By Stu Hackel
When we spoke with Ken Dryden for our post earlier this week on concussions, he proposed an annual conference on head injuries that would involve every aspect of the hockey community. The first item on his ideal agenda would be to hear from those who have suffered concussions and give these players a chance to “tell their stories, very simply. This is what it’s like, this is the impact, these are the consequences, these are the stakes.” That would certainly open the proceedings with an emotional wallop.
That was on our mind when we came across an item by John Vogl in The Buffalo News about center Jochen Hecht of the Sabres being concussed in Saturday's game against the Blues, but the symptoms not emerging until Tuesday at practice.
"He's not good," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after Tuesday's game in New Jersey. "Wasn't feeling bad [Monday]. He took a hit from [T.J.] Oshie in St. Louis, kind of an elbow — and came off [Tuesday] and he was a mess. He couldn't focus. Emotionally, he was really unstable. He's in a tough place right now. We're worried. ... To come off and be the way he was tells you that there's something wrong."
That's scary stuff. This is Hecht's second concussion of the season and third in less than a year. As we know, each one makes the victim more vulnerable in the future and potentially makes the reaction more severe. We wish him well. As Dryden said, “This is an ongoing thing. It’s not something that’s random bad luck. This is tomorrow unless you start finding a way to make a better tomorrow.”
And the winner is...: While lots of hockey observers were cobbling together their lists of first-half NHL award winners, the staff at Sportsnet.ca took a different route by selecting the NHL's best by using film award show categories. They have winners and runners-up in their list and among them are Best Player in a Leading Role -- the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, who sure looks that way in recent weeks -- and Best Player in a Supporting Role: the Maple Leafs' Joffrey Lupul. (Not a bad choice, but we'd pick the Flyers' Scott Hartnell, who isn't even a runner-up on their list.) Best Costume Design went to the Rangers and Flyers for their Winter Classic sweaters. Best Director was Brendan Shanahan for his work as V.P. of Player Safety. Best Picture (literally) was the photo of Taylor Hall addressing the media after his forehead was sliced open during pregame warmups last week. And Best Special Effect was this video of Vladimir Tarasenko of SKA St. Petersburg (a first round pick by the Blues in 2010) from the KHL Skills Competition.
On the other hand...: On Kukla's Korner, the blog The Puck Stops Here decided to choose the NHL's worst player so far this season. That goes to " keeps himself in the lineup despite not providing anything positive for his team. Generally the worst regular in the league is either a goon with limited ice time or a hard-working but untalented depth player. Both of these types of players are ones that some coaches will keep in the lineup despite a lack of a positive return on their roster spot."
In December, the choice was the Jets' Chris Thorburn who "hasn’t played well, but he isn’t the worst player in the league. He is up to four points (all assists) and sometimes plays in tough defensive situations for the Jets."
So now the nod goes to the Wild's Brad Staubitz. In 41 games, he has no points and a minus-7 rating, playing under seven minutes per game. "Staubitz’s only value to Minnesota is as a fighter," they write. "His 73 penalty minutes lead his team. He has nine major penalties and 13 minors so far. Whether or not that is a benefit to his team is highly questionable. Staged fights (those involving players who get limited ice time like Staubitz) have not been shown to shift momentum in hockey games. His minor penalties (including instigator minors) force his team onto the penalty kill and thus slow momentum.
"Staubitz doesn’t score. Staubitz doesn’t prevent scoring. He fights and his fights do not help his team win. So why does Minnesota continue to play him?"
Well, maybe he's a good teammate. But after playing a season high 10:33 against Toronto a week ago, coach Mike Yeo made Staubitz a healthy scratch for the Wild's last two games. They won both after losing six of their previous seven and 15 of 17. So perhaps Yeo is asking himself the same question.
Coyote Ugly, Continued: The mess around the future of the Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona, got just a bit messier this week when city officials publicly expressed their impatience with the status of the team's sale. While the league still owns the club and is trying to sell it, the city is still chipping in a sizable amount of money to cover the franchise's red ink while potential buyers come and go.
Mayor Elaine Scruggs told Lisa Halverstadt of The Arizona Republic this week she wants more substantive updates from the league on the sale process, and more progress. Apparently she's feeling some heat (there's lots of that in Arizona) from her constituents.
"We are not in control and quite honestly, I'm kind of tired of everybody pointing to us and making comments that the city of Glendale can't get the job done," the mayor said. "We have no control over it and I think probably the NHL is very happy that writers and reporters continue to point to the city of Glendale for not getting the job done because it takes the attention directly off them."
Halverstadt writes that part of the problem with the sale process is that the league is seeking $170 million for the club, but Forbes magazine values it far lower, at $36 million less. It could be that the NHL will never find a buyer to keep the club in Arizona. Meanwhile, Glendale -- which is $1.1 billion in debt, and some of that is the $25 million it is paying annually to help cover the Coyotes costs and those of Jobbing.com Arena. The city will have to keep paying for the arena even if the team relocates.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Glendale is selling about $136 million in debt in the municipal-bond market this week, just days after Moody's Investors Service cut its bond rating because of the city's obligations to cover the Coyotes' losses.
Thursday evening on his satellite radio program, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said a third group had entered the picture to buy the team but added, "We're going to try to avoid a move of the Coyotes, but if we don't sell the club, I'm not sure that this won't be the last season here."
This franchise was destined for trouble the moment it moved from downtown to Glendale when it should have relocated to the East Valley. The team would more likely have been successful there. Now, as this sorry situation drags on, the dream of a flourishing NHL market in Arizona seems increasingly distant.
"And the big band kept on playing
Of Bonaparte's retreat"
Ever hear "Bonaparte's Retreat"?
Here's a great version from an unlikely source.
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