Five months after a life-threatening accident, Cory Sarich wants one more shot at the NHL.
The 36-year-old defenceman was bicycling in late July when he swerved to avoid an SUV that turned in front of him. Unfortunately, he skidded underneath the vehicle and suffered five cracked vertebrae, along with multiple cuts and bruises.
Sarich was already recovering from two surgeries — one on his back and a scope of his knee — which had him behind on training. But this was even more serious, with Sarich realizing, as he recovered, that his 969-game NHL career may be over.
“It did cross my mind,” he said Wednesday. “Could I lead a normal life? Once things sorted themselves out, I came out of it pretty well. I definitely had some doubts. But in these last two or three weeks I was pretty sure I could do it again.
“Now I have to see how my body holds up to the grind.”
Sarich skated the last few weeks with the University of Calgary’s hockey team, hoping to play for Canada at the Spengler Cup. Hockey Canada informed him last weekend that it couldn’t be certain he would be ready on time, so that invitation was rescinded.
“Everyone thinks I’m still getting around in a wheelchair,” he said. “I’m a realist, what I've been through probably scares a lot of people. Banking on a 36-year-old coming off back surgery and run over by a truck, who knows what it does to peoples minds? I didn’t get off to a good start but by the end of last week, I felt about as normal as I can. Just need a little more conditioning.
“The hurdle I face right now is the Christmas break. It’s not easy to find anyone to skate with.”
Sarich is hoping for a tryout offer, even at the AHL level, similar to what the Rangers gave Tomas Kaberle and Henrik Tallinder. It didn’t work out for them, but he just wants the opportunity. He’s a right-handed shot, which never hurts.
“My kids [Jada, 9, Emmy, 7, and Charlie, 5] are probably forgetting that the accident even happened. That’s a good thing. I can do everything physically I wanted to do. My wife [Reagan] is a rock. She said do it now, because if you postpone, it will be harder and harder. If I wait until next year, there will be zero interest, having gone a year without playing.”
Sarich thought about Europe, but doesn’t want to be away from his family.
“If I was going into a training camp right now, I would be so optimistic. Even if I’m not going to play right away, I would be okay with a reserve role, working on everything I need to work on. I just need guys to skate against.
"Can’t be choosy. If somebody wants to give me an opportunity, I’m ready to go.”
1. Equal time: Last week, this blog included a note indicating Vancouver’s anger with NHL Player Safety, as Stephane Robidas received no hearing for his elbow to Shawn Matthias. There was sympathy for Matthias’ injury, but the department felt the brunt of Robidas’s elbow was absorbed by the chest, which caused the Canuck winger’s head to snap forward. While the defender’s shoulder did eventually make contact with the head, it did not meet the criteria for an illegal check to it.
2. With the Holiday Trade Freeze rapidly approaching, Boston and St. Louis are two interesting teams to watch, not just because they’ve been talking to each other. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is contacting teams with space, seeing what it will cost for them to take players off his roster, so he can free up room to do what he wants.
Curious to see if those second-round selections he acquired for Johnny Boychuk are in his plans. For both Chiarelli and Blues’ compatriot Doug Armstrong, it’s not just about this year. Boston, in a tight spot, must deal with Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Reilly Smith in the summer. Armstrong knows the next two years mean extensions for Jake Allen, Jori Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz and breakout sensation Vladimir Tarasenko. With all of the cap uncertainty, you’ve got to be careful.
3. That’s why you’re hearing a lot of Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie. Both have two more years, the former with a no-trade that kicks in next July 1. Logically, it makes sense for Armstrong to create flexibility.
But, you wonder if adding either player fits the Bruins, because of the term commitment. For example, a near-cap match is Loui Eriksson. If you’re St. Louis, you’d probably do either one for him, because he has only one year remaining. But does it makes sense for Boston? I can see why the answer would be no.
4. Here’s another Boston possibility, albeit on a smaller scale: Vancouver’s Zack Kassian. Kassian currently is injured, but I can see the Bruins taking a shot when he returns. Jim Benning knows Boston’s prospects, it probably doesn’t cost Chiarelli a ton and Kassian has the edge Boston is looking for, although he hasn’t shown enough of it yet.
Late note: Boston may have cooled on this one.
5. If your team is looking for defencemen, watch Anaheim. Ben Lovejoy’s return gives them eight blueliners, with Eric Brewer (expected to be back in January) making nine. That gives Bob Murray some flexibility. Winnipeg added Jay Harrison to stop the bleeding, and Minnesota is another team looking for depth there.
6. Think Carolina was one of the teams interested in Jeremy Morin before he was traded from Chicago, but the two teams could not work out a deal. The Hurricanes, by the way, can only retain one more salary this season, as small chunks of Harrison and Tuomo Ruutu’s cash remain on the books.
7. Taylor Hall? Craig MacTavish has been trying to make trades for almost two years. Can something as complex as a Hall deal really get done now? Part of me wonders if Hall’s name is out there to see how he responds. Does he get to a higher level, showing a desire to stay? Lots of other questions, such as: who is making this decision? We know there is a “forensic audit” of the organization being done, with Bob Nicholson playing a major role.
If Craig MacTavish is in any trouble, does it make sense to do this now? Do you want to determine who your full-time coach is, so you can get his opinion? Are there enough teams with cap room to create the auction you need? Is it best to see what draft pick you get, and make your moves from there? Is there any way on Earth you’re dealing him in the Western Conference? And, most importantly, is it ever a good idea to trade a cornerstone player at such an emotional time?
8. That said, if you’re hoping to get Ryan Johansen (the Blue Jackets already nixed that idea, to Edmonton and others), who do you think you’re giving up? If he does get dealt, it’s that kind of a high-impact return.
9. The Oilers will continue to look for centres, defencemen and a goalie, and I asked around to see who might be a fit should they decide to try something significant. There were a lot of votes for Pittsburgh, with a plethora of young defenders. One exec said if he was Edmonton, he would target Brandon Sutter, although he added he thinks the Penguins hold on to Sutter until the salary cap makes it impossible for them to do so.
But you know who got a couple of votes? Florida. It’s a good theory: cap room, a need for wingers and two promising defence prospects — 2012 first-rounder Michael Matheson and 2013 second-rounder Ian McCoshen, both at Boston College (McCoshen will be at the world juniors for Team USA). Anyway, worth watching.
10. One AHL coach on what to expect from a Todd Nelson group: “Good cycle team that moves in the offensive zone with all five players, three (of them) high. Come through neutral zone with good structure, and try to pressure you before you set up in d-zone coverage. They have the (number two) power play in league, with quick puck movement, player movement and…outnumber you to the net for rebound goals.”
That coach and another one both praised Nelson’s teams for their preparation, with the latter noting his up-tempo practices. It will be tough, though, for him to get a lot of practice time around Christmas.
11. Best compliment paid to Nelson: “Oklahoma City was not that good last year. He willed them into the playoffs.”
12. Some interesting ice times from MacTavish/Nelson’s first two games behind the bench, a 2-1 overtime loss to Arizona and a 4-3 defeat in San Jose. Jordan Eberle, averaging 19:03, played 17:49 against the Coyotes (in regulation), and 17:02 in Sharkland. Ted Purcell (average of 15:23) played 16:55 and 18:37. There were some pretty wild swings, too. Nail Yakupov went from 14:30 to 9:46 (with a penalty). Justin Schultz from 23:03 to 18:11. Mark Arcobello 18:58 to 10:37, as Boyd Gordon returned. Brad Hunt dropped from 22:19 to 15:59.
13. There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not Dallas Eakins gets another head coaching position. Ron Lancaster: 4-28 in his first job. How many times was Pete Carroll fired? Eakins read a lot about John Wooden, who needed 18 years to win his first championship. It’s what you learn from your experiences, and, as he processes this over time, I’d bet he learned plenty.
14. If there’s one thing Arizona needs, it’s young forwards who can score. That’s the key to Keith Yandle (A nice, high draft pick wouldn’t hurt, either). But Don Maloney is making it clear that he will not do anything with Yandle unless it provides a long-term solution. It’s also possible some teams who don’t desperately need a centre take a look at Antoine Vermette. He can play the wing, and versatility never hurts.
15. Justin Williams doesn’t have a hard deadline to finish an extension with the Kings, but it sounds like he’d like to get it done by New Year’s or hold off until after the season. Don’t forget L.A.’s creativity in signing Marian Gaborik. They want to keep Williams and both sides are willing to work at it.
16. It’s common knowledge Buffalo has two UFA goalies-to-be — Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth — but there is a the possibility of a third. Matt Hackett, who had reconstructive knee surgery last May, needs eight performances of at least 30 minutes or he will be a Group VI free agent, allowed to sign anywhere.
He’s played 21 NHL games, three of which don’t count, because they were under the 30-minute threshold. Hackett will be 25 in March, and as a five-year pro of that age and an expiring contract, the Sabres must get him to 26 official appearances to change his status to restricted. He is practising now.
17. You might ask, why must it be 30 minutes? Well, in 1996-97, the Devils were in the same situation with Mike Dunham. One game, they played him for 2.6 seconds, barely enough for Martin Brodeur to clip a toenail. Dunham took New Jersey to arbitration, but lost. In the next CBA, a higher bar was set.
18. Let’s go back to Nov. 12, when the Kings blew 3-1 and 5-3 leads, losing 6-5 to the Ducks in a shootout. Darryl Sutter held an interesting scrum, saying, “I don’t think we let it get away, we never had a lead,” then, “I know you define it by goals having the lead, but we really never had the lead. Wasn’t for (Jonathan Quick), it wasn’t even close.”
His brother Rich, who does some work for Sportsnet, explained a few weeks later that Darryl Sutter was solely concerned about big picture. Maybe the Kings were winning, but he couldn’t stand the way they were playing. He didn’t think they were good enough to win that night, no matter the score. I was reminded of that Wednesday, when Calgary extended Bob Hartley during a six-game losing streak. The Flames’ young players are improving. The team is in better shape than expected. He’s done much better than expected, despite recent fumbles.
19. Forgot this one from two weeks ago, Brad Treliving on Josh Jooris: “He might be the first player to get a contract extension before his own place.” Good line, but the apartment came first.
20. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly met this week with representatives of the potential Las Vegas team, although not prospective owner William Foley. No target total of season tickets is set, as of now. Foley said last week that part of his agreement with the NHL is that prices are set at the league average, just under $65.
His model will be similar to Winnipeg’s, ranging from $39-$129, although he will offer some shorter commitments than the Jets’ three-to-five-year ask. A lot of research has been done into size of the market, wealth of the market and ideal game times — including Sunday afternoons and Tuesday nights, since casino workers tend to get a lot of those off. “We’re not going to have an NHL team without having locals there,” he said. Sunday afternoons? Good luck. Best line comes from one NHL media relations person: “That team will go 41-0 at home.”
21. Foley, asked about the belief this is a done deal if ticket sales are successful: “Can’t say that. I wouldn't want to put words in the NHL’s mouth or the commissioner’s mouth. If it works I believe we can convince them that we are deserving of a franchise…I’m confident we can get this done.”
22. How did this begin? The Maloof family, former owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, approached him about buying, and relocating, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Foley was not interested, because he has a home in Jacksonville, and did not want it “burned down.” He told the Maloofs moving an NFL team was very difficult, and the family’s messy divorce from the Kings made the NBA impossible.
Foley was not interested in baseball, so hockey became the focus. His father, who worked in the Air Force, moved the family to Ottawa for three years when he was a child. He played hockey there, although he admits the game “left him for awhile” when they departed.
23. There was surprise Foley did so many interviews. He said commissioner Gary Bettman dropped the gag order on Dec. 8. He will own approximately two-thirds of the team.
24. Don’t know the exact moment Sidney Crosby got the mumps diagnosis, but do know this: after his photo started making the rounds last Friday, Francois Beauchemin immediately reached out to warn Crosby that’s indeed what he had. Beauchemin is a highly respected guy. Undoubtedly, “The Kid” listened.
25. A buddy of mine is a family doctor north of Toronto since 1999. You know how many mumps cases he’s seen? Zero. He showed stats from the city of Toronto health department. Mumps cases from 2007-11? 21. In 2012? Five. Crazy stuff. By the way, the Rangers did humanity a solid by a) putting Derick Brassard on a charter instead of a public flight from Vancouver, and b) warning the company so the plane could be properly cleaned before any other teams needed to use it.
26. As the KHL goes through a potential implosion due to the ruble’s collapse, remember one thing about anyone who has played a game there since the NHL season started — they have to clear waivers before playing here. Players based outside of Russia are luckier, as they are paid in Euros. One agent said that, if his Russian-based clients don’t need the money immediately, he’d advise them to consider putting it into a reputable Moscow bank, since they offer better interest rates than you can find here (Some apparently offer as much as 12-15 percent, but that can be a riskier play).
27. Another agent suggested that, while it might be bad for his clients, it isn’t necessarily the worst thing for the KHL, since it has too many teams as it is. It’s not as if the league has a ton of revenue, instead surviving on the largesse of wealthy owners. If costs go down because the ruble is worth less, how much will they really complain?
28. Whenever there are rumours of trouble in Russia, tweeters start asking about Ilya Kovalchuk. The general reaction is, “He will be the first guy to be taken care of. They aren’t letting go of their marquee player.” When he left, it was the NHL’s position that until Kovalchuk turns 35, he remains New Jersey property, as he signed his retirement papers. Another more relevant example might be Vladimir Sobotka. Doug Armstrong was at the Karjala Cup in Finland last month, where Sobotka was supposed to play but didn’t.
The centre owes St. Louis one year before he can be an unrestricted free agent in the NHL, and there is a belief he will return to play it out. He’s a good player, and Armstrong had some trade conversations (believed to include Edmonton, Montreal and Tampa) but teams were scared off because his future was uncertain. Maybe he can even find a way to mend with the Blues.
29. Sometimes I wonder if NHL teams take the heat for players who don’t want to go to the world juniors because they prefer to keep their big-league spot, or had a bad experience in previous year(s).
30. Fran Rider isn’t a household name, but no one in the planet’s history has done more for women’s hockey than her. The Women’s World Championship and the sport’s place at the Olympics don’t exist without her. And, if you ever crossed her, you knew it. Tremendous of the IIHF to announce her as a Hall of Famer earlier this week. Excellent choice.