Haggerty: NHL needs all on board to reform

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Haggerty: NHL needs all on board to reform

ARLINGTON, Va. With the all-out melees taking place in the Penguins-Flyers playoff series and Phoenix's Raffi Torres once again attempting to knock out opponents with illegal, devastating hits, its natural for those around hockey to wonder whats going on.

Nine suspensions during the first eight days of the playoffs is certainly an eye-opening number after there were seven suspensions during the entirety of last springs Stanley Cup playoffs. Boston fans will remember Vancouvers Aaron Rome got hit with one after knocking out Nathan Horton.

Some are quick to blame NHL sheriff Brendan Shanahan for slapping Shea Weber on the wrist when he slammed Henrik Zetterbergs head into the boards like he was George "The Animal" Steele using a turnbuckle. There may be some truth there as it appears Shanahan and the Player Safety Department have been ruling with an iron fist since then, attempting to get all the NHL rodents back in line in hockeys version of Watership Down.

A bevy of recent suspensions and 26 penalties called in Wednesday nights Penguins-Flyers game is signaling that the officials have decided its time to seize back control of these games.

But Claude Julien had a different take when asked about the subject on Wednesday, and referenced a tweet from hockey agent Allan Walsh, who wondered aloud:

This has spiraled from out of control to total chaos. Do we really need a player to die on the ice for this insanity to stop?

Walsh later clarified that hes always maintained players are responsible for on-ice acts, and that cant be debated.

But the NHLPA is a group that can affect change by working with the league to scale back the hard, plastic shoulder pads and allow the NHL to more significantly hit the wallets of players that habitually go over the line.

Thats where the frustration comes in for the Bruins coach, who has long maintained that scaling back on equipment and increasing respect for fellow players in vulnerable positions are two areas that have deteriorated since his playing days.

I read something about an agent, it was Allan Walsh made a comment about that player safety stuff, said Julien, but theyre the ones that are representing these players. These players are all apart of the NHL Players Association and the fact is, I can tell you right now, and Ill say it again, theres not a coach in this league, not one, that is going to tell his players to target somebodys head.

Concussions are a serious and sensitive thing and I think we all respect that, so anybody who thinks otherwise is totally wrong. Somewhere along the line everybodys got to try and educate the players to be a little bit more careful thats what we keep trying to do. Theres not a game in this world that is faster than ours right now.

"Its always easy to criticize but its sometimes tough to make those split-second decisions. Sometimes it will happen and the guys knows and he regrets it and he apologizes and hes sincere, but the damage is done. Somehow were all trying to figure out a way to minimize that. Instead of criticizing and attacking that we should all be working together in order to make it better. I think if coaches, players, general managers, the organizations and the league if we all work together including the PA thats the best way to resolve it.

Julien mentioned one of the other key factors in the uptick in hockey injuries: the sheer speed of the game. Hockey did a wonderful thing when they detonated the red line and outlawed obstruction to increase game speed and promote offensive hockey, but the side effect is 6-foot-3, 230-pound bodies slamming into unsuspecting opponents with monster-truck force.

The players on the ice bear the biggest responsibility for making player safety an important goal on everybodys mind, but there are things that every corner of the NHL world media included can do to help a wonderful game avoid the debilitating concussions and brutal injuries that have already marred this years postseason.

Its not about getting rid of line brawls or nasty post-whistle scrums that have been a part of playoff hockey since the very beginning of pucks on the frozen sheet. The Penguins-Flyers series, in most respects, is exactly whats great about Stanley Cup playoff hockey, and the spiked ratings for NBC and interest among casual hockey fans speaks loudly to that.

If the league were to shrug their shoulders and slink away from that kind of passionate play, theyd be making a colossal mistake.

Its about changing a game thats been taken over by the hockey predators lying in the weeds and waiting to send another player out on a stretcher, as Torres did once again on Tuesday night.

Phoenix's general manager stood up for Torres' hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa by saying the certified head-hunter was being treated like he murdered a busload of school children.

No, Torres is being treated like hes the poster boy for whats wrong in the NHL. Hes being treated exactly as he should be -- he was suspended for indefinitely for his hit.

The NHL needs to continue sending out messages after malicious plays like Torres'. And everyone should acknowledge that those plays need to be eliminated from the game for the good of the game, starting with Torres and the rest of the Coyotes.

Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

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Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.

Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.

Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.

"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."

The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.

The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.

"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."

Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.

Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

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Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.

The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.

Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.

It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston. 

“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.

“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.

“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”

There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.

That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance.