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Sunday Hockey notes

Kostopoulos penalty was a deserving hit

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 16, 2011

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Tom Kostopoulos is cooling his heels right now as the league’s most recently identified evil-doer, but he’s a guy I’d have on my team, because he usually plays with energy, edge, and permissible snarl. He is not gifted offensively, which only places him among the vast percentage of NHL forwards (we could dwell here on the word “gifted’’ and denude forests and devour at least half of all cyberspace on the subject). He has a history of crafting a lot out of a limited tool kit and doing so with appropriate conduct.

Kostopoulos last week was sent to the sidelines for six games by league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, who deemed that the Flames forward deliberately cracked ex-Bruin Brad Stuart on the side of the head last Saturday night, leaving the unsuspecting Red Wings defenseman with a broken jaw. Stuart is expected to miss six weeks or more because of the drive-by pasting.

“What do you think — is that worth six games?!’’ bellowed the hard-nosed Mike Milbury when your faithful puck chronicler ventured once more across his primrose path Thursday night at the Garden. “Come on, yes or no? Kostopoulos, six games?!’’

Having been in Microphone Mike’s deranged company now for more than three decades, I sensed right away that the point was about as debatable as, say, “Do you think the three little piggies really went, ‘Wee! Wee! Wee!’ all the way home?’’

Nonetheless, I entered the fray and offered, “Yeah, Mike, I do.’’

To which Milbury responded, “Wimp!’’ (I confess right here to cleaning that up for the good of both family paper and cyberspace.)

Milbury is obviously not alone in his robust objection. Jay Feaster, now general manager of the Flames after Darryl Sutter’s sudden departure from the corner office, issued a statement following Campbell’s ruling, strongly objecting to the suspension, maintaining that Kostopoulos delivered a legal hit that was not targeted to Stuart’s noggin. Simply a case, noted Feaster, of a player finishing his check.

Please, stop. We are left to ask then, what if Kostopoulos really meant to hurt Stuart? Would, say, a decapitation be worthy of at least a gross misconduct and a two-game suspension? OK, I know, wimp.

Regular readers of this space in the last year twice have read a call for Campbell to step down as league disciplinarian, first because of his lollygagging around the vicious hits to the head suffered by Florida’s David Booth and then Boston’s Marc Savard, then because of Campbell’s depiction of Savard as a “little fake artist’’ in what were intended to be private e-mails between his office and then-director of officiating Stephen Walkom. The powers of the press and sensibility being what they are, Campbell has remained on the job.

Ironically, if not tragically, now that Campbell is finally acting responsibly and meting out worthy punishment, he is getting his gears grinded from his own brotherhood.

“We respect the difficult job Colin Campbell has to do in these situations,’’ wrote Feaster, “and we appreciate the opportunity we were afforded to present our case; however, we simply do not agree with the decision.’’

Here’s the decision, plain and simple, folks. Campbell’s job in these cases, first and foremost, has to be to protect the players (i.e. the victims). He had that chance early last season when Booth was strapped to a board and carted off after being cannibalized by the Flyers’ Mike Richards. Campbell had that chance again when Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke did much the same to Savard.

In both cases, Campbell passed, repeatedly referencing the lack of language in the rule book that would afford him the luxury of running the nitwits off the playing field and maintaining the integrity of the game.

Campbell, thank goodness, is finally doing the job. The truth is, the Lords of the Boards made it even easier for him last spring when they amended said rule book and gave him specific language that could be summed up as, “Hey, Colie, open your eyes and do the right thing!’’

The Colie Code is actually Rule No. 48, pertaining to illegal checks to the head, specifically “lateral or blind side’’ hits.

We can roll tape on the Kostopoulos-Stuart hit and I’m willing to bet there will be roughly a 50-50 split of opinion on whether it reaches the illegal-check-to-the-head standard. That’s generally the nature of these things. Often we’re left to think, “Gee, I don’t know, I’d have to know what the guy was thinking when he hit him, what he saw, what the other guy was thinking . . .’’

Well, folks, that’s the same place we were in the wake of the Booth and Savard batterings, only to have Campbell maintain his dual policy of do-nothing and nothing-doing. He should have had the common sense then to act. Now that he has the Colie Code on his side, he is at last displaying the common sense to use it when the assault is close enough to fit the crime.

It took him a long time to get there, at the painful expense of too many concussions and damaged careers, but his quick and decisive ruling on Kostopoulos must be applauded. Let’s hope he has the courage and sense to keep it up.

Culturally, there remains a much bigger issue here, one not for Campbell or anyone else in NHL headquarters to address. It’s about violence and the ever-present intent to injure in today’s game. It’s in virtually every game, every night. More than ever, including the rough-and-tumble Original Six days. Amid all the game’s increased speed and strength, a basic honesty has been trashed.

Too many players get on the ice not with the intention of playing hard, but playing to hurt. They are not looking for checks, just as Jack Tatum wasn’t looking to tackle Darryl Stingley. They are looking for victims. And in a game that moves at this speed, with this many moving parts, with so many dangerous tools at hand (stick, puck, carbon-padded elbow, skate blade, et al), and with so much money to make, there is always temptation and opportunity to do the wrong thing. To be vulnerable in today’s game too often means to be victimized, broken, concussed, carried off. Some honor that.

Did Richards have to try to sever Booth’s head from his body? Could Cooke have smacked Savard with a clean, effective hit to disrupt the play high in Pittsburgh’s end? Might Kostopoulos have made a more worthy attempt on net if his main concern weren’t to put a hurt on Stuart?

I trust those answers are obvious. I am not as hopeful that the players, the ones who really need to start figuring this out, even understand the question. They have been raised in a culture of hurt and increasingly have become its victims, with neither the sense nor the leadership to see what they’ve become or where they are going.

BROADWAY ROLE
Wolski joins Rangers cast The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 28, which means there is still plenty of time for every one of the 30 clubs to put together the same exact wish list: 1. energy forward; 2. top six winger; 3. puck-moving defenseman. By mid-afternoon of the 28th, maybe one in each category will have been moved. Otherwise, in large part because of the salary cap, it’s a day of flotsam for jetsam (but a fun one nonetheless).

That said, the Rangers and Coyotes got a jump on the sludge dump last week with the move that sent the skilled-but-soft Wojtek Wolski (above) to Broadway and aged and overpriced defenseman Michal Rozsival to Phoenix.

“All the talent in the world,’’ exclaimed Rangers GM Glen Sather of the latest Blueshirt revivalist.

The Rangers needed a fill-in gunner, having lost Alex Frolov (knee) for the season.

One immediate advantage for the Rangers, not that they ever used to worry about such things, is relief on the payroll. Rozsival, 32, carried a $5 million cap hit. Wolski, dished away from the Avalanche last March when they grew tired of his lack of compete, signed a two-year deal in Phoenix last summer that carries a $3.8 million cap hit.

That’s a $1.2 million savings for the Broadway Bros. Once was the time that that might net an energy forward at the trade deadline. Now, Sean Avery holds that post in New York for just under $2 million. His other $1.938 million per year remains on the Dallas books.

ETC.
Leafs make a minor move Another deal last week had the recovering Maple Leafs (5-2-0 in their first seven games of 2011) making a minor-league swap, sending Russian winger Mikhail Stefanovich to Dallas for Swedish winger Fabian Brunnstrom, the latter a highly sought free agent who once had the Bruins, Red Wings, Canucks, and Leafs courting his signature. The Stars won the sprint, but otherwise lost the meet, with Brunnstrom (Wolski-like soft) turning out to be a bust (99 games/40 points over two seasons). Off to the banged-up Marlies (AHL) for Brunnstrom, who at least can provide the Leafs varsity with some call-up depth until his contract expires at the end of the season. A good bet he’ll be seen next season in Farjetstads, his club in Sweden and former home, by the way, of Leafs goaltender Jonas “The Monster’’ Gustavsson.

An alteration for Taylor Tyler Seguin, drafted as a center, has made his rookie living ostensibly as a winger here in the Hub of Hockey. Taylor Hall, chosen No. 1 ahead of Seguin in last June’s draft, was selected as a winger by the Oilers, but last week they converted him to center. His running mates: Ales Hemsky and ex-Maine Black Bear Dustin Penner. Hall, without a point in his pivot debut vs. Dallas, collected five shots on net and went 8 for 21 (38 percent) at the faceoff dot. In his second game in the middle, the line collected 8 points in a 5-2 victory at San Jose, Hemsky with four assists and Hall going 1-2—3 with another five shots on net and a tiny improvement at the dot (6 for 15, 40 percent). Headed into yesterday’s play: Hall, 42 games, 14-12—26 with 121 shots; Seguin, 41 games, 7-9—16 with 80 shots. A lot more ice time for Hall, surrounded by a roster thin on talent. Much less time at his natural position for Seguin, whose top-six talent has been parked mostly on third- and fourth-line duty.

Sharks are floundering Lots of hockey left, but the Sharks are playing with a noticeable, if not shocking, lack of pluck. Could it be they miss retired captain Rob Blake more than they expected? Sure looks that way at the moment. Their loss to the Oilers Thursday night left them a numbing 0-6-0 in their last six, outscored by a 19-8 count. The heat, of course, falls on their big three forwards — Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Joe Thornton — who make a combined $22.1 million. But can a trio of great talent like that actually get the job done? As of Friday morning, that glitzy threesome had a combined career résumé of 2,825 NHL games (playoffs included) but not a single Cup ring. Dependable rides, all three, but lots of miles on the odometer. GM Doug Wilson says there will be no change in the coaching staff. Meanwhile, the biggest issue is lack of scoring, especially five-on-five, where the Sharks have struck only 72 times all season. Headed into weekend play, only the Canadiens, Wild, Senators, Islanders, and Devils were weaker five-on-five. Of all those clubs, only the Canadiens held a playoff spot as of Friday morning. Sharks coach Todd McLellan on the loss to the lowly Oil: “I can’t imagine what would happen in the real world — a brain surgeon, an ambulance driver, a police officer, somebody over in Afghanistan — if they weren’t prepared to exercise what they were told to do in critical situations. We didn’t have nearly enough guys going against the Oilers.’’

One at a time Steve Kampfer, perhaps the brightest prospect on the Boston back line since the Jonathan Girard-Nick Boynton days, had heard near last March’s trade deadline that he might be dealt from Anaheim to Boston. “But I had heard rumors that I was going to be part of a package deal,’’ he recalled, picking up his info then from Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick, brother of then-Boston defenseman Matt Hunwick. “All speculation, I guess. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes.’’ Kampfer had been a fourth-round pick of the Ducks, which is all Boston GM Peter Chiarelli ended up yielding in a one-for-one swap. Not the kind of deal that is typically made at that time of year. The Ducks did bolster their back line by dealing for ex-Bostonian Aaron Ward in a swap with Carolina, but fell short of the playoffs.

Loose pucks Nate Ewell, of the Waterville, Maine, Ewells and once an employee of the late, great WSBK (TV38), was named College Hockey Inc.’s new director of communications Friday. Ewell of late had been senior director of media relations for the Capitals. Great hire by CHI, which continues to beat the drum loudly for rink rats far and wide to think education first . . . Numerous reasons for the Leafs’ mini-revival, including AHL callups, especially goalie James Reimer, who might have to head back to the Marlies now that J.S. Giguere (groin) is healthy again. If the Leafs can move Giguere prior to Feb. 28, then cool-calm-and-collected Reimer might get a heap of work down the stretch . . . Like those sagging marquee names in San Jose, franchise goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is showing a lot less luster in Calgary. Coach Brent Sutter hooked him after he yielded four goals on eight shots in Raleigh Tuesday. “When I see lack of battle,’’ said Sutter, “it’s bothersome.’’ . . . Bruins short-timer Joey McDonald (seven games, 2006-07) is backing up Jimmy Howard in goal these days for the Wings. Veteran Chris Osgood will be out 6-8 weeks following hernia surgery . . . Terry Pegula, identified here weeks ago as the would-be owner of the Sabres, toured the club’s offices at HSBC Arena at the start of last week. Read: The Zamboni is gassed, give the man the keys. Pegula, 59, has a net worth of some $3 billion, making him the 110th richest Yank, according to Forbes . . . The Blackhawks announced that both Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita will have bronze likenesses unveiled outside United Center. Well-deserved and far too late . . . Note to Garden outdoor maintenance staff: The Flying Bobby statue is tremendous, but in desperate need of some surrounding landscaping — a bench, a bush, a potted geranium, anything! Sitting there on the naked asphalt, it looks like it made a hard landing from the Planet Orricury . . . The Kings last night honored ex-Bruins netminder Rogie Vachon, part of three planned heritage nights that also will honor Bob Berry and Bob Pulford. No word as to when the Hawks will honor Pulford, their longtime GM. It’s possible they’ll just offer him a silent salute from far, far away . . . A year ago, it made all the sense in the world for Team USA to go with Ryan Miller as their iron man in net at Olympus, with Tim Thomas his main backup. A year later, Miller has been good, but Thomas would have to be considered the preferred stopper. Makes one wonder how those golden chips might fall now.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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