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Morning Skate: Suspensions Here, Suspensions There

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Tuesday, December 10
Subject: Suspensions here, suspensions there

I've steered clear of some of the usual hockey radio shows and blogs I read the last few days simply because I'm tired of reading about dirty hits and suspensions.

Shawn Thornton's behavior was reprehensible on Saturday, but the knee James Neal delivered to Brad Marchand was filthy, almost worse than Thornton's assault on Brooks Orpik (who's no Boy Scout, but he was a victim there). Then you throw in Dion Phaneuf's hit against Boston's Kevan Miller on Sunday evening (note David Clarkson's slash on Miller before the hit) and we have the makings of several days worth of fodder for the NHL media about how the game is getting too violent or violation of "the code" or whether to suspend a player based on their injury.

Neal got five games for the knee, but Marchand was back in the lineup on Sunday. I'm glad to see they're suspending based on the act rather than the result.

I hate seeing the game marred by these incidents, but there is more than a sniff of the media perpetuating the toughness argument. Regardless, these plays seem to be here to stay and the rivalry between Boston and Pittsburgh just shot up again, adding to the intensity established in last year's Eastern Conference finals. Their next matchup will be must-watch, but it probably was anyhow before the incidents. Now it will be must watch to see what kind of "retribution" each team will have rather than being must viewing for the fact that it's exciting hockey with a playoff atmosphere.

-Corey Perry on Monday night, goal of the year?
-What do you make of Steve Mason's agent asking for Carey Price-type money?
-Last week we talked about struggling defensemen, let's examine the plight of netminders this week. Who can bounce back? For whom is it time to cut bait?


From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Wednesday, December 11
Subject: Dirty Hockey

Yes, that Boston-Pittsburgh game was awful. I think James Neal's deliberate knee to Brad Marchand's head was ugly. What the heck are these guys thinking? And then there's Richard Panik's hit from behind on Karl Alzner on Tuesday night. The only way any of this crap stops is seriously escalating suspensions. Matt Cooke was scared "straight;" why can't that work for other guys?

Corey Perry's goal was sweet -- from his knees, no less. He's definitely in the running, but I think Mike Smith's goal against the Wings was pretty sweet, too. Phil Kessel's coast-to-coast effort against your beloved Devils ranks right up there for me, too. And rookie Tomas Hertl's through-the-legs roof daddy against the Rangers is etched in my memory. Any others come to mind for you?

Steve Mason's agent can ask for whatever he wants. Sadly, the Flyers are crazy enough to give it to him. I have always liked Mason, right back to his junior days. And I think he's finally recovered his game. The cap is going up, so $5.5 million might not be crazy. The escalation to make it six years and $39 million is nuts. But I will repeat again, it's the Flyers.

Goalies, eh? Niklas Backstrom is a guy who has burned me, but I just can't, say, drop him. I love Josh Harding, but I know the damage the MS can do to the body. A buddy of mine has it. It's ugly. I worry about the fatigue of the season. I'm not really surprised by Jimmy Howard's sluggish play. I thought it would happen last season. Sergei Bobrovsky -- is he a one-hit wonder? Even Mike Smith is looking like the Mike Smith of Tampa Bay.

- Tim Thomas -- three straight wins, including two against the Wings. Is the US Olympic team in his future?
- Closer to the playoffs -- Islanders or Oilers? And why?
- Marc Staal -- is his career in jeopardy?

Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Thursday, December 12
Subject: Team USA Crease

Wow, that second question is a pick your poison if I ever read one.

Right now, I'd say the Islanders because the team's in an easier division than the gauntlet that is the Pacific. Edmonton has a lot of ground to make up there, but the thing with the Oil that's turned me off from them the last few years is their lack of a solid defense and defensive system. Fire-wagon hockey is all well and good, but the Oilers seemingly can not nail down a lead in some games. Sure, Ilya Bryzgalov grabbed them a shutout in his debut, but how often will that happen? The Oilers can't rely on scoring 4-5 goals every game even with their stable of talented forwards, especially against the likes of San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Anaheim. Until Edmonton can get a few blue liners in who are capable of shutting down the opposition with consistency and punish opponents with impunity, the Oilers will be vulnerable defensively.

Neither the Islanders nor the Oil seem to attract marquee free agents, but with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn soon, that could make it a bit more appealing.

The Islanders made it to the playoffs last year with roughly the same squad they have now, but goaltending is going to be an issue on the Island. Kevin Poulin has been seeing the starts on Long Island while the ageless wonder, Evgeni Nabokov, is on the mend. John Tavares covers up quite a few holes (I'm still fascinated by his 2011-12 season where he played close to a point-per-game on a team that was shut out more than 10 times); it'll be interesting to see what they get for Thomas Vanek when they deal him. The Isles, though, have a budding blue line in Travis Hamonic and a stable of players like Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome waiting to don the sweater. (Ed. Note: Strome made his debut Saturday, playing 14:42 in a 1-0 loss to the Habs with 3:43 on the power play).

The Isles have less of a roadblock to the playoffs within their division while Edmonton might be sixth or seventh best even in a good year with that group.

-That hit on Marc Staal by Devils' rookie and former Sarnia star Reid Boucher was a nasty one, catching Staal on the jaw. The broadcast showed Staal throw his helmet in frustration as he walked down the tunnel and you have to think there are going to be some discussions about his future. That's a few serious concussions in a brief amount of time. Mind you it wasn't a dirty hit by Boucher, his shoulder caught Staal in the jaw when the former was battling for a loose puck.

-Tim Thomas on Team, didn't think I'd be saying that, but it's certainly looking like a possibility, but as an American hockey fan, I hope not. He'll be too much of a distraction. A lot of this has to hinge on whether Jonathan Quick's groin/hamstring is ready to go come February. I doubt the Kings will be too happy with their franchise injuring himself in the Olympics. Let's assume Quick will be ready to be at least be on the team leaving the likely choice of Ryan Miller as the other goalie. Those two leave us with any one of Cory Schneider, Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard or Thomas for the final spot, which might not simply be a backup role this year if the star goalie (Quick) isn't healthy.

Of that list, Anderson and Howard have underwhelmed after strong seasons one year ago with both losing time to their backups (Jonas Gustavsson, why can't the Leafs get players like him?). Bishop has thrived since assuming duties of the starter after losing the duties as a starter in Tampa Bay, although he's looked human of late (six goals Tuesday against the Caps, ouch). Schneider has played well despite his record. His peripheral stats have been a boost and he's given the Devils a chance to win, a team who doesn't score often when he's in goal. My money is on a Schneider/Quick/Miller combo for Sochi if Quick is healthy enough, if not, I'm saying Schneider/Miller/Thomas.

-We looked at Team USA's crease. Handicap the Canada crease for Sochi. All Price all the time? It seems like a safe assumption that Bobby Lou will be on the squad. Who else gets a sniff? Mason? Crawford? Gulp...Bernier?

-Was it a little much for Jarome Iginla on his return to Calgary Tuesday, just right or not enough?

-How will Antti Raanta fare in Chicago? Or is it the system?


From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Saturday, December 14
Subject: All Things Canada

Team Canada's crease has been a topic of discussion up here for six months. And I'm not exaggerating. The first two spots -- Carey Price and Roberto Luongo -- seem rather simple. Price starts. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. But the third spot is a bit of a toss up, primarily because of performance. Mike Smith and Cam Ward's names have gotten tossed about, but I'm not in favor of either. Honestly, I think Crawford should get the chance if he's healthy. His actions have silenced his critics and he's kept it up. Josh Harding has been hot, hot, hot and that's the ticket for Canadian brass. They've already said they'll go with the hot hand. Marc-Andre Fleury is also a dark horse, but I think he's just too many lengths back this close to the finish pole.

Jarome Iginla's return was perfect. A video montage, him on the ice for the anthems, chants of Iggy, Iggy. And standing ovations before and after the game. His grin said it all. It "fit" his personality. I liked it.

Antti Raanta is a good goalie. I think he'll be fine in Chicago. That team is adaptive -- it plays whatever style is needed in the moment and typically comes out on top. Except Saturday night. So much for me donning my red Toews jersey...

I'm a little concerned for Marc Staal. I'm also worried about George Parros, who buckled in a fight Saturday night and had to be helped up.Concussions -- do you think there are more in modern hockey or are we just more sensitive to them? And lastly ... 15 games -- too few, too many or just right? See you late January, Shawn Thornton.

Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Monday, Dec. 16
Subject: Justice

Not enough for Thornton, especially when you factor in the slew foot he used to bring down Orpik. The second punch was not needed, nor was the first, but I digress. There have been a few players, Cam Janssen of the Devils notably, say if Orpik had fought Thornton it wouldn't have gone down in that manner. So it's Orpik's fault?

The concussion epidemic is incredibly scary especially with the news about former Major League Baseball player Ryan Freel having CTE. The speed with which hockey is played and the size and strength of these players, it's going to happen. That said, you see the numbers, don't hit the guy. I understand it's tough to stop and change course with the speed at which these guys skate, but some of these hits were avoidable, like Phaneuf on Miller and Corey Potter throwing Anaheim's Nick Bonino, for which Potter received two games.Let's not forget Anthony Peluso's hit on Alex Goligoski from Saturday's Dallas-Winnipeg tilt and Clarkson adding two more games to his season's suspension totals for his shoulder to the head of St. Louis's Vladimir Sobotka. (Side note: If Clarkson wasn't from the Toronto area and say, Russian, how many articles would be written about the intangibles and presence of a player who has been suspended for 12 games this season with just six points and a $5.25 million cap hit?).

We're not too sensitive to concussions, there are just more of them and more information is coming to light about the cumulative effects of them, unfortunately after the fact when players' lives have been ruined.

Here is a link to the news feed on the NHL's Department of Player Safety page. In addition to the names above, add Ottawa's Jared Cowen to the list of suspended players and soon Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland for his hit on Detroit's Justin Abdelkader on Saturday. This will be a highly active news feed throughout the season unless something changes. It's getting ridiculous.