NHL community 'can't take much more' heartbreak

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NHL community 'can't take much more' heartbreak

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 8, 2011
For the NHL, an already dark summer became unimaginably worse Wednesday. From Anaheim to Montreal, the world's best hockey players struggled to comprehend a shocking loss to their sport after a chartered Russian plane carrying the Kontinental Hockey League's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, killing several NHL veterans in one of the worst air disasters in sports history. Many players heard about the accident on their way back to work from summer breaks. Most NHL training camps open next weekend, and every club radiates optimism for the season ahead. But hockey is hurting after an offseason of tragedies and disappointments, including the deaths of three players in a four-month span before the catastrophic crash. "The hockey world mourns yet again. Please God, we can't take much more," tweeted New York forward Brandon Prust, the former roommate of late Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard. Even a glorious, seven-game Stanley Cup series ended ugly with riots in Vancouver when the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins. Looting, vandalism and sporadic violence left 140 people injured and resulted in 100 arrests and millions in property damage. "This has been a terrible summer for the sport all around," said Predators center David Legwand, who played four seasons in Nashville with Karlis Skrastins, a respected NHL veteran killed in the crash. "(Hockey) is a pretty tight-knit family, whether you play in Russia, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden ... it is a tough thing for everybody." No NHL team was left unscarred by the obliteration of a top club in the KHL, which emerged as Europe's most lucrative league over the past three years, with teams in former Soviet republics competing with the NHL for players mostly from eastern Europe. In the intertwined world of elite hockey, it's impossible to find two teams without players who share a common playing history, nationality or friendship. Lokomotiv's roster included three-time All-Star Pavol Demitra, a Slovakian who played for five NHL clubs; veteran Belarusian defenseman Ruslan Salei, who met his wife in Anaheim and raised his family in Orange County; and Czech forward Josef Vasicek, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. "I am still in disbelief about today's tragic news," said former Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, who played with Skrastins and Salei in Colorado. "Both Karlis and Ruslan were unbelievable individuals and great teammates. They will be sorely missed." Hockey had been reeling since May 13, when Boogaard died in his apartment in Minneapolis. The personable forward was one of the NHL's top enforcers, bringing charisma to the traditional hockey role of brawler who sticks up for his teammates in crowd-pleasing fights. Boogaard died from an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone, officials said. Meantime, Boston University scientists are studying his brain to determine whether he had a degenerative condition resulting from hits to the head. Three months later the body of Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets was discovered at his home in Alberta after a police official said a call was answered for a "sudden and non-suspicious" death. Although Rypien had suffered from depression for a decade, his brawling style of play raised additional questions about the mental health of enforcers. Recently retired player Wade Belak hanged himself in Toronto on Aug. 31, a person familiar with the case told the AP. The Lokomotiv disaster will linger over the upcoming NHL season, particularly for teams with direct connections to the club. The Detroit Red Wings were hit particularly hard: Lokomotiv coach Brad McCrimmon was Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom's defensive partner and an assistant to Detroit coach Mike Babcock until May, while Salei played 75 games for Detroit last season. "It's just so sad that their lives have suddenly changed forever, and now they've got no dad or husband," Babcock said after driving to the McCrimmon family's home earlier Wednesday. "It just goes to show that you can't miss out on doing stuff with your family, because change can come in an instant."

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

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USATSI

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

SAN JOSE – Despite what was technically their sixth loss in the last eight games, the Sharks seemed to put more stock in the point they gained in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on Sunday night at SAP Center, rather than the one they left on the table.

They have that luxury. 

The Sharks will enter their bye week five points ahead of Edmonton and Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and figure they’re due for some time off after a short summer followed by a World Cup for some, and a brutal condensed NHL schedule for all.

“[We’ve] showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve been in a lot of games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve battled. There hasn’t been any cheat in [our] game. Defensively, we’ve been strong. There’s a lot of good areas in our game that we like right now.”

Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a Bruins team had was coming off of its own bye week, the Sharks fell behind 1-0 on a first period goal by Ryan Spooner, but notched a Patrick Marleau equalizer in a second period in which they outshot the Bruins 16-9. An evenly played third period gave way to overtime, where Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway to give the Bruins their fourth straight win since changing head coaches.

The Sharks spoke before the weekend about finishing the final two games strong before the respite. They ended up gaining three of four points, including Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona, and were pleased with their effort against the Bruins as they capped off 10 games in 20 days since the All-Star break.

“It was an important push into this break,” Pete DeBoer said. “To go in up [five points] on the next closest team is a real testament to our group.”

Paul Martin said: “I thought we played pretty well, considering the back-to-back with some travel, and a team that was waiting for us.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Martin Jones, who was one of a number of Sharks players that was looking particularly fatigued lately. The goaltender entered the game with a 1-0-2 record, 4.46 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in his last four starts, including getting pulled after the first period in Boston just 10 days ago.

Jones was impressive, though, making a vital pad stop on the dangerous David Pastrnak in front of the net midway through the third period to keep it a 1-1 score.

“It was a good game. Two teams playing hard,” Jones said. “We can take a lot of positives from that one. It was a good hard game, just didn’t go our way tonight.”

Overtimes have been an issue lately, though. The Sharks have lost their last four games decided during the three-on-three, all coming within the last two weeks. As satisfied as they are with their cushion in the division, it could have been cushier.

Against the Bruins, Tuukka Rask denied Brent Burns on a two-on-one in overtime, and Marchand scored off of the ensuing faceoff, blowing the zone past Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and corralling a long toss from Torey Krug before sliding it home.

“We get to overtime, shootouts – we expect to get that extra point,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t found it lately. We’ll just keep looking for it.”

DeBoer said: “The points are critical, they’re valuable. I don’t read a lot into [overtime decisions], we’ve won our share over the time I’ve been here. We had a chance to win tonight, too. … I concentrate on the effort, and I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Being focused and energized, as they have been most of the season to this point, shouldn’t be a problem when the season resumes next Saturday in Vancouver. The Sharks are in prime position to win their first division title since 2010-11, and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is a distinct possibility.

Losing six of eight won’t be nearly as acceptable coming out of the break as it apparently is going into it, but that’s not something to worry about now, even after another defeat. 

“There are some games you wish you could get back and get those points, but we’re still in a good spot,” Marleau said.

Trading Cousins is the ultimate Kingstastic move

Trading Cousins is the ultimate Kingstastic move

There was a lot of complaining about the lack of defense in this year’s All-Star Game, as though last year’s All-Star Game didn’t happen.

But the Most Valuable Player, which was putatively Anthony Davis for scoring a record 52 points in front of his home crowd, was actually the man with the fewest minutes of all.

Yes, the man, the god, The DeMarcus Cousins. The Very Definition Of A Sacramento King, By Becoming An Ex-Sacramento King.

Cousins, now the second-best player on the New Orleans Pelicans, played only two minutes Sunday, the lowest total by any All-Star since Connie Hawkins in 1971, ostensibly because he told head coach Steve Kerr he was a little ouchy, but more likely because the Kings were frantically trying to trade him and didn’t want him hurting himself in a game with even no contact whatsoever.

Not during the All-Star Break, mind you. DURING THE ALL-STAR GAME ITSELF! Adam Silver must have been vomiting hedgehogs into a bucket at the very thought.

As it turns out, the Kings, who have sworn up and down that they would never consider trading Cousins, did that very thing, closing a deal to send Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first and second-round pick in the upcoming draft, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway (who is likely to be waived in true Kings fashion) and 2016 first-rounder Buddy Hield.

You remember Buddy Hield. He’s the guy who clocked Cousins in the joy division going around a Cousins pick during the last Pelicans-Kings game, and got tossed for doing so.

In other words, the Kings prefer the guy who punched their best player in the goolies to their best player. This is so Kingsy.

But on the back end, Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, said Cousins is disinclined to sign a long-term contract with his next team, making him a rental who could some day return to Sacramento in a Groundhog's Day remake that would cause the Oroville Dam to get up and walk off the job.

This too is so Kingsy.

This is the greatness of the Kings. They blew up the All-Star weekend during the game itself. They blew it up trying to get rid of their best player when they are within fighting distance of their first playoff spot in 11 years. They blew it up after saying they weren’t considering trading the dynamite at all.

Kingsy, Kingsy, Kingsy. It’s Kingstastic!

And the best part of it all is that the trade leaves everyone deflated and confused and ultimately angry, while the Kings undervalued their only marketable player to invest in a future they have mocked for decades.

You know what we;’re talking about. Gimme a K! Gimme an I! Gimme an N-G-S, throw an extraneous Y on the end of it what does it spell?

Yeah. Right.

It’s remarkable thing, being a King. While we have all amused ourselves with the machinations of the thick-as-two-short-planks New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, the Kings have been Kinging this way for most of the last 35 years.

And now, they have decided to feed their obsession with the Golden State Warriors by running even further away from them, by tossing their only bargaining chip for a future player or players that they typically ruin, and Buddy Hield, who just found out that even at these prices life can still be cruel.

Give them their due, though. The Kings could win the NBA title and hock the trophy. They could be invited to the White House when the President is off playing golf. They could increase their Forbes valuation to $5 billion and declare bankruptcy.

Because they are the Kings, and that sentence has rarely meant more than it does now.

Not because they traded Cousins. Trades happen all the time. Wilt Chamberlain got traded twice.

But the Kings handled this with all the skill of a pickpocket with feet where his hands should be. They lied unconvincingly. They talked hard business and ended up with a nebulous deal that guarantees nothing except more speculation come summer. And they have nothing else to trade between now and . . . well, whenever they stopped being so damned Kingsy.

For New Orleans, it is a roll of the dice, an attempt to make the playoffs with a two-headed monster in Cousins and Davis. It may be too much to giver, but without knowing how the Kings will screw up those picks, it remains speculative at best.

Indeed, this is subtraction by subtraction, the standard Kings deal. And whatever the Kings have gained in this trade (hey, you never know), we remain safe in saying that they did it in such a Kingsy way that they may never top this.

Until the next time they do anything at all. Never doubt the power of Kingsiness.