Happy Friday the 13th everbody. While the superstitious may consider today a day of bad luck, the NHL is using this time to try to clean up several messes. Here’s a look at what’s going on and what can be done about it:
The big issue around the league of late has been head shots. Recent injuries to Florida’s David Booth and the Rangers Chris Drury have been just the tip of the iceberg of a large problem facing the league. This is an issue of work place safety. Recent studies have found that repeated concussions have a serious long term effect on the health of former athletes including depression, headaches, dimentia and even the early onset of Alzheimer’s-like symptems.
Until now, the league has been reluctant to deal with the issue of blows to the head. Some of the older school GMs, like Toronto’s Brian Burke, have insisted that if you make a rule prohibiting head shots, you will take the physical element out of the game. Gradually, that line of thinking may be changing.
The issue was discussed at the GM meetings in Toronto this week and while some of the power that be have their doubts, the league decided to establish a committee of seven GMs to further invesitgate the issue and to produce a report on the issue in March. It won’t solve the problem, but it’s an acknowlegement that there is an important issue to be dealt with and that’s a beginning.
While eliminating head shots altogether will never happen in a game as fast and physical as NHL hockey, the league and NHLPA must do all they can to minimize the damage that repeated concussions can do to players both now and long after their hockey careers are over. This committee had a chance to take a big first step in that direction. The NFL has banned blows to the head. It’s time for the NHL to take a stand as well.
Now that a Federal Bankrupcty Court has awarded the Phoenix Coyotes to the NHL, the league is entering into negotiations with the city of Glendale to get more favorable terms for the club’s lease. This remains a major issue. The league and whoever buys the Coyotes from them will be right back in bankruptcy court very soon if they can’t improve the lease situation in Phoenix. If hockey can indeed work in the desert as the league has claimed, it needs a fair chance to flourish. Without a reasonable lease, whoever buys the Coyotes will start with two strikes against them and the league’s win in court will be a hollow one.
Fehr Comes to the NHLPA
The National Hockey League Players Association has announced that baseball union chief Donald Fehr will serve as an advisor to the troubled hockey players union. The NHLPA is without a leader right now and the union has been an unstable mess for some time. Fehr has been very successful leading the baseball union for years and his input can only benefit the NHLPA.
Same Old Rangers
Rangers fans have got to be feeling a scary sense of deja vu. Once again after a fast start, the team has fizzled and watched rivals pass them in the standings. New York started the season 7-1-0 and now stand 10-8-1. Last year, the Broadway Blues got off to a very fast start as well before coming back to earth. A mid-season slump ended up costing Tom Renney his job. Injuries have cost the Rangers with Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky and Henrik Lundqvist all missing significant time recently. Even when healthy, it appears the Rangers not have an easy road to the playoffs this season as first thought. Lundqvist remains the key for New York. His standout play keeps them in almost every game he starts.
Criticism of Sidney Crosby has been harsh during his recent slump. Crosby recently went five games without registering a point and the pens have lost four straight contests. Critics say Evgeni Malkin was able to raise his game when Crosby was hurt for an extended stretch two seasons ago and now Crosby is failing to do the same in Malkin’s absence. But the absence of Malkin is hardly the only problem for Pittsburgh these days. The Pens are also without Tyler Kennedy, Maxime Talbot, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar. The absence of both Gonchar and Malkin is hurting the usually potent Penguin power play which has not scored in its last 25 power plays. The Devils have now passed Pittsburgh and taken over first place in the Atlantic Division. With a return to health of their stars, the Pens should return to being one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. As for Crosby, he has simply proven to be mortal. It does appear the Pens’ captain is pressing a bit and trying to do too much with so many of his teammates out of the lineup. It is only a matter of time before “Sid the Kid” returns to his usual level of excellence.
The Hurricanes are in a deep funk with a league-worst 2-12-3 record. Heck, even the Maple Leafs are four points ahead of the Canes in the standings and Toronto has played one fewer game. Paul Maurice remains a fine coach but pressure will probably begin mounting for GM Jim Rutherford to replace his coach if the losing continues. With goalie Cam Ward out for the next four weeks with a lacerated leg, don’t expect a quick turnaround in Raleigh anytime soon. Manny Legace is a stop gap replacement, but he can’t compare to Ward.
Carolina needs Ward back, but the team’s biggest problem has been goal scoring. Eric Staal, the team’s biggest offensive threat, is also out of the lineup. Staal’s absence has been keenly felt as the Canes are the only team in the league averaging less than two goals per game as a team. No Carolina player has scored more than four goals on the season despite the fact that the team has played 17 games. It looks like a long year in Raleigh.