Nicholas J. Cotsonika

  • What a difference a year makes: It's been an uphill battle for the Avs in 2014-15

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 4 days ago

    Nathan MacKinnon was the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft. As an 18-year-old last season, he racked up 24 goals and 63 points for the Colorado Avalanche and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. He spent the summer training with Sidney Crosby, getting into shape, looking to dominate.

    He’s still the same talented kid. In a shootout Sunday night, he skated into the slot, slowed down and stickhandled. He faked a shot and froze the goalie. He made another move, got the goalie going to his right and flipped the puck the opposite direction, just past the glove and into the net. Gorgeous. He’s 4-for-4 in shootouts this season.

    Yet he has five goals and 20 points, putting him on pace for 12 goals and 49 points. He hasn’t scored in 15 straight games.

    And he’s not alone.

    Colorado’s young forwards shined last season as the Avs finished third in the NHL standings. The team’s top four scorers were Matt Duchene, the third overall pick in 2009; Gabriel Landeskog, the second overall pick in 2011; Ryan O’Reilly, a second-round pick in 2009; and MacKinnon.

    The magic is gone. They went 35-8-3 when outshot last season. They’re 6-10-6 when outshot this season.

    A few reasons:

  • The NHL, the mumps, and the 'gross' game of hockey

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 7 days ago

    Hockey can be great, and hockey can be, uh, gross.

    Think of how germs can spread in school classrooms, college dormitories or everyday offices. Now think of how they can spread in NHL dressing rooms, bench areas or ice rinks.

    These guys play in petri dishes filled with snot, spit, sweat and blood. Despite the best efforts of medical, training and equipment staffs – better manned, educated and equipped than ever before – they exchange bodily fluids easily and often.

    A hockey sweater might as well be a motel comforter.

    “Who knows what gets on you?” said New York Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck. “It’s pretty gross. It really is.”

    Every season, bugs go through teams. This season, the mumps is going around, even though vaccines have made the disease rare in North America. It has swollen the face of the face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, who looked like he had tucked a banana in his right cheek when he met with the media last week.

    As of Friday afternoon, 16 players, two referees and a radio intern had confirmed cases in the NHL. A coach and a player had confirmed cases in the American Hockey League. More tests were pending.


    It’s not pretty, so to speak.

    — Spit: Hockey players spit.


  • Three Periods: Blue Jackets back from the brink; misery and milestones for Elias; NHL notes

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 8 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include the Columbus Blue Jackets rebounding instead of tanking; Patrik Elias approaching milestones amid a miserable season; and notes on Slava Voynov, Las Vegas, Toronto, Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary.

    FIRST PERIOD: Tank? No thanks. The Blue Jackets have rebounded instead

    He winced. He wrinkled his nose.

    “I don’t like that word,” he said. “I don’t want to be associated with that word.”

    That word? Tank.

    John Davidson heard it connected to the Columbus Blue Jackets not long ago. The morning of Nov. 30, they had gone 2-13-2 in their last 17 games. They were last in the NHL standings.

    It’s not that people didn’t understand the reason: an injury epidemic. It’s that people figured the Jackets would be better off giving up on the season, getting a top draft pick and adding a talent like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

    By people, we don’t just mean media members. We mean NHL general managers. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen received lots of calls from colleagues eager to, ahem, help.

    “It’s not that we’re a bad team,” Davidson said. “We didn’t have our assets. When we have our assets, we’ll battle with people.”

  • Aaron Ekblad embraces 'cool challenge' of NHL stardom as 18-year-old Panthers rookie

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 10 days ago

    When Willie Mitchell bought a house on the water in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., he invited Aaron Ekblad to live in a spare bedroom for the season. Mitchell is the 37-year-old captain of the Florida Panthers. Ekblad is the 18-year-old rookie the Panthers drafted first overall in June. Mitchell treats Ekblad more like a brother than a son, even if Ekblad is young enough to be his son.

    The water is Mitchell’s therapy. He fishes to clear his head at home in British Columbia. He doesn’t have a boat in Florida yet, but he does have two jet skis. Mitchell told Ekblad he could use them whenever he wanted, but to make sure he flushed them after he was done because saltwater could ruin the engine. Ekblad asked Mitchell to show him how to do it. “He always wants to learn new stuff,” Mitchell said.

    When Mitchell showed him how to do it, well …

    Mitchell looked at Ekblad; Ekblad looked at Mitchell.



    It was between a morning skate and a game. But it was Florida, and the sun was shining, and they had eaten their pregame meal, and there was time to kill. “I was going to nap, he wasn’t,” Mitchell said, smiling. “What kind of 18-year-old doesn’t sleep in the afternoon?”

    * * * * *

    * * * * *

  • Oilers need to clean house, get rid of GM Craig MacTavish and president Kevin Lowe

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 11 days ago

    At least Craig MacTavish was honest Monday when he fired Dallas Eakins.

    “To think that this is a coaching issue would be naive,” the Edmonton Oilers general manager said in a press conference. “It’s deeper-rooted than that.”

    Eakins is out because the Oilers went 36-63-14 under him, because they won one of their last 16 games, because Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers was a joke. The Oilers were a laughingstock. Literally. Listen to Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist cackle when asked if he had to make any signature saves in the shutout. “Do you remember any one?” he asked.

    Maybe Eakins was a problem. He was too arrogant when he came up from the minors as The Next Big Thing. He made improvements in some areas (shots against) but not others (special teams). Too often he looked defeated, and so did his players. The Oilers ranked last not just in points, but also in body language.

    And that means the problem still has not been solved.

    “We have to get to the core of it,” MacTavish said, “and we will.”

    Someone needs to, anyway.

  • Red Wings flying again: Why you shouldn't be surprised at Detroit's 'best team' in years

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 14 days ago

    DETROIT — After barely making the playoffs the past two seasons, the Detroit Red Wings are 17-6-6 for 40 points, one off the lead in the Eastern Conference. They’re on pace for 113 points, which would be their best total since 2007-08, when they posted 115 and won the Stanley Cup. They posted 112 in 2008-09 and went to Game 7 of the Cup final.

    “This is the best team we’ve had here since probably ’09, and not necessarily point-wise, but direction-wise,” coach Mike Babcock told reporters the other day. “We have more players going in the right direction than we’ve had in a long time. That’s what good teams have. They have internal competition.”

    But here’s a little perspective: The Wings started 15-8-7 for 37 points last season. On the morning of Dec. 7, 2013, they were four points off the lead in the East. They were on pace for 101 points. They weren’t as good as they are now, but they weren’t far off. And they had essentially the same cast of characters.

    So what happened last season? Why did the Wings finish 39-28-15 for 93 points and end up with the last wild-card spot in the East?


  • Three Periods: Leafs won't get fooled again; Carolina on owner's mind; NHL notes

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 15 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include why the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be fooled again; why Peter Karmanos would like to sell the Carolina Hurricanes; and notes on potential NHL expansion, the Florida Panthers’ attendance and Mike Babcock’s contract situation with the Detroit Red Wings.

    FIRST PERIOD: Leafs on another hot streak, but at least they know what it is

    Three weeks ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in crisis. They had lost back-to-back games to the Buffalo Sabres and the Nashville Predators by a combined score of 15-4. Critics wanted to hear from president Brendan Shanahan. Critics wanted coach Randy Carlyle to be fired.

    Then the Leafs won … and it got even worse.

    After a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the players deliberately did not give their customary stick salute to the fans at the Air Canada Centre. They said they were just changing the routine, but they were really tired of jersey-tossing and booing and empty platinum seats. Another firestorm ensued. Critics questioned their leadership.

    “There’s a recognition that there is another way to play,” Carlyle said.

    THIRD PERIOD: Notes from around the NHL

  • Mike Babcock denies Detroit extension close, no talks ongoing

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Puck Daddy 15 days ago

    DETROIT – Mike Babcock is not close to signing an extension with the Detroit Red Wings, despite a report. 

    “I’m telling you the truth right here,” Babcock said Thursday. “Nothing’s happened.”

    Nothing has changed.The Wings approached Babcock in the summer and again before the season. They have an multiyear offer on the table that would make him the highest-paid coach in the NHL. They hope he signs sooner rather than later. They’re optimistic he will sign eventually but prepared in case he leaves.

    Babcock speaks to general manager Ken Holland daily; their families‪ socialize. But the sides are not actively negotiating, and asked if an extension was possible during the season, Babcock said: “I don’t think so.”

    It’s up to Babcock. Unless he changes his mind, this is going to the off-season.

  • NHL slow-rolls on Las Vegas: Big-picture payoff trumps potential $500M expansion fee

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 17 days ago

    BOCA RATON, Fla. — The NHL expects to meet with the potential Las Vegas ownership group sometime next week. Businessman William Foley probably won’t be there, but as deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, he has “people.”

    The league expects to discuss the specifics of the season-ticket drive Foley wants to use to help gauge the viability of the market. Will fans have to make multi-year commitments? Will they have to put up real money?

    “Ultimately he’s going to do what he wants,” said commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday after the league’s board of governors meeting. “But I guess he’s looking for some impact so, from his standpoint and ours, we might judge if it’s meaningful.”

    Bettman said if he had to guess, the season-ticket drive wouldn’t start before Jan. 1. Daly said in his view, it wouldn’t happen until mid-to-late January at the earliest. So there is a ways to go before this starts, let alone finishes with at least three-quarters of the board approving an expansion franchise.

    “Before there’s ever a vote,” Daly said, “I think we have to get to a point where we have a [formal] process.”

    What would constitute a formal process?

    The league has not had that discussion yet.

  • NHL takes first step towards possible expansion team in 'unique market' Las Vegas

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 18 days ago

    BOCA RATON, Fla. — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Monday that the board of governors had no objection to a potential owner of a Las Vegas expansion team conducting a season-ticket drive to help gauge the viability of the market.

    Bettman emphasized the board had not voted on expansion. It had not even voted on the season-ticket drive. It simply had no objection to the season-ticket drive.

    He said the NHL didn’t know how the potential owner would run the season-ticket drive yet, or what would be enough to help show the market was viable, or whether the board would approve a Las Vegas franchise even if the market was viable.

    “Please,” he told reporters, “do not make more out of this than it is.”

    Here is what this is: a first step.

    The temptation is to joke about the NHL gambling on Las Vegas – about Bettman the betting man, keeping a poker face, holding his cards close to the vest, going all-in on expansion.

    It must be a sober business decision.


    “We haven’t studied it yet,” Bettman said.

    Not at all?

    The NHL’s owners would not have to share any expansion fee – say, $450 million – with the players.

    Why would anyone object?