Cross Checks: Brenden Morrow

Blues making room for Brenden Morrow

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
3:06
PM ET
Brenden Morrow’s decision to choose St. Louis over a handful of suitors should surprise no one, given his ties with the coach and general manager from their Dallas days.

Morrow visited the Blues last Thursday to speak with GM Doug Armstrong, coach Ken Hitchcock and other team staff to get a sense of where he would fit in.

From the get-go of free agency this summer, the Blues were interested in Morrow, but they also were hamstrung by cap/roster issues.

"We had had conversations in July," Armstrong told ESPN.com Monday. "We had to get Alex Pietrangelo signed, and didn’t know how much money would be available after that. We told Brenden if he signed elsewhere, we would understand. But we were interested."

At $1.5 million for one year, it’s a nice bargain for the Blues.

It’s going to mean a motivated Morrow, who took a massive pay cut from the $4.1 million he made last season.

"The most dangerous animal is a wounded animal," Armstrong said. "I thought he played really well in Pittsburgh until he got hurt last season. I spoke to people in Pittsburgh about him."

As Morrow kept hanging out as a UFA, Armstrong believed he just needed to circle back. He couldn’t stomach the thought of a rival team netting him.

"I kept thinking, 'Do we want to face him or do we want him with us?' " Armstrong said.

Now the Blues have to make room for Morrow by trading away a forward. Look for that to happen sooner rather than later.
You could start one heck of a rec hockey team these days with the big names sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.

Brenden Morrow, Simon Gagne, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jose Theodore, Mike Knuble, Carlo Colaiacovo, Wade Redden and the list goes on among the veteran free agents who remain unsigned.

And that’s not even counting those players who had to swallow their pride and accept camp tryouts, the likes of Tim Thomas, Hal Gill, Mason Raymond, Brad Boyes, Ian White et al.

All because of a unique offseason in which the salary cap maximum dropped from $70.2 million last season to $64.3 million this year, squeezing roster space tightly.

When the music stopped in early July, you didn't want to be a free agent still standing without a job.

"It’s a difficult market this summer, to say the least," Morrow told ESPN.com Friday.

"I think this year is a unique situation with the salary cap going down, no question," Gagne told ESPN.com Friday. "It’s affected a lot of players for sure."

I checked in with a few of them Friday for the latest:

(Ilya Bryzgalov, when reached by ESPN.com Friday, politely turned down the interview, saying he wanted to wait until after his situation was resolved before speaking with the media. No problem, I said.)

BRENDEN MORROW
It appears the former Dallas Stars captain might find a team sooner rather than later.

"Things are starting to happen now," he said on the line from Dallas. "I’ve got some things starting to evolve a little bit."

Morrow visited with a team Thursday.

"I’m thinking about another team visit as well," Morrow said while not divulging names. "I've actually got a few offers that I'm mulling over at the moment. It's a tough marketplace, they’re not the biggest offers or what I had been hoping for, but at this point I just want to get playing again. So I'm mulling over these offers."

Sounds like he'll think things through over the weekend and make a decision next week. It's clearly going to be a pretty big pay cut from the $4.1 million he earned last season with Dallas and Pittsburgh.

But at 34, I believe he’s got lots of hockey left. He oozes character. He played well after joining the Penguins last season before getting hurt. Nobody said anything at the time but he tried to play through a cracked knee cap last spring before sitting out some playoff games. Morrow’s concern is that some teams didn’t know that come July 5 when free agency opened.

"I get what teams are concerned about, I was plagued with some injuries a couple of years ago," said Morrow, a member of Canada’s 2010 Olympic gold medal team. "And nobody really knew in the playoffs what I was battling through."

Either way, it appears he might be willing to do a one-year deal over the next week or so and get on with it.

"I just want to get in and be a part of the process of building a team and getting started from training camp," said Morrow. "The timing isn’t perfect."

It's absolutely crazy Morrow is still sitting out there. Teams should be all over this guy. He can still provide a real positive impact both on and off the ice.

SIMON GAGNE
The winger is working out in his native Quebec City waiting for a shot.

"This is new for sure, I've never gone through this before," Gagne said from Quebec City. "It feels almost like a lockout in a way. I’m lucky that I’m able to work out every day with the Quebec Remparts, that’s been good."

Gagne was an 18-year-old NHL rookie and he wonders if teams forget he's not that old.

"I got into the NHL at an early age so maybe people think I’m older than I am but I’m only 33 and I feel great, I've got lots of hockey left in me," said Gagne. "The way last season ended with the Flyers, it went well, and it gave me some motivation to work out really hard this summer."

In fact, all indications seem to be that Gagne was headed back to the Flyers for this season -- or least that's the impression the veteran had after his exit meetings with the Flyers last season. Somewhere along the way, things didn't play out that way and that's clearly disappointing for the longtime Flyer.

My guess is, had he known in early July he wasn't ultimately going to be in Philly he might have looked elsewhere a bit more. So that’s unfortunate.

"I respect the Flyers organization, especially Mr. Snider and [team president] Peter Luukko. I’ll leave it at that," said Gagne.

This guy can still play, he’s a solid veteran with high hockey I.Q. He deserves another chance.

WADE REDDEN
It was nice to see Redden back in the NHL fold last season in St. Louis and Boston after his CBA-fueled banishment in the AHL the prior few seasons.

The trade to Boston from St. Louis seem to invigorate him; he looked good early in that first-round series against Toronto before getting hurt.

"I felt good there for sure. Boston was great," Redden said on the line from Kelowna, British Columbia, where he’s working out and living with his wife and kids.

"My plan is still to play," said Redden. "I'm just waiting. Hopefully something will happen where a team has a need and I know I’ll be ready to go. It's hard to predict, really, what's going to happen."

He saw all the players taking camp tryouts (PTOs) but didn’t feel that was for him.

"I didn’t think it was my best option. I just thought I’d stay here and skate every day, be ready for when a team calls," said Redden. "I think teams know how I can play."

Is Europe an option?

"I guess as days go by, you start to think about it a little," said Redden. "I'm still holding out for the NHL and I'll be patient. It's still early. I'll wait and see."

I still think there's got to be room on an NHL roster as a No. 6 or No. 7 D-man for a reliable, classy veteran like Redden, a guy who has been a popular teammate everywhere he's played.

MIKE KNUBLE
When I asked Knuble on Friday what he's been up to, he pointed out he's got hockey-playing sons who are 13 and 9.

"That’s what I've been doing," said Knuble, laughing.

The 41-year-old winger has taken a look at all the players on tryouts and the players still sitting at home, and sounds very much resigned to whatever fate awaits him.

"At the beginning of the summer I was probably 50-50 in terms of playing, but I've seen what's gone on and I'm pretty much in the process of moving on," Knuble said. "There's some pretty good players without jobs. I had a lot of fun last year with the Flyers and that might be the last kick at the can. That's not 100 percent, I'm not announcing my retirement yet, but it's how it looks right now. It would really have to be the right situation. I'm not sitting beside the phone, let's put it that way."

Based with his family in Grand Rapids, Mich., unless there's an offer from Chicago or Detroit, I'm guessing Knuble wouldn't be interested in anything else at this stage.

He won't be the only veteran squeezed out by the lowered salary cap this offseason. Just imagine had the NHLPA not pushed hard when the NHL tried to have it set even lower than $64.3 million for this season. The cap will go back up next summer and we shouldn't see this kind of situation again for the rest of this CBA.
The NHL announced its first round of award winners Friday, and ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun break down the winners of the Frank J. Selke (best defensive forward) and Jack Adams (coach of the year) trophies, as well as the GM of the Year award.

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, thanks to the lockout the annual NHL awards extravaganza in Las Vegas has been revamped and spread over two days during the Stanley Cup finals, with the first batch of winners unveiled Friday afternoon. The balance of the major awards will be revealed Saturday before Game 2 of the finals. Let’s take a look at the three significant awards handed out Friday.

For me, the Selke was the most compelling because it was really a two-man race between Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and defending Selke winner Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Toews and Bergeron are the heart-and-soul leaders of their teams, and Toews edged Bergeron for his first-ever Selke by a scant 10 voting points. I know you thought Toews should have been a finalist for the Hart Trophy (as league MVP), but he’s certainly deserving of the Selke, which some folks consider one of the most prestigious awards in the game given that it recognizes a player's complete game. Now, what will be interesting is which of these two great forwards ends up wearing a Stanley Cup ring in the next couple of weeks. What was your take on the Selke voting?

[+] EnlargeJonathan Toews
Dave Reginek/NHLI/Getty ImagesJonathan Toews' all-around game earned him his first-ever Selke Trophy this season.
LEBRUN: I had Bergeron first on my official ballot and Toews second, but I’m not upset that Toews won it. I think they’re both equally deserving, tremendous 200-foot players. Total toss-up for me. What upsets me more is that Toews didn't make it as a nominee for the Hart Trophy. I just can’t believe that at all. But I guess that’s a conversation for Saturday when the Hart is handed out (rumor is that Alex Ovechkin has won it). One thing I can tell you is that I was tremendously pleased to see Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. Like many other media members, I've been touting him all year. Totally a slam dunk given what he did with the injury-ravaged Senators this season. It would have been an absolute travesty had the NHL Broadcasters' Association not voted him the winner.

BURNSIDE: I fear you and I might come to blows when the Hart Trophy winner --and the NHLPA companion, the Ted Lindsay Award -- are announced, but I can certainly understand the Hart Trophy discussion as it relates to Toews. That’s how important he is to the Blackhawks. And I agree entirely on MacLean. This is the second year in a row he was on the final ballot for coach of the year, and he easily outdistanced the second-place finisher, Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks. Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals was third.

The Jack Adams is a tough one because often it goes to a coach who gets his team to overachieve or does more with less, but there’s no question MacLean's job in keeping his team on track without Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson for long stretches of time reinforces that he is one of the keenest coaching minds in the league.

The other award of note announced Friday was the GM of the Year, and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ray Shero earned that honor. I’m sure he’d rather his Pens were still engaged in playoff hockey, but he is full value for the honor given the moves he has made dating back to last June’s blockbuster trade of Jordan Staal to Carolina, and continuing through his trade deadline acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen, even if those deals didn't quite pay off the way Shero had imagined.

LEBRUN: People no doubt will question Shero winning given how the Pens were dominated in being swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, but you have to understand that these are regular-season awards. To me, Shero is absolutely deserving and one of the very top GMs in the game. What I found curious, though, is that Scott Howson, fired as GM in Columbus early in the season, received two third-place votes, while Greg Sherman in Colorado also got a third-place vote. Um, are the GMs not taking their voting duties seriously? Honestly.

BURNSIDE: I will point out that Martin St. Louis won the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player for the third time in the past four years. I know you were anxious about how that award voting was going to go. Saturday will be interesting, though, as there are rumors that P.K. Subban is going to win the Norris Trophy, which boggles my mind more than a little given the season Ryan Suter had in Minnesota. And I know there’s going to be lots of debate if Ovechkin does walk away with the Hart, but we'll have plenty of time to kick that around on Saturday.

LEBRUN: In defense of voters, I will say it was a challenging ballot for many voters given that the Eastern Conference and Western Conference did not play each other during the lockout-shortened season. So voters were limited somewhat in what they were able to witness firsthand from night to night. That's why I reached out to a bunch of scouts, who travel the most, to help form my opinion on the awards I voted on.

And we shall indeed see what Saturday brings, my friend.
BOSTON -- Chris Kelly seems to recall it was in a playoff series between his Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres.

A teammate's dump-in shot caught a visor-less Kelly in the eye.

"Chris Neil tried dumping the puck in and I was coming out of the zone and it hit me in the eye and it was pretty scary. You get lots of cuts and things like that, but when it’s the eye it kind of hits home," said Kelly, now with the Boston Bruins.

He went to a visor after that incident and, if you'll pardon the expression, never looked back.

Kelly, like all of the players we spoke to Wednesday morning, applauded the NHL competition committee's decision to make visors mandatory starting next season for players coming into the NHL.

Those already in the league will be allowed to make their own decision as it pertains to wearing the protective shield, and won't be forced to don one if they're not wearing one already.

Most players agreed that in the past there might have been a stigma about wearing a visor, that it somehow denoted a lack of toughness. But that feeling simply doesn't exist anymore.

"There used to be (a stigma) about helmets and people quickly started putting those on," Kelly said.

"I don’t think there's the stigma of 'Oh you're not tough anymore.' There's a lot of tough guys that wear visors and handle themselves," Kelly said.

Kelly’s teammate, Jay Pandolfo, likewise entered the league not wearing a visor and after a close call decided to wear one. Pandolfo supports the league's move, too.

"I think it’s a good thing. I think you’re seeing more and more eye injuries and things like that. Pucks move fast and guys are faster," Pandolfo said. "I think in the long run it was going to come to that anyways, where everyone was going to be wearing a visor. Now within 10 years you'll see everyone wearing one."

Even Brenden Morrow, one of the few Pittsburgh Penguins who doesn't wear a visor, believes the league's plan is a good one.

"You don't really have the stigma of a guy wearing a visor. I think taking away the instigator rule kind of got rid of that a little bit. It's not the same as maybe it was 15 to 20 years ago," Morrow said.

"I've had it on, in the Olympics I think I had to wear it, and I broke my nose a few times and I put it back on just so I didn't take a face wash or two when it was still pretty sensitive. But it was something I just couldn't get adjusted to," Morrow said.
"I didn't like cleaning it off every shift. But I think it's the way to go with some of these serious eye injuries we've had lately," he said.

Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma wasn't surprised to see the league take this action.

"I thought it was inevitable, and I'm glad to see them put that in there," Bylsma said.

Boston head coach Claude Julien likened the visor to a seatbelt in a car: Why wouldn't you wear one?

"I'm one of those guys that really believed that when a young player comes up playing minor hockey with a visor and he's used to it, why take it off? I know there's been some accidents with the visor, but there's been more things, incidents saved by the visor than there has been from the other side of it, like a seatbelt in a car," Julien said. "How many lives does it save?"

"There have been some incidents where a player might have been cut by a visor or something similar, but overall this is a good move," Julien added. "To me I think it's a good thing that they're encouraging that visor and that it's going to be grandfathered in. I believe in it."
PITTSBURGH -- It's a bit hard to get your head around it, but the start of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is relatively foreign territory for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators.

That may explain the great collective exhalation that coincided with the end of the first round for both teams.

In knocking off the New York Islanders in Game 6 on Saturday night, the Penguins -- considered by many as favorites, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, to advance to the Stanley Cup finals -- broke a two-year streak of being one-and-done in the playoffs.

The Senators, meanwhile, won their first playoff series since advancing to the 2007 Cup finals by knocking off the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in five games.

The gap between the rounds gave both teams a chance to relish what is not an insignificant accomplishment: surviving the frenzy and chaos that always marks the first round, then looking to close the door on all that transpired in the previous two weeks and open a new door, one that will allow them to continue along the Cup path.

"The biggest thing in going from the first round to the second round, in my experience, is the first round there's 16 teams, and it's so physical and there's such an overwhelming amount of games," said Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who has a long history as a player and assistant coach with such things. "You get to watch all of that, and there's so much physicality that I think everyone kind of gets hyped up.

"Once you get through the first round, I think everyone takes a deep breath and things quiet down a little bit more around the league, because now there's only eight teams that are playing. I think it gives the players actually a sense of relief that they got through the first round, and now it's easier to get their focus back on the task at hand."

Certainly there was a sense of relief among the Penguins, who were the second-best team in their series against the Islanders for long stretches.

"It's been a while since we got out of the first round here," Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams said Tuesday morning. "It was a relief, I'll tell you that.

"We know there's a lot of things we can do better, and now you sort of hit the reset button. [We're] playing a different team, a different kind of team that will challenge you in different ways, so it's exciting."

Brenden Morrow enjoyed his first series victory as a Penguin and the first for him since 2008, when he was captain of the Dallas Stars. He thinks that for each player the transition from one round to another means something different or is approached in a different manner.

"I think each individual takes out of it different things," Morrow said. "Some people probably take the positives from it, the overtime goals and how they played in the series previous, and some guys totally wipe it clean. So I think everyone does it a little different. But what happened in the past doesn't carry into the future, unless it's something like [team] confidence or personal confidence, or something like that."

The Senators were underdogs in the first round and will be in the second round as well. But the gap between "favorite" and "underdog" narrows appreciably as time passes in the postseason.

It is so with an Ottawa team that is considered by many a legitimate threat to unseat the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

"We were really happy with making the playoffs," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, one of three players left from the 2007 Senators team that advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. "We were really happy with moving past the first round, but we're not satisfied.

"We know we're up against a tough opponent, but we've kind of overcome odds throughout the year, and that's been our belief, that we can beat anybody."

Zack Smith is part of a core of young Senators who have been asked to take on a bigger role this season, especially with injuries to key personnel like Jason Spezza (who did not make the trip to Pittsburgh to start the series), Milan Michalek and defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Smith, 25, conceded there might have been a moment or two in the first round when some players examined the seedings or looked at the regular-season standings and wondered whether the Canadiens really were the better team. Not now.

"Once you get past that, you know you can beat teams that are supposedly better than you are or are higher in the standings," said Smith, who has 18 career playoff games to his credit. "Once you get past the first round, I think all teams kind of pick up a little bit more steam and have a little more confidence.

"And after that, I mean, it's anybody's game at that point. I think L.A. showed that last year."

If the transition from one round to the next is really about writing a different script on a different piece of parchment, the challenge is to write the story your way. That challenge will be met in part Tuesday night, when the first round will truly become a thing of the past.

"The emotion of the first round, the emotion of playoff hockey ... we've all seen it in the last 24 hours, but it's in every series," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said, referencing the Toronto Maple Leafs' epic collapse in the third period and overtime of Game 7 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

"It's now a completely different situation. Momentum's not there, there's not a carryover from game to game with a new opponent. You're not really taking anything with you from how you played or how [the previous series] unfolded, and the same applies for Ottawa in this series. They're not taking anything from Montreal with them."
Jack Johnson's calm belies the decidedly jittery situation in which the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves.

Johnson was taking time before the Blue Jackets boarded their flight to Dallas, where they will play one of the most important games in the 13-year history of the franchise.

Did the defenseman stay up late the previous night to watch the Stars and Sharks play in San Jose?

Nope, Johnson said, explaining that because of the time change, he was in bed and waited until the morning to find out that the Stars had allowed two goals in a 30-second span in the third period en route to a 3-2 loss.

Surely the Blue Jackets were planning to gather en masse to root for the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night when they visited the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena?

Well, Johnson said, he supposed if the game was on in the restaurant where they went for dinner, they'd keep an eye on the score. And of course guys would be keeping up to date on the game with their smartphones.

But as for gathering in one giant circle of nail-biting hockey players sticking pins in their Red Wings voodoo dolls ... uh, no.

That game, won impressively by the Red Wings 3-1, was beyond the control of the Blue Jackets.

Thursday's game in Dallas? That's something they can control.

"We're all very aware of what needs to happen for us and what's going on," Johnson said.

But, he added, "we have to win our last two games. At the end of the day, that's all we can control."

Detroit's win moved the Red Wings ahead of Columbus into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 52 points, one more than the Blue Jackets. The Minnesota Wild are still in the mix, one point ahead of Detroit, while Dallas (48 points) has the biggest challenge of those still in the hunt for a postseason berth.

All four teams have two games remaining, including Thursday's now-monster clash between Columbus and Dallas in Big D. The fact that both the Stars and Blue Jackets can still discuss the postseason at this late date is something of a minor miracle and adds an upbeat backdrop to the game.

The Stars have missed the playoffs in four straight seasons, and when general manager Joe Nieuwendyk dealt veterans Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Brenden Morrow during the trade deadline period -- all of whom were set to become unrestricted free agents this summer -- it appeared the team was conceding that this would mark five in a row without a postseason game.

But role players such as Vernon Fiddler and Cody Eakin, who came to Dallas in the Mike Ribeiro trade last summer, have provided key production, while veteran Ray Whitney, back from injury, has rewarded the Stars' faith (they signed the soon-to-be 41-year-old to a two-year deal last summer) with much-needed leadership. Goalie Kari Lehtonen, also just back from an injury, has been solid as the Stars have kept a playoff drive alive far longer than expected.

Going 0-2-1 on their current road trip means the Stars' margin for error is zero, but they play at home Saturday night against the Red Wings, and if they can beat Columbus and get some help from the Nashville Predators, who play both Detroit and Columbus, perhaps it will mean something -- indeed, everything.

Columbus, on the other hand, was again trending toward a top draft pick in another desultory season that included the introduction of new team president John Davidson and the midseason firing of GM Scott Howson, who was replaced by Jarmo Kekalainen.

Suddenly the culture around the team shifted and coach Todd Richards began to receive consistent, hardworking performances from a hard-skating, forechecking team that might be short on flash but is long on grit. That, coupled with all-world goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, now a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy and a dark horse to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP, has seen the Blue Jackets go 17-5-4 since the beginning of March.

"We've got a lot of new faces here, and we really wanted to make sure the mindset and the goals of the team changed," said Johnson, who became a Blue Jacket at last year's trade deadline, when he was acquired from Los Angeles in a deal that saw Jeff Carter go to the Kings.

In the past, the goal seemed to be about getting into the playoffs, but that seemed shortsighted, Johnson said.

"Your goal should be to win the Stanley Cup because, truthfully, if you don't win the Cup, you haven't won anything," he said.

So the Blue Jackets, who have qualified for the playoffs just once in franchise history and were swept in that appearance, started thinking big, not letting a big deficit in the standings affect their level of play.

"I'm sure some teams didn't take us seriously that should have," Johnson said. "I wouldn't trade this group of guys in our room for anything."

After Thursday's game, the Blue Jackets close out their season Saturday at home against Nashville. If they don't beat Dallas, that game may become meaningless vis à vis the playoffs, but that's something to think about after Thursday.

For a team used to slinking out of regular seasons and trying to sell fans on the promise of something better down the road, there is a new excitement surrounding this late-season push.

"There's a buzz around the city," Johnson said. "It's been a long time since they've had these kinds of meaningful games."

Morning jam: Scrappy Morrow likes his new digs

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
10:51
AM ET
Penguins 6, Canadiens 4
* Brandon Sutter and Brenden Morrow (PIT): 2 goals each (Morrow also has an assist)
* Penguins: won 5 straight games; 20-2-0 in last 22 games overall
* Penguins: 14-1-0 in last 15 home games (17-5-0 at home this season)
* Canadiens: lost 3 straight games, outscored 18-8 during losing streak
FROM ELIAS: Brenden Morrow tallied two goals and one assist in the Penguins’ 6-4 win over the Canadiens, after posting identical totals in Pittsburgh’s last game (Saturday at Florida). It’s the first time that Morrow had consecutive games with three or more points in his 13-season NHL career, though he did have one previous two-game span in which he amassed six points (Feb. 22-23, 2008 with Dallas; two points vs. Edmonton and four points at Nashville). Morrow also picked up a fighting major in Wednesday’s game for a third-period scrap with Montreal’s P.K. Subban, completing Morrow’s sixth ”Gordie Howe hat trick” (at least one goal, assist and fight) but his first since January 2006. The only other active player with at least six such games is another recent acquisition by the Penguins, Jarome Iginla (10).

Blue Jackets 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
* Fedor Tyutin (CBJ): game-winning goal in OT (1st career OT goal)
* Blue Jackets: won 5 straight games
* Blue Jackets: 5-1-0 in last 6 ROAD games
* Blue Jackets: currently 8th in Western Conference (lead 9th-place Red Wings by 2 points)

Flames 3, Red Wings 2
* Steve Begin (bay-ZHIN) (CGY): 2 goals (4), 3rd career multi-goal game (first since Nov. 21, 2007 for Canadiens vs Islanders)
* Johan Franzen (FRAN-zehn) (DET): Goal (10); on 4-game point streak (3 G, 1 A during streak)
* Red Wings: 1-2-2 in last 5 games
* Flames: only 2nd win in last 6 HOME games (2-4-0)

Remaining Schedules, Red Wings & Blue Jackets
Red Wings (47 points) Blue Jackets (49 points)
Saturday at Canucks Thursday at Kings
Apr. 22 vs Coyotes<< Apr. 21 at Sharks
Apr. 24 vs Kings Apr. 25 at Stars<<
Apr. 25 vs Predators<< Apr. 27 vs Predators<<
Apr. 27 at Stars<<
>>Opponent currently out of playoff position

Sabres 3, Bruins 2 (SO) (BUF wins shootout, 1-0)
* 1st sporting event in Boston since bombings at Boston Marathon on Monday
* Bruins: 0-2-1 in last 3 games; clinch playoff berth with overtime point
* Bruins: tied with Canadiens for 1st place in Northeast Division; currently 2 seed in East based on superior points percentage over Canadiens (BOS .679 pts pct/57 pts in 42 games; MTL .663 pts pct/57 pts in 43 games)
* Sabres: on 3-game winning streak; move within 2 points of 8th place in East with win
FROM ELIAS: Thomas Vanek scored the first goal for the Sabres in their shootout win over the Bruins at TD Garden. Vanek has scored 29 goals in 49 career games against the Bruins, including 16 goals in 24 games in Boston. Vanek has scored as many goals against the Bruins in Boston during his eight seasons in the NHL as any other player has scored in total versus the Bruins over the same span (Daniel Alfredsson, 16 goals against the Bruins since 2005–06, home and road).

Sell, sell, sell ... win, win, win!

The Dallas Stars continued their mystifying ways over the weekend with wins Friday night at Nashville and Saturday at home against San Jose. This stretches their season-high winning streak to five games and very much keeps their playoff hopes alive.

The winning streak began after the April 3 trade deadline came and went, the Stars using the annual transaction window to shed three big-name UFAs from their roster. They dealt longtime captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh, future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr to Boston and No. 2 center Derek Roy to Vancouver.

White flag? Hardly.

The Stars have reeled off win after win since the deadline passed and are just two points out of a playoff spot with less than two weeks to go in the regular season.

"It's been good, I think the young guys like [Alex] Chiasson and [Matt] Fraser have stepped in and have really added a lot of spark," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com. "But one of the keys, too, has been the veteran guys and how they've responded, guys like Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom and Erik Cole and Ray Whitney -- those guys have been terrific. They've really stepped up their games."

Here's where it gets tricky: the schedule. The Stars have some mighty tough games left, starting Monday night at Chicago, followed by a home date Thursday with Vancouver, then Friday at St. Louis, Sunday at Los Angeles, April 23 at San Jose, April 25 at home to surprising Columbus, and the finale at home April 27 versus Detroit -- the club the Stars are chasing for eighth in the West.

If the Stars make it in, they will have earned it, that's for sure.

Of late, goaltending has been central in the winning streak. The Stars have been outshot in four of their five wins during the streak, but Kari Lehtonen and Richard Bachman have been outstanding in net.

Bachman has filled in lately as Lehtonen rests a sore groin. Bachman is just part of the unlikely starring cast for Dallas, which also includes rookie Chiasson with six goals in six games, and veteran center Fiddler putting up 10 points (2-8) in his past six games. (Veteran Stars beat writer Mike Heika had a nice piece on Fiddler in Monday's Dallas Morning News.)

"Going back to the last five we've won in a row, they were not easy games, they were heavy games against divisional opponents," said Nieuwendyk. "We've been battling hard, we know the road ahead is tough, too. But we're playing a good brand of hockey right now and I think the guys feel pretty confident with it."

The schedule suggests Dallas will fall short, but it would be ironic if the Stars made the playoffs after shedding their UFAs before the trade deadline. I say ironic because the Stars were also on the playoff bubble in 2010-11 and 2011-12 but chose to not trade away assets at those deadlines in the hope of making the postseason, only to fall just short each time.

Is karma at play here? We will soon find out.

Funny how the expected can suddenly get turned on its ear in the push for a playoff berth.

A week ago, after the trade deadline had passed and the Dallas Stars had sold off three key pieces of today for a bunch of tomorrows, they were whipped 5-2 by the Anaheim Ducks. Fair enough. The Ducks are a good team, running away with the Pacific Division and gearing up for the postseason, while the Stars had apparently turned their attention to looking at some kids and starting to think about next fall.

But since that loss a funny thing has happened to the Stars. Instead of simply playing out the string after GM Joe Nieuwendyk moved captain Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr in the days leading up to the April 3 deadline, the Stars have won three straight. Tuesday night, Dallas overcame the loss of netminder Kari Lehtonen early in the game to a "lower body" injury and scored four times in the third period en route to a 5-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Ray Whitney, one of several pieces brought in last offseason to help catapult the Stars into the playoffs after four straight seasons out of the postseason mix, scored twice. So did journeyman Vernon Fiddler as the Stars look to the collective to keep their playoff dreams alive. The win moved Dallas into ninth place in the Western Conference, two points behind the Detroit Red Wings with nine games left for each team.

The loss of Lehtonen would be a backbreaker, at least in theory, although coach Glen Gulutzan described the injury as mild. Richard Bachman came on in relief, and while the youngster has struggled in a limited role this season with Lehtonen playing the bulk of the games, he was impressive, stopping 22 shots in 45:42 of play.

The road doesn't get any easier for the Stars. Of their nine remaining games, seven are against teams that are currently above them in the standings.

But maybe the schedule-maker knew something we didn't, because Dallas closes out the regular season April 27 at home against the Red Wings. After the trade deadline, many folks figured that would simply be another in a line of meaningless contests for a Dallas team that already was imagining next season. Might still turn out to be that way, but credit the Stars for giving us pause and for not playing to type.
What an interesting week ahead for the league-leading -- and possibly record-setting -- Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the record front, the team has won 15 straight games and can tie the NHL record for consecutive games won in a season with wins over the Buffalo Sabres at home Tuesday and at Madison Square Garden the following night against the New York Rangers. If the wins keep coming for the Pens, they could establish a record at home Friday night against the Rangers.

Although the Penguins remain the highest-scoring team in the league (3.36 goals per game), no team wins 15 straight, especially given the condensed post-lockout schedule, without being able to shut down opponents. The Pens have done that in spades of late, winning the past three games by shutout and allowing only nine goals in their past 11 games.

Wow. Also impressive is that starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and veteran backup Tomas Vokoun have been equally responsible for the top-end goaltending the team has received. Each has registered two shutouts during the streak.

But the assault on history has taken a distinct back seat in Pittsburgh over the past 48 hours, as the Penguins are waiting to find out how long they will be without captain Sidney Crosby, who took an errant puck to the mouth during his opening shift of Saturday's 2-0 win over the New York Islanders. Crosby, the NHL's leading point-getter, suffered a broken jaw and is out indefinitely.

Immediately, folks began to speculate on how long Crosby, who spent the weekend in a hospital, might be absent from the Pens' lineup. Four weeks? Longer? The bottom line is that no one knows. And no one will know until later this week, when doctors reassess the damage and the outcome of surgery performed shortly after the incident. If it's possible to gain any kind of vibe from those close to the situation, it's one of cautious optimism. That there don't appear to be any concussion-related symptoms is good news for the Pens, as is the fact Crosby's jaw is not wired shut.

The Pens have virtually locked up the Atlantic Division title, although the East's top seed could still be at play if they were to go into a slide and the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens kept up their winning ways. Certainly without Crosby and top-four defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, both of whom also are out with injury, the team's depth is going to be challenged in the short term.

But isn't that why GM Ray Shero acquired Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow to bolster the forward contingent and Douglas Murray to add to an already solid blue line? We're guessing Shero didn't expect to see that depth challenged quite so quickly, but perhaps better now than in late May. As for making further additions, don't expect Shero to make any more moves by Wednesday's trade deadline -- certainly none as impactful as his earlier acquisitions.

All eyes are on the Boston Bruins now after fellow Eastern powerhouse Pittsburgh upped the ante with a pair of additions.

But it doesn’t change what Boston had planned to do, really.

The plan all along for the B’s was to try to improve both their forward group and their defense corps before the April 3 trade deadline, and that remains the case regardless of what the Penguins did.

"I certainly don’t gauge our strategy on what other teams are doing, but Pittsburgh is a very good team and they’ve made themselves better," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Tuesday morning. "It doesn’t accelerate anything, you can’t force anything; you try to find a fit and you try to improve your team. The Penguins made themselves better. We’ll see in the coming week in a bit how other teams make themselves better, and we plan on doing the same thing."

The Bruins are believed to have made an offer for Brenden Morrow but lost out to the Penguins. The big fish remains Jarome Iginla, the Flames' captain in play, with the likes of Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles showing interest.

It’s believed the price for Iginla is a first-round pick plus two young assets, a hefty sum, but one I believe the Bruins would be willing to pay.

Regardless, if they can’t get Iginla, there are other possibilities. Keep an eye on Ryane Clowe in San Jose, a pending UFA the Sharks will likely move. He’d fit well in Boston. And while the Dallas Stars are trying to re-sign Jaromir Jagr to keep him for next season, if those talks fail, he’d be another possibility.

Either way, the Morrow deal on Sunday helped loosen up the trade market.

"Certainly, there was a lot more chatter on Monday morning," said Chiarelli. "But that’s how it goes every year. There’s an ebb and flow."

What's up, Mike Smith?


An under-the-radar story in some ways has been the situation of Mike Smith in Phoenix.

The 31-year-old netminder, coming off a sensational 2011-12 season, is slated for unrestricted free agency in July. Sources say there have been talks between Smith’s camp and Coyotes management, but I’d be pretty surprised if Smith signs before he has a clearer idea of the ownership situation in Phoenix.

Which puts the Coyotes in a bit of a pickle come April if the team continues to fall out of the playoff race. The team has gone winless in six games to fall four points behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. If the Coyotes get to April 3 and Smith remains unsigned, what do they do if teams are calling about him? Do they recoup assets or hang in with him, hoping to get him signed before July 5?

It’ll be interesting to monitor.

A pending pursuit of Clarkson


Alexander Semin's signing Monday night further depleted what will be a meager-looking UFA crop come July 5.

But some intriguing names are still left out there, including two of the game’s premier power forwards.

We’ve talked before about Ryane Clowe and how contract talks with the Sharks haven’t produced an extension, so he’s looking likely to be dealt before April 3, and thus perhaps will be free-agent bound July 5.

But another name to keep an eye on is David Clarkson. A source told ESPN.com Monday night that the Devils and Clarkson’s camp have not talked once this season about an extension, which isn’t surprising because veteran GM Lou Lamoriello has often shown he’s content to wait until after the season to get that going with his UFAs. And Lamoriello told ESPN.com recently teams should know better than to phone about Clarkson because he’s not available.

However, if Lamoriello can’t get the center re-signed after the season, there won't be many more desirable players on the market than Clarkson, a top-six goal scorer with toughness and grit. Can you say Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Minnesota? So many teams are looking for that kind of player. It’s a good year to be David Clarkson.

Semin rewarded for stepping up


The Carolina Hurricanes certainly raised some eyebrows when they signed winger Alexander Semin to a $35 million, five-year extension Monday night.

But the Hurricanes had seen enough of him in this lockout-shortened season to keep him on board long-term. Signed to a one-year, $7 million deal last summer, Semin has produced a point per game, meshing well with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty on the top line.

"He’s given the Hurricanes a dominant first line," veteran Carolina GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday. "All three of those guys on that line have played well and all deserve credit in their own way as a contributing factor. Alex is an elite player who can put points up, which is always hard to find. Our experience with Alex has been very good, so we’re pleased we could retain him."

Fact is, while some team executives around the league wondered about the term given to Semin, you can’t blame Rutherford for wanting to keep the winger. It’s a thin free-agent crop this summer, and Semin would have been very difficult to replace. In fact, the Hurricanes had been looking for that kind of scoring winger for a few years before finally adding him last summer. So they wanted to keep him.

No doubt, there are those who will say Semin is a bad gamble, that the reason Washington kept him on those one-year contracts is because the Capitals didn’t trust him enough to stay motivated under a long-term deal.

Well, he’s been terrific in Carolina and his teammates like him. Furthermore, nobody batted an eye when Anaheim signed Ryan Getzlaf to an eight-year extension earlier this month, and it just so happens that while the Ducks' captain is on fire this season, he had a pair of disappointing seasons (at least by his standards) before this season.

High-end, offensive talent costs money to keep around. Carolina has no qualms about its decision to retain Semin.

A day after signing Semin, the Hurricanes placed forward Jussi Jokinen on waivers Tuesday. In part it's because the Hurricanes feel good about Riley Nash as their third-line center -- Nash was recalled from the AHL on Monday -- but also in part so the Hurricanes can hopefully get another team to scoop up Jokinen's contract. He's got one more year left on his deal at $3 million next season.


It’s never too early for the second-guessing to begin when it comes to trades made or not made at this time of the season.

And so it goes for Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk. A day after sending his captain, Brenden Morrow, to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defensive prospect Joe Morrow, the Stars’ playoff hopes were dealt a harsh blow in a 7-4 loss to the red-hot Minnesota Wild.

The Stars began the day in eighth place in the Western Conference, but the loss, coupled with wins by Nashville and San Jose, dropped them to 10th place with 16 games left in their regular-season schedule.

That is life in the congested Western Conference.

Whether Brenden Morrow’s presence in the Stars' lineup would have altered the outcome is, of course, a moot point. There is no way to know, but it won’t stop people from wondering.

Perhaps among those who will wonder are the players in the Stars' dressing room. That is the challenge all GMs who decide to offload assets at the deadline must face: How will their team respond to the loss of veteran and/or talented teammates?

The very nature of making a deal like the one that saw Morrow moved is to look to the future. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Stars don’t care about making the playoffs at the end of April, but the move implies that management is casting its eyes forward.

The Stars had a 2-1 lead after the first period Monday but were outscored 3-1 in each of the final two periods. Was there an emotional letdown after Morrow, a gritty, popular player, was dispatched? Or does the team’s performance simply justify the decision to add younger assets?

In the case of the perpetually bubble-dwelling Stars, the answer is likely a bit of both.

One game does not determine a team’s long-range planning, and Nieuwendyk will have already sorted out in his mind what his next move is, if indeed there is another move to be made. Jaromir Jagr, who scored Monday night, is, like Morrow, slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. So is Derek Roy, who added an assist in Monday’s loss.

Both players are no doubt garnering attention from rival GMs, given how few skilled forwards are available with the April 3 trade deadline a little more than a week away.

If the decision has been made that the team will not allow top players to walk away as free agents, as was the case two years ago when Brad Richards was kept in the fold but the team missed the playoffs and then Richards signed in New York with the Rangers, then it makes no sense to keep Roy or Jagr unless there is a belief they can be brought under contract.

Still, whatever Nieuwendyk’s plan is moving forward -- continue to strip down his roster and add more assets for the future, or hold firm and try to do what the team has not been able to do in recent years and sneak into the postseason -- it would have been a lot easier to sell had the Stars not done what they did Monday night.


It is almost a rite of spring, the annual pre-trade deadline move by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero.

It doesn’t always have the intended result -- think Alexei Kovalev or Alexei Ponikarovsky in 2011 and 2010, respectively -- but it has worked often enough -- Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin and Marian Hossa come to mind during the Pens’ twin trips to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, the latter ending with the team’s first championship since 1992.

But if you don’t swing, you don’t hit. And Shero was at it again on Sunday, setting the pace ahead of the April 3 deadline by acquiring pending unrestricted free agent Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars along with a third-round pick in the upcoming draft for defensive prospect Joe Morrow and a fifth-round pick.

The Stars’ captain since 2006-07, Brenden Morrow was also a member of Canada’s gold medal Olympic team in Vancouver in 2010, sharing the Canadian dressing room with Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. The move, coming just a little more than a week before the trade deadline, gives the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins another element of grit and character -- qualities so often sought-after by Stanley Cup-hopeful GMs at this time of year.

Morrow scored 33 times in 2010-11 but has seen his production slip due in large part to injury the past couple of seasons. He played just 57 games last year and has just six goals and 11 points in 29 games this season.

Still, Morrow isn’t being brought to Pittsburgh to score goals. Not really.

He is coming to Pittsburgh to fill in the edges, to help hold things together when things get hairy in the postseason as they invariably do.

That’s the plan at any rate. Yes, he could end up playing with Evgeni Malkin and former Dallas teammate James Neal on one of the team’s top two lines or he could settle into a third-line role or he could end up doing a little bit of everything.

As always, a move like this has a ripple effect.

From the Stars’ perspective it signals a willingness by Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to consider moving at least some of his potential free agents. Forwards Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr can also become unrestricted free agents this summer. And while the Stars remain very much in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference with a month to go in the regular season, it is clear the Stars do not want to repeat the scenario of two years ago when they kept center Brad Richards only to miss the playoffs on the final day of the regular season and then watch Richards sign a long-term deal with the New York Rangers in July.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Nieuwendyk’s phone is lighting up right now, especially with calls from Eastern Conference teams who will want to keep pace with the Penguins’ acquisition of Morrow.

To that point, Shero’s move on Sunday will exert even more pressure on Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, whose Bruins have lost three of four and recently lost to Pittsburgh twice in less than a week. Sources told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun that the Bruins had some interest in Morrow. But it’s believed they would be more interested in Calgary’s captain Jarome Iginla, whom they believe would be a good fit provided the price isn’t too exorbitant.

Chiarelli, like Shero, has not been shy about finding those key ancillary parts, and his additions at the trade deadline in 2011 -- including Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly -- were instrumental in the Bruins’ Cup run that spring.

Although the New York Rangers’ top priority isn’t to add up front (they would prefer to bolster their blue line). they would also like to add some gritty depth to a forward group that seems to be missing that element. Add in the simple fact that an Atlantic Division foe and potential first-round playoff opponent added to their brick pile puts pressure on the Rangers to improve themselves as well.

Although Morrow and Iginla are not the only players that provide an attractive blend of skill, grit and experience, there simply aren’t many on the market. Ryane Clowe in San Jose would be one, but the bottom line is there are few available and now there is one less.

As for the asking price for attractive rental players like Brenden Morrow, Joe Morrow was a first-round pick of the Penguins but Pittsburgh is rich in young defensive prospects and thus were trading from a position of strength.

Does it change what Calgary GM Jay Feaster might realize for Iginla, who is believed to be coveted by not just the Bruins but the Los Angeles Kings and perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks?

Iginla has more offensive up-side at this stage than Brenden Morrow, at least in theory, but is not producing at his historic pace with just eight goals and 21 points.

Still, with Morrow off the market, perhaps this works to Feaster’s advantage: supply and demand. Supply changed with the Penguins’ move Sunday and demand will only increase around the league between now and April 3.


Thanks to Kari Lehtonen’s 40 saves, the Dallas Stars moved to within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with a 2-0 win at Los Angeles on Thursday night.

In the process, they further muddied the picture for GM Joe Nieuwendyk ahead of the April 3 trade deadline.

I feel for Nieuwendyk and the Stars' front office. It’s the third year in a row the Stars have straddled the playoff fence right around the trade deadline, making it awfully difficult to decide whether you’re a buyer, a seller or neither.

That quicksand spot is brutal.

Last year at the deadline, the Stars were eighth in the West, and while they got calls on players such as Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott, Nieuwendyk held off, wanting to give his club the best possible shot at getting into the postseason. It was hard to blame him. They ended up six points out, placing 10th. Ott and Ribeiro were moved in the offseason anyway, but you can always wonder whether the offers at the deadline were better. It’s unfair to play that game, of course.

Two years ago, the Stars were also hovering around the last playoff spot. But the team was fading, and Nieuwendyk knew it, so he went to Brad Richards’ camp and inquired about whether the pending unrestricted free agent would be open to a move. With ownership still unsettled at the time in Dallas, Nieuwendyk knew he wouldn’t be able to re-sign Richards. But the star center was coming off a concussion around the trade deadline and didn’t feel right about a move, which was understandable. The Stars just missed out on the postseason, losing out on the final day of the regular season and placing ninth, two points out. Then, the Stars were left holding the bag as Richards walked out July 1 and the club got nothing in return for him.

Which brings us to this year’s trade deadline with the Stars again teasing to get into the playoffs but, of course, with no guarantees.

At one point out through Thursday's games, what does Nieuwendyk do in 11 days?

He has three prime-time rental players he could sell in Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and captain Brenden Morrow, all pending UFAs.

Do you move them all? Or just one or two of them, keeping in mind you may still make the playoffs?

You also need to keep in mind this is a very deep draft on June 30. If a contender offers up an irresistible draft pick, doesn’t Nieuwendyk have to think long and hard, especially after not getting anything in return for Richards two years ago?

Oy, tough, tough decisions again in Dallas.

Here’s what I would do: check the standings April 1 and make your call 48 hours before the deadline. If you’re within two points of eighth, you keep Jagr and try to move Roy and Morrow.

Jagr has been a popular addition both in the room and in the marketplace in Dallas, so why not let him finish the season and even see if he wants to re-sign after the season.

Morrow, a terrific captain over the years and a player oozing with character, won't stay in Dallas, I don’t think. His role has been diminished this season, and it’s probably time to make Jamie Benn captain next season. But you’re also very respectful of what Morrow has accomplished for your franchise. Because of his no-trade clause, you let Morrow steer the ship here. Does he want to go win a Cup on a contender? Boston, perhaps? Find him a soft landing spot and let him have fun this spring.

Contract talks with Roy haven’t gone anywhere over the past month. You can’t blame Roy for seeing what Anaheim paid Ryan Getzlaf and realizing that, as a UFA scoring center in a weak UFA market, your price just went up. So if I’m Nieuwendyk, I trade him. Obviously you try to land a first-round pick in a deep draft. Short of that, a second-rounder plus a prospect.

Then hope Jagr, Benn & Co. can still get into the spring dance, where anything can happen when you’ve got Lehtonen playing goal like he is this year.

Either way, though, it’s a mighty tough position again for the Stars before the deadline.
NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby's desire to ban all head shots in the NHL got a solid backing from his peers Wednesday during the NHL Player Media Tour.

If Crosby was trying to create momentum with his comments, he's got it.

"I think he's right on," former Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis told ESPN.com.

"I don't disagree with Sid," added new Rangers star center Brad Richards. "It's real. Until you go through it you really don't realize what's going on. The game is bigger and faster. It's the same size of ice since a long time ago.

[+] EnlargeBrendan Morrow
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty Images"I am a physical player but I think if I was able to adapt and change, it shouldn't be that hard for anyone else either," Brenden Morrow said.
"It might be tough to take it out [hits to the head], but I'm a victim of it -- an elbow to the jaw. We have to be aware of it. We have to respect each other. It's our everyday life that gets affected. It's not a broken foot or a broken hand where you can go enjoy your life and get back in a few weeks. This is a real issue. There's no one answer, I know that, but definitely Sid's on the right track. Guys are so big and strong now, it doesn't take much the way the game is now to really cause damage to the head."

Richards and St. Louis are high-end skill guys like Crosby. It makes sense they'd see things the same way. But what about a power forward that makes his living crushing people?

"I know me personally my game has changed a little bit the last few years," Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow told ESPN.com Wednesday. "We've all in the last few years been more educated on what a concussion really is. It's not just a headache that won't go away. It's more serious than that.

"I think there is going to be a way to get head shots out. I completely agree with Sidney. He's such a big part of our league, we can't have his situation happen again. I completely support him, too. I am a physical player but I think if I was able to adapt and change, it shouldn't be that hard for anyone else either."

As it stands, the NHL returns this season with a revamped, more encompassing Rule 48 that will tackle more illegal hits to the head.
But it stops short of banning all head shots.

"Safety in the game is paramount in importance to us," NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan said Wednesday. "That's why the players have a great vehicle in the competition committee. They are part of these rules. They were part of this current rule [Rule 48]. We worked really hard on broadening the net of dangerous hits. And whether we broaden it again in the future, it's entirely within their capabilities of working with us on that. All the players that have gone through it like Sid, I've had a serious concussion myself, it's all really valuable input."

One wonders, perhaps, if Crosby shouldn't consider a role within the competition committee at some point in time in order to better push for the change he desires. Right now, his sole focus, of course, is to get healthy, so it's out of the question to add that kind of responsibility. But down the road when he's back and fully healthy, it might be just the kind of thing that a player of his stature should consider.

Either way, his voice on the matter will continue to make waves.

"Sid's incident -- you don't want to see that happen to anyone," said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron with his own journey back from a serious concussion still fresh. "Obviously, I want to see him get better, for his health first and foremost, and then seeing him on the ice will be awesome. We need him.

"But yeah, I think hits to the head are not necessary. No one wants to be the guy laying out on the ice and going through those concussion symptoms and those issues. You have to think about those consequences and be responsible on the ice. Hopefully, as players, we all think the same way. I think the league is doing some good things about it with the rules to try and avoid those kind of hits."

Devils star forward Zach Parise also backed Crosby's idea of banning all head shots, but was concerned players might fake being hit in the head to draw a penalty.

"You want to avoid that," Parise said. "But if they can [get] rid of them [head shots], the players have to be honest, too, and not exaggerate anything."

As the NHL inches closer to an all-out ban on head shots, the debate rages on about what kind of impact it would have on the physicality of the game. It's a violent sport and that's never going to change.

But can you tweak it enough to eliminate head shots?

"I know it's a fast game and there's going to be incidents, but if there are incidents, you should pay the price," St. Louis said. "I think there's a consequence for any action. We have to protect the players and I believe head shots should be out of the game."

The head shot debate rages on, and it's far from over.

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