No Lead Is Safe In The NHL This Season
Start times for the upcoming season released, former Oilers coach John Muckler passes away and updates on Alex Ovechkin, Brad Marchand, Gabriel Landeskog, Joe Pavelski, Sergei Bobrovsky and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines,
NHL.COM: The league officially announced start times for the upcoming 2020-21 season. The schedule opens on Jan. 13 with five games on the slate. The Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the Philadelphia Flyers at 5: 30 pm ET, the Montreal Canadiens tangle with the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm ET, the Chicago Blackhawks meet the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning at 8 pm ET, the Vancouver Canucks square off with the Edmonton Oilers at 10 pm ET, followed by the St. Louis Blues meeting the Colorado Avalanche at 10:30 pm ET.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Former Oilers coach John Muckler passed away Monday at age 86. Muckler was assistant and associate coach during the Oilers’ first four Stanley Cup runs and was head coach during their fifth and final championship in 1990.
Before joining the Oilers, Muckler did stints in various positions with the Minnesota North Stars, Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers. After leaving the Oilers in 1991, he served as head of hockey operations and head coach with the Buffalo Sabres, went on to become head coach of the Rangers, followed by becoming general manager of the Ottawa Senators.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Muckler had a long, distinguished career in the NHL. My condolences to his family, friends, former associates and players, and the Oilers organization.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Contract talks between the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin have yet to begin but the superstar winger isn’t concerned. He pointed out there’s no rush and plenty of time to get a deal done. The Capitals captain is due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. “Whatever is done is done. If it’s not done, we’re gonna talk and we’ll see,” said Ovechkin, who is acting as his own agent.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ovechkin wants to stay in Washington and the Capitals want to keep him. Unless his salary demands become exorbitant, I expect they’ll reach an agreement that keeps both sides happy.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins winger Brad Marchand is hoping to be ready in time for the club’s season-opener on Jan. 14. He underwent sports hernia surgery on Sept. 14 and the recovery period was expected to be four months.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Getting one of their two sidelined top-line forwards back for the start of the season (or soon afterward) will provide a big boost to the Bruins’ offense. David Pastrnak is also on the shelf (hip surgery) and isn’t expected to return until sometime in February.
NHL.COM: Gabriel Landeskog is among several members of the Colorado Avalanche to miss the first day of on-ice activities. Winger Brandon Saad, defenseman Erik Johnson and goaltender Philipp Grubauer joined the Avs captain on the sidelines. All were listed as “unfit to play” with no timetable as to when they’re return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Under league guidelines, teams are not allowed to comment if players are sidelined during training camp due to COVID-19 testing or contract tracing. However, the league will announce if players test positive during the regular season.
This could be a testing issue in which they received false positives and have to be re-tested again. This was commonplace among several NHL teams during the 2020 playoffs. We’ll learn more about their status as the week progresses.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars center Joe Pavelski is listed as day-to-day pending further results from medicals. Meanwhile, immigration issues has delayed goaltender Anton Khudobin’s efforts to report to training camp. He’s fulfilling his mandatory seven-day quarantine and it’s expected he’ll be on the ice at some point during training camp.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: Sergei Bobrovsky and Patric Hornqvist were among several Florida Panthers declared “unfit to play” yesterday.
TSN: Mathew Barzal is at New York Islanders training camp and underwent his team physical. However, the young center remains without a contract and cannot practice with his teammates until he’s signed.
TWINCITIES.COM: Winger Kevin Fiala missed on-ice practice yesterday for precautionary reasons. He returned to the ice after practice to skate with assistant coaches Brett McLean and Darby Hendrickson.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: James Neal and Dominik Kahun are among four Oilers declared unfit to play yesterday.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators defenseman Erik Brannstrom is in quarantine for seven days after coming in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
CBS SPORTS: The Chicago Blackhawks placed forward Zack Smith on waivers.
SPORTSNET: The Winnipeg Jets placed forward Marko Dano on waivers.
TSN: The province of Quebec is the third province to approve NHL games this season in Canada. Manitoba and Ontario have yet to make a final announcement, though Manitoba is showing support for the league’s plan.
THE AHL: 28 teams will participate in the AHL’s 2020-21 schedule.
The NHL will not introduce a blanket quarantine period for players recalled from the American Hockey League this season. Instead, each case will be judged by its own circumstances.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 5, 2021
A look at TSN’s updated trade-bait board in today’s NHL rumor.
TSN: Frank Seravalli updated and expanded his trade-bait board. Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray and Vegas Golden Knights’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury now sit in the top five.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli’s colleague Darren Dreger reports Ekman-Larsson is willing to waive his no-movement clause for the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks and Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong is talking with both clubs hoping to work out a deal. Dreger believes the Coyotes will either have to retain some of Ekman-Larsson’s $8.25-million annual average value or they’ll have to take back some contracts in return.
The Coyotes lack a first-round pick for this year and next year, but the Bruins and Canucks don’t have first-round picks in this year’s draft. The Province’s Patrick Johnston suggested Canucks GM Jim Benning offer up Loui Eriksson, who has two years left on his contract at $6 million AAV, as part of the return. Eriksson’s only being paid $5 million in actual salary over those two years. However, the Coyotes could be on his 15-team no-trade list.
Acquiring Ekman-Larsson would allow the Bruins to replace Torey Krug, who’s expected to depart via free agency next Friday. If the Coyotes aren’t willing to pick up part of his cap hit, the Bruins will have to give up something worthwhile while freeing up some additional cap space to absorb Ekman-Larsson’s contract.
Turning to Murray, Seravalli noted the Edmonton Oilers were linked to him. With free agency looming, he said many observers are wondering if they might set their sights on Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom.
Columbus Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson, Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk, the Ottawa Senators’ second-round picks, Canucks winger Jake Virtanen and Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask round out the top ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli said there were rumors the Oilers had an interest in DeBrusk but their cap constraints likely make him too expensive. He’s a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract. Maybe he becomes part of the Bruins’ package offer for Ekman-Larsson?
As for Rask, Seravalli cites multiple sources claiming Bruins GM Don Sweeney has been gauging the goalie’s value in the trade market. He’s got a year left on his contract ($7 million AAV) with a 15-team trade list. If he trades Rask, however, he’ll have to find a suitable replacement via trade or free agency. While both markets are flooded with goaltenders, that doesn’t mean Sweeney is guaranteed to land an upgrade over Rask.
Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn and Wild forward Ryan Donato come in at 11 to 15.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning must shed salary to re-sign Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Gourde and Johnson have full no-trade clauses while Killorn has a 16-team no-trade list.
New York Rangers center Ryan Strome, St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson, and Blue Jackets goalies Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo fill spots 16 to 20.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s speculation the Blues could attempt to trade Pietrangelo’s rights if the two sides fail to hammer out a new contract before the UFA market opens next Friday. The Jackets could be open to moving one of their goalies, either to free up cap room or perhaps in a package deal for a scoring forward.
Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper, Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad fill spots 21 to 24.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Kuemper trade chatter has cooled in recent days as the Coyotes shift their focus on trade Ekman-Larsson. It’s now believed they prefer to retain him. Hanifin recently surfaced in the rumor mill when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned his name came up during the Flames discussions with the New Jersey Devils last fall about Taylor Hall. Hanifin might not be available if the Flames let TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic depart next week as free agents.
Nashville Predators forwards Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Nick Bonino, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei, Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere complete spots 25 to 30.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli said the lack of quality centers in this year’s free-agent market has the Predators believed to be seeking opportunities to move one of theirs. I’m guessing GM David Poile would like to bring in a scoring winger in return or to free up the cap room to pursue one via free agency. Poile would love to move Kyle Turris but the four years remaining on his contract at $6 million per season makes that almost impossible.
I’m not convinced the Hurricanes are keen to move Skjei after acquiring him at the February trade deadline. Domi and Gostisbehere have been fixtures in the rumor mill for some time. Speaking of the Canadiens, Pierre LeBrun said they’re willing to move their first-round pick (16th overall) in this year’s draft for the right return. He indicated they’re in the market for a top-six forward.
New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri, Canadiens center Phillip Danault, New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk, Canucks center Brandon Sutter and Blues winger Jaden Schwartz are in spots 31 to 35.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’re reaching the spot in the list where there are players who could be traded, but various factors likely work against it. For example, I don’t believe the Canadiens intend to trade Danault. While centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi could become the Habs top-two centers next season, they’ll need Danault’s skill and experience in case one or both of those youngsters struggle or become sidelined. Maybe that move takes place at next season’s trade deadline. Not now.
Blues center Tyler Bozak, the Golden Knights’ Jonathan Marchessault, Alec Martinez and Paul Stastny, and Coyotes winger Phil Kessel fill spots 36 to 40.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Marchessault, Martinez or Stastny could become a cap casualty if the Golden Knights need to shed salary to re-sign Lehner or pursue a big-ticket free agent like Pietrangelo. That’s assuming they can’t find any takers for Fleury.
Edmonton’s Kris Russell, Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck, Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour, the Rangers’ Tony DeAngelo, Edmonton Evan Bouchard, Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, San Jose’s Martin Jones, Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky round out the bottom ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli wonders if Bobrovsky’s contract is the NHL’s most unmovable. Bill Zito, the Panthers new GM, should become the front-runner for GM of the Year if he can trade that contract.
Recaps of the second day of exhibition games, an update on John Chayka’s departure from the Coyotes, the Blackhawks announce initiatives to honor Native American culture, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
EXHIBITION GAME RECAPS
NHL.COM: The line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat combined for 10 points as the Tampa Bay Lightning blanked the Florida Panthers 5-0. Point led the way with two goals and two assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up the shutout with a 26-save performance.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky gave up five goals on 34 shots, but he was hung out to dry by his teammates. The Panthers must improve their defensive play before they face off against the New York Islanders in their qualifying round series.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin tallied twice and set up another to lead his club over the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2. Capitals defenseman John Carlson left the game in the final 10 minutes as a precautionary measure after crashing awkwardly into the boards. An update on his condition is expected today. Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek gave up three goals on 16 shots before being replaced by James Reimer.
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck kicked out 37 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Jets captain Blake Wheeler had a goal and an assist. Teammate Nikolaj Ehlers also scored, but left the game in the third period with an apparent lower-body injury. No word yet as to his status.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Looks like the long layoff had little effect on Hellebuyck’s performance. The Vezina Trophy finalist was on top of his game against the Canucks. Ehlers may have aggravated an ailment that nagged him throughout training camp.
Dominik Kubalik scored twice and added an assist as the Chicago Blackhawks blanked the St. Louis Blues 4-0. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford made 11 saves through two periods.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crawford looked sharp in this contest after missing most of the Blackhawks’ training camp when he tested positive for COVID-19. His performance against the Blues is a good sign as he and his teammates face the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round.
Colorado Avalanche forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Joonas Donskoi were the goal scorers as their club edged the Minnesota Wild 3-2. Wild center Eric Staal had a goal and an assist. The Avs killed off seven of eight penalties.
Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss combined for 26 saves as the New York Islanders held off the New York Rangers 2-1. Anthony Beauvillier and Devon Toews scored for the Isles. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal left the game in the second period for precautionary reasons and isn’t expected to miss their qualifying series against the Hurricanes.
NEW YORK POST: Howie Kussoy cites multiple reports claiming former Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka’s relationship with the club’s ownership was irrevocably damaged when he lied about having a job interview with the New Jersey Devils, who then were uninterested in hiring him. Chayka resigned from the Coyotes last weekend as the club was preparing to head to Edmonton for Phase 4 of the return-to-play plan.
An NHL team approached Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo about a month ago seeking permission to speak to Chayka, which Meruelo rejected. Chayka then reportedly lied to Meruelo about the Devils’ interest, only to subsequently request his contract be terminated so he could pursue an opportunity within the Devils ownership’s sports portfolio.
Meruelo felt betrayed but wanted to wait until the season ended to discuss this with Chayka, but the latter felt that was unreasonable. The situation quickly deteriorated, culminating in Chayka’s departure from the team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This has degenerated into a messy they-said/he said situation with each side blaming the other. If Chayka lied about the Devils interview, it could damage his reputation and his efforts to find employment elsewhere in the NHL.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Blackhawks are taking steps designed to honor Native American culture. They’ve banned headdresses at their games and intend to incorporate Native American culture and education into their arena and the games there. The club has resisted calls to change its nickname and logo after the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced they were moving on from their nickname.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: The Bruins re-signed forward Anders Bjork to a three-year, $4.8-million contract extension. The annual average value is $1.6 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Bruins now have over $65.1 million invested in 19 players for 2020-21. Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, and team captain Zdeno Chara are among the notables still to be re-signed.
TSN: Former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has taken on a volunteer advisory role with the Vermont Catamounts coaching staff.
LA PRESSE: Montreal Canadiens winger Dale Weise denied a report out of Switzerland claiming he signed a contract with Swiss club HC Lausanne.