Are The Florida Panthers For Real?
Recaps of Friday’s action, the league faces criticism as it looks at rapid testing, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Third-period goals 27 seconds apart by Brad Marchand and Sean Kuraly lifted the Boston Bruins over the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1. James van Riemsdyk was the lone scorer for the Flyers, who played without goaltender Carter Hart (back spasms, day-to-day) and defenseman Philippe Myers, who has an upper-body injury. Forward Oskar Lindblom left the game in the third period following a hit from Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton.
The Detroit Red Wings’ winless skid stretched to eight games (0-6-2) after dropping a 3-1 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Barclay Goodrow tallied twice for the Lightning, including the game-winner.
Second-period goals by Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe gave the Florida Panthers a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators. The Panthers extended their points streak to eight games (6-0-2) as they’re the only team that hasn’t lost in regulation. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne made 34 saves.
The Vegas Golden Knights scored five straight goals in the opening 27 minutes to beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2. Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson and Nicolas Hague each collected three points for the Golden Knights, who were playing their first game since their schedule was paused on Jan. 26 by COVID-19.
Shootout goals by Ryan Donato and Kevin Labanc lifted the San Jose Sharks over the Anaheim Ducks 5-4. The Sharks overcame a 3-1 deficit on third-period goals by Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Brent Burns but Max Comtois tied it for the Ducks.
TSN: The NHL and NHLPA are investigating rapid testing for players and team staff on game days to flatten the COVID-19 curve after five teams had their schedules paused and games postponed over the past two weeks. A total of 26 games have been postponed, 17 in February alone.
The Buffalo Sabres were among those teams. They were reportedly furious that they were apparently forced to play games last weekend against a New Jersey Devils team that was going through an outbreak of COVID-19. Five Sabres players have since wound up on the NHL’s COVID protocol list while Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger has tested positive. The Sabres had no players on the protocol list prior to the series against the Devils.
THE ATHLETIC: John Vogl reports Eric County executive Mark Poloncarz believes the NHL should have taken greater action to ensure the safety of the Sabres and Devils and everyone around them. “It seemed they were more interested in playing a game,” he said.
League commissioner Bill Daly said there were no concerns expressed regarding last Sunday’s games between the Sabres and Devils. An NHLPA representative said league and union medical advisors determined the game could go on based on the information available to them at the time.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league announced on Thursday they were taking steps to reduce player-to-player transmission of the coronavirus, including removing the glass behind the benches to increase airflow, increasing the distance between players in dressing rooms, and limiting the time spent at the arena by players and coaches.
The recent postponements and reschedulings aren’t surprising. There’s a greater risk of exposure and transmissions because the players aren’t under the strict quarantine conditions they played under during the 2020 playoffs. Doing more to limit transmission at the arena is one thing but there’s little the league can do to prevent players from exposure when they have greater access to the general public away from the rink.
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Penguins defenseman John Marino returned to practice yesterday after being placed on the COVID-19 protocol list on Wednesday. Sidelined blueliners Kris Letang and Mike Matheson also skated yesterday.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott (leg injury) will not play today against the Vancouver Canucks.
TVA SPORTS: Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov required stitches after being struck in the face with a puck during practice on Friday. Canadiens coach Claude Julien said Romanov will travel with the club for today’s game against the Ottawa Senators.
CBS SPORTS: Calgary Flames forward Derek Ryan has been referred to a specialist after injuring a finger during Thursday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
NEWSDAY: The New York Rangers promoted Chris Drury to associate general manager.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Justin Williams is returning to the Carolina Hurricanes as a special advisor to the general manager.
Recaps of a busy Saturday, injury updates and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM:Connor McDavid scored twice, including the winner in overtime, to lead the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Leon Draisaitl and Tyson Barrie each collected two assists while John Tavares had two assists for the Leafs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: McDavid’s end-to-end power-play goal in the second period is my candidate for goal of the year. I realize it’s very early in the season and lots of great goals are coming but it will be difficult for McDavid – or anyone else – to top that tally.
Jack Eichel tallied the only goal in a shootout as the Buffalo Sabres edged the New Jersey Devils 4-3. Sabres winger Taylor Hall collected two assists. Devils defenseman Ty Smith scored to move into a tie with Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov (seven points) for the rookie scoring lead.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal lifted his club to a 5-4 win over the New York Rangers. Rookie defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph had three assists for the Penguins, who lost blueliner Kris Letang to a lower-body injury. Rangers center Colin Blackwell left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: An update on Letang’s status could be coming later today. The Penguins already have four regular defensemen on the shelf with injuries.
The Philadelphia Flyers edged the New York Islanders 3-2 on an overtime goal by Scott Laughton. Carter Hart kicked out 26 shots for the win. It’s the Islanders’ fourth consecutive defeat.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored in overtime to nip the Boston Bruins 4-3. It was Ovechkin’s first game since being placed on COVID-19 protocol list a week ago. Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two assists. This was Zdeno Chara’s first game against the Bruins since signing with the Capitals. Bruins winger David Pastrnak collected an assist in his first game of the season following his recovery from offseason hip surgery.
The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 to hand the latter their first loss of the season. Vincent Trochek scored twice for the Hurricanes, who chased Stars goalie Anton Khudobin after he gave up four goals on 16 shots. Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek left the game early in the first with an upper-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Khudobin didn’t get much help from his teammates in this contest. The defense was sloppy, giving up three power-play goals.
A four-goal second-period outburst carried the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Nashville Predators 4-3. Lightning rookie Callan Foote tallied his first NHL goal while Steven Stamkos scored the eventual game-winner. Filip Forsberg had two assists for the Predators.
Aleksander Barkov had a goal and an assist while Aleksi Heponiemi scored his first career NHL goal in overtime to lift the Florida Panthers over the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. The Panthers extended their season-opening points streak to five games (4-0-1).
The Calgary Flames blanked the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 to hand the latter their first regulation loss of the season. Jacob Markstrom kicked out 37 shots for the shutout while Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Granlund were the goal scorers as the Flames halted their three-game losing skid. Canadiens winger Josh Anderson left the game following the first period with flu-like symptoms. He tested negative for COVID-19 but will be retested today.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Flames winger Dillon Dube got away with a blindside headshot on Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It’s unlikely he’ll receive supplemental discipline. Kotkaniemi was shaken up but returned to action.
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Brandon Saad, Andre Burakovsky, and Samuel Girard each collected two points as the Colorado Avalanche downed the Minnesota Wild 5-1, handing the latter their third loss in their last four games. Wild defenseman Matt Dumba left the game with a leg injury in the third period. Earlier in the day, the Wild revealed prospect Marco Rossi returned to Austria to rest due to complications from COVID-19. He’s expected to return to the Wild sometime in March.
The St. Louis Blues scored their fastest three game-opening goals (2:06) in franchise history on route to a 6-1 thrashing of the Anaheim Ducks. Jordan Kyrou scored two of those three goals. Ducks goalie John Gibson was pulled after giving up those three goals on just six shots.
Brock Boeser scored twice to lead the Vancouver Canucks over the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 for their fourth straight win. Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko made 23 saves for the win while Jets netminder Connor Hellebucyk turned aside 35 shots.
The latest on Aleksander Barkov, Keith Yandle and Patrik Laine in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NBC SPORTS (via KUKLA’S KORNER): TSN insider Darren Dreger reports it’s hard to say at this point how seriously we should take trade speculation about Aleksander Barkov. The 25-year-old Florida Panthers captain is due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
Dreger said the Florida Panthers and general manager Bill Zito believe they have time. Zito spoke to Barkov’s representative stating they had no interest in trade the center. Barkov has a no-movement clause in his contract for this season and a modified (12-team no-trade list) no-trade clause for 2021-22.
Barkov wants to win and wants assurances the Panthers are on the road toward achieving that goal. If they’re heading in that direction when it comes time to start contract talks, he’s willing to listen. Dreger indicates there are lots of NHL general managers who are eager to let Zito know they’re interested if Barkov becomes available.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers cannot open contract talks with Barkov until he’s officially entered the final season of his deal, which will be when free agency begins on July 28. The recent trade speculation arose because some general managers are said to be skeptical that he’ll re-sign with the Panthers.
Barring the unforeseen, this will probably be the last we’ll hear about Barkov in this season’s rumor mill. Don’t be surprised, however, if the speculation over his future in Florida resurfaces this summer, especially if the Panthers have another disappointing season.
Dreger was also asked about Keith Yandle’s status with the Panthers. He called it “curious, at best,” suggesting the 34-year-old defenseman probably isn’t sure about his situation with the club going forward. He was told before the start of the season that he wouldn’t be in the lineup but there was an about-face perhaps because of push-back from his teammates. Dreger wondered if Yandle was seeing action to improve trade interest.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy reports NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes believes the Bruins should pursue Yandle. Weekes called out the Panthers’ organization for disrespecting the veteran blueliner and believes it’s an opportunity for Bruins GM Don Sweeney to acquire Yandle to bolster the Bruins’ scoring if the Panthers agree to pick up part of his $6.35 million cap hit.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Nick Goss acknowledged Yandle, a Massachusetts native, is still productive. However, his agent, contract and the Bruins’ need to give their young defensemen a chance to prove themselves doesn’t make Yandle a good fit at this time.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I concur with Goss. If Yandle were a little younger or had less time remaining on his contract at a more reasonable cap hit, perhaps he’d be a worthwhile trade target for the Bruins.
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch believes the current absence of Patrik Laine (upper-body injury) will give the Winnipeg Jets a good idea of what life will be like without him. The winger asked for a trade during the off-season but Garrioch said the Jets could find a suitable trade partner.
That doesn’t mean Laine is off the market. Garrioch pointed out many observers believe a deal could happen during this season. The 22-year-old winger is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer who could seek over $9 million per season. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff could attempt to move Laine before the trade deadline rather than meet Laine’s expensive salary demands.
Garrioch notes the speculations linking Laine to Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Like Laine, Dubois has requested a trade, prompting suggestions of a one-for-one swap. Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen would have more than a passing interest in Laine.
Anyone interested in acquiring Laine will have to talk to him about a contract extension. Garrioch lists the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks among the potential suitors. He dismissed rumors linking Laine to the Carolina Hurricanes because he doesn’t believe they’ll shell out big bucks to sign him.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Trading Laine during the season is possible but only if the Jets have fallen out of the playoff race or they get an offer of an immediate impact player in return. Laine remains a key ingredient in the Jets’ playoff hopes for this season.
The Blue Jackets would certainly need to know if Laine would be willing to sign a contract extension. The Jets, however, could also have concerns about Dubois’ contract status. He’s signed through next season and they could be unwilling to part with Laine for a player who could prove unwilling to commit to a long-term deal with them.
Laine would certainly provide some welcome star power to the Red Wings but their biggest needs remain improving their defense. Ditto the Blackhawks.
The Flyers reportedly kicked tires on Laine but the cost of the return apparently ended those discussions. The Devils could be a good fit as they have the cap space and the assets to acquire and re-sign Laine, provided he’s willing to agree to a long-term deal.
Are the Panthers thinking of pursuing Pierre-Luc Dubois? Should the Sabres target Marc-Andre Fleury? Who could be the odd-man-out on the Avalanche blueline? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COULD THE PANTHERS PURSUE DUBOIS?
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy reports there’s a theory that the reason Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito efforts to get Keith Yandle to waive his no-movement clause was to set up for a deal to acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois.
As the former assistant GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Zito helped draft Dubois third overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. Murphy also cites an NHL scout suggesting that’s also the reason behind the recent Aleksander Barkov rumors.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Zito was trying to move Yandle I don’t believe the Jackets would’ve been interested even if the Panthers absorbed part of his $6.35 million annual average value. The Jackets’ defense corps is pretty much set, which is why they could send Markus Nutivaara to the Panthers in the offseason in a cost-cutting move. Yandle would have to be moved in a separate deal to another club to free up the cap space for Dubois’ $5 million AAV.
I don’t doubt Zito would love to acquire Dubois but I don’t see him moving Barkov to do so. If anything, I think he would envision Barkov remaining as the Panthers’ first-line center with Dubois centering the second line.
SHOULD THE SABRES TARGET FLEURY?
Murphy also cites an NHL scout suggesting the Buffalo Sabres should target Marc-Andre Fleury. “What the BLEEP are the Sabres waiting for? Get Fleury!”, the scout said. Murphy believes the Vegas Golden Knights are ready to move the 36-year-old goaltender. The Sabres could use an upgrade between the pipes but an NHL management source isn’t sure Sabres GM Kevyn Adams has looked into it.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are seven million reasons why the Sabres haven’t acquired Fleury. That’s his annual average value for this season and next. He also has a modified no-trade clause and could be unwilling to accept a trade to Buffalo. Cap Friendly, meanwhile, shows the Sabres only have a projected $1.2 million in cap room right now. Fleury is an expense they can’t afford.
COULD THE AVALANCHE MOVE A DEFENSEMAN?
THE DENVER POST: Mike Chambers and Mark Kiszla discussed what the Colorado Avalanche could do to address their blue-line logjam. The Avs already possess considerable depth in talented young defensemen in Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Ryan Graves, Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram, plus they have veterans Erik Johnson and Ian Cole.
Chambers suspects Cole could sit if the young blueliners continue to impress. Kiszla wonders if GM Joe Sakic could use one of those rearguards as trade bait. Johnson’s contract ($6 million AAV, no-movement and modified no-trade clause) would be difficult to move. Chambers suggests Girard would be the most tradeable. Losing his $5 million AAV over the next seven seasons would free up cap room to add a forward or a goaltender.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Avalanche GM Joe Sakic might at some point consider using one of his defensemen as trade bait to address a roster issue before the Apr. 12 trade deadline. Johnson’s contract all but ensures he won’t be going anywhere. Cale Makar is untouchable and I don’t think Sakic will move Byram or Timmins. Toews is also likely to stay put after signing a four-year deal following his acquisition from the New York Islanders last fall.
Girard, Cole and Graves could become trade candidates. However, there’s no certainty Sakic will shop any of the defensemen this season. We’ll just have to see how things unfold.
Johnson’s no-movement clause means they can’t put him on their taxi squad this season without his permission. I can see them shuttling Byram and Timmins in and out of the taxi squad in the short term. Cole is a UFA this summer but the Avs could prefer hanging onto him for this season.