Here are some pre-holiday ramblings for your reading pleasure:
Thornton's suspension: The Shawn Thornton suspension saga will continue to make news as the rugged Bruins winger has opted to appeal the 15-game ban for hunting down and attacking Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik. Will this be the test case for the new independent arbitrator added in the last collective bargaining agreement? We'd be shocked if commissioner Gary Bettman reduces the suspension, so the case could be sent up the procedural ladder, something that hasn’t happened since the new CBA came into being. We were critical of the league not necessarily for the time it took to render the Thornton decision -- eight days -- but rather the timing of the announcement. We understand there were travel issues with the Bruins on the West Coast and the league wanted to take its time to get the ruling right. But we questioned releasing the suspension late on a Saturday afternoon, traditionally a slow point in the news cycle, a time when it might be argued (as we did) the league was trying to bury its news. League officials insist, however, that their studies show Saturday evening is a lively time for them in terms of viewers on their various media platforms and that they weren’t running from the news they were creating. Agree to disagree that there was a better way for the league to promote what was, in our view, the most important supplemental discipline decision in recent memory.
Shanahan working overtime: By the way, is there a single day that goes by that doesn’t bring with it some form of egregious, reckless and/or dirty play that requires the attention of Brendan Shanahan and his overworked staff in the department of player safety? Tuesday, just for starters, there was Kyle Quincey ramming Ryan Getzlaf face-first into the boards, leaving the Ducks’ star center bloodied and shaken and Quincey ejected from the game. In Philadelphia, Brayden Schenn was sent sprawling into the boards after a questionable hit from Washington’s Tom Wilson. Getzlaf returned to the Ducks’ victory after getting stitched up, but Schenn did not return to for the Flyers' victory, which was aided by two power-play goals scored on the major penalty Wilson was assessed. Just wondering when, if ever, will we hear from someone at the NHLPA about the responsibility of players in laying waste to their union brethren? Or when will we see someone from the union representing the victims in these hits lobbying for longer suspensions instead of the standard association support for the accused in these matters?
Smith vs. Harding for Team Canada: We have from the outset been a supporter of Mike Smith as a Canadian Olympian. Love his compete level, love what he did back in 2012 when the upstart Phoenix Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference finals before losing to eventual Cup winners the Los Angeles Kings, love how he has fought to stay an NHL netminder. But with Carey Price and Roberto Luongo seemingly locked into the top two spots for Canada’s Olympic team, at what point does Josh Harding get some love? All the Minnesota Wild netminder does is lead the league in goals-against average at 1.51 and is second with a .939 save percentage. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Minnesota Wild are nowhere without Harding in net. Yes, his resume is short on NHL playoff and international experience, but some of the decision-making has to be about being rock-solid in the face of adversity, so doesn’t Harding have that in spades given his battle with multiple sclerosis? This isn’t a knock on Smith, but he ranks 16th among Canadian netminders with a 2.94 GAA and 13th with a .911 save percentage. It’ll be a shock if Harding does make this team, but here’s saying he’s more than earned a place on the Canadian squad.
Panthers streaking: What looked for all the world like a lost season has suddenly become a season of, well, maybe something else for the Florida Panthers. Since firing head coach Kevin Dineen, oddly enough hired this week to coach Canada’s women’s team at the Sochi Olympics, and trading veteran Kris Versteeg back to Chicago, the Panthers’ youth brigade has suddenly taken a step forward and vaulted the team back to the edge of the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference. Their 3-1 victory over Toronto Tuesday was their fourth in a row and sixth in their past seven outings. It’s not rocket science, GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com this week. Under new coach Peter Horachek there is more structure, the players are playing hard and the youngsters (like second overall draft pick Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad) are hitting their stride offensively. Defensively, Dylan Olsen, drafted (28th overall pick in 2009) by Tallon when he was in Chicago and acquired in the Versteeg deal, has been a revelation with eight points in 11 games; a feat made more impressive by the fact he does not play on the power play. Another young talent Dmitry Kulikov has rebounded after being a healthy scratch and the subject of trade rumors. Although Tim Thomas has been sidelined with a groin injury, Scott Clemmensen has held the fort in goal and the youngsters “have given our team a little identity,” Tallon said. Reminds Tallon a bit of his time in Chicago as GM before the Hawks became an NHL power and perennial Stanley Cup contender. “We talked a blue streak in Chicago about our kids but nobody believed us,” he said. “Til they got on the ice.”
Winter Classic: Has HBO lucked into some drama or what with its "24/7: Road To The Winter Classic" reality series? Both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings are playing like junk and the Red Wings especially are in a terrific funk at home having been blasted Tuesday night by Anaheim 5-1 to fall to 5-9-6 at Joe Louis Arena. That win total is tied for lowest in the NHL at home. Meanwhile, the buzzword around the Leafs these days is "panic." As of Wednesday morning, the two teams occupied the two wildcard spots in the Eastern Conference. Can’t wait to see what the cameras uncover. Watching the opening segment last week was a reminder of how much we missed the series a year ago when the lockout scuttled half a season, including the Winter Classic. It has become appointment television for hockey fans -- hard core or not. Yes, we read some of the reviews that were a bit tepid but that’s hockey, no one eats its own like the hockey media. For us, HBO continues to synthesize the essence of the game in a way that appeals to a wide cross section of viewers, something the game has been trying to do with varying degrees of success for years and years. Although both head coaches -- Mike Babcock and Randy Carlyle -- were on their best behavior in the first episode, we’re guessing the strain of losing will reveal something other in coming episodes. The one curious aspect of the series is that decision-makers opted to have the original segments air on Saturday night. Yes, they are rebroadcast on HBO throughout the week and lots of folk have the capability of recording the segments or watching through on-demand functions, but Saturday has always been the NHL’s big night for live action. Why force fans, hardcore or not, to choose between watching their favorite teams and watching the HBO production? Just asking.