Good late afternoon from Northern California, where it’s the calm before the storm, I guess.
Some Super Storm is predicted to slam the Bay Area on Thursday. I grew up in South Florida, so I’m accustomed to terrible rainy weather and gusty winds and, frankly, hurricanes, so I’m not too concerned. But I’m not exactly sure how the Silicon Valley handles such events, and people here seem to be in freak-out mode and the weather reports from the National Weather Service do appear daunting.
It’s supposed to be an absolute mess here Thursday, so wish everybody luck and let’s hope everyone’s safe. As of now, most everybody says it’s very unlikely that the game would be cancelled, but as the San Jose Mercury News’ David Pollak reminded me today, San Jose has scrapped a game because of rain (actually flooding) before in 1995.
Thoughts here again are with Keith Ballard, who is such a good guy and just continues to have horrible luck with injuries. The latest is serious and could be season-altering at a minimum and career-threatening at a maximum.
He has three facial fractures and a concussion. Once the swelling goes down, doctors will decide whether or not Ballard needs surgery. He has been released from the hospital and is resting at home.
Even Chuck Fletcher admitted his concern. When I asked whether Ballard may not play again this season (which would likely mean at a minimum his Wild career is in danger because he’s in the final year of his contract), the Wild GM said, “This is serious. He’s had concussions before. I don’t know how many. We’re worried about that. Bones will heal. I don’t mean to make light of it, but his face will heal. But his hand was sticking right up. He was convulsing. This was scary. You could even see the reaction of the Islanders’ bench. They weren’t standing over him mocking him. They were scared.”
Thomas Vanek, Ballard’s close friend and former Gophers teammate, visited Ballard at the hospital last night.
“He was in good spirits,” Vanek said. “It’s tough for him because I’m sure you know his history with injuries. I thought he was an important player for us vocally and on the ice he was doing well, so it’s another setback for him. That’s why you feel bad for him. But I was encouraged how well he was actually doing.”
As you know by now, Matt Martin won’t be suspended. The league felt that when Ballard turned to avoid the hit, he put himself in a vulnerable position and that directly contributed to the incident and subsequent injury.
Fletcher didn’t want to comment, probably because he could be fined more than he’s worth.
Yeo said, “I’m not going to argue with the league on this one and I’m sure people on the Islanders’ side of the coin would be looking at things differently, but for me, it’s our player, it’s our teammate. When I looked at it, I know that Bally was in a bit of a vulnerable position. He may have turned into it a little bit, but at the same time, I see a player launching himself at him at an area close to the boards. The more I watch it, and again it’s hard to watch, when it’s your teammate, you don’t like those.”
A few players said they felt Martin is a left winger and hit Ballard along the right-wing boards, meaning he traveled 70 feet to deliver the hit. I do think he was on a line change though, and as I said last night and this morning, I just think it’s a reckless, needless hit. I know this is a game of finishing your check. I know as (coincidentally) former Sharks serial illegal hitter Bryan Marchment once said, if you don’t want to get hit, play tennis (or something like that).
But Ballard dumps the puck in the corner 100 feet away. He’s next to the boards. I don’t get why he needs to be hit late. Like I said this morning, the league considers seven-tenths of a second after a player releases the puck late. This, the league says, was half-a-second.
“I thought it was maybe even a little late, but it’s tough to tell because you really slow it down to watch it,” Yeo said. But he added, “He’s seeking him out. He’s on a mission there.”
Obviously, all fans are going to see this in their prism. Just look at my Twitter mentions today and I’m sure the blog and article comments. If you’re an Islander fan, Martin’s a saint. Scandella’s a devil. Wild fans say the opposite.
Of course, Martin has two suspensions to Scandella’s zero (well, for another few hours at least; more on that later).
Obviously an emotional topic. Look, even former congressman Anthony Weiner, an Islander fan, joined the fray and expressed his opinion.
Let's hope Ballard is back on the ice soon. But to blame Matt Martin for the crazy way that contact went down is just wrong.— Anthony Weiner (@anthonyweiner) December 10, 2014
My opinion? Who cares? It doesn’t matter. If the NHL suspends Matt Martin, what’s that do for the Wild? It’s a waste of your time to even get all angered. Just hope for Ballard’s recovery.
Wild plays the Sharks Thursday.
Scandella won't be playing because he was suspended two games for an illegal check to Brock Nelson’s head.
After practice and before his hearing, Scandella didn’t want to comment until Thursday. He pleaded the fifth, so to speak.
“Obviously we’re hoping he’s not suspended. He’s a huge part of our team,” Yeo said after practice.
But two head shots in 10 days, the league won’t be letting him off the hook. The Wild’s clearly guessing two games.
In the NHL video which can be seen here, the league says the main point of contact was Nelson's head, that his jaw absorbed the brunt of it, that head contact was avoidable and it noted how Scandella was just fined for a similar hit on T.J. Oshie 10 days ago.
Scandella loses $11,021.50 in salary (two days pay out of 186 days this season). Luckily for him, his recent extension doesn't kick in til next October.
If he's suspended again in the next 18 months, he'll lose game checks.
So, Christian Folin will draw into the game Thursday and if Scandella is suspended, so will Justin Falk. Asked why Falk over Matt Dumba or Jon Blum, Yeo said with Ballard and Scandella out, the Wild loses two left-shot D and with San Jose and Arizona (Saturday’s opponent) heavy teams, having a big body that can skate and shoot was the deciding factor.
Sounds like Darcy Kuemper will return to the net Thursday even though Niklas Backstrom was in the cage for the Islanders win.
“Still discussing that a little bit. We’ll wait ‘til [Thursday] to announce our decision,” Yeo said. “Looking at a couple different decisions – the opponent that we’re playing, Backy coming off a game that he should feel rea; good about, he should feel real good about and we’ll evaluate everything.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea which way we’re going.”
Yeo made crystal clear if Kuemper plays, this isn’t so much allowing him to bounce back from the Anaheim loss but more so Backstrom’s 1-9-1 record with a 3.63 goals-against average lifetime at San Jose.
The Wild, by the way, has won four of its past five on the road BUT is 2-11-2 in its past 15 in this glorious city.
Yeo talked a lot again how Wild players stepped up after the Ballard incident – Mikael Granlund challenging Kyle Okposo, a fiery Mikko Koivu with everyone from referee Brad Meier to every Islander and Kyle Brodziak fighting Martin.
“The way that we came out after that, it said a lot to me and I hope we can continue to with that same kind of passion that we played with the rest of the game,” Yeo said. “I could feel it on the bench. That stuff’s contagious when guys take themselves out of their comfort zone and they’re making a statement to the rest of the group, ‘if you mess with one of us, then you’re going to have to deal with the entire group.’”
Vanek said, “It just shows obviously guys care and respect Bally. Everyone stepped up in that way. Only time will tell how significant that game is, but not just getting wins, but showing those battles out of those guys, that can go a long way.”
Brodziak said he has never seen a scene like Ballard on the ice.
“It was scary,” he said.
On fighting Martin, Brodziak said, “Someone had to do something. You definitely don’t want to be a team that just lets things like that happen. We all care for each other and I know if I didn’t do something, someone else probably would have. I think that’s how you build a camaraderie you need in this league.”
Lots of Wild players mentioned how all they could think about while Ballard was on the ice was his wife, kids and parents.
Talk to you after the Scandella ruling.