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NHL Insider

In Toronto, long-term plan, impatient fan base collide

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 10:41 AM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

TORONTO -- A once proud Leafs Nation is growing intolerant.

The dejected residents are chanting for coaches to be fired, using voices that were loud enough to actually work last week. They've gone from renewed hope and excitement after a strong start this season to despair and disgrace. They're another loss or two away from accepting the fact that for a seventh straight spring the ice at Air Canada Centre will melt soon after the regular season wraps up.

The most myopic may have already stuffed their Kessel and Phaneuf and Schenn jerseys deep inside a closet, afraid to wear them in public anymore.

The Maple Leafs are 12th in the Eastern Conference, five points removed from eighth with 15 games to play. They're 2-11-1 in the last 14 games, 1-2 since Randy Carlyle took over as coach, since President and GM Brian Burke admitted the "Fire Wilson" chants caught his attention.

For ref Hasenfratz, arduous road back to job he loves

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 10:11 AM / NHL Insider

John Manasso - Correspondent

At times this season, players have skated up to referee Mike Hasenfratz and asked him where he's been.

"He's picking up his pace and he's in as good of shape as he's been in all the years I've known him. He's showing the good qualities of an official. He's coming back."
-- NHL director of officiating Terry Gregson

The answer is surprising and tends to catch them off guard. Being the self-deprecating type, Hasenfratz tries to downplay the fact that open heart surgery and the subsequent recovery caused him to miss the entire 2009-10 and 2010-11 NHL seasons.

That Hasenfratz is healthy and functioning well owes something to an act of fate. When he became an NHL official, Hasenfratz started wearing a $110 heart monitor during training camp as part of League procedure.

Over the years, the monitor would help to detect a potentially life-threatening condition.

Links between Vancouver, Winnipeg run deep

Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 6:39 PM / NHL Insider

Kevin Woodley - Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- The Winnipeg Jets have excelled at home and struggled on the road this season, a travel trend they'll have to end to stay in the playoff picture.

There may be no better place to start the reversal than in Vancouver on Thursday night.

That's because this trip west is like a homecoming for many on both sides.

In addition to two former Canucks in Tanner Glass and Kyle Wellwood, two bitter former rivals in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, and a couple of players that are from Vancouver, the links between the franchises run deep, with the Manitoba Moose having served as the Canucks' AHL affiliate before Winnipeg got an NHL team back.

'Monuments' celebrates Hawks' greats Hull, Mikita

Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 5:48 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It's the culmination of a reconciliation just about every Chicago Blackhawks fan thought was impossible not too long ago.

Now showing at the IMAX Theater at the Windy City's famed Navy Pier is a new film entitled "Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita -- Monuments to Excellence."

It's a well-produced 42-minute compilation that had its premiere showing on Tuesday night, with the legendary Hockey Hall of Famers in attendance. A celebration of their near-lifelong friendship and unforgettable hockey careers, it's also a nice capper to the repaired relationship between the famed pair and the team they once felt shunned by, for various reasons, for a span of decades.

Since Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough reached out to Hull back in 2007, the duo became official team ambassadors, were honored on the ice and in a team-sponsored book, and this past fall had their likenesses bronzed and placed outside the United Center -- looking out across West Madison Street to where their old Chicago Stadium used to stand.

"It's been an amazing four years for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita," McDonough said in giving the official introduction to the premiere showing of the film. "When I reached out to Bobby in December of 2007 about reconnecting with the Chicago Blackhawks after 35 or 36 years, I sensed on the other end of the line there was a little trepidation. So, I asked Bobby to come to Chicago."

Surprised junior Baertschi ready for NHL debut

Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 3:59 PM / NHL Insider

Aaron Vickers - Correspondent

"I'm crazy nervous but I think that's normal. To jump in now, it's so important. We're in a playoff run. To jump in now, it's a huge difference from the start of the season." -- Sven Baertschi

CALGARY -- On the day prior to his first career game, Calgary Flames prospect Sven Baertschi might have already had his "welcome to the NHL" moment.
After a dozen reporters dispersed following poking and prodding the Portland Winterhawks product for 10 minutes after his first NHL practice, Baertschi needed help to properly organize his equipment in the stall reserved for the Swiss forward.
"Got to get them when they're young," quipped the staffer who assisted.
It's just one of many learning experiences the 19-year-old Baertschi will go through as he preps for his first professional hockey game after being an emergency call-up from the Western Hockey League in the middle of an injury-riddled Flames push for the playoffs.

Improved special teams have Blues thinking big

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 4:50 PM / NHL Insider

Louie Korac - Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- A reoccurring thought early in the season was if the St. Louis Blues could add some punch to their punchless special teams, their ascension in the standings would be rapid considering how much goaltending and five-on-five play was carrying them.

It's no secret that the Blues' play at even strength has been stellar the entire season. They're No. 1 in goals-against average per game at 1.88 and even more impressive, they're No. 1 in 5-on-5 goals allowed at 79 in 67 games, or 1.18 goals per contest.

Combined with the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, those numbers were the biggest reason why the Blues (42-18-7) were winning.

It sure wasn't because of special teams, which saw both the penalty kill and power play rank 30th in the NHL as late as December.

Lemieux eager for Crosby's next comeback

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 4:45 PM / NHL Insider

Alan Robinson - Correspondent

"It's never fun to be on the sidelines, especially with Sid's injury. It's a little different than back surgery or hip surgery or anything else out there. You have to be patient. But I think he's getting better, he's getting close to being back on the ice. And it's going to be exciting when he gets back."
-- Mario Lemieux

PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux, an expert in the art of the comeback, can't wait for Sidney Crosby to make his second long-awaited return of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby, out for the last three months with concussion-like symptoms after also sitting out the Penguins' first 20 games, is practicing again and plans to return in the near future. The earliest he could play is Sunday against Boston.
"I'm going to try to push myself and see how it feels," Crosby said Wednesday, a day after he was cleared for full-contact practice for the first time since Dec. 7.
Crosby also missed the second half of last season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a concussion that was diagnosed after he was hit hard in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5, 2011. At age 24, he is nearly the same age Lemieux was when the Penguins' co-owner and Hall of Famer first began experiencing the major health issues that troubled him the rest of his career.

Confident Caron showing Bruins what he can do

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 12:29 AM / NHL Insider

Dennis Ryan - Correspondent

TORONTO -- While Tyler Seguin's two-goal performance drew most of the headlines in the Boston Bruins' 5-4 win Tuesday night, the breakout performance of young power forward Jordan Caron should not be overlooked. Caron scored twice and added an assist, giving the 21-year-old five points in two games.

Playing on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kelly, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound winger has started to produce at time of great need for the Bruins, who are without forwards Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley and Daniel Paille due to injury. 

Rangers view loss to Devils as a 'wake-up call'

Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 11:20 PM / NHL Insider

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Consider it a wake-up call three weeks in the making.

On the surface, the New York Rangers have been cruising along without a problem in the world. Entering Tuesday night's game against the New Jersey Devils, they were perched atop the League standings, looking down on an Eastern Conference they've controlled since January with a mix of hard work and smart play that led to 91 points with the playoffs still more than a month away.

But below the surface, a storm has been brewing, and it finally knocked the Rangers off course.

Patrick Burke gets support for "You Can Play" project

Monday, 03.05.2012 / 9:02 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

Sometimes, it's the simplest things.
For Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, it was seven words that were part of a tribute to his late brother Brendan on the website that stuck with him.
Brendan Burke -- Patrick's younger brother and the son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke -- had revealed his homosexuality to his family in 2007, and then took his message public in 2009. Brendan was working toward spreading a message of tolerance and inclusion in the hockey world while working as a student manager and video assistant for the men's hockey team at Miami (Ohio) University when he was killed in a car accident in 2010.
In memorializing his brother, Patrick came up with seven simple words that just now are starting to resonate across the hockey landscape: "If you can play, you can play."
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