By Stu Hackel
Headshot Theater rolls on with this offering from the Sharks' Scott Nichol, who leaped into the Coyotes' David Schlemko on Monday night and was given a four-game, no expenses paid vacation by the NHL. Schlemko left the game after the hit in the third period and didn't return. "He got one in the head pretty hard there," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said after the game. "He got his bell rung pretty good."
Nichol's hit doesn't seem particularly innocent. Regardless of new rules and the enforcement of old ones, players continue to drill each other in the head. Former NHLPA lawyer Ian Pulver told James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail last week that "the players need to be better educated all the time on what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. … Do players in L.A. and San Jose know why a guy in Ottawa or Detroit got suspended? Do they really grasp it? Or is everybody getting ready to play tonight? That’s part of the issue.”
It's been mentioned before that the NHL would do well to provide better explanations of what is and isn't permissible by distributing video of each punished head check along with the rationale of why it crossed the line. But when you see a hit like Nichol's, that one's not in much need of further explanation.
Tuques Return: The Flames visited Montreal last night and those two teams play next month outdoors in the Heritage Classic. So Monday's game (a pretty exciting one at that) was something of a parallel to the Penguins-Capitals game of Dec. 23, a meeting of the two teams that would be in the Winter Classic.
That Pens-Caps December game got some big-time hype from the NHL, but Flames-Habs? Hardly a word. Well, the teams skated in warm-ups wearing tuques (video) and there was a Canadian Press story. That's almost as good as weeks of promotion on NHL.com, the NHL Network and every NHL telecast plus a four-part HBO 24/7 series, eh?
The tuques, by the way, recalled the most lasting image of the first NHL outdoor game, the Heritage Classic in 2003 between the Canadiens and Oilers in which Habs goalie Jose Theodore pulled a bleu, blanc et rouge tuque over his helmet to ward off the cold. Tuques had been worn by les ancien Canadiens in the MegaStars old timers game that preceded the Heritage Classic. Ryan Miller copied Theodore in the first Winter Classic and tuques have become standard issue for NHL outdoor games ever since.
It certainly hasn't been widely circulated, but the Habs-Flames game on Sunday, Feb. 20, is only one of four games to be played at McMahon Stadium that weekend. Renaud Lavoie on RDS.ca reported on Sunday that the Flames' AHL Abbotsford team will face off against the Oilers' Oklahoma City club on Friday, Feb. 18; an old timers game featuring players from the Canadiens and Flames who skated against each other in the Stanley Cup finals of 1986 and 1989 will go on Saturday, Feb. 19; and on Monday, Feb. 21, a Western Hockey League tilt between Calgary Hitmen and the Regina Pats is scheduled.
UFA's and the Respect Factor: During the first intermission of Monday's Flames telecast on Sportsnet, Roger Millions spoke with acting GM Jay Feaster. Feaster is in the process of evaluating his team's hockey department and developing a plan to rebuild the club. He told Millions that he's also engaged in what many NHL teams are doing right now: determining their direction for the next few weeks heading toward the trade deadline at the end of February.
Feaster and his pro scouts met this past week to go over their own players and discuss those who might be available from other teams. And next week, he gets together with his amateur scouts to discuss draft prospects. (TSN's Bob McKenzie revealed his midseason rankings yesterday -- the long version here and the short version here.)
"At the same time," Feaster added, "you're trying to touch base with 29 other GMs and find out what's going to happen and what teams are looking for."
With the trade deadline approaching, this is the time of year for teams to decide what they will do with their potential unrestricted free agents. Probably the most notable player in that group is Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars, and ESPN's John Buccigross tweeted last week that he had learned that the Stars were not going to move him. "The truth, however, is that the Dallas Stars ended the silliness much earlier than that," blogged Brad Gardner of Defending Big D. "They ended it with a 5-0-1 streak to start January. They ended it with a six game win streak in December. They ended it by starting the season 5-1. Joe Nieuwendyk likes to win, and he was very unlikely to trade his best player with his team in the playoff hunt."
But teams that are not doing well have to decide -- if they have not already -- whether they will be buyers or sellers. The Flames are only six points out of a playoff spot and it's a bit too soon to say for certain if they will be sellers, although Feaster has said repeatedly, including during CBC's "After Hours" segment on Jan. 1...
...that he's not moving Jarome Iginla. CBC's Elliotte Friedman reported on his blog yesterday that he asked Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff if he'd waive his no-move if GM Jay Feaster asked. "If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't have signed here," was the reply. How Feaster proceeds will be one of the more intriguing NHL plot lines of the next six weeks.
Just how teams that decide to rebuild should deal with their players was discussed at length today by Sports Illustrated's and TSN's Pierre McGuire on Ottawa's Team 1200 "TGOR" morning show (audio), using the Ottawa Senators, who are 13 points out of the playoffs, as a template.
The hypothetical case McGuire and his radio hosts used was Chris Phillips, who is a pending UFA, still a good NHL defenseman, and probably the Sens' most marketable asset. McGuire said the team should first approach Phillips -- who he calls "a legacy player" who has been part of Ottawa's core for a long time -- out of respect for all he has done for them and ask if there's a team he'd like to be traded to. Phillips would have the right to say "no."
"People are going to be monitoring this and say 'How did Ottawa treat Chris Phillips on the way out?'" McGuire said. "You treat him with respect and you treat him properly because it sends a huge message around the league. And also it sends a gigantic message to the players you've already drafted that they'll take care of you if, in fact, you play as well as Phillips has his whole career."
With teams now evaluating their playoff chances and their personnel, it will be interesting to see which players have earned the respect of their team's management.