NHL Player Safety? Think Again!

By JD Lagrange – When it comes to Player Safety, the NFL is the most pro-active professional league in North America. They have recognized a long time ago that taking someone at the knees (clipping) is wrong and addressed the issue. Then, they followed brain science closely and rapidly acknowledged that head injuries and concussions, in a physical sport, cause severe long term damage. In all cases, the league has taken drastic measures not only to change some rules, but to hand out severe repercussions to those guilty of ignoring those rules.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the NHL who refuses to even acknowledge the science behind concussions and its long term effects. And several people, including players’ agent Allan Walsh, have been driving the bus hard against the league and its Commissioner Gary Bettman, and for quite some time.

Refereeing and Player Safety

In its wisdom, the NHL thought that bringing two referees on the ice was a good idea. As if expansion wasn’t enough by graduating referees that were previously not competent enough to work in the NHL, the league decided that doubling the number of men with red armbands would solve the few “missed calls” on the ice.

Instead, they have taken room away on an ice surface already getting too small due to the sheer size of players. Instead, they added one more judgement (an often incompetent one) to the mix, creating more inconsistency. It’s a flop. The refereeing was 100% better back when one man took all the decisions, as it was more consistent within the same game. Did they miss calls? Yes. But they miss as many today while creating more inconsistency.

Then, you have the so-called “Player Safety”, directed by former enforcer George Parros. What a mess this department has been. They do whatever they want in there, depending on the players or teams involved.

Instead of penalizing the action, they choose to punish the result of the play. It’s as silly as the bleeding rule on a high stick. You can cause a hairline fracture to someone’s jaw with the flat blade of the stick and it’s a two minutes penalty. But if you barely touch someone’s face with the tip of your stick, drawing blood (the face is one of the bloodiest parts of the body), it’s four minutes. The Player Safety department acts in a similar fashion.

There simply is no consistency and it starts at the very top. Too often, it seems like they’re looking for ways to protect the aggressor instead of the victims of infractions or cheap shots. They break down, frame by frame, if a player touched another part of the body other than the head, to justify not being too severe. You don’t see that in the NFL. You made contact to the head, you are punished. Period.

Equipment

Instead of resolving head trauma issues, the NHL (and NHLPA) are hiding behind the umbrella of “player safety”, or “protection” when allowing equipment that is more suited as weapons than actual protection. Oh it does protect… the aggressor instead of the victims of hits.

Whether you like him or not, Don Cherry did this segment 23 years ago. That’s right, back in 1999, Grapes was talking about the players’ equipment and how it had progressed and becoming a weapon utilized against their peers.

Those old shoulder pads never stopped players like Bob Gainey from giving bone-crushing bodychecks. Sometimes, the aggressor got hurt playing that way. But they knew it was coming and mostly, there was a level of respect we don’t see as much today. Players feel invincible in those armours and the victims are the ones most at risk.

Viewership

And that’s why, folks, the NHL is losing ground amongst North America’s major sports. In spite of a steady growth in revenue (mostly due to expansion) and expanding to 32 markets, the NHL has been surpassed in the US by… soccer! Yet look where the league with the most integrity sits, the NFL!

Source: playersbio.com

No, it’s not because of fighting as some want to make you believe. If anything, the league has tied the players’ hands behind their back, talking away their ability to keep each other accountable, when they amended the instigator rule to what it is, bringing down the number of fights. The real culprit is the league’s inconsistency and below par administration of rules on the ice that’s turning even hardcore fans into fair-weather fans, or bandwagon jumpers.

Revenue is the biggest copout for short term gain, the biggest smoke screen behind which both the NHL and NHLPA are hiding at the expense of the sport itself and mostly, of the fans paying big money to watch them wreck something once great.

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Slafkovsky – A Taste of Maple Syrup And Poutine

By JD Lagrange – The debate is on: where will Juraj Slafkovsky play this upcoming season? And the answers are as variant as there are fans, or so it seems. They go from playing in the OHL for the Erie Otters, who own his rights, to top line in the NHL, and anything in between. Yet, Canadiens’ Co-Director of Amateur Scouting, Nick Bobrov, dropped a hint when he met the press with Martin Lapointe (Director of Player Personnel and Amateur Scouting) after the Draft.

According to Bobrov, Slafkovsky has nothing more to learn by returning in Liiga, a league he qualifies as extremely defensive. The Canadiens feel that the big winger needs to tap more into his offensive skills while adapting to the smaller ice surfaces of North America. He also stated that this will be a decision taken with Slafkovsky’s input. If you read between the lines, it basically means that unless the young Slovak insists on returning to Europe, he will likely play on this side of the big pond next season.

His contract

Juraj Slafkovsky signed his ELC

Before getting into where he will be playing, we must be aware of Slafkovsky’s contract structure. He has signed his entry level contract (ELC), which comes with a minimum cap hit of $950,000. An important factor to keep in mind however, is that he can get as much as $3.5 million in bonuses on top of that. According to puckmedia.com, there are two categories of Performance Bonuses for forwards:

“A” Bonuses are worth $212,500 each, to a maximum of $850,000 (maximum 4 achieved). For players drafted starting in 2022, “A” bonuses are worth $250,000 each, to a maximum of $1,000,000 (maximum 4 achieved). They are achieved by each of:

  • 20 goals
  • 35 assists
  • 60 points
  • Top six in Time on Ice among forwards (in total and/or per game) on team (minimum 42 games)
  • Top three in +/- among forwards on team (minimum 42 games)
  • 0.73 points per game (minimum 42 games)
  • End-of Season All Rookie Team
  • All Star Selection
  • All Star MVP

“B” Bonuses are worth a maximum of $2 Million (up to $2.5M for players drafted in 2022 and later), and the full amount of the bonus is awarded if any of the following is achieved:

  • Top Ten in NHL Forward Goals, Assists, points, or points per game (min 42 GP)
  • Win any of the following trophies: Hart, Selke, Richard, Conn Smythe, Norris
  • 1st or 2nd team All-Star

Contract structure: If an entry-level contract has performance bonuses, the first $850K (up to $1M for players drafted in 2022) are “A” bonuses, and the remainder (to a maximum of another $2M or $2.5M for players drafted in 2022 or later) are “B” Bonuses. For example:

  • If a contract has $1.1M in bonuses, the first $850K are “A” bonuses, and the remaining $250K are “B”
  • If a contract has $500K in bonuses, they are all “A” bonuses. The player would get $212,500 each for the first 2 items achieved, and then $75,000 if a 3rd item is achieved.

The CBA allows teams to differ the bonuses but eventually, they have to count against the cap.

Unlikely going to junior

Because he was drafted out of a professional league in Europe, Slafkovsky doesn’t have to abide by the NHL-CHL transfer agreement, meaning that he is free to play in the AHL as a teenager.

His CHL rights are owned by the Erie Otters, but it is unlikely he will return to Junior after playing pro last season. So it essentially means that he will either make the Montreal Canadiens or be sent down to play with the Laval Rocket to begin the season.

“Slafkovsky is a pretty impressive kid. He’s a very strong kid. He’s big, but he still has lots of room to grow. He’s a kid that you want to be around. He’s got such a charisma, you want to be talking to him, you want to be around him. He wants to make a difference, and that’s the way he plays the game. Here in Montreal, he just loves it. He had a feel for it on Thursday when all the fans were cheering for him. This guy, he’s a hockey player, and he wants to get better. He’s not perfect, but he wants to get better, and for me that’s a hockey player.” ~ Martin Lapointe, Director of Player Personnel and Amateur Scouting

Size factor

One of the biggest deterrents sometimes in deciding where a teenagers should be playing goes beyond talent. Countless times have we seen players coming out of junior or Europe not being fully developed physically, being vastly underweight to face grown men at the highest levels of pro hockey. These kids can get man-handled when facing the top athletes in the world, and severe injuries can occur just because of that.

It is not the case when talking about Slafkovsky. Standing at 6-foot 3-inches and 218 lbs, and having played against men in Liiga, at the Olympics and at the World Championships, he has the physique to handle the bigger North American brand of hockey on smaller ice surfaces.

AHL or NHL

Based on the Canadiens brass’ comments, on the caliber of the player (first overall pick) and on his size, it seems legitimate to think that Slafkovsky’s best bet for next season will be at the pro level in North America. What this means is that he is most likely going to get immerge into the maple syrup culture of Montreal/Laval.

As a first overall pick, he will certainly be given every opportunity to showcase what he can do at camp and in pre-season. He might even start the season in Montreal. But as a waivers exempt youngster, it is also possible that he could be making the 30 minutes trip between Montreal and Laval fairly regularly throughout the season.

I personally don’t expect him to start the season on the top-2 lines in Montreal. But he could (or should) very well play that role in Laval. If in Montreal, I can see him being placed with a couple of sound veterans to start.

Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Drouin – Dach – Dadonov
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Gallagher
Hoffman – Evans – Armia

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