It was a wild, wooly Wednesday in the NHL, featuring trades, suspensions and at least one game that will lead to more suspensions. Let’s take a brief look at all the things that made headlines:
Headline No. 1: The Maple Leafs trade veteran blueliner Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim in exchange for well-traveled left winger Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional fourth round draft pick in 2013.
What Does It Mean? It means the Leafs have taken another significant gamble on a young-ish player (Lupul) whose upside is mitigated by some serious question marks and a sizeable paycheck. In the summer, GM Brian Burke undertook the same approach by bringing in forwards Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur; the first two have had intermittent success between bouts with injuries, while MacArthur has been an unqualified steal.
Lupul still has two years (with a $4.25 million cap hit) left on his contract and although he has played in two pressure-packed markets (Philadelphia and Edmonton), Toronto is a different kind of beast. He’ll take the pressure off of Phil Kessel one way or another – either by continuing to underperform (thus taking the focus off Kessel’s struggles) or by finding success on an increasingly quick Leafs team.
In Gardiner, Toronto gets a decent prospect who has speed to spare, but who still must physically mature. Gardiner wasn’t in Anaheim’s top three prospects in the upcoming 2011 THN Future Watch issue, but the Leafs will give him every opportunity to eventually replace the soon-to-be departing Tomas Kaberle.
The deal is much less of a risk from Anaheim’s perspective. Ducks GM Bob Murray knew exactly what he had in bringing Beauchemin back for a second tour of duty with the organization – a solid, unspectacular D-man who will give the team more depth and veteran knowhow as it tries to lock down a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference.
The bottom line – the deal is about “the now” for the Ducks and about the future for Toronto.
Headline No. 2: Florida deals left winger Michael Frolik and goalie prospect Alexander Salak to the Blackhawks for right winger Jack Skille, minor-leaguer Hugh Jessiman and prospect David Pacan.
What Does It Mean? This is a relative shocker based solely on the fact Panthers GM Dale Tallon was so quick to give up on Frolik, a 22-year-old who scored 21 goals in each of his first two NHL seasons with Florida and who was second in points (with 29) on the Panthers at the time of the trade.
The Czech native is on pace for just 12 goals this year, but the entire Florida team has underwhelmed; he is scheduled to be a restricted free agent this summer, but were his contract demands really so onerous that he had to be moved? I’m not so sure.
The Hawks also get Salak – a 24-year-old Czech who leads all goalies in the Swedish Elite League with a .925 save percentage and six shutouts – to add to their system.
Meanwhile, the Panthers get Skille, who has spent portions of the past three seasons in the NHL, but much bigger stretches playing in the American League. Part of that is because his contract made it tough for the cap-constrained Hawks to keep him on the roster, but part of that is also because the 23-year-old hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a player selected seventh overall in the 2005 draft.
Given that Jessiman and Pacan may never help the Panthers, this seems to be a clear win for Hawks GM Stan Bowman – provided he can find the cap space to keep Frolik beyond this season.
Headline No. 3: Two veteran NHLers are suspended: Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke gets four games for a brutal hit from behind on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin, while Devils blueliner Anton Volchenkov is handed a three-game ban for an elbow to the head of Hurricanes center Zach Boychuk.
What Does It Mean? It means the NHL’s supplementary system remains an absolute joke and blight on the sport.
You might be able to give the league a pass for the punishment levied on Volchenkov, a relatively clean player. But four games for the notorious Cooke is risible in the extreme. Did you know that, despite his history of over-the-borderline hits – low-lighted by his infamous maiming of Bruins star Marc Savard last season – Cooke has only been suspended for a grand total of 10 games (and that’s counting the current four-game ban) during his 12-year NHL career? Pathetic.
The league’s continued unwillingness to remove predatory play and players from the game only strengthens my longtime argument it is as complicit in Cooke’s crimes as the player himself.
The day NHL team owners, GMs and players grow a pair and decide to eradicate hyper-aggressive behavior will be a long time coming. But when the league’s best player has his future jeopardized by a head shot and even that doesn’t provide the impetus for change, it’s safe to say that day may never come.
Headline No. 4: The Bruins and Canadiens engage in a bunkhouse brawl featuring line brawls and a goalie fight between Carey Price and Tim Thomas.
What Does It Mean? It’s much ado about nothing, really. None of the shenanigans will give either Montreal or Boston any kind of standings advantage or long-term benefit; and both teams are fortunate that no player – particularly Thomas and Price – wound up suffering a serious injury as Isles goalie Rick DiPietro did in a recent fight between netminders.
I’m not denying the fans loved watching the fisticuffs. But would they have loved it if one of their favorite players got sidelined for the rest of the season? Not a hope.
This is just the type of stuff you come to expect from the NHL as the middle portion of the season drags along. You’d never see it come playoff time. But fortunately for fight fans, there is virtually no chance the league will act to ensure its marquee employees are protected from themselves.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.