Cross Checks: Chris Drury
Now that the Penguins' season is over, it was revealed that Sidney Crosby was not close at all to returning this spring, and if you've been following anything I've said or written, you'll know that was always my gut feeling.
More specifically, Crosby told media in Pittsburgh on Friday that he took a "step back’" about 10 days ago when he felt some symptoms return.
Concussion expert Dr. Micky Collins advised him to take a week off from skating, which he did. He still traveled with the team, which suggests that while he did have a step back, it wasn't a major setback as far as having massive headaches or not being able to sleep at night. But he did get a little foggy and that was enough to take a break. But all signs point to the world's best player being ready for next season.
"He's certainly going to be ready for camp," Pens GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com Saturday. "He had really ramped it up before taking a week off. I know you don't totally know with these things, but Dr. Collins has maintained the whole time that this is a manageable injury and that Sid will be fine. He's got lots of time now."
Interestingly, it was Evgeni Malkin not Crosby that was closer to returning had the Penguins' postseason continued. Malkin was supposed to be out the rest of season with a torn ACL, but his rehab was going so well he had targeted trying to return three weeks from now (during the conference finals).
Meanwhile, looking at Pittsburgh's offseason docket, half of the team's forwards are free agents. Pascal Dupuis, Maxime Talbot, Mike Rupp, Aaron Asham and Craig Adams among the UFAs. They've already been told by Shero that they can't all be back because of cap room. Some will, some won't. Alexei Kovalev is also an UFA but as expected, he was a pure rental and won't be coming back to the team.
Miller confirms he had concussion
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, once his season was done, confirmed to reporters the rumor that he had a concussion late in the regular season and that's what knocked him out of action more than a week.
In the wake of that, Sabres GM Darcy Regier is very concerned about goalie mask safety. There is no official safe standard for goalie masks across the league. Regier told ESPN.com Saturday that he will definitely make this a conversation point at the next GMs meeting at the Cup finals in June.
Kay Whitmore, the NHL's manager of goalie equipment, told ESPN.com Saturday that the league's first priority is always safety and that Regier's concerns are well-received. In fact, Whitemore and Regier have already spoken on the issue. Whitmore has also long wanted to standardize goalie masks.
Just like the visor debate, however, my sense is that this will come down to player choice. The NHL Players' Association has the hammer when it comes to player equipment. Still, very much a conversation worth having given the investment in starting goalies around the league.
Drury rumors 'unfounded'
There's a rumor that has made the rounds that the Rangers would somehow stash Chris Drury and his $7.05-million cap hit in the minors next year. Not going to happen.
"That's an unfounded rumor," Drury's agent Mark Witkin told ESPN.com Saturday.
The fact is, they can't. He's got a no-movement clause. You can't do a thing to a player with a no-movement clause.
So, Drury holds all the cards. He did come back from a serious knee injury this year and that's something he's going to look at this summer, how he feels physically. But I don't sense he's going to do the Rangers any favors and retire. He's either on the team next year or the Rangers bite the bullet and buy him out. A buyout would count $3.7 million against the Rangers' cap next season and $1.6 million in 2012-13.
Sabres suddenly have options
New ownership with deeper pockets means Sabres GM Regier has the green light to be more aggressive and more selective this summer, whether that's in free agency or more likely via the trade route. He can add payroll.
"It means that the grocery store got a little bigger," Regier told ESPN.com Saturday.
The shopping list this summer?
"If we can add a little more offense, we need a bit more," Regier said. "And maybe someone who can add a little experience on the back end because we're a little young there."
The Sabres have seven UFA-bound forwards.
"Quite a few," said Regier. "Not sure yet how that's going to play out. We're still working through our player interviews. As a staff, we'll re-assess things and make some decisions. And there's some players who will make their own decisions, whether it's Rob Niedermayer or Mike Grier. They have decisions to make as well [retire or not]."
"He has options," Regier said of Connolly. "There aren't many centers this year who are unrestricted. We certainly would consider bringing him back, but it always comes back to price and term."
Senators' coaching search
Late next week, Senators GM Bryan Murray will sit down and really start the coaching search process. He's had five to six applicants already. Murray was waiting to see if the first round would produce any new candidates but nobody got fired.
Penalty problems for Red Wings
And finally a note on the second-round series I'll be joining Monday in Detroit. It's only one game, but a frightening trend re-appeared for the Red Wings Friday night that was their downfall a year ago against the Sharks early in their series: penalties.
Looking back, the Wings believe penalty trouble in last year's series, especially in the opening two games at San Jose, cost them big time in that five-game series loss. On Friday night, the Wings -- normally a very disciplined team -- took 16 minutes worth of penalties compared to San Jose's eight minutes; the Wings had only two power plays, while the Sharks had six man-advantage opportunities. The Sharks only scored once on the power play, but it's a trend that can't continue for the Wings to win this series.
It was a day of punishment ... cruel, unusual and just.
It was a day that may have marked the unofficial start to the trade deadline frenzy, and one that saw a former playoff MVP go under the knife.
In short, it was a pretty wacky day in the NHL.
Here's a look:
The Penguins will be without pesky winger Matt Cooke as the NHL roosters came home to roost Wednesday with the announcement that Cooke had been suspended for four games for his hit from behind Tuesday night on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.
Cooke is considered a repeat offender because he was suspended for two games in November 2009. But he is more than that, having KO'd Boston's Marc Savard a year ago, an injury that led directly to Savard recently shutting it down for the season.
On Sunday, Cooke went knee-on-knee with Washington captain Alex Ovechkin and, while penalized in the game, escaped supplementary discipline. Consider this suspension a lifetime achievement award from the league.
The news didn't get better for the Penguins later in the day as the team announced former scoring champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was set to undergo knee surgery Thursday. The procedure will require about six months of rehabilitation.
Although it's not exactly news, there is an air of finality seeing the "six month" time frame in print and it reinforces the challenges facing GM Ray Shero, who is also without captain Sidney Crosby (still out with a concussion), Mark Letestu (out at least another month) and Chris Kunitz.
Cooke wasn't the only one to feel the pinch from the NHL's den of discipline Wednesday, as New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov was nicked for three games for an errant elbow thrown at Carolina's Zach Boychuk in Tuesday's overtime win by the Devils.
Volchenkov is a minute-muncher on a Devils blue line that has been much improved of late. Missing Volchenkov for three games won't help a Devils team that was not so long ago dead last in the NHL but is now on the outer, outer edges of the playoff race (the Devils trail eighth-place Carolina by 15 points), having gone 10-1-2 in its past 13 games.
Kudos to the NHL for handing out justice in a timely and harsh manner for both players.
After some speculation about whether New York Rangers captain Chris Drury was going to be able to stay in the slumping Rangers' lineup once everyone got healthy, it turns out Drury will be lost to the team for six weeks with a left knee injury that will require surgery. Drury had already missed 29 games with a broken finger and, while he never quite lived up to his billing (or his contract) since coming to New York, you could hardly find a classier gentleman than Drury.
Although his absence will be unlikely to be felt on the score sheet (Drury had not scored this season and added just four assists), he will most certainly be missed in the Rangers' locker room, as they struggle to halt their biggest slide of the season (3-7-1 in their past 11).
In other injury news, the red-hot Calgary Flames will be without surprisingly productive winger Alex Tanguay, who sustained a neck strain.
Tanguay is second only to captain Jarome Iginla in team scoring and has been a bright spot since returning to Calgary as a free agent last summer, forming the team's top offensive trio with Iginla and Brendan Morrison.
Tanguay can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The move will force head coach Brent Sutter to juggle his lines as the Flames, 6-0-1 in their past seven to move into the eighth spot in the Western Conference, will try to maintain momentum in spite of Tanguay’s loss.
Interesting that the Flames' first test sans Tanguay will come Wednesday night against an Ottawa team that is vying for the title of NHL's worst. As if being winless in 10 wasn't bad enough, GM Bryan Murray confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun Wednesday that captain Daniel Alfredsson is out of the lineup.
"I'm not sure how long he'll be out, it's not critical but he's not feeling well so we’ll keep him out for a bit," Murray told ESPN.com on the phone from Calgary.
When it rains it pours and the Senators are thoroughly drenched as they move into full sell mode between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Then in the "and now for something completely different" category, the New York Islanders announced that netminder Kevin Poulin is gone for the season after falling during warm-ups Tuesday and dislocating his kneecap. The injury forced the Islanders to play most of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Toronto without a backup. Rookie Mikko Koskinen allowed goals on the first two NHL shots he faced against Toronto and is expected be the team’s starter moving forward.
Somewhere, we hope Evgeni Nabokov feels shame. But we doubt it.
Finally, the NHL's trade deadline season officially opened with two old friends, Toronto GM Brian Burke and his replacement in Anaheim, Bob Murray, swapping familiar players.
Burke acquired Joffrey Lupul, defensive prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional draft pick for former Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin.
Lupul was a member of the Ducks during Burke's tenure and was traded by Burke to Edmonton as part of the deal that brought Chris Pronger to Anaheim in advance of the Ducks' Stanley Cup run in 2006-07.
Beauchemin was a member of that Cup-winning squad in Anaheim and followed Burke to Toronto, signing as a free agent in the summer of 2009.
The move will strengthen the blue line of the surprising Ducks, who began play Wednesday just three points out of the top spot in the Pacific Division. Although his offensive numbers dipped in Toronto (whose don't?), Beauchemin can play the power play and will log a lot of ice time against opposing teams' top players as well.
Lupul, if he can stay healthy, may help an anemic Toronto offense. But the attractive part of this deal for Burke is in adding more young assets, a pattern that can be expected to be repeated between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.