Haggerty: Is the NHL getting even with Bruins?

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Haggerty: Is the NHL getting even with Bruins?

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TORONTO Perhaps the balance has now been paid in full by the NHL after a week of Bruins-related fines, suspensions and assorted supplemental discipline goodies.

The league has been under fire by crazed Montreal fanatics, Air Canada executives and even the Canadian Prime Minister among others since Zdeno Chara escaped official vilification for his collision with Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre two weeks ago.

The hockey play hit aside from being your garden variety interference call resulted in nary a suspension or fine for Chara a decision aided by his record of clean living within the NHL for the past 13 seasons.

That courageous, principled decision led to a firestorm of criticism and a ridiculously simplistic role for Chara as the NHLs version of Frankensteins Monster terrorizing the hockey hillside while abusing smaller, weaker hockey players.

Its actually pretty easy to imagine the more imbalanced Habs fans grabbing pitchforks and torches to chase around the 6-foot-9 defenseman after they burned police cruisers in the streets three years when the No. 1 seed Habs took down the No. 8 seed Bruins in a first round playoff series.

The NHLs Hockey Operations people seem to have responded to the criticism in the way only they can in the handful of games since the CharaPacioretty unfurled on the ice.

The league has called a lopsided ratio of penalties against Boston (20 power plays for the Bs opponents and only 11 for the Black and Gold) in the last four games since Chara and the Big Bad Bruins did the deed that evening in Montreal.

The NHL has also seemingly gone above and beyond their customary methods to show theres no favoritism toward the Boston franchise or from Colin Campbell toward the team his son skates for.

One wouldnt think the NHL feels the need to prove a guy like Jumbo Joe Thornton not to be confused with one of the great hockey MENSA candidates of our times wrong after he expressed an opinion that the league has always favored the Bruins.

After all Thornton cited a Milan Lucic cross-check in the playoffs two seasons ago that the Bs power forward was actually suspended for when referencing some fictitious double-standard in favor of Boston.

Jumbo was never one to let the actual facts get in the way of one of his half-baked philosophies, but Thorntons conspiracy theory does speak to a whispered perception around the league when it comes to the Bruins.

The NHL appears to have gone out of their way to strike at the Bs and show a little tough love when ruling on a pair of incidents in back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators.

Brad Marchand clocked R.J. Umberger in the back of the head with a blindside elbow earlier this week that momentarily dropped the Blue Jackets forward, and caused a minor skirmish in its aftermath.

No penalty was called at the time, Umberger walked away from the incident and he actually took a dastardly run at Rich Peverley on his very next shift on the ice for the Jackets.

For that the 22-year-old Marchand was slapped with a two-game suspension and over 6,000 in lost game checks, and the pesky Bs forward gamely accepted his punishment like a man. There was no crying about injustice or where he intended to hit Umberger, or where his elbow made contact.

Marchand simply served the time after doing the crime.

But this is where things get a little dicey.

The Bs were involved in another elbowing incident Thursday night in their overtime loss to the Preds.

Patric Hornqvist charged in on Tyler Seguin during the closing minutes of the first period and smashed his pointed elbow into the side of Seguins head as he finished his check. Seguin had little time to protect himself after flipping the puck away, and took the full brunt of impact behind his ear.

Hornqvist drove his elbow into Seguins head with such force that he ripped apart the bottom of the Bs rookies left ear lobe an injury that required seven stitches to simply put things back together again for Seguin.

The rookies gruesome ear looked like a Mike Tyson chew toy for the better part of three periods, but Seguin somehow avoided a concussion-type injury on the play.Predators coach Barry Trotz gave some mealy-mouthed explanation that Hornqvist kept his elbow in on the hit following the game, but numerous replays along with Seguins cauliflower ear seemed to indicate the exact opposite happened.

It was expected Hornqvist would get some kind of suspension similar to what awaited Marchand and Dany Heatley each of the last two days: a two-game suspension and a warning flare throughout the league that head shots were going to be closely scrutinized.

For reasons that NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy hasnt made abundantly clear, the NHL opted to simply slap Hornqvist with a light 2,500 fine and a warning not to do it again.

Thats all well and good if the league is trying to breed uncertainly and confusion about head shots.

But this situation seemed tailor-made for supplementary discipline and will instead fuel speculation this whole week has been a weak NHL effort to make up for something people feel they missed with Chara and Pacioretty. Given the makeup mentality that the league has long practiced -- and the downright head-scratching manner they mete out justice -- it's a legitimate question to be asked.

The NHL continues to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to making a clear and present stand against head shots and did it again by giving the kid gloves treatment to Hornqvist.

It was an elbow to the head meant to send a message after Seguin scored an early goal in the game, and those are exactly the kind of murky plays most players want the league to sanction right into extinction.

As always, Patrice Bergeron is the voice of reason on these situations after his career was almost snuffed out by one of those borderline hockey plays three years ago.

I thought Hornqvist certainly deserved the match penalty, said Bergeron. He led with an elbow instead of his shoulder, so it was clearly an elbow. I dont know what their take on the hit was. Maybe they thought the elbow hit Seguins shoulder and then went up into the head. I dont know.

But like Marchand said on his hit, theres nothing you can say about it. The league did whatever they had to do about that one, and on this hit it could have been either way. The fine is one thing. But maybe one game would have been nice to kind of right away send that message to everyone. Heatley got a two-game suspension and Marchand got a two-game suspension. But at least with the Hornqvist fine theyre being consistent in that theyre looking at way more dangerous plays than they used to. I think the NHL is going toward the right direction.

Bergeron is right.

The NHL is heading toward the right direction, but letting Hornqvist off easy after an elbow to the noggin of one of the NHLs brightest young stars proves theres still plenty of progress yet to be gained.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

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Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.

The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.

So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.

“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.

“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”

One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.

As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

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Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs