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George Parros is a busy man early in the Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to a rash of questionable hits around the NHL.
The vice president of player safety’s department suspended Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri three games for boarding Boston forward Tommy Wingels in what the league called a hit made in the name of retribution and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty one game for an illegal check to the head on Vegas forward William Carrier.
With two suspensions [url=http://www.philadelphiaphilliesteamshop.com/authentic-jim-thome-jersey]Jim Thome Jersey[/url] , two misconduct ejections for boarding that resulted in injuries, plus Capitals winger Tom Wilson’s hit to the head that knocked Columbus center Alexander Wennberg out of the game, it has been a rough start to the playoffs – and there have only been eight games played. In 1,271 regular-season games, there were a total of 37 game misconducts and 22 suspensions.
The NHL has made a concerted effort to rid its game of fighting and questionable hits, wanting to keep skilled players on the ice and boost scoring. In the postseason, goals are usually harder to come by and the adrenaline of the moment brings hard hits that cross the line; a year ago, Penguins star Sidney Crosby missed a game with a concussion after a cross-check to the head from the Capitals’ Matt Niskanen.
Kadri was tossed from Toronto’s Game 1 loss at Boston for boarding Wingels, and Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson was thrown out of their overtime victory at Washington for a hit from behind that injured Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny.
A game misconduct will likely suffice for Anderson, but Kadri wasn’t as fortunate and will miss Games 2, 3 and 4.
”I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that,” Kadri said after Thursday night’s game. ”Obviously, if he’s still standing up, I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but he ended up falling and reaching for the puck, and I’m not sure what happened after that.”
What happened was another Bruins goal on the ensuing power play that made it 5-1 in the first game between the bitter rivals. Down the East Coast, Wilson’s hit on Wennberg allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score in a game they won in overtime. Wilson blamed himself for costing Washington Game 1 by taking a bad penalty at a critical moment.
”I’ve got to be better and maybe pass up on that hit,” Wilson said. ”We’ve got the lead there so maybe a big hit’s not needed. It’s the playoffs. Trying to finish your checks, and unfortunately I took a penalty.”
Wilson was suspended two preseason games for interference and then for the first four regular-season games for boarding but had cleaned up his game since. Part of that stemmed from meeting with Parros in Calgary in the fall and educating himself on what’s acceptable and what the NHL looks for.
”We had a meeting, me, him and Parros, and went over videos and just what they were looking at when he was being considered for suspensions and fines and other examples throughout the league,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said.
Parros spent almost a decade as an NHL enforcer and finished his career with 159 fights and 1,127 penalty minutes. When he took over the league’s player safety department last September, he said he intended to crack down on ”non-hockey plays” that have nothing to do with affecting the course of the game.
Some of the hits may alter series because of the resulting injuries.
Carrier, Kempny [url=http://www.buffalobillsteamonline.com/harrison-phillips-jersey]Authentic Harrison Phillips Jersey[/url] , Wennberg and Wingels are all day-to-day with ”upper-body” injuries – the customarily vague description in the NHL – with their statuses legitimately uncertain moving forward. Columbus general manager Jermo Kekalainen called Wennberg ”doubtful” for Game 2 Sunday at Washington and considered it a ”dangerous hit” by Wilson that the league deemed wasn’t worthy of further punishment.
Doughty, a Norris Trophy contender and Los Angeles’ top defender, was suspended for Friday night’s Game 2 against Vegas for what the league called an avoidable hit to Carrier’s head. Kadri’s hit came after Wingels crushed Toronto forward Mitch Marner, but the timing and force of the hit made it worse.
”The bottom line is, you always have to be disciplined at all times and emotions are a part of the game, but it’s got to be controlled,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.
Kekalainen disagreed with officials giving Anderson a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his hit on Kempny, which was definitely a minor penalty but seemed less egregious than Wilson’s later. That didn’t stop Capitals coach Barry Trotz from voicing his displeasure with Anderson’s play.
”I thought there’s clearly numbers there,” Trotz said. ”Trying to get that out of the game.”
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 25 (rookies), July 28 (veterans), Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Eagan, Minnesota
LAST YEAR: Despite losing starting QB Sam Bradford after season opener and rookie RB Dalvin Cook in fourth game, both to knee injuries, Vikings rode backup QB Case Keenum and league-leading defense to second-most wins in franchise history. Beat Saints on last-second 61-yard TD pass from Keenum to WR Stefon Diggs in play dubbed "Minneapolis Miracle," before being trounced by Eagles in NFC championship game to miss chance of becoming NFL's first Super Bowl host to play in game.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, PK Daniel Carlson, CB/KR Mike Hughes, WR Kendall Wright, OG Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Brian O'Neill.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Keenum, Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon [url=http://www.authenticschicagobears.com/cheap-joel-iyiegbuniwe-jersey]Joel Iyiegbuniwe Jersey Elite[/url] , RG Joe Berger, WR Jarius Wright, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OL Jeremiah Sirles.
CAMP NEEDS: Cousins must continue to build chemistry with Diggs, WR Adam Thielen, TE Kyle Rudolph and rest of receivers, but even more important is establishment of healthy line in front of him. RT Rashod Hill will be in spotlight after taking most of first-team reps in spring practices while Mike Remmers moved to RG, and C Pat Elflein has catching up to do with Cousins on cadence and calls; Elflein was out of team drills all offseason in recovery from shoulder, ankle injuries. Cook looks to step back in as starting tailback 10 months after ACL surgery. First-round draft pick Hughes will have opportunity to earn jobs as primary KR and nickel CB.
EXPECTATIONS: As high as ever, with fully guaranteed contract for Cousins and under-radar signing of Richardson to supplement one of league's most stacked rosters. With Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr on expiring contracts and handful of defense's stars nearing, at, or over 30, time is now for team's first title. Repeating last year's record won't be easy, with questions remaining on offensive line, where Berger's retirement created opening, and stiffer schedule that includes road trips to face Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks.
DETROIT LIONS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Allen Park, Michigan
LAST YEAR: Early and late-season slides knocked team out of playoff contention and cost coach Jim Caldwell job. QB Matthew Stafford led pass-dependent offense with 1,000-yard WRs Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. CB Darius Slay emerged as one of league's best in coverage.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Matt Patricia, RB LeGarrette Blount, RB Kerryon Johnson [url=http://www.dolphinscheapstore.com/jerome-baker-jersey-cheap]Jerome Baker Jersey Dolphins[/url] , TE Luke Willson, C Frank Ragnow, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Christian Jones, LB Devon Kennard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Coach Jim Caldwell, TE Eric Ebron, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead.
CAMP NEEDS: Developing running game with two new backs and rookie center. Learning new defense with first-year head coach and new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
EXPECTATIONS: Making playoffs must be goal after firing coach coming off third winning season in four years. Third-year GM Bob Quinn wants team to become tougher, especially in short yardage and near goal line.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Green Bay, Wisconsin
LAST YEAR: Finished under .500 and out of playoffs for first time since 2008. Offense struggled with QB Aaron Rodgers sidelined for seven games with broken collarbone. Defense plagued by porous secondary and lack of consistent pass rush. Injuries ravaged cornerback position again.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM Brian Gutekunst, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, QB DeShone Kizer, TE Jimmy Graham, TE Marcedes Lewis, CB Tramon Williams, rookie CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, DL Muhammad Wilkerson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: retired GM Ted Thompson, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, S Morgan Burnett, WR Jordy Nelson, G Jahri Evans, TE Richard Rodgers.
CAMP NEEDS: Find receiver to replace Nelson. Packers took three wideouts in middle rounds of draft, but returnees Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis could have early edge. With Rodgers sidelined, Nelson's production tailed off last year [url=http://www.chiefsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-dorian-o_daniel-jersey]Chiefs Dorian O'Daniel Jersey[/url] , and Packers let him go in offseason and brought in Graham to provide big target over middle. At their best, Rodgers and Nelson were one of top combos in league. Packers need to develop pass-rush depth behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and hope that Alexander and Jackson can learn from Williams to help in coverage.
EXPECTATIONS: Packers are always threat as long as Rodgers is healthy. Last season served as painful lesson of what team needs to shore up defensive deficiencies that could be masked by their gifted quarterback. At worst, expect return to playoffs 鈥?assuming Rodgers is healthy 鈥?following offseason full of changes in Titletown.
CHICAGO BEARS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 19, Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois
LAST YEAR: Bears finished last in NFC North for fourth straight year, then fired coach John Fox after three losing seasons. GM Ryan Pace got contract extension through 2021 and hired Andy Reid protege Matt Nagy as head coach, hoping he gets most out of QB Mitchell Trubisky. Wide receivers were big weakness, with Cameron Meredith (left knee) out for season and Kevin White (shoulder) missing most of it. Chicago's leading receiver was Kendall Wright 鈥?now with Minnesota 鈥?with 59 receptions for 614 yards. Bears had formidable RB tandem with Jordan Howard (1,122 yards) and Tarik Cohen (370 yards rushing, 353 receiving), though Howard struggled to catch passes. Defense ranked 10th overall despite injuries to several key players, including LB Leonard Floyd.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, WR Allen Robinson, TE Trey Burton, WR Taylor Gabriel, K Cody Parkey, rookie LB Roquan Smith, rookie WR Anthony Miller, rookie G/C Jam.
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