My take on some notable NHL news that caught my eye last week.
The Los Angeles Kings reached an agreement with center Mike Richards on a settlement regarding his contract termination, avoiding a grievance hearing with an arbiter. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported payments to Richards will be on the Kings’ cap payroll until 2031. The cap hit is reportedly $1.32 million for the first five years, plus the rumored settlement amount of $550K, though that could vary year-to-year. Friedman also claims the NHLPA got a guarantee from the league this won’t set a precedent for other clubs to get out of lengthy contracts being paid to underachieving players.
Richards’ contract was terminated by the Kings in June following an incident at a Canada-US border checkpoint in which he was detained for possession of a controlled substance, believed to be a small amount of oxycontin tablets. Cynical NHL followers chastised Kings GM Dean Lombardi for what they felt was an opportunistic move to shed the salary of a player who no longer suited the club’s needs, while not doing the same with a player (Slava Voynov) arrested and eventually jailed on a domestic violence charge.
Lombardi paid the price for his loyalty to Richards, which he laid out in a recent interview. Lombardi claimed he “got played” for his efforts to help his fading star, rather than using a compliance buyout option in 2014 to cut ties with the troubled center. Lombardi’s taken some heat for his public statement, but it appears he was genuinely hurt by what he saw as Richards’ betrayal of trust.
It’s indeed a sad end for a player who, not that long ago, was considered among the best two-way talents in the game. During Richards’ days with the Philadelphia Flyers, there were rumors he had a drinking problem, resulting in his surprising trade to the Kings in June 2011. After that deal, his performance steadily eroded. Many observers (like myself) chalked that up to the physical demands of his two-way style of play. While that certainly may have a part in Richards’ decline, it appears something else was also at work here.
Richards might get another chance at continuing his NHL career with another team. A general manager is bound to give the guy a tryout in a year or two to see if he’s cleaned up and regained his form. For that to happen, however, Richards must address the issues, whatever they are, that led to his downfall. For his sake, here’s hoping he can.
If Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane is bothered at all over being the subject of a sexual assault investigation, he didn’t show it in the club’s second game of the season. Kane scored twice, including in overtime, to lift the Blackhawks to a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.
To date, Kane still hasn’t been charged by Hamburg, NY police. In the weeks since the investigation began, the Blackhawks staged an awkward, tone-deaf press conference on the matter, the league has been criticized for not suspending Kane until the investigation is completed, a report emerged claiming tests from a rape kit showed no evidence of Kane’s DNA in his accuser’s genital area or undergarments. and the victim’s mother staged an elaborate hoax hoping to prove the rape kit was tampered with, resulting in her daughter’s attorney dropping out of the case. It’s like a plot from a bad made-for-TV movie, except it actually involves real people and has real consequences.
Whatever the outcome of the Kane investigation, some folks consider him guilty until proven innocent and want him drummed out of the league immediately, while others are using it as an excuse to vent their misogyny. Without knowledge of all the fact, they’ve embarrassed themselves by using this situation to advance their personal agendas or prejudices. It’s up to the investigators to determine if sufficient evidence exists to lay charges, and if it goes to a trial, it’s up to the court to determine guilt or innocence. That’s the way the law works, whether we like or not.
San Jose Sharks winger Raffi Torres received a 41-game suspension for his illegal hit to the head of Anaheim Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg during a preseason game.
Torres, of course, has a lengthy suspension history for such infractions, including a 25-gamer for a similar hit on Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa during the 2012 playoffs.
Once upon a time, such hits were considered part of the game. Suspensions were rare and usually only a handful of games. However, in recent years, the NHL has cracked down on targeted hits to the heads. The rising concern over the effects of concussion injuries during and following a player’s career finally forced the league and the NHLPA to introduce ongoing measures that reduce the instances of head trauma.
In today’s NHL, there’s no place for a reckless player like Torres, who showed no indication he was willing to change his style after multiple lengthy suspensions. The league is actually a better place without those type of players. Eliminating head shots hasn’t dampened the physical aspect of the game.
The start of the supposed “McDavid-Eichel era” began last week as Edmonton Oilers’ center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres pivot Jack Eichel played their first-ever NHL games. McDavid looked okay in the Oilers 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, but it was Eichel who got on the scoreboard first, tallying his club’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
However, less-heralded rookies have made more impressive early debuts. As of Oct. 10, New York Rangers center Oscar Lindberg has four goals in as many games. After just four games, Chicago Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin is on a point-per-game clip. Detroit Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin has three points in two games.
This year’s rookie crop is more than just McDavid and Eichel. While that duo could eventually dominate the rookie scoring race this season, there’s plenty of other youngsters worth watching.
Injuries continue to dog goaltender Robin Lehner. After missing a combined 33 games last season (regular season and playoff) to a concussion, the former Ottawa Senators backup suffered a right ankel injury in his first regular season game as the Buffalo Sabres’ starting goalie.
Lehner’s on injured reserve, and if he’s on the shelf for any significant period, Sabres GM Tim Murray could be forced into the trade market. That’s because his goaltending depth consists of Chad Johnson and not much else.
Now, those of you who are proponents of “tanking” a season to get a high draft pick might consider that a good thing, but this season isn’t about chasing that elusive first-overall draft pick for Murray and the Sabres. They actually want to improve this season and give their long-suffering fans something to come out and cheer for. Murray has to find suitable goalie depth to give his club a shot at be competitive.
Possible trade targets could include the Calgary Flames (Jonas Hiller or Karri Ramo), Anaheim Ducks (Anton Khudobin) or the Edmonton Oilers (Ben Scrivens).