Lost in the different ways the Max Pacioretty-Zdeno Chara story developed Thursday was a point finally raised by the NHL players' association late in the afternoon, a thread that could use a vigorous tug in the next few days, or before the general managers congregate in Florida to discuss what's next on the player safety agenda.
In a statement issued by newly appointed executive director Donald Fehr, the NHLPA raised the issue of "maximizing safety" in terms of an arena's boards and glass; and suggested that in the aftermath of Pacioretty's serious injuries, there is a need to "look further" into the matter of making the work place safer than it is at the moment.
Because as much as Chara had no business taking Pacioretty out along the boards as violently as he did, if the collision hadn't taken place at that exact spot on the Bell Centre ice - by the players' benches, where Pacioretty's head could be rammed into the turnbuckle (a move we used to associate strictly with the bad old days of professional wrestling) - it's unlikely that his injuries would have been nearly as severe.
So changes need to be made there, and they can begin by installing more padding to the areas around the stanchion which, based on what players have been saying these past few days, is a known danger area in the Bell Centre, a place where internally, they all seemed to understand that caution needed to be exercised.
Perhaps a re-think of the angles along the boards could help too. In the past, the NHL changed the ways its nets were moored to the ice, in the aftermath of a near life-threatening injury to former player Mark Howe. It altered the way the plexiglass is installed in most rinks to make the boards buckle more - and increase the 'give' when bodies were rammed hard into the boards. And a few years back, after a young Columbus Blue Jackets' spectator died after being hit by a wayward puck, netting was installed at either end of the rink to prevent a similar tragedy from happening ever again.
It is has been said before but is worth repeating - there is no way to make the game of hockey, especially at the professional level, completely safe. Everybody gets that. However, the onus is on the key decision makers - owners, managers, and players through the competition committee and their union - to make it safer than it is now.
Fehr said the players association would be "inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place."
Montreal would be a good place to start all right. It's too bad it took a severe concussion and a fractured vertebrae to one of the hometown heroes for that initiative to finally take place.
MORE ON REVAMPING RINK BOARDS: One of the companies that helped introduce the Megg-Net system to the NHL in 1984, Riley Manufacturing, will be at the GMs meetings in Florida, promoting a new "Flush Mounted Glass" system that they believe can be adapted to most rinks and reduce the number of injuries that result from direct contact with the cap rail. According to the company, the product has already been tested by the NHL. In the light of Pacioretty's injury, it may well be that the league will pursue a retrofit of all of its arenas to include a similar sort of safety installation.
GAGNER DONE FOR THE YEAR: As if the Edmonton Oilers hadn't had enough back luck lately, Sam Gagner was lost to the season following a freak injury in Wednesday's loss to the Washington Capitals. Gagner was sitting on the bench with his glove off, drinking water, when teammate Ryan Jones jumped over the boards on a line change. Jone's skate sliced the tendon in Gagner's left hand and it will require surgery to repair. Gagner joins Taylor Hall on the sidelines for the rest of the year, as the Oilers' season continues to spiral down. With Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney both out as well, and Dustin Penner now a member of the Los Angeles Kings, it means the Oilers' leading scorer at the moment, among active players, is rookie Jordan Eberle, who has 36 points in 55 games, but also missed 13 earlier in the year with injury. Shawn Horcoff would also be a candidate to lead the team in scoring, except that he's missed 23 games because of injury this season. Among players who've played a full season, Andrew Cogliano is tops in points with 28 in 68. Only good news: Barring a bad break in the lottery, the Oilers will step to the podium and select first overall in the 2011 entry draft. At some point, their haul of young players and prospects will translate into points in the standings, but it will be impossible to gauge exactly how far along they are on the development path until they stop getting ravaged by injuries.
CANUCKS ROLLING ALONG: Slump? What slump? The Vancouver Canucks headed out on a five-game road trip a week ago today feeling some low-level heat for their win-one, lose-one pattern over the previous month - and wondering what it might take to shake themselves free of that little bit of lethargy. Obviously, the open road was the answer. The Canucks made it four victories in a row, with Thursday night's shootout win over the hard-charging San Jose Sharks, who along with the Chicago Blackhawks, might be playing the best hockey in the league right now. With the Detroit Red Wings in a mini-skid of their own, the Canucks have quietly opened up an 11-point lead atop the Western Conference standings.
At 90 points, and with two games in hand, the Philadelphia Flyers are their closest competition for the President's Trophy, which has been awarded annually since the 1985-86 season to the team compiling the best regular-season record. Winning the President's Trophy is usually a mixed blessing, given how it rarely translates into Stanley Cup success. Last year's winners, the Washington Capitals, were dispatched in the opening round by Montreal, an eighth seed. Two years ago, the San Jose Sharks won it and were promptly dismissed by the Anaheim Ducks, another eighth seed. The last two teams to win both the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season were those relentlessly consistent Red Wings. They did it in 2008 (defeating Pittsburgh in the final) and in 2002 (knocking off upstart Carolina).