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Penguins notebook: Football, hockey share same issues when it comes to physical play

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 7:54 p.m.
The Penguins' Ryan Reaves takes down the Rangers' Jesper Fast in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Ryan Reaves takes down the Rangers' Jesper Fast in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Ian Cole checks the Coyotes' Christian Dvorak in the second period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Ian Cole checks the Coyotes' Christian Dvorak in the second period Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl tries to deflect the puck past Rangers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl tries to deflect the puck past Rangers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Penguins players joined the legions wishing well to injured Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier on Tuesday.

“It's tough to watch,” said defenseman Ian Cole, who was one of a handful of players to send support to Shazier via social media immediately after he suffered a back injury making a tackle Monday night. “It's something that seemingly seemed fairly routine for him. It kind of shocks you a little bit, makes you a little sick to your stomach.”

Shazier regularly has attended Penguins playoff games over the past two seasons and occasionally has been a visitor to the team's locker room.

“Super nice guy, a great disposition,” Cole said. “It's tough to see. We're not friends. We're not buddies by any means, but you do feel that kinship and it's tough to see a guy go down like that, especially a guy that's as talented and a chief part of his team like he is.”

Beyond the Shazier injury, the brutal nature of Monday night's game shined a spotlight on a debate that is taking place in hockey as well as football. JuJu Smith-Schuster's block that sent Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict off the field on a stretcher was the flashpoint.

In a physical sport, how much violence is too much?

The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Cole is among the Penguins' leading hitters and the most physical player on the defense corps. It's a question he has to answer on almost a daily basis.

“Contact sports are starting to get maybe a little bit away from the high-end violence,” Cole said. “Obviously concussions have a huge part of that for football and for hockey. It's tough. It's a really tough, kind of weird place we are with society right now to be in a contact sport and be really physical and now, especially the high-end violent plays are more condemned than praised. I know people like that, and they don't like that at the same time.”

Coach Mike Sullivan said he thought the phenomenon Cole described is not new.

Players who have intent to injure opponents have a “flawed mindset,” Sullivan said, but beyond that, there are shades of gray.

“I think the nature of our sport, and football is similar, is that there is a physical element that is part of the fabric of the game,” Sullivan said. “There's always going to be that line that players are challenged with on what's too much and what isn't enough. That's something that players have been dealing with for as long as the game has been played. I don't think football's any different in that regard.”

Milestone memories

Tuesday night's game was Jake Guentzel's first meeting with the Rangers on home ice since he scored two goals in his NHL debut Nov. 21 of last season.

The Penguins again host the Rangers a few weeks later, but Guentzel had been sent down and was wrapping up his final AHL stint at the time. The three meetings since have taken place at Madison Square Garden.

“It's pretty cool to go out there and remember that one,” Guentzel said. “It's been a crazy year, lots of ups and downs, lots to look back on and remember. It's been a pretty special year.”

Franchise value

The Penguins are worth $650 million, 10th most among the 31 NHL teams, according to Forbes magazine's annual list of NHL franchise values released Tuesday.

That's a 14-percent increase from last year's estimate of $570 million and the largest jump since the value went from $288 million to $480 million in 2013.

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle bought the Penguins for $107 million in 1999.

The Rangers are the league's most valuable franchise at $1.5 billion, the magazine reported.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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