NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 4, 2023
The Golden Knights take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Blue Jackets will reportedly hire Mike Babcock as head coach, highlights from Gary Bettman’s “State of the League” press conference, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS WIN GAME 1 OF THE STANLEY CUP FINAL
NHL.COM: The Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Florida Panthers 5-2 in Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Zach Whitecloud tallied the winning goal in the third period to break a 2-2 while Mark Stone and Reilly Smith put the game out of reach for Vegas.
Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill got the win with a 32-save performance, including a big paddle save on Florida’s Nick Cousins early in the second with the game tied at 1-1. Vegas’ Jack Eichel and Shea Theodore finished the night with two points each. Eric Staal and Anthony Duclair scored for the Panthers.
Game 2 is Monday night in Las Vegas at 8 pm ET.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While the score was 2-2 after two periods, the Golden Knights were the better team over that stretch and took control of the game in the final frame. The Panthers kept it close until the third but the rust from their 10-day layoff was evident in this contest.
This game got rowdy at times and the Panthers’ frustration boiled over after Vegas made it 4-2. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett each drew misconduct penalties for throwing punches at Golden Knights defenseman Nic Hague during a scrum behind the Panthers’ net late in the period. Vegas center Chandler Stephenson also received a misconduct.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice was unperturbed by the loss. Following the game, he reminded reporters that his club fell behind 1-0 and 3-1 in the first-round series against the Boston Bruins. “Everybody just f**king breathe, alright?” said Maurice. “I feel like you people have been here, you’re tight. Loosen up a little bit.”
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets are reportedly set to hire Mike Babcock as their new head coach pending the completion of his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1.
Babcock signed an eight-year, $50 million deal in 2015 to coach the Leafs but was fired in November 2019 amid accounts from former Leafs and Detroit Red Wings players that he bullied players, staffers and arena employees.
The 60-year-old Babcock has 17 seasons of NHL coaching experience with the Leafs, Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks. He’s 12th all-time in wins among NHL coaches (700), won a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008 and coached them to the Cup Final in 2009. He also guided the Ducks to the Final in 2003.
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline reports Babcock and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was unavailable for comment on Saturday.
A team source told Portzline that Kekalainen and members of the club’s staff spoke with the veteran players on the roster to see how they would feel about the possibility of Babcock becoming head coach. Nevertheless, Portzline believes Babcock’s hiring could be met with consternation among some of the players.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The reaction toward this news on social media was mostly negative. Regardless, it appears Kekalainen believes Babcock deserves a second chance. As Portzline noted, there’s no disputing his successful record in the NHL and on the international stage for Canada despite his baggage.
Portzline also cited interviews Babcock have in 2021 where he pushed back against the allegations. Perhaps his nearly four-year banishment from the NHL has given him time to reflect and change for the better. We’ll find out in due course.
SPORTSNET: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly gave their annual State of the League news conference prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Among the highlights:
The league remains committed to Arizona despite the Coyotes’ failed bid to construct a new arena in Tempe. Bettman said the club is looking at other areas in the Phoenix area for a long-term home. He pointed to the size of the Arizona market and the Coyotes being a “victim of circumstance” as to why the league remains so patient in keeping the club in Arizona.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ve said for years (and I’m not the only one) that the Arizona market is the reason Bettman has stubbornly worked to keep the Coyotes in their current location. A successful franchise in that market would significantly boost NHL revenue.
Bettman was asked about interest in Salt Lake City, Quebec City or a second team in Toronto. He said relocation currently isn’t being considered.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs would certainly have something to say about another club in their market. Sadly, Quebec City remains a long shot despite its state-of-the-art arena and rabid hockey fanbase. Salt Lake City, on the other hand, would be intriguing to the league as a potential relocation or expansion destination given its market size.
The Ottawa Senators are close to getting sold for what Bettman estimates could be around $1 billion USD.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bettman didn’t indicate who the front-runner is but it’s been reported that Toronto billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos has made the highest bid.
Bettman will be meeting individually with former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and former head coach Joel Quenneville to determine whether they’ll be reinstated to work in the NHL. Both resigned in 2021 over their roles in mishandling Kyle Beach’s sexual assault allegations against former video coach Bradley Aldrich in 2010.
Daly said the league’s independent investigation into the Hockey Canada sexual assault scandal has wrapped up and expects to release its report in July. Several players currently in the NHL were accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in 2018 while members of Canada’s world junior team. Their names have not been revealed.
Colorado Avalanche winger Valeri Nichushkin remains eligible to play in the NHL next season despite an incident in a Seattle hotel involving an intoxicated woman in his room that sparked a team investigation. Bettman said there will be no league investigation, adding that the Avalanche handled the situation appropriately.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nichushkin was not charged by Seattle police and there is no further investigation into the matter.
Two Stadium Series games will be held at New Jersey’s Metlife Stadium next February. The Philadelphia Flyers will face off against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 17 followed by the New York Rangers facing the New York Islanders on Feb. 18.