksa) who told me to look through Malhotra's second-last game, a 4-1 victory over Minnesota. It's been reported that there was one play where Dany Heatley, a former teammate, could have clobbered him but let up. I couldn't find that one, although I did find two other situations where Malhotra carried into dangerous spots: one comes about 30 seconds in (Clayton Stoner could have gone for the hit); the other is at approximately 13:10 of the third period (Matt Cullen). Players said Malhotra seemed unsure of himself with the puck, so he looked down at it a lot more than normal.

3. Malhotra's frustration is understandable. He's been around so long that one forgets he's just 32 years old. Who wants to be forced to sit at that age? The thing with the team's stance is this -- if there was no lockout, meaning a normal training camp with exhibition games, would the decision have been made before the regular season began? The stoppage and short turnaround didn't allow the opportunity to get a handle in a less controversial manner.

4. Chris Tanev's younger brother, Brandon, is finishing his first season at Providence College. Chris lasted one NCAA season before joining the Canucks. Word is Brandon will attend Washington Capitals rookie camp this summer.

5. What's that line, "You really have to love someone before you can hate them?" Boy, does that remind me of Ryan O'Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche. Last year, they couldn't say enough good things about each other. Now it's like Heather Mills and Paul McCartney. Ugly contract negotiations, the captaincy (which O'Reilly certainly thought he was going to get). Both sides have accused the other of allowing "non-principals" to "meddle" in the process. It's a train wreck.

6. As mentioned on Hotstove Tonight, Colorado began the process of approaching teams it considers possible trade partners. One was definitely the New York Rangers. I had originally thought the deal involved Michael del Zotto and Derek Stepan for O'Reilly and another defenceman. However, it was strongly denied that Stepan was ever discussed, so I think I was wrong. The Denver Post's Adrian Dater has reported the Avalanche are not as interested in getting a centre back.

7. Even so, del Zotto is exactly the kind of player Colorado would want. Tyson Barrie's goal on Monday against the Nashville Predators was the first by an Avalanche blue-liner this season. I've been asked what defenceman the Rangers liked, but don't have a definite answer. Earlier this season, I'd heard New York was looking for a right-handed shot. However, del Zotto is a lefty.

8. I would not be surprised if Colorado approached the Florida Panthers, too.

9. The other developing storyline is how Matt Duchene feels about this. The Avalanche were disappointed in him at the end of last season, so he rededicated himself. Duchene changed his diet, worked out harder than ever (partially with Sidney Crosby) and arrived with a new attitude. There is no possible way he could look at this without saying, "O'Reilly believes he's a much better player than I am."  Powerful motivator.

10. Senators general manager Bryan Murray made it very clear he's not going to make any rush trades to save his team in the short term. It's a smart move. Those are always the deals GMs come to regret. He'll do a fifth-rounder, like the Los Angeles Kings did for Keaton Ellerbe. But he isn't dealing any core parts for a quick fix.

11. Do you remember when Murray took heat for signing goaltender Craig Anderson to a four-year, $12.75-million extension? Now that contract looks beautiful. I joked with him last week that some GMs said he could get half a team for Anderson. Murray laughed and said, "Tell those guys to call me." If he ever seriously decided to do it, Ottawa would get a lot in return.

12. If Mike Babcock returns as Canada's Olympic head coach, I wonder if he will bring along his former Detroit Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean, now head coach in Ottawa.

13. I still believe NHLers will go to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Everyone got together last week to air their official positions. My bosses won't be thrilled, but it sounds like the NHL and NHLPA are going to be able to show video and get access that was previously unobtainable. Insurance remains a major issue, though. It costs about $7 million to cover player contracts, which the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee are being asked to pay. Another issue is the current package only covers about 80 per cent of a player's salary. That's a significant difference for a player like Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.

14. Not an easy start Monday for Danny Taylor of the Calgary Flames. Taylor's a great story, what with five years between NHL appearances. He went to a skate blade that's unapproved at the NHL level before this season, so he had to switch that when called up. Then, there were questions about how he straps his pads, with other teams accusing him of doing it in a way that violates goaltender rules. That one, he had to deal with on the morning of his first-ever NHL start.

15. I've got to think Ryan Whitney isn't much longer for the Edmonton Oilers. Whitney can still pass it and start the transition from defence to offence, but foot injuries have affected his mobility. In a more structured system, teams can cover for that. Suffice to say, the Oilers are still learning team defence, so Whitney doesn't get as much help. I thought Detroit might be a good fit. But it doesn't sound like the Red Wings want to go in that direction.

16. The bigger question for Edmonton will be what to do with forward Ryan Smyth. He's under contract for one more year on an over-35 deal, which can't come off the salary cap. Maybe last week was just a bad blip. But if it's a sign of things to come, do the Oilers and Smyth want to go down an uncomfortable road for a second time?

17. In Toronto, they are debating Brian Burke's best move as Maple Leafs GM. Was it getting Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner from Anaheim? James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers? Burke's best move might turn out to be putting Dallas Eakins behind the bench for the Toronto Marlies. Eakins was not a Burke hire, he was inherited. It would have been easy to get someone else. But Burke kept him and Eakins has rewarded the organization with well-developed players.

18. New York Islanders GM Garth Snow said he wants to keep netminder Evgeni Nabokov and defencemen Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky (Newsday's Arthur Staple reported that preliminary talks are underway with Streit). That's consistent with what the Islanders are telling other teams, at least until we see if they have staying power into April. 

19. Another exec on Snow: "Some guys are masters of the salary cap. He is master of the salary floor." Great line -- and not intended as an insult.

20. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov's exit interview from last season: "He came in and said, 'I know I f----d up, I know I got to get better. Don't worry, I will." First impressions are hard to change and that one will last awhile in Philly. On a team decimated by injuries, he is taking his job more seriously.

21. One of the reasons the Flyers threw the GNP of a small African nation at Shea Weber, aside from the fact he's a great player, is that the New Jersey Devils exploited their lack of a right-handed defenceman in last year's playoffs. According to opponents and scouts, it remains a problem. Philadelphia added Kurtis Foster, Bruno Gervais and Luke Schenn, but is still being attacked there.

22. Credit to Claude Giroux. If you're going to rip your teammates, you better lead by example. After saying, "We're not competing" following Saturday's loss in Montreal, Giroux had three points in a 7-0 win over the Islanders. Next up? Ryan Miller, who torched his fellow Buffalo Sabres on Sunday and hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

23. He may be 40, but netminder Martin Brodeur can still single-handedly destroy an opponent's forecheck. One exec who saw the Devils' 5-3 win over Philadelphia last Friday could not believe how good Brodeur was against it. "He could've had three assists ... tape-to-tape passes to the other blue-line. Their defence didn't have to do anything."

24. It was an under-the-radar move, but Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero did a huge favour for defenceman Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy is the kind of player who really could have been screwed by the lockout. At age 28, he is making $525,000 and is on a one-way deal for just the second time in his career. An unrestricted-free-agent-to-be on a deep Pittsburgh blue-line, Lovejoy was looking at the loss of NHL salary security. But in Anaheim, he's got three assists in six games and is playing five more minutes a night. If Lovejoy turns this into full-time future employment, he should send Shero a nice watch.

25. So who was Shero watching last week in Minnesota? He attended Avalanche/Wild game the night before Pittsburgh won in Winnipeg. You know who has Penguin written all over him? Matt Cullen.

26. There was a rumour going around that newly hired Jarmo Kekalainen of the Columbus Blue Jackets may make a quick coaching change and bring in someone he knows to take over (Jacques Martin?). Team president John Davidson said that will not be happening. He wants his new GM to do the same thing he did: "Take time ... Come in totally open-minded and learn about everything in the organization."

27. Braden Holtby had a rough start to the season. But the Capitals netminder pointed out that the same thing happened to him with AHL Hershey, too, which is why he is optimistic things will work out. In his first 10 games with the Bears, Holtby had a 2.69 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and one shutout. In his last 15 games, he had a 1.80 GAA, .940 SP and three shutouts. More recently at the NHL level, Holtby had won three in a row for Washington before a tough, 38-save loss to the Rangers.

28. When San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton fights, it's about creating momentum and it's against an important player. He did it with Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf in 2009 and started off the 2011 Western Conference Final by asking Canucks forward Ryan Kesler if he wanted to scrap. So it wasn't unprecedented to see him go with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews last week. You can see the Sharks' frustration after that brilliant 7-0 start. Dan Boyle, Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Thornton have 30 of the team's 37 goals. San Jose scored 29 goals in seven games in January; just eight in seven games in February.

29. The CBA was supposed to be completed by Saturday. However, both sides have agreed to continue working on the language and seem optimistic about how things are progressing.

30. Now that he's competing in The Amazing Race, I can tell you my Bates Battaglia story. I was still working at The Score in 2002, when he and the Carolina Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup final. During their second-round series against Montreal, one francophone scalper would always ask me if I was a player. Of course, I always said, "No." But he kept asking, so finally, I said, "Yes. I'm a player." He replied, "Who are you?" I was totally unprepared for this question and had to stammer out an answer, so I said, "Bates Battaglia." (I look nothing like Bates Battaglia). He stared at me for a second, then said, "Your line is killing us."

Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC

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