NHL Playoffs: St. Louis Blues vs Colorado Avalanche Game 1 Preview
Recaps of Thursday’s action, the Blues re-sign Jordan Binnington, the latest injury updates and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Brad Marchand collected three assists while Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves as the Boston Bruins shut out the New York Rangers 4-0. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci each had a goal and an assist. The Bruins (32 points) sit one point behind the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins in the MassMutual East Division and one up on the Philadelphia Flyers.
A goal and an assist by Evgeni Malkin helped the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2. The Penguins have won four straight while the Sabres have dropped nine consecutive games. Sabres forward Dylan Cozens was injured in the third period by a hit from Zach Aston-Reese. Earlier in the day, the Sabres revealed captain Jack Eichel will be sidelined for at least 7-10 days with a neck-related injury.
The New York Islanders picked up their seventh straight victory with a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils. Isles captain Anders Lee left the game in the first period with an undisclosed injury. The Islanders (38 points) sit in first place in the East Division, two ahead of the Washington Capitals.
Speaking of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin tallied his 715th career goal and John Carlson reached 500 career points in a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Ovechkin is within two points of Phil Esposito for sixth place on the all-time goals list.
The Carolina Hurricanes picked up their seventh straight victory by downing the Nashville Predators 5-1. Rookie Morgan Geekie scored his first two goals of the season while James Reimer made 32 saves for the win. The Hurricanes moved ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning into first place in the Discover Central Division with 39 points.
An overtime goal by Frank Vatrano capped a four-goal rally by the Florida Panthers to edge the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4. Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine snapped a seven-game points drought with a goal and an assist but played just 14:43 in the game and was benched for the final 6:53 of regulation and for the overtime period. After the game, Laine said, “I thought I was playing good, but I guess I thought wrong.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ll just leave this here…
— J. D. Lagrange (@JD_Lagrange) March 12, 2021
Auston Matthews’ league-leading 21st goal of the season came in overtime to lift the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Winnipeg Jets 4-3, snapping the Leafs’ three-game losing skid. Nikolaj Ehlers tallied twice for the Jets (34 points), who remain in second place in the Scotia North Division, six points back of the first-overall Leafs. Earlier in the day, the Jets announced defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) was placed on injured reserve.
The Detroit Red Wings upset the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-4, picking up their first regulation win over the Bolts since 2015. Anthony Mantha had a goal and two assists for the Red Wings while Ondrej Palat also had a goal and two helpers for the Lightning, who sit one point behind the Hurricanes in the Central Division but ahead of the Panthers because of a game in hand.
Darryl Sutter got his first win in his return behind the Calgary Flames bench as his club beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1. Josh Leivo scored twice for the Flames (27 points), who sit four back of the fourth-place Habs in the North Division. Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot returned to Montreal for evaluation of an upper-body injury.
The Chicago Blackhawks scored three second-period goals to double up the Dallas Stars 4-2. Kevin Lankinen kicked out 28 shots while Patrick Kane collected two assists. The Blackhawks (33 points) hold a five-point lead over the Blue Jackets for fourth in the Central Division.
STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis Blues signed Jordan Binnington to a six-year, $36 million contract extension. The 27-year-old goaltender was slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Binnington backstopped the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2019 but he’s struggled at times to regain the dominating form of that remarkable rookie season. Nevertheless, management showed their faith in him as their starter with this long-term commitment.
This new contract represents a big raise for Binnington over the $4.4 million annual average value of his current deal. Cap Friendly indicates the annual salary-cap hit is $6 million and comes with a full no-trade clause for the first three years following by a modified no-trade for the final three.
LAS VEGAS SUN: Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list and will likely miss at least this weekend’s games against the Blues.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom will undergo shoulder surgery later this month.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Klefbom’s missed the entire season receiving treatment for his shoulder. With surgery, he could be sidelined six-to-nine months.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators forward Colin White is listed as day-to-day with an injured left leg.
NHL.COM: League commissioner Gary Bettman remains optimistic the NHL will return to business as normal next season. He envisions a full 82-game schedule with no limitations on fan attendance starting in October and a return to the regular divisional alignments. Bettman also indicated the league wants to return to outdoor games with fans in attendance next season and resume playing some early-season games in Europe if possible.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is still working to determine whether the playoff semifinalists from the North Division will be allowed to host games given the travel restrictions between Canada and the United States.
Daly added he’s been in frequent communication with the International Olympic Committee regarding NHL participation in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing but the IOC’s focus right now is on the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games. He also believes the 2021 NHL Draft will more likely than not still be held as scheduled in July.
Recaps from a busy Saturday night and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines
NHL.COM: Sean Couturier had a goal and an assist as the Philadelphia Flyers blanked the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. Brian Elliott made 23 saves for the shutout. The Sabres played without Jack Eichel (day-to-day, lower-body injury) and goaltender Linus Ullmark, who will be sidelined for a month by a lower-body injury. Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Ristolainen and Tobias Rieder returned to the Sabres’ lineup.
A three-goal first period powered the Washington Capitals over the New Jersey Devils 5-2. Devils winger Pavel Zacha scored to extend his points streak to nine games. Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov was a late scratch with an upper-body injury and remains questionable for Sunday’s rematch.
The Calgary Flames downed the Ottawa Senators 6-3 to snap the latter’s three-game win streak. Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and an assist while brother Brady scored for the Senators. Mikael Backlund had a goal and two assists for the Flames.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Senators pulled goaltender Matt Murray after he gave up six goals on 33 shots but this loss cannot be pinned on him. His teammates didn’t play well in front of him and the Flames capitalized.
A two-goal performance by Mattias Ekholm rallied the Nashville Predators past the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1. Cam Atkinson tallied for the Jackets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blue Jackets have dropped six of their last seven and sit five points out of a playoff spot in the Discover Central Division. A lack of experienced depth at center is part of the problem. Jack Roslovic, Alexandre Texier and Kevin Stenlund are centering three of their four lines.
Mitch Marner and John Tavares each had two points as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-0. Jack Campbell made 30 saves for the shutout in his first game since being sidelined by a leg injury on Jan. 24. The Leafs played without leading scorer Auston Matthews (wrist injury, day-to-day) and goaltender Frederik Andersen (lower body, day-to-day).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: An impressive win by the Leafs without their best player (Matthews) and starting goaltender (Andersen). They also got a boost from the return of winger Joe Thornton and defenseman Jake Muzzin from injuries.
Kris Letang scored twice, including the game-winner, as the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the New York Islander 4-3 in overtime. Isles forward Cal Clutterbuck missed the game with an undisclosed injury.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his second straight shutout backstopping his club to a 5-0 drubbing of the Dallas Stars. Steven Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli each had a goal and an assist. The Lightning have won four straight.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was the first game between these two clubs since last year’s Stanley Cup Final. The defending champion Lightning still looks like a Cup contender while the Stars are stuck at the bottom of the Discover Central Division. The good news for the Stars is they’ve got several games in hand over their division rivals because of several postponed games. The bad news is they’ve won only twice in the last 12 contests and face a daunting challenge of getting back into the playoff chase in a compressed schedule.
The Carolina Hurricanes snapped a three-game losing skid by nipping the Florida Panthers 4-3. Martin Necas tallied the winner in a shootout. Brett Pesce collected two assists for the Hurricanes while Panthers’ winger Patric Hornqvist had a goal and an assist.
Frans Nielsen and Evgeny Svechnikov each had a goal and an assist as the Detroit Red Wings upset the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3. Jonathan Bernier made 33 saves for the win. Earlier in the day, the Wings announced captain Dylan Larkin would sit out this weekend’s games with an upper-body injury.
Minnesota Wild blueliner Matt Dumba scored with 0.3 remaining in overtime in a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings, who have rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to force the extra frame. Dumba finished with two points while Kings goalie Cal Petersen made 38 saves.
A four-goal third period carried the Colorado Avalanche over the Arizona Coyotes by a score of 6-2. Six different players scored for the Avs, including Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.
An overtime goal by William Karlsson lifted the Vegas Golden Knights past the Anaheim Ducks 3-2. It was Karlsson’s second goal of the game while teammate Alex Pietrangelo collected a goal and an assist. The Ducks are winless in six games.
The Winnipeg Jets squeaked past the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on an overtime goal by Paul Stastny. Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck turned in a 41-save performance as the Canadiens are winless in five straight.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens dominated most of this game but Hellebuyck made the difference. The Habs still need to improve in the faceoff circle and their special teams still need work but this effort was an improvement over their recent play.
Marco Scandella scored twice, including the game-winner, as the St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks 7-6. Evander Kane and Timo Meier each scored twice for the Sharks, who welcomed back defensemen Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek from injury. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington was pulled after he allowed four goals on 19 shots and went after several Sharks players before finally leaving the game.
IN OTHER NEWS…
TSN: Only five players (Arizona’s John Hayden, NY Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko, Ottawa’s Ryan Dzingel, Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl) remain on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: The Bruins claimed defenseman Jarred Tinordi off waivers yesterday from the Nashville Predators.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: The Penguins named Chris Pryor as director of player personnel.
NBC SPORTS: The Seattle Kraken announced Friday it raised $150,000.00 from team and individual investors to save the hockey program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
The Jack Eichel trade speculation flares back to life as the Sabres continue to struggle, plus the latest on Taylor Hall, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Binnington in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE LATEST SABRES SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC: John Vogl cited Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman yesterday giving WGR 550 a quick “yes” when asked whether he sees the possibility of the Buffalo Sabres trading Jack Eichel. Friedman pointed to the Sabres’ performance coming out of their COVID-19 protocol break “has started a lot of talk about what could be happening.”
While the Sabres’ recent play isn’t enough to spur a franchise-changing move, Vogl took note of the fact Eichel hates losing and there’s been little change in the club’s fortunes despite recent changes. The Sabres captain is also off to a slow start after suffering an upper-body injury during training camp.
The Sabres’ ongoing woes have given rise to speculation over Eichel’s future in Buffalo. He’s in the third year of an eight-year deal with the final four years containing a full no-movement clause. Moving him before that clause kicks in 17 months from now would give the Sabres a broader trade market.
Vogl speculates the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings could be best-positioned to make a competitive pitch for Eichel. Both have considerable depth in promising youth and the cap space to take on Eichel’s $10 million annual average value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Eichel trade conjecture first surfaced last year when he voiced his unhappiness over the club’s performance. Few observers seriously entertained the notion of the Sabres star getting traded then. However, Vogl and Friedman pointed out the longer the club continues to stumble the more questions will be asked about Eichel’s future.
Another failed season could force a discussion this summer between Eichel and the Sabres’ ownership and management over the team’s direction. I don’t see them trying to move him if he wants to stay. He’s the guy they’ve been trying to build around since drafting him in 2015. But if Eichel decides it’s time to move on, trading him before his NMC kicks in makes the most sense.
Every NHL club would love to have a player like Eichel in their lineup. As I noted last September, finding a suitable trade partner willing to take on his big contract and pony up what will be an expensive asking price won’t be easy. Just because the Rangers and Kings have the cap space and assets to make a competitive offer doesn’t mean they’ll do it.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports there’s mutual interest between Taylor Hall and Sabres management in discussing a contract extension when the time is right. Both sides can start those discussions on March 12, one month before the Apr. 12 trade deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s widely assumed Hall could be moved before the trade deadline if the Sabres fail to re-sign him by then. That’s still a possibility. If they can re-sign him, however, it could help alleviate some of the potential concerns Eichel might have about the club’s plans going forward.
UPDATES ON GETZLAF, NUGENT-HOPKINS AND BINNINGTON
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports teams have a lot of interest in Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. The 35-year-old center is slated to become a UFA this summer. Seravalli indicates the Ducks have no plans to ask Getzlaf about a trade unless he asks to be moved to a contender before the trade deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Getzlaf is among the greatest players in Ducks history. They’re not going to force him out the door if he’s non-committal about returning next season or doesn’t fit into their future plans. They’ll give him all the time he needs to make a decision.
Ryan Rishaug took to Twitter on Tuesday reporting no resumption of contract talks between the Edmonton Oilers and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The 27-year-old forward is due to become a UFA this summer. He wants to stay and the club wants to re-sign him but working out term and dollars on a new deal during a flat-cap COVID environment has proven tricky.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rishaug points out Nugent-Hopkins isn’t an asset the Oilers want to risk losing for nothing to free agency this summer. It’ll be interesting to see if talks resume before the Apr. 12 trade deadline. I don’t expect them to move Nugent-Hopkins while they’re in the midst of the playoff race but perhaps that changes if they tumble in the standings.
THE ATHLETIC: Jeremy Rutherford reports St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said his goal is to sign Jordan Binnington to a new contract. The 27-year-old goaltender is due to become a UFA this summer and is off to a strong start to this season.
Armstrong cited Binnington’s accomplishments in the short time he’s been with the Blues. He also pointed out the club would have to find a replacement for him if he departs via free agency.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues don’t have anyone in their system who can step up and fill Binnington’s skates. There aren’t many suitable options to replace him via this summer’s UFA market.
Tuukka Rask could be available but it’s expected he’ll re-sign with the Boston Bruins. Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen has a solid regular-season record but hasn’t accomplished much in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Devan Dubnyk of the San Jose Sharks are past their prime.
Recent Avalanche and Blues speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NHL.COM: Brett Amadon wondered whether the Colorado Avalanche can re-sign pending free agents such as captain Gabriel Landeskog, Brandon Saad, Cale Makar and Philipp Grubauer before next season.
Landeskog, Saad and Grubauer are due to become unrestricted free agents next summer. Makar becomes a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. General manager Joe Sakic said he’s started a dialogue with his captain. Amadon notes the Avs have leverage with Makar, but the futures of Saad and Grubauer are less clear.
Regarding Grubauer, Amadon pointed to injuries and inconsistency affecting the 29-year-old goaltender’s performance since his acquisition from the Washington Capitals in 2018. He was also outplayed last season by rookie Pavel Francouz.
NBC SPORTS: Adam Gretz recently wondered if there’s a way the Avalanche can re-sign Saad or if he is merely a one-year rental player. He considers the 28-year-old winger a reliable two-way top-six forward who’ll net 20 goals and around 50 points each season.
With five other players (Landeskog, Grubauer, Ian Cole, Matt Calvert and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) also due to become UFAs, Gretz notes the Avs’ salary-cap space will disappear quickly. He speculates it could cost between $5 million and $5.5 million annually to keep Saad, especially if they let some other players go. However, Landeskog and the goaltending situation will likely be the Avs’ priority heading into next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Cap Friendly, the Avalanche have $55.1 million invested in 12 players for 2021-22. Landeskog could cost around $7 million annually. Makar could get a bridge deal but he’ll still be in line for a significant raise, perhaps up to $5 million annually if Sakic decides to play hardball. The 35-year-old Bellemare probably won’t be back. Cole and Calvert could be affordable re-signings though the Avs could consider younger, cost-effective options.
There could be room to keep Saad if he proves a good fit. He’s earning $6 million annually on his current deal and could be reluctant to accept less than that approaching UFA eligibility for the first time. His status will become clearer once the regular season ends.
Grubauer’s situation could be interesting. Sakic said he’s happy with his current goalie tandem so I doubt he intends to make any changes there heading into this season. However, if Grubauer’s outplayed by Francouz again, Sakic could anoint him as his full-time starter by the season’s end. He could then seek an experienced backup next summer who’ll fit more easily within the Avalanche’s ’21-’22 budget.
NBC SPORTS: Gretz also believes the St. Louis Blues have some big decisions to make regarding winger Jaden Schwartz and goaltender Jordan Binnington. Both players are eligible for UFA status next summer.
Gretz suggests the Blues know what it could cost to re-sign Schwartz because they have an identical player in center Brayden Schenn, who they signed to an eight-year, $52 million extension. The decision, however, could come down to whether they want to invest that much in another player closing in on his 30th birthday.
Binnington could be a big question mark. He’s had a series of highs (winning the Stanley Cup in 2019), lows (the 2020 playoffs) and a little bit of in-between (the 2019-20 regular season). Nevertheless, Gretz considers him a solid starting NHL goalie.
The Blues have $55 million invested in their payroll for ’21-’22, but that will shrink once RFA defenseman Vince Dunn is signed before the start of this season. If it costs $6.5 million annually to sign Schwartz and if Dunn costs $3 million, they’ll have $16 million left for seven spots. That includes Binnington, who could get a deal comparable to what Matt Murray and Jacob Markstrom received ($6 million to $6.5 million annually) this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I suspect the Blues will do all they can to re-sign Schwartz. It could take $6.5 million annually to keep him but the length of the deal could be a sticking point. He could seek seven years while management could prefer four or five.
Unless Binnington’s performance goes downhill this season I doubt they’ll let him walk. Having traded Jake Allen, with no suitable replacements within their system and perhaps a lack of suitable options via next summer’s UFA market, they could have little choice but to sign him for perhaps around $6 million annually.