Readers who have read my Ramblings for at least a few years now, or follow me on social media, know that one thing I keep coming back to is cross-checking. The simple explanation is this: there are hundreds of cross-checks every night in the NHL of varying strength levels, and only a handful will be called. The problem with that is that in the end things are going to go horribly wrong (Jamie Benn last year or Auston Matthews this year come to mind).
Coming to our point here, the problem lies in the player safety department. Decisions are inconsistent, suspensions infrequent (lots of fines, though), and no one knows what DoPS will serve on any given game. Matthews got two games for his cross-check while Benn, who broke Dylan Larkin’s neck, skated without even a penalty. This kind of inconsistency makes it difficult for players to know exactly where the line is, making hundreds of cross-checks every night a problem.
This wasn’t a cross-check, but it brings us to the final talking point:
Taylor Hall was fined for a punch. Agreed. Does anyone remember when Larkin did something similar earlier this year and got a game for it? Or when Max Pacioretty did it and just got an on-ice penalty? That’s what I’m talking about. What’s the line here? Punching from behind is a fine sometimes, but punching when the guy is skating in your general direction is suspension? Agreed?
Regardless of your feelings about what Hall did and what should be seen, it’s clear there is absolutely no consistency with the DoPS. They are completely, totally incompetent on every level. It falls on them and on the NHL. This is the product they want on the ice. They want players to guess if a cross check to the head results in two games or none, or if a punch results in a fine or suspension. This is madness. Again, this is the NHL, where only the dumbest ideas are put forward.
The Montreal Canadiens made a signing:
It is remarkable for two reasons. First off, Joshua Roy had a great year as a fifth-rounder starting in 2021. He finished second in league scoring in the QMJHL (up one point) and led in assists. Sure, he’s too old, but that’s not bad for a kid who’s still 18 and will be until August.
Second, he is from Quebec. The Habs only have two Quebec-born players on the roster, and one (Mathieu Perreault) is likely to move on after the season. It gives them a striker who was born in the province and is important to a lot of people.
Either way, he has some work to do to qualify, but last season was a really good start for him.
Alex Goligoski signed an extension:
This is great news for those in the cap leagues. Its AAV will drop by 60% and that makes it much more palatable in these formats. The blue line is deep enough that he won’t get any important injury-free minutes, but they may have to trade Matt Dumba for capping reasons anyway. It should be noted that he is on pace for 40 points and over 170 blocks + hits per 82 games this year. If he can replicate this season next year for $2 million in cap leagues, he’ll generate a lot of interest.
Jason Zucker skated for Pittsburgh and officially jumped a line. It is even a familiar place for him:
In that practice, they moved Bryan Rust to the front row, left Rickard Rakell on the second row, and moved Evan Rodrigues to the third row. It now looks like a pretty deep team if Zucker can find any of his mojo in stride. Oh, and Rodrigues really needs to find his form from the first months of the season. That would help a lot too.
It seems that Denis Gurianov could soon spend a night here:
Gurianov must be one of the most fascinating players in the league right now. He scored 20 goals in his rookie season playing third and fourth line minutes. That number fell to 12 in 55 games last year, but he saw a big drop in shooting percentage, so there was reason to believe it was just a blip. Well, he has scored 11 goals in 61 games so far this year as the shooting percentage has kept dropping. He’s struggled defensively at times and for a team led by Rick Bowness with playoff aspirations, being unreliable defensively means a trip to the bench or the press box. (It doesn’t matter that there are a lot of players on this team who have bad defensive seasons. Some mistakes stand out more than others).
Gurianov can do a lot of good things offensively. He’s good in transition, winning the blue line, and of course has a wicked shot (which is what makes his goal totals frustrating). I still have great faith in his talent, but let’s be honest, Dallas forwards outside the front line have all struggled this year. Tyler Seguin, for example, has his lowest points-per-game mark since his rookie season. It’s not all about Gurianov, but we had hoped for a huge leap forward now. There simply weren’t any. Again.
Kyle Connor and Nate Schmidt have both tested positive for COVID and will almost certainly each miss the Jets’ upcoming games. While Schmidt hadn’t played much for them, Connor is undoubtedly their offensive star and had a career year (41 goals and 82 points in 67 games). It’s a big loss for a Winnipeg team that needs to win many of its remaining games to qualify for the playoffs. This is a monumental loss for fantasy gamers.
This also raises a larger issue. We just saw the Columbus Blue Jackets have a few coaches go into COVID protocols. There have also been a handful of players across the league to enter protocols in recent weeks as well. It is important to note that with the updated COVID rules agreed by the NHL and the NHLPA, only symptomatic players are tested. In other words, these aren’t players who get COVID and then have to quarantine while feeling fine. It’s crucial to note all of this because of the timelines we’re talking about. While there is still a lot of work to be done on the current COVID strains circulating, there is some data pointing to the possibility of reinfection somewhere in the 4-6 month range. If the lower end of that range holds, it’s important to note because of when the last COVID outbreak happened in the league: before Christmas. For example, four months have passed since the Islanders and Senators had their team-wide outbreaks in November, and many teams are getting into it as the league was ravaged in December. Players who haven’t been/are not boosted – we have no idea how many have taken their extra vaccine – are now entering the period where re-infection seems possible.
This is all important due to the time of year we ride. The playoffs are about a month away, and the new (more contagious) variant is now part of our lives. By the end of April, most teams/players will have been four months away from the last COVID outbreak. If early reinfection data holds, it could cause big problems in the league.
I guess we see another updated agreement between the league and the NHLPA. Players come through the playoffs with punctured lungs and broken bones. They won’t want to miss a postseason game unless they physically can’t get out of bed. But if they don’t update the recent deal, there could be serious issues on the horizon across the league.
Besides the health implications, this obviously has serious fantasy implications, both for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. Just ask anyone who started their fantasy playoffs this week and is now jostling for a Kyle Connor replacement. I’m not sure there’s much fantasy players can do here other than wait and see what happens. It is in the hands of the NHL/PA to update (or not) their memorandum of understanding.