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NHL training camp and preseason notes

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals tucks in his jersey. A classic trademark look is now being frowned upon by the NHL to the consternation of players. (Alex Brandon/AP)

By Allan Muir

As someone who has to identify players from press boxes located halfway up to the heliosphere, I can selfishly get behind the push to enforce a rule that's been on the books for nearly 50 years. It's a whole lot easier to pick up a number when it's not obscured by being crammed into the back of someone's breezers.

Still, given the contentious debate about the league's sudden decision to get tough on jersey tuckers, this seems like a lousy fight for the league to pick with its players. Sure, there are arguments to be made that uniforms are supposed to be, by definition, uniform and that there's marketing value in making it easier to identify the stars of the game. And there might even be some safety/insurance element involved, though honestly when you're passing out weekly wrist slaps to players who nearly separate someone's head from his shoulders, this isn't exactly a high road position.

Whatever the reason, the optics are lousy for the league. It feels pointless and petty. On the bright side, remember that crackdown on interference? They were serious about that for a while, too.

Joffrey Lupul brings up an interesting point:

https://twitter.com/JLupul/status/380755640571817984

Here's one jersey tuck rule we can all support:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ME6lsmxZnc

Putting a lid on it

The NHL's stealth campaign to eliminate fighting (and cover its legal backside) took another step forward this year with the addition of Rule 46.6, which prescribes a minor penalty to anyone who removes his helmet ahead of a rumble.

As far as deterrents go, that's not particularly toothy. After all, if helmets come off, it's Code for both players to doff the buckets simultaneously, so it ends up being a coincidental two minutes tacked onto a coincidental five for both. No real harm done.

Still, it's the sort of rule that begged for a loophole to be discovered. And it didn't take long for New Jersey's Krys Barch and Brett Gallant of the Islanders to figure out an awkward, but very funny, solution:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CONJgZjVOh8&feature=player_embedded

Fight fans should enjoy that little bit of genius while they can. It's likely to end up being outlawed before long, and honestly, it probably should. As much as it hurts to slam your fist into the side of a helmet, it's nowhere near as bad as slipping and cracking your skull on the ice, and that's really what the league is hoping to prevent here.

And hey, if it cuts down on fights somehow, they won't mind that, either.

Hybrid icing gets cool reception

Doesn't seem like I have a lot of company in my support for the hybrid icing experiment. The temporary rule, which allows linesmen to blow the play dead at the face-off dot if he feels there's no contest for a dumped puck, isn't going over well with hockey people who've seen it in action during the preseason.

"I'm against hybrid icing," New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello said on Sirius/XM's NHL Network Radio this morning. "We need to take as much judgement out of the game [as we can]."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter says he's not for it at all. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur finds it "confusing" and says he wouldn't vote for it. Capitals forward Jason Chimera was less circumspect. "I hate it," he told CSN's Chuck Gormley.

Colorado Ava;lanche blueliner Erik Johnson was one of the few to come out in support of the rule. "Really hope the NHL permanently adopts hybrid icing rule," he tweeted. "If the tucking in jersey rule is a safety concern, then this is a no brainer!"

The league's GMs will get together to discuss implementing this for the regular season, but it's worth noting that the NHLPA has veto power. The league plans on consulting with its constituents next week to collect feedback. Odds are they'll vote to reject, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. This rule, like the one mandating face shields, was designed with the safety of the players in mind. And if there's one thing they don't like (besides team owners), it's being told how to protect themselves.

That said, expect this rule to be brought up again next time one of them crashes hard into the boards chasing a dump-in and suffers a broken leg, a concussion . . . or worse.

Holes to patch

Cody Eakin's one-timer through Jacob Markstrom's five hole on Wednesday was exactly the sort of scoring opportunity that the league hoped to create when it limited the height of goalie pads this summer. It looked like the Panthers netminder got down into his butterfly in time, but he couldn't seal that newly created opening. Markstrom will make adjustments, as will every other goalie in time, but we might see a few more like Eakin's bull's-eye this season.

Big Buff gets with the program

Ever have a coach tell you that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard? For years now, Dustin Byfuglien has been the poster child for slackers, the guy who was only too happy to coast along on his immense physical gifts and whose game, as a result, always left observers wanting more. But now -- perhaps motivated by his first Team USA opportunity -- it appears he's finally figured it out. A call placed to a Winnipeg source to discuss a top prospect in camp quickly shifted to the impression the new Byfuglien is making. "He put the work in this summer," my source said. "He's in good shape. He's motivated. He just seems like he's not going to settle anymore. He wants to prove how good he can be."

Outside of Ondrej Pavelec, no player will have a bigger impact on Winnipeg's success this year than Byfuglien. If he's all in, this becomes a much more interesting team.

Wild horse

That same source on Minnesota Wild reclamation project Nino Niederreiter: "You want to see him do more with the puck, but he was a horse out there. Big, strong. He's a handful. He goes to the right places. He can cause a lot of trouble in front of the net, but he's got to finish those chances."

The low down on Chara

The Bruins need to do something to revitalize their limp power play, but unless Zdeno Chara developed some kitten-soft mitts over the summer, putting him down low probably isn't going to do the trick. Then again, taking the big man off the point and planting him in the goalie's grill during the preseason probably isn't motivated strictly by his ability to block out the sun. The B's want to lighten Chara's load during the regular season, and part of that will be addressed by cutting his minutes. But they can also save him a lot of wasted exertion if he's not the lead guy chasing cleared pucks back into the Boston zone and then lugging it back up the ice on the power play. We'll see how well it works, but it seems like a reasonable experiment.

Johnson on the spot

The signing of UFA Jarome Iginla stole the headlines in Boston on July 5, but one of Peter Chiarelli's less heralded acquisitions of the day is making a delayed splash of his own. That would be 27-year-old winger Nick Johnson, who has made a solid case for one of two open spots on the Bruins' third line with strong defensive play and three goals in two games. This beauty was the only bright spot as Boston rolled over for an 8-2 beating at the hands of the Wings on Thursday night. Nice hands for a guy who has hasn't been able to lock down an NHL job since being picked up by the Penguins in the third round back in 2004. Carl Soderberg appears to have the edge for the other spot alongside veteran Chris Kelly.

A wheelvival in St. Louis

Even with Alex Pietrangelo on board, it looks like Ryan Whitney could turn a PTO into a contract with the Blues. His dead legs aren't as big a problem in St. Louis's system as they were in Edmonton, and there's an appreciation for his experience and ability to move the puck. Sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what a player like him needs.

Sweet mask

We've seen some great new goalie masks previewed over the past couple weeks, but this one might be the best yet. Tough to come up with a design that incorporates elements that would work in both Washington and Hershey, but Caps' prospect David Leggio perfectly turned the trick with this chocolate Mount Rushmore design. What a beauty.

A forgotten legend

Speak of well-considered tributes, check out these special jerseys being worn tonight by the WHL's Vancouver Giants to honor the contributions of First Nations players to hockey history. And nice to hear that Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indian to play in the NHL, is still around. His milestone debut with the Blackhawks back in 1954 has never been honored in a way that reflects the significance of his achievement. Maybe someday a league that's done such an admirable job commemorating Willie O'Ree and his breakthrough can do the same for Fred.

Rising Star

After watching Kevin Connauton in action, I'm thinking the trade that brought him and a second-round pick (Philippe Desrosiers) to the Stars in exchange for Derek Roy to Vancouver is going to work out very nicely for Dallas. Connauton's defensive work still needs fine tuning, but he has great wheels, a terrific shot and a surprisingly effective physical element to his game. He likely won't make the team out of camp, but he should see time at some point this season.

Big shot

If you haven't drafted your fantasy team yet, be sure to grab Ottawa defender Patrick Wiercioch. He's always had that big shot from the point, but word from Sens' camp is that he's finally gotten stronger and is making better decisions with the puck. With Sergei Gonchar lining his retirement nest in Dallas, Wiercioch is likely to end up on a power play unit that should be much more dangerous with Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza healthy.

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