The Final Word: Grab your towel and don't panic
In this week's The Final Word, we take a look at Nashville's very obvious struggles this week and why you shouldn't worry, five interesting headlines across hockey, and my say on Garret Ross and the league's general stance on abuse towards women
When you take a look at Nashville over its past four games, it hasn't exactly been the most promising of weeks.
The Predators started out with a chance to clinch a playoff spot against the Colorado Avalanche. Nope, that wasn't meant to be.
What about against the Dallas Stars? A team that Nashville presumably should match up extremely well against in the first round if they were to play each other. Nope, not against them either. You can probably thank the four posts that the Predators rang that night.
Maybe they'd clinch against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Not likely. Historically, Nashville hasn't had the best of success in the Steel City and they sure didn't on Thursday night.
Thanks to the Washington Capitals on Friday evening, the Predators moonwalked into the playoffs - something they've done in the past, but would probably rather earn on their own. It's not often Nashville has had a reason to thank Barry Trotz since his departure from the Music City, but that would definitely be a reason to send him a nice card.
Finally, Nashville gave up a 2-0 lead after two periods against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday to drop a 3-2 decision in the shootout - a game that the Predators should have won, but were out-muscled by a hungrier Sharks team in the third period.
Pekka Rinne, who had performed marvelously throughout the month of March, was pulled twice in three starts, allowing 10 goals on 62 shots - good enough for a 0.839 save percentage and 5.39 goals against average in 111:14 played.
Carter Hutton looked fantastic in relief. Even with an 0-1-1 record in three games played, Hutton only allowed four goals on 69 shots faced - giving him a 0.942 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average in 131:19 played.
Should there be blame placed here? Should fans be worried about how Nashville's going to do in its first-round matchup?
Emphatically, the answer to both questions is a resounding "no".
It's the first four-game losing streak for the Predators since January. Not only that, but Nashville had to make due without the services of both Ryan Ellis and Anthony Bitetto. Granted, Bitetto may not be the most exciting defenseman on the blue line, but he's fit in and meshed fairly well alongside Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Barret Jackman.
Scoring has also come at a premium for Predators skaters this past week. Only Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi and Calle Jarnkrok recorded multiple points over the week with eight others recording only a single point.
Here's the skinny on this: Nashville now only has three games remaining on the season. Three.
Did the team have trouble competing over the past week? Yes. Look who they played: a hungry Avalanche team on Monday, a Stars team fighting for the Central Division crown on Tuesday, and a Penguins team aiming for home ice over the New York Rangers.
The shootout loss to the Sharks is the only one of the three where Nashville had no excuse losing that game, in my opinion.
I'm not overly concerned with how the Predators finish the last week of the season. Sure, I think the team would love to get a couple wins thrown in the mix, but I'm more concerned with making sure that every player is rested and ready for what will be a most brutal first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Why? Nashville will have to face either the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks most likely. Both are going to be more than a handful for the Predators and it'll take all they have to escape the first round and move to the next.
The Five Points - Five stories intersecting the NHL
Six games not enough for Duncan Keith - After a vicious slash to the face of Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle, Keith was handed down a six-game suspension - one that would see him miss the remainder of the regular season and the initial game of Chicago's first-round matchup in the playoffs.
The problem here, which I thought Adam Gretz at CBS Sports nailed perfectly, is that six games wasn't nearly enough. Go read the piece when you have a moment, however it stands to reason that the NHL thought they were setting a precedent handing down a suspension of that size to a repeat offender.
In reality, by continuously treating playoff games with a higher weight than regular season games and presumably using that as a reasoning behind only suspending Keith for six games, the league sends the message that no matter what the penalty is players won't be suspended more than a game or two during the playoffs.
A failed Masterton nominee choice - I had, and still have, trouble wrapping my head around this one.
O'Reilly was the Buffalo PHWA's choice to be this seasons Masterton nominee for the Sabres. The Masterton trophy is given out annually to the player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey".
The problem with his nomination? O'Reilly was arrested for drunk driving this offseason after plowing his truck into a Tim Horton's. This is something he's still awaiting trial on.
Regardless of how the Buffalo media present their argument towards nominating O'Reilly, this was more or less a choice that should have probably been second-guessed.
O'Reilly won't win the Masterton trophy this season, but the Sabres media should have thought that one out a little bit more before nominating him -- just for the backlash alone. It's not to say that O'Reilly couldn't potentially win the award in the future, but this isn't the year you want to be nominating him for it.
Of course, he who is without sin may cast the first stone, but much could have been averted if they would have chosen a different player.
Who cares about the Presidents' Trophy? - The Presidents' Trophy! It's awarded to the team who earns the most points during the regular season. The team that's the best over 82 games.
It's a fantastic accomplishment for a franchise, sure, but I'm not so sure that players actually care about it.
What happens when you ask Washington players about it? They made sure their sentiments were clearly outlined to the Washington Post on how thrilled they were to win the Presidents' Trophy:
"Honestly, no one really cares about the Presidents' Trophy," said Karl Alzner, whose Washington Capitals earned it for the second time in franchise history in Monday's 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. "To be honest with you, it's just a nice feather in the cap, but we're happy to get the opportunity to have home ice [advantage], which is huge."
Obviously, every player probably feels the exact same way. Most won't go and say it exactly how Alzner did, but that trophy isn't the one every player is trying to win.
Unsealed league emails and how Tom Cigarran is a true people's champion - Earlier this past week, a slew of emails that had been sealed during the concussion lawsuit issued against the league were released - providing some amazing inside conversations held by hockey's highest officials, owners and general managers.
Outside of the amazing conversations between people like Gary Bettman, Brian Burke, Brendan Shanahan and others, we had a first hand look at how Predators owner Tom Cigarran took a wonderful stand on head shots across the league.
"As I have tried to get across, ANY hit to the head MUST be a Major penalty and result in a suspension. We would be the last league to take this position so this is not a RADICAL concept. The cost of our delay is huge in financial terms and In terms of damage to player careers as well.
I fully support Brendan's aggressive enforcement of player safety regs. Last night's hit on Mike Fisher according to our latest rules might have been Legal. This just demonstrates the need to Change the rules.
The "it will change the game" or "we will have our players wearing figure skates" stories show the thinking of the old timers. Our incremental approach to change to mollify them has gone on too long. I intend to bring this up at every owners meeting until the changes are made. Enough is enough."
The email was sent on October 30th, 2011 after Nashville forward Mike Fisher was concussed via a hit from Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin - who was never suspended for the brutal hit.
In a public/private era where most feel like it's just best to mind their own business and not make any waves, Cigarran's email to Bettman made it clear that he's not going to be hesitant to splash heavily in the pool until the league really buckles down on headshots.
The NHL has done a better job of managing those over the past couple of seasons, but it's still nowhere close to where it could be. It's refreshing to see, for sure.
YOU get an injury and YOU get an injury - Is no team safe from the dreaded injury bug? Coming so late in the season, there are a handful of playoff teams that are battling a rough number of injuries on their respective rosters.
In the latest example: Anaheim will now be without the services of Frederik Anderson, David Perron and Rickard Rakell. That's a massive blow for a Ducks team that has looked fantastic outside of the first month of the season and one that could potentially play the Predators in the first round.
Outside of him finally skating on Saturday, the Blackhawks have been without the services of goaltender Corey Crawford since mid-March with an upper-body injury.
Then you look at Nashville: they've been without Ellis and Bitetto.
It's not just those three teams, but there are plenty that seem to have at least one injury that could cause some trouble as they enter the playoffs. I'm intrigued to see how some of these teams compensate in the mean time.
Nashville's looked alright with Stefan Elliott and Petter Granberg in the line-up. Chicago has made due without Crawford. Anaheim, though? Those injuries could be more than they can handle.
The Final Word
Nothing makes my stomach churn more than the subject of sexual and domestic assault.
Garret Ross - who currently plays for the Rockford Ice Hogs, AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks - was charged with non-consensual dissemination of sexual images in early February after a four-month investigation. Essentially, Ross shared imagery that wasn't his to share.
To nutshell the timeline: Ross turned himself into authorities on February 4th, the Blackhawks suspended him nearly two months (!!) later, six days afterwards the crime was deemed to have been committed in the state of Michigan and not Illinois and Chicago re-instated him immediately.
There's a lot to digest here, but let's start out with the three most glaring and important facts: Ross turned himself into authorities on February 4th, Chicago suspended him on March 23rd and he was re-instated on March 29th.
That's the only question I'd like to ask the Blackhawks organization. Why?
They could have easily sent an important message to the rest of the sports world and maybe kept the suspension until the end of the season or even cut Ross. They decided, however, that just because the crime didn't happen in the state of Illinois that it would be enough to re-instate him back to his job.
Can you tell me another employer that would do the same? If you handed yourself over to the cops one day would you not be immediately fired or suspended from your job the next? Especially if it came to light that you were sexually exploiting a woman?
Can you tell me that if your employer suspended you for such an offense, but found out it happened while you were on a business trip in a different state, that they would lift your suspension the next day?
No. That would most certainly never happen in real life.
It's mind-boggling that teams continue to allow these events to happen right under their noses and do absolutely nothing about it until someone starts to lift the curtain and show the public a little of what's going on behind it.
We can talk about the Patrick Kane incident until we're blue in the face. You can even throw Predators forward Mike Ribeiro and Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov into the same conversation. Kane's charges were dropped by the district attorney and Varlamov won his civil suit earlier this year after facing a criminal charge in 2013. Those charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence. Ribeiro settled his case in a civil lawsuit this past summer.
What I'm getting at here is that none of the teams really did anything to deter these kind of events from happening in the future. That no team across the NHL has showed any sort of zero-tolerance policy in terms of domestic or sexual abuse/assault towards women is downright sickening.
Chicago could have easily made an example of Garret Ross and they didn't.
It's just another example of how the NHL and its member clubs continue to send the wrong message to women everywhere.