Injuries are an inevitability across the NHL, but this week was particularly unkind to a trio of big-name star players, knocking them all out for extended periods of time. However, it wasn’t all bad news with injuries across the league this week, as the Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed four new members, a struggling franchise announced plans for a new home, and a former Vezina Trophy winner has rediscovered his mojo. It’s time to go Around the NHL:
STAMKOS, HALL, GAUDREAU OUT FOR LONG STRETCHES
We mentioned Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos last week, as he was in the middle of a resurgence after being free of any more discussion about his contract. He was tied with Tyler Seguin of Dallas for second in the league in points (20) and was playing some of the best hockey of his career until he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee in Detroit on Tuesday night. The Lightning announced that he would need surgery and that his expected recovery time is four months. While losing Stamkos isn’t ideal, if there’s a team in the league equipped to handle his loss, it’s the Lightning. They’ve been down this road before as he suffered a broken leg in 2013 and a blood clot in his shoulder last spring, causing him to miss extended time in both instances. With the depth the Lightning have up front, they’ll miss him, but it’s not a death sentence for their season by any stretch.
New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall is tied for the team lead in goals (5) and points (12), and has been the impact player the Devils expected when they acquired him from Edmonton in the offseason. However, he will also miss time with a torn meniscus in his left knee after having surgery. Unlike Stamkos, he’s only expected to be out for 3-4 weeks. His injury could have a much bigger impact on the Devils’ ability to produce offense, as they’re tied for the fifth-fewest goals in the NHL. But with Cory Schneider playing so well between the pipes, New Jersey should still be able to maintain their place in the upper tier of the Metropolitan Division.
The same can’t be said of the Calgary Flames. What has been nightmarish start to their season has gotten worse with the news that star forward Johnny Gaudreau will be out after having surgery for a broken finger. No timetable has been set for his return, but it’s expected to be in the 4-6 week range. Gaudreau is first on the team in assists (6) and second in goals (5) and points (11), and his absence will probably be a tough one for the Flames to endure, as they sit 7-10-1, tied with the Canucks for 5th place in the Pacific Division. Calgary is 26th in the league in goals per game and dead last on the power play, so losing one of their primary weapons is just the latest bad news in a dreadful opening six weeks for the Flames.
TUUKKA RASK RETURNING TO VEZINA TROPHY FORM
Since winning the Vezina Trophy after the end of the 2013-14 season, Tuukka Rask’s play had been slipping, particularly last season when his team’s defensive play in front of him also took a nosedive. His goals-against average was the highest it had been in five years. His even strength save percentage was .924, not terrible, but nothing you’d call elite. There were some questions about whether or not he could still be a top-flight goalie in the NHL. Consider those questions put to bed after the first month-and-a-half of the season. His even strength save percentage so far this season? A sparkling .963, highest in the league among goalies who have started at least 10 games. His GAA? A ridiculously microscopic 1.49, second in the NHL behind Devan Dubnyk’s 1.48. Rask is also tied with Carey Price for most wins in the league with 10. Without question, he is the main reason the Bruins are 10-7-0 right now. When he missed time with a lower body injury in October, Boston floundered without him in goal, going 0-5-0 with Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban, and Anton Khudobin in goal. His play has been needed, as Boston is only averaging 2.35 goals per game, which ranks 24th in the NHL. Rask has now reclaimed one of his spots among the league’s elite, and he has to be mentioned among the front-runners for the Vezina Trophy.
ARIZONA COYOTES UNVEIL PLANS FOR NEW ARENA
The Coyotes and talks of relocation and arenas have gone together like peanut butter and chocolate over the years. While the relocation talk has died down, their issues with Gila River Arena in Glendale have been pretty well-documented. Since relocating to Glendale from downtown Phoenix in December 2003, both the team and the arena have struggled financially, with the NHL taking over the team in 2009 after they filed for bankruptcy. A group of Canadian investors purchased the team in 2013. Earlier this week, Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc announced plans for a new $400 million arena for the Coyotes in Tempe, AZ next to Arizona State University with plans for it to be completed in time for the 2019-2020 season.
“Over the past year we have been exhaustive in our research regarding the most optimal location for our new home,” LeBlanc said during a press conference unveiling the project. “It became clear that the East Valley is home to a majority of our fans and corporate partners. Our fans in the West Valley have shown us tremendous support over the past 13 years, and we look forward to working with them as we transition to our new home in the future.”
While it’s great that the team has acknowledged they made a mistake moving to an arena in a bad location so many years ago, this deal is far from being completed. The arena would be a package deal that would include a 4,000-seat facility for Arizona State’s men’s hockey team, but Coyotes officials have said that they want to front half the bill for the whole project with public money picking up the tab for the rest. This could be a dicey proposition, especially since the NBA’s Phoenix Suns are looking for a new arena and Phoenix’s mayor would prefer to see the Suns and the Coyotes share an arena. Stay tuned.
HOCKEY HALL OF FAME WELCOMES NEW INDUCTEES
The Class of 2016 inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame were headlined by Eric Lindros, a name synonymous with the phrase “power forward”, but a guy many younger fans probably never got to see play in his prime. An ideal blend of size and skill, he was considered one of the greatest prospects ever to come out of junior hockey. Originally selected with the first overall pick in 1991 by the Quebec Nordiques, Lindros refused to play for Quebec, and a year later, it led to the Nordiques pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Flyers. Lindros would go on to win a Hart Trophy in 1995, lead the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1997, and averaged 1.31 points per game in his first nine seasons in the league. However, concussions, public spats with then-Flyers GM Bobby Clarke, his initial refusal to play for Quebec, and the lack of a Stanley Cup ring made some wonder whether or not he would actually get into the Hall of Fame. But his point production just couldn’t be ignored, as 865 points in 760 games made him too tough to pass up.
Sergei Makarov was a former member of the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames who became a big name in the hockey world playing for the Russian Red Army team for the first 11 years of his hockey career, winning two World Junior gold medals, eight World Championship gold medals, and two Olympic golds. Drafted by the Flames in 1983, Makarov was unable to make it over to North America until 1988. He would win the Calder Trophy as a 31-year-old, and in 1989, the NHL changed the rule for the Calder, stating that only rookies under the age of 26 were eligible for the award. In his NHL career, Makarov notched 384 points in 424 games. Just imagine if he had been able to get out of Russia sooner.
Rogie Vachon was a former Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens in 1968, 1969, and 1971, shared the Vezina Trophy with Gump Worsley in ’68, and is 19th in NHL history in wins with 355. However, he’s best known as a goaltending stalwart for the Los Angeles Kings from 1971-78, holding LA’s records for career wins, lowest goals-against average in a season, shutouts in a season, and shutouts in a career. All of those records have now been surpassed by Jonathan Quick, but for a long time, when you thought about great goaltenders in Kings’ history, Vachon’s name was always the first one that came up. However, Vachon has been quoted as saying that Gordie Howe helped him have as long of a career as he did.
“I was very lucky to play for the Montreal Canadiens at the start of my career,” Vachon said. “My first shot on net was a breakaway by Gordie Howe. I stopped it and it kept me in the League for 16 more years.”
The late Pat Quinn played nine seasons in the NHL, but is best known for his work as a head coach and GM in the league for over 30 years. Although he never won a Stanley Cup, he won 684 games, the 7th-highest total in NHL history, while also twice winning the Jack Adams Award (1980 & 1992), and making two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final (1980 & 1994). Quinn also served a stint as the head coach of Team Canada, winning gold medals in the 2002 Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. At the time of his death in November 2014, he was the Chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame.