Cross Checks: Wayne Simmonds
- Patrick Eaves still suffers from headaches and concussion-like symptoms 11 months after he broke his jaw and suffered a concussion. Red Wings teammates added that he is no close to being cleared to play. (mlive.com)
- Sidney Crosby’s salary combined with his recent health problems means it would cost $400,000 per month to insure his contract if he wanted to play in Europe. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
- The Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds was subjected to racial slurs after getting in a fight in a game in the Czech Republic. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
- Cory Schneider, who has Swiss citizenship due to family ancestry, is considering playing in the Swiss League, but said, “It’s nothing serious at this point. There are still a couple of hoops to jump through before that’s a possibility … I think it would only make sense to try and get in some game action.” (Vancouver Sun)
- Donald Fehr was in Minnesota meeting with players on Monday. “It’s their contract, it’s their futures. It’s their agreement and it’s their union, and I work for them,” Fehr said. “So I go wherever they want me to be. And when they guys say they want to have a meeting, I say, ‘Sure, absolutely.” (Star Tribune)
- Jets players are organizing a charity game in Winnipeg on Nov. 17 to benefit the Dream Factory and The Children’s Hospital Foundation. (Winnipeg Free Press)
- Alex Ovechkin was again critical of the league for its negotiation tactics, saying “The NHL gave fans and media hope. But in reality it is a deception. The league is trying to show that it is working to try and save the season, but they are not offering anything new. It’s all the same. (TSN)
- Sidney Crosby said he was going to start looking closer at what options are available for him to play in Europe after Thursday’s negotiations turned sour. (The Canadian Press)
- Martin St. Louis worries that he won’t be able to end his career on a high note because of the lockout. (Tampa Bay Times)
- Canucks GM Mike Gillis called the rumors that Roberto Luongo was being traded to the Maple Leafs are “not true.” (TSN)
- Oilers center Eric Belanger lived through the 2004 lockout, but he is much more optimistic about these labor negotiations. “I think it’s better than it was in 2004,” Belanger said. “We don’t see the sides being too far apart. I think the system is in place, now it’s just a matter of sitting down and making sure everybody is happy with the deal.” (Edmonton Sun)
- Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart will go from playing in Germany’s second division to the top league in the Czech Republic. (USA Today)
- Steve McCarthy, who is currently on a professional tryout playing for the Abbotsford Heat, discussed what went wrong during his time in Vancouver. “That wasn’t anybody but myself,” McCarthy said. “I struggled and got down and you worry about things you can’t control. It seemed to snowball and a lot of it was immaturity and not knowing how to handle certain situations. (Vancouver Province)
- Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs highlighted a scenario this week where the city allows the Coyotes to leave the desert. (Arizona Republic)
- The Flyers have agreed to a six-year extension with Wayne Simmonds worth an average value of around $4 million a season, according to TSN.
- Ken Hitchcock encouraged people to give of their time and not just their money when he spoke at a luncheon to benefit Sports Central, an organization that refurbishes used sporting equipment and then distributes them to needy kids, according to the Edmonton Journal.
- Former Red Wings defenseman Marcel Pronovost will be inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, according to the Detroit Free Press.
SIMMONDS, CHARA AND SMITH NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK
NEW YORK (April 2, 2012) – Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara and Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith have been named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending April 1.
FIRST STAR – WAYNE SIMMONDS, RW, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Simmonds scored in four straight games, totaling five goals and one assist as the Flyers (46-24-9, 101 points) moved within one point of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the fourth seed, and home-ice advantage, in the Eastern Conference. He scored once in a 5-3 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning March 26, recorded two goals and an assist in a 7-1 victory at the Toronto Maple Leafs March 29, deflected a shot in off his face in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Ottawa Senators March 31 and closed the week with a goal in a 6-4 triumph at the Pittsburgh Penguins April 1. In his first season with the Flyers, the 23-year-old has established career highs in goals (27) and points (48) in 79 games.
SECOND STAR – ZDENO CHARA, D, BOSTON BRUINS
Chara tied for League lead with seven assists as the Bruins (47-28-4,
98 points) earned seven out of eight points to clinch their third Northeast Division title in the last four seasons and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. He collected three assists in a 5-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning March 27, one helper in a 3-2 shootout loss against the Washington Capitals March 29, two assists in a 6-3 win at the New York Islanders March 31 and his 40th assist of the season in a 2-1 victory at the New York Rangers April 1. The 2008-09 James Norris Memorial Trophy winner has 12-40—52 in 77 games, and has established career highs in assists and points.
THIRD STAR – MIKE SMITH, G, PHOENIX COYOTES
Smith posted two shutouts in two starts as the Coyotes (39-27-13, 91
points) won both of their games to remain in the hunt for the Pacific Division title. He stopped 38 shots in a 2-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks March 29 and made 44 saves in a 4-0 win against the Anaheim Ducks March 31. Smith hasn’t allowed a goal in 139:59 dating to March 24. The 30-year-old is 35-18-10 with a 2.29 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and seven shutouts in 64 appearances, and has established career highs in wins, shutouts and games played.
Bryan McCabe remains unsigned and the stars would really have to align for him to pack his bags at this point.
That's not to say it's not going to happen, but he's settled in South Florida with his family and the kids are in school, so it would need to be a really tempting offer.
A source told ESPN.com that a Western Conference team showed interest within the past week, but it wasn't something that interested the defenseman. He's made plenty of money in his career and has nothing to prove to anyone. If he does sign with a club this season, it has to be a super fit for him.
A source told ESPN.com Wednesday that the New York Rangers are scouring the market looking for help at defense, but they're not interested in bringing back McCabe at this point.
Predators' contract talks
Netminder Pekka Rinne and defenseman Ryan Suter are slated to become unrestricted free agents July 1 and the Predators have no interest in seeing that happen. GM David Poile met with Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy, last weekend and Rinne's agent, Jay Grossman, last week in New York to move talks along on an extension. The Preds will be aggressive in trying to get a deal done on both fronts.
Just like Ilya Kovalchuk's contract talks with Atlanta two years ago were an ongoing story, this has the potential to be the same in Nashville. And that's not even to mention franchise blueliner and captain Shea Weber, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He can't walk free like Rinne and Suter, but it remains a hugely important negotiation that will also draw lots of attention.
Because he signed a one-year deal last summer after going to arbitration, Weber can't sign a new contract until January at the earliest. In the meantime, Weber and his agent, Kevin Epp, will sit back and see how things play out with Suter/Rinne, as well as look at how the team fares this season. All will be factors in Weber's next move.
There haven't been any talks between the Kings and Drew Doughty's veteran agent, Don Meehan, since the eve of camp. But given owner Tim Leiweke's comments to Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times this week and the urgency behind them, it's our guess the NHL club will likely reach out soon to Newport Sports (Meehan's firm) and try to take one last stab at it.
The Kings don't have a choice to try again. It's a big season for them; they want to contend and they need Doughty to do that.
Burke on Simmonds ruling
When asked about it after a recent preseason game, Rangers forward Sean Avery said Simmonds used a homophobic slur toward him on the ice.
"It's like banned substances; you can't suspend a player for using a drug that isn't among the list of banned substances," Burke told ESPN.com. "In this case, we didn't have a rule about homophobic slurs, so you can't suspend Simmonds. But now that the league put out that statement and put players on notice that any future homophobic slur will be punishable, I think that was a real important day for the NHL. It has to stop."
Burke also said he would address the issue with his own players before the regular season begins next week.
Leafs' trade talk
The Leafs' newfound depth, especially on defense, has the club working the phones to see if there's any interest in some of their players. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and center Tyler Bozak are among the names that have been discussed, but as of Wednesday, we're told nothing was close with any team. The Leafs could also start the season with eight defensemen on their roster.
Kronwall and the Red Wings
Contract talks are well under way between the Red Wings and star blueliner Niklas Kronwall, who is eligible to become UFA on July 1. Both camps spoke this week. My colleague at TSN, Darren Dreger, also reports the Kronwall camp is looking for a long-term, front-loaded deal similar to what Christian Ehrhoff signed with Buffalo.
Sabres' front-loaded deals
We've encountered some grumbling from a few NHL team executives about the Buffalo Sabres' front-loaded contracts with Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers.
Ehrhoff will earn $18 million of his $40 million, 10-year deal over the next two years. Similarly, Myers' new extension calls for him to earn $12 million of his $38.5 million, seven-year extension in the first year.
"I'm sorry, but that's killing this industry," one NHL GM, requesting anonymity, told ESPN.com. "We have to stop those front-loaded contracts in the next system."
The Sabres didn't break any rules. Other well-heeled clubs have done the same, but mid- to small-market clubs are frustrated, feeling that front-loaded deals have squeezed them out of the free-agent market.
NHLPA's fall tour
Union chief Donald Fehr has begun the NHL Players' Association's annual fall tour. Over the next two months, he'll meet with all 30 teams with the CBA at the top of the agenda. He began his tour last week and so far has met with players on the Flyers, Islanders, Lightning, Panthers and Canadiens.
Ray Emery is slated to get his first full start of the preseason Friday. His performance will go a long way in helping the Blackhawks decide whether they sign the camp invite to a one-year NHL contract to be their backup this season or cut ties and give youngster Alexander Salak the job instead.
Last week, the sporting world reacted with outrage when a fan in London, Ontario, threw a banana on the ice as Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds was about to take a shot in an preseason game shootout.
The incident toward Simmonds, who is black, was denounced by hockey people of all races and creeds. Some called for an investigation and suggested the fan, if identified, should be prosecuted or punished for his or her thoughtlessness. That's the kind of visceral reaction most had to the racially charged incident.
Well, set your irony meter on warp because it was Simmonds who was accused of crossing the line in Philadelphia on Monday night, when New York Rangers forward Sean Avery said Simmonds used a homophobic slur toward him during a preseason game. (Avery, no stranger to controversy or the league's office of supplemental discipline, publicly supported same-sex marriage this past summer.)
So, did Simmonds cross the line with Avery? Avery said he did and Simmonds sort of said he didn't. Simmonds danced around the issue after the game, indicating there had been a lot of give and take between him and Avery, and he said he couldn't remember every word that was spoken between them.
"Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while there," Simmonds told reporters. "I don't recall everything that I did say to him, but he said to me some things I didn't like and maybe I said some things that he didn't like. I can't recall every single word I said."
There is apparently no audio of the incident, and the NHL ultimately ruled it couldn't "substantiate" Avery's claim. In a statement released by league officials Tuesday evening, Simmonds also "expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said" when he spoke to the league about the incident.
But NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell reiterated the league will remain vigilant to ensure players do not cross the line when it comes to comments on the ice.
"All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually based innuendo or derision. This is the National Hockey League's policy and it will remain so going forward," his statement read.
The incident reminds us of the conundrum that professional sports leagues and teams face when the emotion of sport collides with the need to draw a line about what is going to be tolerated in terms of words or actions. L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who is black, was fined $100,000 by the NBA for uttering a gay slur at a referee last season. In January of 2000, Vaclav Prospal, then of the Ottawa Senators, escaped suspension but had to undergo diversity training after he called Montreal's Patrice Bergeron an ethnic slur.
Phoenix captain Shane Doan was accused of making an anti-French slur to an NHL linesman in 2005, an incident that became a talking point across Canada and sparked a couple of lawsuits that were eventually settled before they went to court.
Avery himself was suspended by the NHL and instructed to attend anger management courses after his now infamous comments regarding his ex-girlfriends dating other hockey players. He was also at the heart of another ugly moment last season when James Wisniewski, recently given an eight-game suspension for an illegal hit during this preseason, feigned a sexual act on his hockey stick in Avery's direction and was given a two-game suspension.
Anyone who has spent any time in an NHL dressing room, let alone near an actual game, knows that language is often sailor-like. There are few limits on what is said during many NHL games, whether it's motivated by anger or the adrenaline of competition or baiting opposing players to take a penalty. Even the banter between players and officials and coaches is hardly PG. All you had to do was watch 10 minutes of HBO's groundbreaking "24/7" series featuring the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins to know the on-ice dialogue is not for the faint of heart.
But does that mean anything should go? Of course not.
There have to be boundaries, just as there are boundaries for what players can do with their sticks and bodies. Just as players are learning what is acceptable when it comes to hits to the head, dangerous blindside hits or hits from behind, why is it unthinkable they might actually learn what is acceptable in terms of what they say?
Players already know there is a line they cannot cross in engaging officials; it doesn't take too many smarts to know that if they venture into ethnic or sexual areas they're going to get reprimanded.
As they should, and the league has outlined its standards:
"It also is important to emphasize that the National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice," Campbell's statement said Tuesday. "While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed.
"Specifically, we have for many years emphasized to our clubs and players that commentary directed at the race or ethnicity of other participants in the game (or even non-participants), or that is otherwise socially or morally inappropriate or potentially hurtful, including as it may relate to sexual orientation, is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
It would be nice for teams to take a stand on this issue and not wait for the league to do all the heavy lifting.
The Dallas Stars said they would have suspended Avery had the league not moved so quickly after his incident, and we take them at their word.
Regardless of whether Simmonds said what Avery insists he did, all teams, including the Flyers and Rangers, need to make a strong condemnation of any such comments, even if they are made by one of their own players.
Simmonds could face a $2,500 fine as per CBA limitations for fines in these cases. ESPN New York's Katie Strang also reports that GLAAD has contacted both the Flyers and NHL about taking action on Simmonds' slur.
Campbell is holding the call rather than Brendan Shanahan because the Simmonds scenario doesn't fall under Shanahan's "player safety" net.
After last night's game, Avery said Simmonds called him a homophobic slur during the first period of the bitter preseason contest. A video replay showed Simmonds hurling the epithet toward Avery while on the ice near the Flyers' bench. Simmonds said he did not remember everything that was said between him and Avery, but did not deny crossing the line.