What we learned from the last week of play in the NHL:
Maybe Jim Lites had reasons to light up Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn
The Dallas Stars’ chief operating officer unleashed expletive-spiced criticism of the two elite forwards Friday, comments he surprisingly urged media to publish. In addition to calling them words we can’t print, he said the team was “getting terrible play from our top two players” who are “consistently out-efforted and outperformed by everybody else’s best players.” Lites didn’t care that Seguin (11 goals, 33 points through Sunday) had hit the post or crossbar about a dozen times. “Wah-wah, that’s what I say about hitting posts,” Lites said. “Get a little closer to the action, actually go to the spot where you score goals. He doesn’t do that. He never does that anymore. He used to be a pest to play against. People hated playing against Tyler Seguin. They don’t anymore.” Seguin and team captain Benn (15 goals, 30 points) acknowledged they could do more, and the Stars won their next game. But the subtext likely is that both are under contract long-term — Seguin through 2026-27 and Benn through 2024-25 — with no-move clauses. Did Lites want to anger them so they’d waive those clauses and accept trades that would get them off the payroll? In a statement issued Sunday the NHL Players’ Assn. called Lites’ remarks “reckless and insulting.” Too bad the NHLPA doesn’t use such strong language about players who irresponsibly bash opponents’ heads.
Trades won’t stop Oilers’ defensive leaks
In urgent need of help on defense, Edmonton general manager Peter Chiarelli nibbled around the edges of his problem Sunday by making two minor deals. He acquired Brandon Manning and Robin Norell from Chicago for forward Drake Caggiula and defenseman Jason Garrison, and got Edmonton-born defenseman Alexander Petrovic from Florida for defenseman Chris Wideman and a 2019 third-round draft pick. The Oilers added physicality but really need defensemen who can get the puck out of their zone. Odd note: During the 2015-16 season, Manning — then with Philadelphia — hit Oilers forward Connor McDavid hard and into the boards, causing McDavid to break his clavicle and cut short his rookie season. Mark Spector of Sportsnet reported that Chiarelli got McDavid’s blessing before completing the trade for Manning.
No man is an island
After the New York Islanders lost dynamic forward John Tavares to free agency last summer — a decision he announced by posting a photo of himself as a child wearing Toronto Maple Leafs pajamas — they had every excuse to collapse. Instead they’ve united under coach Barry Trotz and are among the NHL’s best defensive teams, an asset they used Saturday in a 4-0 victory over the Maple Leafs at Toronto in the teams’ first encounter since Tavares left for a seven-year, $77-million contract. Tavares described the defeat as a “like-you-got-punched-in-the-gut kind of feeling,” but Trotz said the Islanders are focused on moving forward. “Any time you lose a John Tavares, that’s a big piece,” Trotz told reporters in Toronto. “We’re not looking back, though. We have to look forward, and that’s what our organization is wanting from the players, wanting from everybody. That era is done and we’re trying to create a new era.” Kudos to them for being surprisingly competitive in this new era.
If there’s an outdoor game, the Blackhawks must be in it
The NHL will roll out the Winter Classic on Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium, with Chicago facing the Boston Bruins. This will be the Blackhawks’ sixth outdoor contest, including three Winter Classic appearances. Aside from the usual nostalgia, some real and some manufactured, the uniforms will be a prime attraction: The Blackhawks will wear replicas of the black-and-white uniforms worn by their first Stanley Cup championship team in 1934, and the Bruins will wear modified versions of jerseys they wore in the early 1930s, but with a B in the front instead of a bear. Notre Dame football legends will join the festivities, as will Bruins and Blackhawks alumni.
It’s time to bid farewell to 2018
The year’s highlights included the Washington Capitals winning their first Cup championship, the unlikely on- and off-ice success of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, and a recent uptick in scoring. The lowlights: The NHL didn’t allow players to represent their homelands in the Pyeongchang Olympics, 16 people died in the crash of the junior-level Humboldt Broncos’ team bus, and death claimed Hall of Fame executive Bill Torrey, Hall of Famer Stan Mikita, former Bruin Johnny (Pie) McKenzie, and U.S. hockey executive Jim Johannson, among others. Happy 2019 and happy hockey to all.