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Over the Boards

Olympics, visor debate, Suter among NHL's hot topics

Saturday, 03.09.2013 / 3:00 AM / Over the Boards

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Olympics, visor debate, Suter among NHL's hot topics
Olympic participation, visor debate, Ryan Suter's return hot topics for NHL.

National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will be among a group of League personnel leaving for Sochi, Russia on Sunday to conduct a site visit and participate in meetings regarding the potential participation of NHL players in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"I would hope to be in a position where this is resolved one way or the other by the end of this month," Daly told NHL.com.

Daly said the League is on track to present the concept of Olympic participation to the Board of Governors "at an appropriate time." He stressed, however, that present discussions among the League, the National Hockey League Players' Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee have been on a conceptual level and haven't yet broached specifics.

"Maybe when we get down to the specific level we might come up with a problem that might be difficult to resolve, but, to this point, we've been moving forward," Daly said.

QUOTEBOOK



"The big man, [Rick] Nash, makes a huge difference. Just watching them play without him and now with him back, he's that game-breaker and that guy that can control the play and have such an impact every shift he's out there; it makes the rest of the lines and everybody else look that much better. When they have [goalie Henrik] Lundqvist on one end and Nash going on the other it changes the whole perception of that team. I think they're still not firing on all cylinders, but with those two guys you can disguise a lot of things until you get everybody going." -- Brian Leetch on why the Rangers have won four in a row

"They better not just be watching Sid [Crosby]. I think Chris [Kunitz] does a lot of little things well to be a good complementary guy to play with. He goes hard to the net, forces turnovers, is a physical guy, but maybe more so this year than others he has moved into that slot area and been a weapon with his shot. He's done that really well. As a line you better not just have two or three guys on Sidney Crosby and not paying any attention to 14 [Kunitz], because he's been a big weapon for us on that line in terms of using his shot in that slot area." -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma talking about Kunitz's effectiveness this season.

NHL players have participated in the past four Olympics, dating to 1998 in Nagano, Japan.

Debate on visors continues to rage

Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is rethinking his position on not wearing a visor after seeing his brother, New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, get hit in the right eye with a deflected slap shot Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

The Staal brothers, including Jordan, are among the NHL players who do not wear a visor. According to data kept by the League's Hockey Operations Department, the number of players without a visor this season hovers between 26 and 29 percent.

"Obviously when something like this happens it's a scary thing and it definitely makes you think," Eric Staal told NHL.com, adding that his mother and his wife have urged him to put on a visor. "It's something that I'm probably going to continue to think about and decisions will be made as it goes on. It's a scary situation."

Daly said the League is in favor of mandatory visor usage but prefers to work jointly with the NHLPA on this issue. The Union, according to NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director Mathieu Schneider, supports the right for an individual player to choose if he wants to wear a visor.

"But we regularly educate the players on the benefits of wearing a visor so that each player can make an informed decision," Schneider added.

Daly said the visor issue was discussed briefly during the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations and that the education aspect has had an impact. The use of visors in the NHL is at an all-time high this season.

"We have far more players today using visors than we ever have in the history of the game before -- and that number has been on the rise each and every year -- so the growth rate is pretty dramatic," Daly said. "I expect it will be a continuing dialogue with the Players' Association, with the general managers, with the Competition Committee on whether any rule-making needs to be done in this area. But I believe it's fair to say that it continues to be the players' position that they are opposed to any mandatory rule."

Why players don't wear a visor

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Craig Adams told NHL.com the reason he doesn't wear a visor has to do with his own comfort and preference.

He played in Europe during the 2004-05 season and was required to wear a visor. He never got used to it and said he always felt he was focusing more on cleaning his visor than concentrating on what he had to do in the game.

Adams said he hopes the use of visors never becomes mandatory in the NHL.

"I wear shot blockers and not everybody wears them. Shouldn't everybody have to wear them so they don't break their feet?" Adams told NHL.com. "Everybody should wear knee braces on both their knees just in case, but they don't. You have to be able to perform and feel comfortable. I can see why guys wear them and I would never criticize anyone for wearing one or not wearing one, but it should be the guy's choice."

Eric Staal said he would wear one if they were mandatory, but he prefers not to because of vision.

"I just like it better without it, but obviously having someone very close to you go through something as scary as that, it makes you rethink, for sure," Staal said.

Many players choose not to wear a visor because they don't want to take their helmet off if they get into a fight.

Craig Adams
Craig Adams
Right Wing - PIT
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 24 | +/-: -5
Rule 46.6 in the NHL Rulebook says that any player, including a goalie, wearing a visor must take his helmet before instigating a fight or he'll be subject to further discipline with an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

"As long as fighting is still an integral part of the NHL, the option to not have a visor plays into it for some guys," former Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch told NHL.com. "I think players think safety in the fact that they have a helmet on, but if they have a visor on they have to take their helmet off to fight. I think that is still part of the thought process."

Leetch, who wore a visor in every one of his 1,300 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games, said he believes visors eventually will become mandatory, following the evolution of helmets becoming mandatory 34 years ago.

All new players who have entered the League since 1979 have been required to wear a helmet; veteran players at that time had to sign a waiver if they wanted to continue to play without a helmet.

"I think it's inevitable," Leetch said of visors. "Like the helmets, they'll make the rule and it will be grandfathered in. When that tipping point comes I'm not sure, but it's getting close. When you have everyone wearing some type of protection coming up through the ranks, I don't see any way it doesn't."

Coyotes sale remains a work in progress

Daly said the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation remains "a work in progress" after prospective buyer Greg Jamison was unable to close his transaction to purchase the Coyotes before the time window he had negotiated with the City of Glendale expired last month.

"We're in a period where there is a series of potentially interested investors who are doing their due diligence on a very expedited basis," Daly said. "Some discussions have been had with the new city council, with the mayor. We hope we can bring this all together fairly quickly, but I'm not making any predictions in that regard."

Staal on his impressive season

Eric Staal
Eric Staal
Center - CAR
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 28
SOG: 80 | +/-: 17
Eric Staal is not a fan of comparisons, so he didn't want to entertain the possibility that the line he centers currently is the best he's played on since he arrived in Carolina in 2005.

It's safe to say, though, that it's one of the best -- and perhaps the most dangerous.

Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty have combined for 29 goals and 40 assists in 23 games -- an average of three points per game. Staal has 12 goals and 18 assists.

"Right now, it's got to be up there with the top lines in the game," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said after that line had a seven-point game Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Staal told NHL.com he's been the beneficiary of playing with two highly skilled linemates. And even though he called plus-minus "a bad stat," he said the difference in those linemates this season shows up because he's a plus-17 now after being a minus-20 last season.

"For me, this year we just have a different team, a deeper lineup and I've been the beneficiary of playing with some pretty good players," Staal said. "You add that up and you're going to be on the plus side of things."

Staal said the line works because all three players compete hard for the puck and are determined to go get it. He said they use their size and reach to their advantage in hunting down pucks, securing them then making plays.

"If we're doing that, it's difficult to play against our line," he said.

Having Semin and Tlusty on his wings also has allowed Staal to play a better 200-foot game than perhaps at any other point of his career. As opposed to previous seasons, Staal said he doesn't feel the same amount of pressure to produce offense on a shift-by-shift basis because he's not the only one on the ice who can.

"Sometimes if you're feeling that pressure and responsibility you start cheating a little bit, looking more on the offensive side of things to get on the board for your team and it could end up costing you," Staal said. "This year it's been about letting it come to me and kind of just letting everything fall where it may. It's helped us be a good line defensively and also contribute offensively."

Trotz: Not sure how Nashville fans will treat Suter

Ryan Suter
Ryan Suter
Defense - MIN
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 15
SOG: 40 | +/-: -6
Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz won't even begin to speculate on how the fans will treat Ryan Suter on Saturday when he makes his return to Bridgestone Arena with the Minnesota Wild.

Suter signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild on July 4, 2012. Predators general manager David Poile said at the time he made a contract offer that "met Ryan's desires and criteria on every front," but he couldn't stop the star defenseman from choosing to go to Minnesota, which is where his wife's family lives and isn't too far from his home in Wisconsin.

"I'm not sure how he'll be received, I can't speak for the fans," Trotz told NHL.com. "But I know the organization and the fans always treat our players with class when the player moves on to another team. This situation, I'm not sure which way it will go. He sort of left us. I'm not sure how it will be, what their response will be. The fans will let you know. I don't want to guess."

For Trotz and the Predators, seeing Suter in a Wild uniform is not new. They've already played the Wild twice in Minnesota.

"We just know he's the enemy now and we've got to beat the Wild," Trotz said.

Trotz admitted that he initially took it personally when Suter chose to sign with the Wild instead of the Predators.

"When you have a top player leave it feels like it's personal, but it's not; it's just business," Trotz said. "Ryan Suter's company is Ryan Suter; it's not the Nashville Predators. It's Ryan Suter, his family. They're all in the office.

"If you talk to Ryan, he loved his time in Nashville and loved what he was doing, but that was a family decision, a rest-of-his-career decision. Originally you're upset because we had something pretty good going here and we could have continued and kept building, but they're their own businesses and he felt for his family and the rest of his career he was going back to Minnesota, so that's where he is."

Odds and ends

* Chris Kunitz has played with Sidney Crosby for most of his four-plus years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he's never produced like he has this season. Kunitz, who never has been a point-per-game player in his career, is one right now with 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points in 24 games. He has seven multipoint games, including three three-point games and one four-point game. He would be on pace for 105 points (47 goals, 58 assists) in an 82-game season.

* You always can count on Trotz to be honest about his team. Asked about the Predators' League-worst offense, the coach said, "We had Peter Forsberg for a small time and then we had Paul Kariya for a few years. We're playing like we have one of those guys; we don't have one of those guys. Phoenix doesn't have one of those guys and they're fine. There are a lot of teams around the League that are good teams that don't have that guy. That's the frustration now. We all have to buy into it."

* After starting the season with 25 points in the first 19 games, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg has one point in the past five games. The Red Wings are 3-1-1 in those games because they have allowed four goals.

---

Quote of the Day

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