Photo: Pietrangelo shows support for niece

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
10:01
PM ET
St. Louis Blues star Alex Pietrangelo showed how big his heart is when he found a way to put a smile on his niece’s face as she battles cancer.

According to Pietrangelo’s Twitter account (@apetro_27), Ellie was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor in August. A Wilms’ tumor is a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children, according to mayoclinic.org.

The photo shows a smiling Ellie, who appears to be losing her hair from cancer treatments, holding clippers with Pietrangelo's hair half cut off. The after photo shows Pietrangelo’s hair all gone, with the words, “My beautiful niece Ellie game me a new look today! #standuptocancer”

The NHL’s annual Hockey Fights Cancer initiative takes place Oct. 20 through Nov. 17. Since December 1998, the league and players association have raised more than $12.8 million for cancer research, children’s hospitals and local cancer organizations, according to NHL.com.
video Two-time Stanley Cup champion and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov has been suspended indefinitely by the league after he was arrested Monday morning on charges of domestic violence. Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss the NHL's response.

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, some disturbing news from the West Coast overnight as Redondo Beach police reported they arrested Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov on domestic abuse charges at a local hospital after neighbors complained of hearing shouting and crying. It is a reflection of recent events that as much attention was paid to how the NHL responded to the allegations as to the allegations themselves.

It’s no secret that officials in every other professional sports league have been watching the NFL's shocking mishandling of a series of issues involving its players -- most notably the domestic violence issues connected to former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and the attendant blowback from the public and sponsors. At that time, we looked at the NHL’s policy and safeguards vis-a-vis issues like domestic violence, and while there was never a suggestion that the league was immune to these kinds of events, there was a feeling that the league and its players were well-placed to deal with a situation like this when/if it arose.

Now the league is being put to the test, and the response was to immediately suspended Voynov from all team activities pending further investigation by the league and the unfolding of the legal process. While the league didn’t need the players’ association’s approval to suspend Voynov, we are told it did reach out to the union to say that this was the league’s plan moving forward once word began to spread of Voynov’s arrest in the early-morning hours Monday.

[+] EnlargeSlava Voynov
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSlava Voynov's case will be reviewed by the district attorney for felony consideration.
Again, I think it’s a reflection of how important it was to the league that everyone was on the same page when this news broke, especially given the colossal failures of the NFL. Were you surprised at the suspension and how things have unfolded thus far?

LEBRUN: No question as I exchanged emails with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly that he agreed that the changing landscape in sports in the wake of events in the NFL was part of the league’s quick and stern reaction compared to a year ago when Semyon Varlamov faced domestic violence charges. (The misdemeanor assault charge against Varlamov was later dropped.) But -- and this is important -- Daly also said that the facts were different in the Voynov case compared to the Varlamov case. In other words -- and this is my own inference on what Daly said -- I think the league has already been shown enough evidence to support the indefinite suspension of Voynov while continuing its own investigation, the kind of evidence it didn’t have a year ago when Varlamov was not suspended.

You have to applaud the NHL here. The arrest happened around 1 a.m. local time in the L.A. area, and some six and half hours later, the NHL announced his suspension. That’s incredibly swift on the NHL’s part. Not being flippant at all, but it says a lot that the league was able to get the first word on this instead of having it broken first on the Internet.

BURNSIDE: Pierre, as you know, the league has a wide latitude in imposing these kinds of sanctions, and the fact they were enshrined in the new collective bargaining agreement coming out of the 2012-13 lockout ensures, at least in theory, that everyone knows where everyone else stands. Not long ago there were suggestions that the league should have a specific domestic violence policy, but I know from talking to both league and union officials that they felt the issue was adequately covered by language in the CBA and the educational and outreach tools available via the jointly administered substance abuse and behavioral health program, including a 24-hour phone line available to players and their families to discuss a host of issues. Due to his arrest, Voynov is automatically enrolled in the program.

The league seemed to be in lockstep with the players’ association and the Kings, who put out a release that I thought took the right tone insisting the incident was of “great concern” to the team and that they fully supported the league’s decision to suspend Voynov. As you noted, a year ago the league took a much different tack with the Varlamov situation, and they and the Colorado Avalanche were vindicated when prosecutors very quickly declined to take the charges forward. A moot point maybe, but it would be interesting to see how the league and the team reacted if those circumstances were presented now. I am guessing it would be markedly different given the cultural climate. If the NHL is getting praise for its swift and unequivocal reaction to the charges, it will be interesting moving forward to see what kind of punishment awaits Voynov as this case moves forward.

LEBRUN: The league acted well on this, but it's still a tough day for a sport that doesn’t often have to deal with this kind of thing. The fact that it happened to the team that is the reigning Stanley Cup champion also brings more attention to it. But if you know the type of men running the Kings -- from GM and president Dean Lombardi to president of business operations Luc Robitaille to coach Darryl Sutter -- they are stand-up guys who will do the right thing. Sutter’s job now is to refocus his club this week after such a shocking development. This is a very tight-knit team, this kind of thing will be hard to stomach for those players. There’s also an on-ice element to all this, the Kings losing a top-four blueliner, which will have a long-term impact on the team’s performance.

But most of all, my thoughts are with the victim of this domestic abuse incident. Far too many victims of domestic violence in this world. If we’ve learned anything from what’s transpired in the sports world over the past few months, it’s that people won’t stand for it no matter how big a name is involved. Thank goodness for that.
This just proves there are no free rides -- because it proved costly at the end. Bah-dum-tish!


Jonathan Drouin joins Lightning on road

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
2:30
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Top prospect Jonathan Drouin joined the Tampa Bay Lightning on their current road trip after being recalled from the AHL on Sunday.

Drouin missed training camp because of a fractured right thumb, but he returned to action this past weekend with the Syracuse Crunch, recording one goal and two assists in two games.

[+] EnlargeDrouin
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Drouin is expected to make his NHL debut on the Lightning's current road trip.
Lighting coach Jon Cooper told reporters Monday that the 19-year-old forward would not play Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers after playing back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday and then traveling on Sunday. But the coach added that Drouin would play soon.

"We think he'll make us a better team," Tampa general manager Steve Yzerman said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "He's ready."

The Lightning are preparing for their second game of a five-game trip against Western Conference opponents.

Drouin, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2013 draft, scored 108 points in 46 games last season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
From the official NHL release:

SEGUIN, ANDERSEN AND STAMKOS NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK (Oct. 20, 2014) – Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin, Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen and Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Oct. 19.

FIRST STAR – TYLER SEGUIN, C, DALLAS STARS

Seguin led the NHL with eight points (4-4—8) in three games to help the Stars earn five out of a possible six standings points. He opened the week by recording his fifth career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Oct. 14. Seguin again tallied the decisive goal, this time with 2.9 seconds left in regulation, in a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Oct. 16. He then capped by the week by posting a career-high four assists in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Oct. 18. Since joining the Stars for the 2013-14 season, the 22-year-old Brampton, Ont., native leads the League with four hat tricks. The second overall selection by the Boston Bruins in the 2010 NHL Draft, Seguin has 97-116—213 in 288 career regular-season games.

SECOND STAR – FREDERIK ANDERSEN, G, ANAHEIM DUCKS

Andersen went 4-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average, .955 save percentage and one shutout to help the Ducks extend their winning streak to five games. He made 11 saves in a 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 13, 39 saves – plus another three in the shootout – in a 4-3 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers Oct. 14 and 27 saves in a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild Oct. 17. Andersen then closed the week by recording his first NHL shutout, making 28 saves in a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues Oct. 19. With the win, Andersen improved to 25-5-0 in his NHL career (33 GP), joining Boston’s Ross Brooks (25-2-3; Oct. 25, 1972 – Feb. 28, 1974) as the only goaltenders in League history to win 25 (or more) of their first 30 decisions. The 25-year-old Herning, Denmark, native also maintained his perfect record in 2014-15, improving to 5-0-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in five appearances.

THIRD STAR – STEVEN STAMKOS, C, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Stamkos led the NHL with five goals and tied for second in the League with six points to power the Lightning to two victories in three starts. He began the week by scoring his eighth career hat trick (including the game-winning goal) and firing a career-high 12 shots on goal in a 7-1 triumph over the Montreal Canadiens Oct. 13. After being held off the scoresheet in a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils Oct. 14, Stamkos posted 2-1—3, including the primary assist on Ryan Callahan’s tiebreaking marker, in a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Oct. 18. The 24-year-old Markham, Ont., native is tied for second in the League with five goals this season. Since the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign, his second in the NHL, no one has scored more goals than Stamkos’ 215.
Carey PriceAndre Ringuette/Getty ImagesThe Canadiens will offer perks to loyal fans who cheer them on in the Bell Centre and elsewhere.
MONTREAL -- Sure, the ads take a bit of poetic license.

No, if you join Club 1909, you cannot actually spend a night watching Carey Price sleep in his bed.

But that ad, along with others by actor-comedian Jay Baruchel and his beloved Montreal Canadiens, try to deliver the point about the famed organization’s new loyalty program.

Club 1909 (www.club1909.com) was launched last week, a multifaceted fan membership program that intends to align Montreal’s brand around the world along the likes of the other big franchise hitters in sports.

Sitting in his Bell Centre office last week during an interview with ESPN.com, Kevin Gilmore, the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, explained the genesis for Club 1909 and why a team with automatic sellouts and sky-high TV ratings felt the need to branch out even more.

"Sometimes, you have to look at your business and kind of turn it sideways to see what it is now," Gilmore said. "The challenge from a marketing standpoint was to say, 'Guys, let’s look at what we do, who we are and what we represent.' We spent a while on it, we talked to some outside people and to people inside here.

"Basically the conclusion was that for the lack of a better word, we’re a legacy team, we’re synonymous with the sport. Same way the Yankees and Red Sox are with baseball, the Cowboys and Packers with football. I’m sure the Leafs would argue the Leafs and Canadiens with hockey, and that’s a fair comment. We said, 'If that’s what we are, we need to start acting a little more like that.'"

By the Canadiens’ estimation, they’ve got about 10 million fans around the globe. Obviously only 21,273 of them can get into one game at a time, and many of them never do get to experience an actual game at the Bell Centre.

So Club 1909 is an effort by the organization to reach out not only to their core base, but also to those far and about.

"If you’re a fan that lives in South Dakota, South Florida, South America or Europe, you can go to our website and read about us, you can get GameCenter live and watch games online, you can stream the games on radio; so you can follow us, but all that’s happening is that we’re speaking to you," said Gilmore.

[+] EnlargeMontreal Canadiens fans
Derek Leung/Getty ImagesThe Canadiens want to include their fans in everything, no matter how they choose to cheer.
"It’s a one-way conversation so you don’t know who you are or where you are; we know you’re out there. So how do we create something that allows those fans to speak back to us and engage with us? And how can we create a win-win situation where we give them something for being a fan? We call it rewarding small acts of loyalty."

So whether it’s just a tweet about the Habs or just tuning into the game, as long as you’re a member of Club 1909, the organization will reward those members with loyalty points. Fans can join for free, or can become a premium member by paying a one-time fee of $29.99, which gets you a membership card embedded with a piece of game-worn jersey.

We kid you not.

But who’s kidding whom? While the Canadiens say this about connecting more to their fan base, and that's obviously a big part of it, at the end of the day, improving your brand around the world also means also improving your bottom line.

That is why this program, if it takes off like the Habs hope it will, could be an innovative way to stretch the branding power of a team that otherwise appeared to have saturated the conventional revenue/branding routes. But Gilmore stresses that this includes unique aspects.

"In most loyalty programs, you have to spend money to get points. But ours is a very democratic loyalty program in the sense that you can accumulate as many points as a non-season-ticket holder as a season-ticket holder does by doing things like watching games on TV and listening to games on the radio. Following us on Twitter, you get points, re-tweeting something we put out there you get points; if you follow us on Facebook and like a story of ours and share it, you get loyalty points. They’re all acts of loyalty, they’re all acts from fans who have that strong emotional bond with the team,’’ Gilmore said.

Here’s a breakdown of how the points system works.

"The other thing we said is, 'Can we create a program that also breaks down the walls of the Bell Centre?'" Gilmore said.
For example, Club 1909 members who record themselves on video chanting "Go Habs Go" could be chosen to join into the actual live chant during a game.

"When the fans here at the Bell Centre start the 'Go Habs Go' chant we’ll allow those fans to also join in, we’ll pipe that in," said Gilmore. "So you can be in Europe, and your voice is being heard."

The Habs hired British company Fortress GB to help them craft Club 1909. The technology firm has done work with teams such as Arsenal, Manchester City, the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With the Red Sox, Gilmore says, Fortress GB’s work was focused primarily on season-ticket holders. The Habs wanted to go beyond that.

"We were like, 'How about we evolve together into a loyalty program that’s beyond the four walls of the building?' Let’s take care of the season-ticket holders, but at the same time, let’s extend it beyond the four walls and allow the guy in Europe or Chicoutimi also to accumulate loyalty points. Not just for spending money, but just for being a fan. That’s the logic beyond it."

And while increasing its brand name worldwide, the Club 1909 program will also hopefully help the team identify the actual people who are Habs fans or attend games. As Gilmore says, the average season-ticket holder goes to seven games a season, and shares or sells the rest of the tickets.

"So who’s the person sitting there otherwise? Maybe now we’ll know who they are," said Gilmore.

By having Club 1909 scan their membership cards or bar codes from their phones while entering the Bell Centre, the Habs will get a face to match the fan entering the building.

"It’s about how can you better serve your clientele by knowing who they are," Gilmore said.

"So let’s say Pierre comes to his 100th game since he’s been a member of Club 1909, because he has John’s [season] tickets, and we know he’s there. 'Hey Pierre, as a reward for you being here for your 100th game, here’s an X-dollar voucher for the merchandise store,'" Gilmore said.

"These are the kind of things we can do once we’ve basically migrated people under this platform and we know who they are and how they express their loyalty, whether it’s here or somewhere else."

The program is in its infancy, and Gilmore envisions being able to do way more with it as technology evolves. But for now, it’s a start, and Gilmore reiterated the point:

"The raison d’etre is to give our fans a chance to connect with us."

Wrapping up the Western Conference

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
10:52
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video

Trending up

  • Frederik Andersen: So 21-year-old John Gibson was heralded as the Ducks’ goaltender of the future, and that still may be the case, but it sure seems like Andersen has something to say about it. After Gibson was shellacked in the season opener, Andersen has made the most of his opportunity. Making 28 saves, Andersen recorded his first NHL shutout in the Ducks’ 3-0 win over the Blues on Sunday. It was his fifth consecutive win of the season. Meanwhile, Gibson was sent down to the minors to get in some more games while Bruce Boudreau rides the hot hand.
  • Los Angeles Kings: The Kings might be slow starters, but they managed to right the ship quickly. After stumbling out of the gates, the defending Stanley Cup champs have rattled off four straight, including a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. Goaltender Jonathan Quick can take a heaping share of the credit there -- he made 40 saves -- while youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson continue to shine playing on a line with veteran Jeff Carter. Those three players have combined for 20 points through the first six games of the season.
  • Nashville (the city and the team): Nice little start to the season for the Nashville Predators, who remain atop the Central Division under new coach Peter Laviolette. The Preds are coming off an overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, but are one of only three teams that have yet to suffer a regulation loss. Maybe a new voice and some fresh ideas are resonating in Music City. Speaking of which, it was revealed last week that Nashville will be hosting the 2016 All-Star Game. Awesome city, good grub and great music. No complaints here!

Trending down

  • Edmonton Oilers: Not like expectations were high with this beleaguered team to begin with, but boy, things are already looking dire for Dallas Eakins & Co. Along with the downtrodden Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers are one of only two teams without a win this season. The Oilers, off to their worst start in franchise history, have dropped three straight games, most recently a shutout at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks. What, you thought Benoit Pouliot was going to come in and save the day? Hard to know what is to come for the franchise in the future. Can't keep firing coaches every other season.
  • Colorado’s goaltending: If there was any way the Avs could have prevented the anticipated regression from last season, it would have likely involved another stellar season from Semyon Varlamov. Well, that’s already hit a detour with the Russian netminder on the shelf with a groin injury. Making matters worse is the fact backup Reto Berra is sidelined, as well, thrusting rookie Calvin Pickard between the pipes. Pickard will end up on the highlight reel from this weekend’s play, but on the wrong side of the action after surrendering his second goal of the game to Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in the Habs’ 3-2 win on Saturday.

Injury report

  • Varlamov remains on injured reserve with a groin injury for the Avs, while Berra sustained a neck injury in a game last week, according to the Denver Post, but is considered day-to-day.
  • The Blues were without center Paul Stastny in their shutout defeat on Sunday. Stastny reportedly sustained an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes one night prior, though an exact timeline for his return is not immediately clear.

What to watch for

  • Riding a five-game winning streak, the Anaheim Ducks have the chance to pull away from the pack with three straight home matches at the Honda Center before embarking on a tough road trip next week that includes stops in St. Louis and Chicago.
  • According to a report from TSN, the Calgary Flames are closing in on an extension for defenseman T.J. Brodie and are expected to announce a new deal soon. The 24-year-old blueliner had four goals and 31 points for the Flames last season and is seen as a critical piece for the club’s back end.
  • Speaking of young Flames, Johnny Gaudreau scored his first goal of the 2014-15 season in Calgary’s 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets this weekend. Should be interesting to see what that does for Johnny Hockey's confidence and whether he can keep the ball rolling, considering the former Boston College standout was a healthy scratch on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s not a bad way to respond to a benching.

Wrapping up the Eastern Conference

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
10:29
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video

Trending Up

  • Ottawa Senators: I’ll admit I was extremely skeptical about the Sens this season. There seemed to be some discord between players and coach last year, they lost Jason Spezza, etc. But Ottawa is already surprising some folks, not just with the long-term deal to lock up Bobby Ryan, but with a four-game winning streak that has the Sens trailing the Habs by two points in the Atlantic Division. The goaltending tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner has been impressive, though we still expect the latter to push for the starting job sooner rather than later.
  • P.K. Subban: Holy smokes, what a goal in Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. If there was any concern about Subban wilting under the pressure of a monster deal signed this summer, you can safely put that to rest now after seeing the stud defenseman emerge from the penalty box and notch the type of goal that will likely haunt Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie for weeks to come. Not to mention that it was Subban’s second marker of the night. This guy thrives in the spotlight.
  • Damon Severson: Speaking of defensemen chipping in with some offense, how about Devils rookie Damon Severson? The 20-year-old Saskatchewan native has three goals and four points for New Jersey through the first five games of the season. It’s no secret that the Devils were looking for additional scoring after last season’s offensive woes, but not many people would have predicted it coming from this source.

Trending Down

  • Toronto Maple Leafs: Though they earned a point in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, the Leafs dropped both matches of the home-and-home set against Mike Babcock's squad. Cue the panic button in Toronto. The Leafs are just 2-3-1 to start the season and appear to be plagued by some of the same troubles that contributed to last year’s epic implosion. And is it just us, or does the fact that they keep trotting out all these analytics developments feel a bit like window dressing?
  • Steve Mason: This is hardly to pin the Flyers’ struggles solely on goaltender Steve Mason, but he’s had a rather tough start to the season. Mason is still searching for his first win, with an 0-2-1 start to 2014-15 and an unsightly 3.78 goals-against average and .865 save percentage. Mason was yanked after giving up four goals on 18 shots over two periods on Saturday, replaced with backup Ray Emery as the Flyers rallied back to beat the Dallas Stars 6-5 in overtime. Philly’s defense is suspect, we’ll give Mason that much, but his performance will be critical to the Flyers’ success this season, especially with another poor start.

Injury report

  • Victor Hedman: Hard to imagine the Tampa Bay Lightning will have worse injury luck than last season, when they were without superstar Steven Stamkos for the majority of the regular season and starting goaltender Ben Bishop for the playoffs, but not even two weeks into this season, they are dealing with another costly loss. Defenseman Victor Hedman was sidelined with a fractured finger and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
  • Jeff Skinner: According to the Charlotte News and Observer, Carolina Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner, who missed the first four games of the season with a concussion, is expected to be in the lineup against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Captain Eric Staal has also resumed skating and could return later during the road trip.

What to watch for

  • Drouin debut: Felled by a thumb injury in the preseason, top prospect Jonathan Drouin appears ready to make his mark on the 2014-15 season. The Lightning recalled Drouin from his rehab assignment in the minors, meaning he could make his debut as early as Monday against the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Westward-bound: The Washington Capitals also seem to be a squad that has benefited from a coaching change with Barry Trotz now behind the bench in D.C. The Caps have yet to suffer a regulation loss this season and head west this week on a road trip that features stops in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
  • Road-trippin': The banged-up Columbus Blue Jackets are in for a mighty test this week as well as they head out to California for a three-game trip against San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. We should get a good idea what that team is made of against some of the stiffest competition in the Western Conference.
video
MONTREAL -- With the Montreal Canadiens up a goal against the Boston Bruins in the third period Thursday night, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien sent Manny Malhotra out for a defensive-zone faceoff Malhotra easily won over Gregory Campbell.

Chalk another one up for the veteran center, whose addition July 1 might end up paying way more dividends for the Canadiens than people first bargained.

For starters, Malhotra is among the league's top faceoff men, which will improve the team's defensive-zone start numbers. Through five games, he's won 65 percent of his faceoffs.

But his impact might be just as important off the ice, where he's already made himself one of the most vocal leaders on the team despite being a newcomer.

"Right from the first preseason game, he was a guy that was stepping up, and you could tell right away he was a vocal leader," Habs winger Brendan Gallagher told ESPN.com after Montreal's 6-4 win over the Bruins on Thursday night.

"And obviously being able to play the way he does, that helps. He's a great guy, he's not shy to come up to you and give you pointers. So far he's been great for me."

It was similar to a comment star goalie Carey Price made last week when asked who was speaking up in the room before the game and between periods with the departure of vocal leader Josh Gorges and captain Brian Gionta in the offseason.

"Manny Malhotra," Price said, without any hesitation.

Long after everyone had cleared the dressing room Thursday night, I sat down with Malhotra, and he looked a little sheepish when asked about having such a strong vocal presence despite being a new guy.

"I think it's just a part of being a veteran, is feeling confident and comfortable to speak your mind in the room," said Malhotra, 34. "Saying what you want to say when you want to say it. That hasn't changed for me. Obviously, I'm never trying to step on anyone's toes. But at the same time, if I see something, I'm going to say it. That's just part of who I am as a player."

Given how the Habs got younger in the offseason, his leadership presence is more than welcomed.

On the ice, he's a key addition to the penalty kill.

For a one-year deal worth $850,000, he's a bargain indeed.

"Great faceoff guy obviously, which is no small thing," said one NHL scout who was watching Thursday night's game. "Solid character guy. As an older player, your legs get heavy a bit when you don't get as many minutes as you are used to, so that's one adjustment for him, playing a fourth-line role. But he's a solid role player. Good pickup for them."

And to think there are many who thought his career was over after the Vancouver Canucks placed him on season-ending injury reserve during the 2012-13 season, with former general manager Mike Gillis at the time explaining the decision by saying the club was concerned it was too dangerous for Malhotra to play with his limited vision as a result of the left-eye injury suffered in March 2011.

Malhotra strongly disagreed with that assertion and vowed to return. But the phone was quiet in summer 2013. All he got was an AHL tryout with the Carolina Hurricanes' farm team, which he turned into an NHL contract with the Hurricanes last season. A terrific comeback story.

Looking back, he'd rather focus on thanking Carolina for getting a chance rather than revisit his exit out of Vancouver.

"It's in the past for me, it really is," Malhotra said. "I've put that to bed. Last summer was really trying. The stress of not knowing whether I would ever get that chance. I'm extremely grateful to the Hurricanes organization for giving me that opportunity to prove myself again. But I knew in my head and in my heart that I was still a player."

The Habs were certainly convinced, and team executive Rick Dudley talked to Malhotra's agent at the draft in Philadelphia when the free-agent window opened to speak to other teams.

"I got excited, I spoke with my wife about that opportunity as well as other calls we were getting," Malhotra said. "We had the opportunity to weigh everything."

The phone then rang at 12:01 p.m. July 1, and it was Montreal.

[+] EnlargeManny Malhotra
AP Photo/Chris SzagolaManny Malhotra has been key on the draw for the Habs.


"It was a no-brainer," Malhotra said of accepting Montreal's offer.

Mind you, Malhotra grew up a Bruins fan, so it's not as though he was fulfilling a childhood dream.

On the other hand, he had always been amazed at what it was like to play in the Bell Centre as an opposing player.

"Coming here as a visitor before, there was always that energy, the nerves that come along with playing in this building. But to have these fans on your side now, it's a special experience,” he said. "The Habs are a religion here, they love their hockey.

"It's a special feeling being part of this team. I remember always looking at the rafters as a visiting player and seeing all the names, it's the who's who of the Hall of Fame. The champions that have been here. The first time I walked into the dressing room at our practice rink, you saw all the pictures of the former captains, winners, Hall of Famers, you feel pretty special to be part of that fabric."

It helps to speak the language of choice in this province, too. Malhotra's French is terrific, not bad for a guy who grew up in English-speaking Mississauga, Ontario.

Turns out his mother is from just outside Levis, Quebec; his siblings were born in Quebec before his family moved to Ontario, where Manny was born.

"We'd go back and visit family in Quebec every summer, and I couldn't understand what my relatives were saying, so I told my mom, 'I got to learn and find out what's going on,'" Malhotra said. "Over the course of the years, I just picked up more and more."

His French is good, and more importantly, his vision is OK, Malhotra said.

"I never put a number on it, but it's good enough," he said. "I see everything. I just can't read a newspaper anymore, the fine print stuff. It's as if someone who wears glasses forgets to put them on. It's not the fine detail that you see. Other than that, I see everything fine."

He simply needed to be patient and allow for the needed time to adjust.

"That’s exactly what it was," Malhotra said. "Through the course of my recovery and rehab, I was in constant contact with Bryan Berard [who also suffered a scary eye injury]. One of the things he told me was, 'Be patient, it's going to come back. And eventually what you know as far as spacial awareness and vision, it just becomes the norm.' So that's where I'm at now."

He's at peace, that's where Manny Malhotra is now.

Distraction of the week: Goal-celebration horn for 31(!) teams

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
10:44
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Jonathan ToewsBill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesYou know what the horn sounds like in Chicago, right, Jonathan Toews?

Ever wanted to hear what the Florida Panthers' goal-horn celebration sounded like? (Assuming they will eventually score frequently at home.) Well, now thanks to the Internet, you can, along with those of 30 other teams. No, you read that right. On this beauty of a time-waster, you can also listen to the famous goal-celebration horn and music of the long-lost (but forever loved) Hartford Whalers.

Kiss your day's productivity goodbye by visiting this site. Don't say you weren't warned.
 Vincent LecavalierElsa/Getty ImagesVincent Lecavalier got off to a decent start but was stopped against the Canadiens.
Oh, things have not started well in Philadelphia. The Flyers are winless in four games (0-2-2), their lone points coming in shootouts, the worst on Saturday when they blew a 3-0 lead against Montreal and lost in a shootout (as an aside, no one should get a point for that kind of performance). And the news doesn't get any better as injuries continue to mount. Vincent Lecavalier will miss a couple of weeks after blocking a shot Saturday, and the Flyers hit the road for stops in Dallas, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Lecavalier stayed in Saturday's contest and actually took the first shootout attempt for the Flyers, but local reports indicate he left the building with his foot in a walking boot. It's too bad because Lecavalier was off to a good start, with a goal and two assists and eight shots on goal in three games. He was also logging power-play time and looked to be back in a groove after a difficult end to last season that saw him switched from his lifelong position as a center to the wing.

It's been a tough transition from Tampa, where he'd spent his entire career, to Philadelphia, where the 34-year-old signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal after being bought out by the Lightning.

"Well, ended up being more difficult, that's a good way to put it," Lecavalier told ESPN.com.

After coming back from injury, "I was put in a position I haven't played before," he said. "A little bit of an adjustment. It was tough to adapt."

While there was much speculation in the offseason that Lecavalier would be traded, no move took place, and he talked about his affection for the Flyers and his belief in his abilities.

"I think every year, no matter if you had a great year the year before or not so good of a year, I think you start with a clean slate and it's a new year,” he said. "I believe in my game and what I can bring to the team. I have confidence in that."
video Gudas should have been punished
Maybe it's just that everyone was at the Chris Pronger icebreaker at NHL headquarters (everyone decked out in their favorite Philadelphia Flyers jersey) or maybe it's just that I don't understand exactly what the league is prepared to accept in terms of on-ice dangers, but I still don't get how the devastating hit by the Tampa Bay Lightning's Radko Gudas on Scottie Upshall of the Florida Panthers last week passed without a sound from the league. Yes, Upshall had his head down trying to locate a pass just inside his own blue line. And no, Gudas didn't leave his feet to make the hit. But the principal point of contact is Upshall's head. The contact is made by forearm/elbow and Upshall is completely defenseless. The department of player safety, to which Pronger now belongs, has a lot of leeway to impose sanctions that in theory make the game safer. The notion that this play somehow didn't fit nicely into an accepted rule box is a cop-out. How was this different from a hit from behind? You can argue -- and some do -- that a player with his back to the play needs to be aware of potential danger, just as Upshall should have been more aware in open ice of the potential dangers around him. Yet the NHL has made it crystal clear to players that it's wrong to drill opponents from behind. That's a progressive thing. The video of Gudas' hit on Upshall should be shown to GMs when they meet in Toronto in November. They should be asked: Do you want this hit delivered on one of your players? The answer should be a resounding no. And then they should be asked what they would like to do about it in the light of the league's disappointingly passive stance for a clearly dangerous hit on an unsuspecting player.

It was Selanne's time
I'm pretty sure that future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne is feeling pretty embarrassed for unloading on Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau in an authorized biography released in Finland a short time ago. As he should be. The Finnish Flash, one of the game's great ambassadors and a treat to deal with for journalists the world over, angrily suggested that it was Boudreau's fault that Selanne retired at the end of last season. Selanne, who turned 44 over the summer, also took time during the Olympics in Sochi last winter to take not-so-subtle jabs at his NHL coach while enjoying a renaissance tournament, winning a bronze medal and playing like a man half his age. But the Olympic game is a different game, and when I read Selanne's comments, I recalled watching the Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings play a few days before the Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium in January. The Ducks won this particular game at the Honda Center in Anaheim in a rollicking, hard-hitting contest that was one of the best regular-season games I've seen in many a moon. At one point I turned to a veteran NHL writer in the press box, and I wondered aloud about who was the most obviously out-of-place player on the ice. There was immediate consensus that it was Selanne. The game was too fast, too hard for him to keep up. This isn't a shot at Selanne, but rather a reminder that sometimes the game knows it's time long before the player knows, and blaming the coach for that harsh reality is an unfortunate byproduct of accepting that reality or, more to the point, of being unable to accept that reality.
Morgan RiellyGraig Abel/Getty ImagesThe high-flying Avs have fallen back to Earth and were exposed by the Maple Leafs.
TORONTO -- About the last place anybody would have predicted the high-flying Colorado Avalanche to be after the opening week of the NHL’s regular season is dead-last in offense.

But that’s where they were Wednesday morning, with only four goals in four games, tied with Boston (four games) and Florida (three games) with that measly four-goal tally.

It hasn’t been the same sizzling start the Avs enjoyed a year ago, when they stunned the hockey world with a 12-1-0 record out of the gates under rookie head coach Patrick Roy, en route to a surprising Central Division regular-season title.

Many pundits have predicted some regression for the Avs this season, and the early returns (losing three of four) suggest they may be right, but it’s awfully early to know that for sure.

Veteran winger Jarome Iginla has had the chance to play with some pretty talented groups the last three years, ending the lockout season in Pittsburgh, playing last year in Boston, and now hitching his Hall of Fame wagon to the young Avs.

Iginla knows a good thing when he sees one.

"Definitely been fortunate to play with some really good teams over the last few years, and I believe this is one of them," Iginla said Tuesday night after a 3-2 overtime loss in Toronto.

"This is a very dynamic group of guys that can create a lot just by themselves. Their speed is second to none. Last year was a great year for the Avs, and we believe this will be another great year," Iginla continued. "We want to keep working on getting the chances [for] up and the chances against down. Later in the third period [Tuesday night], the Leafs had too many odd-man breaks.

"We’ll keep working on tightening the small things up, because with the talent and skill level in here, there’s no doubt we’ll able to score goals. We want to just to win that chances side of it, too."

Roy, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year, talked eloquently during a preseason stop in Montreal about not betraying the Avs' identity while still wanting to be a better defensive team this season. The message was that they were making no excuses for their high-flying, entertaining style. It’s who they are, and their fans love it.

Those in the analytics community will point to the Avs as a team that was bound to take a step backward this year because of their mediocre puck-possession numbers.

[+] EnlargeJarome Iginla and Matt Duchene
AP Photo/John LocherJarome Iginla and Matt Duchene are confident happier times are coming for the Avs.
To watch them in person Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre hammers home the point, both good and bad. When they’ve got the puck in transition or on the counterattack, watch out, because they’re perhaps the most dangerous team in the NHL, and they’re electrifying to watch.

But when they get bottled up in their own zone, like they did for stretches Tuesday night by the Leafs, they labor to regain puck possession and give up quality scoring chances.

The fine line for Roy this season is to still accentuate his team’s strength, speed and skill up front while mitigating the defensive zone issues.

We looked down at the Avs' bench during Tuesday night’s game and saw Roy seemingly agitated after his team would give away the puck, notably when a Nick Holden turnover in the neutral zone led to a 3-on-1 break for the Leafs in the second period. But Roy insisted afterward not to read too much into that.

"Me? Agitated? No," Roy said calmly after Tuesday night’s game. "It’s always the way I am, I love to be involved in the game. But no different than last year, I can tell you that."

That was echoed by star center Matt Duchene.

"You know what, he wasn’t frustrated at all, he’s just animated when he talks," said Duchene, who scored his first goal of the season on a beauty of a top-corner wrist shot Tuesday night. "He’s just teaching."

But former NHLer Ray Ferraro, who was between the benches for TSN during Tuesday night’s telecast of the Avs-Leafs game, saw what we saw.

"Roy is usually is pretty animated behind the bench, but [Tuesday] night he was very vocal, and at times seemed pretty frustrated when his team turned the puck over as frequently as they did in the last half of the game," Ferraro said Wednesday via email.

"The McKinnon-Briere-Tanguay line won't work, as the veterans can't come close to keeping up with McKinnon. I think they miss [Paul] Stastny a great deal, with him, it allowed O’Reilly and McKinnon to attack from the wing, and they were a better balanced team. They haven't addressed their blue-line sufficiently ... I think they will take a 15-20 point step back this year."

Duchene felt the reason the Avs gave up so many chances Tuesday night was due to the type of opponent they were playing, the wide-open Maple Leafs, who outshot the Avs 40-24.

"We played L.A. twice the last two preseason games, we played Minnesota twice and then Boston, you know what those types of teams are like," Duchene said. "We just haven’t seen that much ice and that kind of speed and game like we did [Tuesday night versus Toronto]. We had some great opportunities because of it, but we also gave up some."

They easily could have scored more than twice Tuesday night, including Duchene missing a breakaway in the third period that would have given his team a 3-1 lead. But at least the scoring chances were there. Those were harder to come by when being blanked twice by the Wild to open the season and prevailing in a 2-1 defensive game in Boston on Monday.

"When you start out with two shutouts against, you start to press a little bit," said Iginla, Duchene’s linemate. "But we’re getting better. Just throw out the first game, that was horrible. We’ve been getting better since.

"It’s a dynamic group, we’ll find ways to score goals," added Iginla. "Guys, you can just see, are starting to feel better. We need to build that confidence back up."

The Avs’ Eastern swing continues Thursday at Ottawa before wrapping up Saturday at Montreal.

Duchene stressed he wasn’t making excuses but said the early schedule wasn’t making things easy, either.

"Our schedule has been really interesting so far," he said. "I think it’s the most difficult we’ve ever had here [while he’s been there], just because we start home-and-home against a team [Minnesota] that is probably in our heads a little bit from the playoffs last year. Then Boston, a great team that’s a defensive juggernaut. Then we play a team [Toronto] that loves to play almost pond hockey out there. They’re fun to play against, and they’re fun to watch play.

"Plus you throw in the travel, no excuses by any means, but there’s been a lot of adjustments to be made early on here. We’re going to keep on learning and keep on getting better."
Coyotes FansChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesArizona enjoys much more fan support than Florida, which has boosted the franchise's value.
Sometimes it’s easy to draw a line from A to B. Sometimes the line simply doesn’t exist.

That’s why it’s been a bit puzzling to see connections drawn between the attendance woes of the Florida Panthers and the evolving situation with the Arizona Coyotes.

Sure, hockey fans everywhere spent far too much time pondering whether the Coyotes were going to stay in the desert during the four years the NHL ran the formerly bankrupt club.

And maybe it’s natural to see "Coyotes have new majority owner" in a headline and assume more chaos, further instability and a revival of the "Where will the Coyotes end up?" storyline.

Still, it’s hard to imagine how the sale of 51 percent of the team to hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway for more than $150 million (the team’s valuation is now at $305 million) suggests instability when the team was purchased about 14 months ago from the league for $170 million.

I don’t profess to be a business school graduate, but when a team’s value almost doubles in less than a year and a half that should be a good thing, no?

As for reports of massive losses sustained by the team, a source told ESPN.com Arizona had budgeted for losses last season and this season but is expected to turn a modest profit next season.

Ticket sales rose 16 percent last season and were expected to go up another 15-20 percent this season, the source said.

As for Barroway taking a controlling interest, the fact he is an American will reportedly allow the team to enjoy tax savings on interest fees in the neighborhood of $6-10 million annually related to a new league-wide credit option available to teams.

Now, is there a possibility the Coyotes could pick up and move after five years if the team loses $50 million an out option exists in the current lease agreement? Sure.

But one would think if that was part of the plan ownership wouldn’t have signed a 12-year television deal for local broadcasts, landed a lucrative naming rights deal for their arena and spent money renovating concession stands and other infrastructure within Gila River Arena.

In short, sometimes the line between A and B just can't be drawn.


And the Oscar for Most Consecutive Minutes Holding the Same Expression goes to ...

Watch: Taking the Zambonis to the streets!

October, 14, 2014
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