North Division playoff matchups set plus the latest on Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Mika Zibanejad and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Connor Hellebucyk turned in a 24-save shutout and Blake Wheeler collected four points as the Winnipeg Jets blanked the Vancouver Canucks 5-0. With the win, the Jets secured third place in the Scotia North Division and will face the Edmonton Oilers in the opening round of the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will meet in the other North Division first-round series.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (NHL Images).
The Washington Capitals nipped the Boston Bruins 2-1 on Michael Raffl’s goal in the dying seconds of the third period. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin returned to action for the first time since May 3 after being sidelined by a lower-body injury. With 24 goals, it’s the first time Ovechkin hasn’t reached the 30-goal plateau in his NHL career. The next time the Capitals and Bruins face off will be Saturday in Game 1 of their opening-round series.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ovechkin missed 11 games this season. Had he been healthy he would’ve reached 30 goals. With 730 career goals, he’s one shy of Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the all-time goals leader list.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane admitted he’s been dealing with an injury that nagged him since before last year’s playoffs. Kane didn’t reveal details but said he’s trying to figure it out and hopes it’s nothing serious. He doesn’t expect it to interfere with his offseason training but has been advised to take a little more time off the ice.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sounds like a lower-body or core-muscle injury. While Kane did take time away from practices for maintenance days down the stretch, he finished with a team-leading 66 points in 56 games.
THE SCORE: Speaking of the Blackhawks, they signed forward Henrik Borgstrom to a two-year contract. Financial terms weren’t disclosed. PuckPedia reports it’s worth an annual average value of $1 million.
NBC SPORTS: New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad admitted he struggled to regain his form following his bout with COVID-19 at the start of this season. He tallied just three goals in his first 27 games but rallied in the second half with 21 goals in the final 29 games. Zibanejad finished the season with 50 points.
Check out the latest on the Leafs and Oilers in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SHOULD THE LEAFS PURSUE MURRAY OR HEISKANEN?
SPORTSNET: During a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked what a contract extension for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen might look like, and if the Leafs should attempt to acquire Matt Murray. He believes they could push Andersen’s extension to 2021 and dismissed the notion of acquiring Murray.
Should the Toronto Maple Leafs dump Frederik Andersen in favor of Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray? (Photo via NHL Images)
Despite Murray’s two Stanley Cup rings, Fox is not convinced that the Pittsburgh Penguins netminder is better than Andersen, pointing out the latter has more wins over the past four seasons and a better career save percentage. Murray is also a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Forget about the comparisons of Andersen’s and Murray’s career stats, the Leafs can’t afford the latter even if they wanted to acquire him. As per Cap Friendly, they have almost $77 million invested in 16 players for 2020-21, with $6.65 million going to Andersen and Jack Campbell. Unless they intend on trading Andersen (and I don’t believe they do), there’s no room to take on Murray.
Fox was asked if the Leafs should trade Mitch Marner to the Dallas Stars for Miro Heiskanen. He doesn’t see the Stars parting with their 20-year-old stud defenseman. He also cites Stars beat reporter Sean Shapiro declaring Heiskanen untouchable but speculates they could be willing to part with blueliner John Klingberg.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: So, Marner for Klingberg, Leafs fans? Discuss!
LATEST PULJUJARVI SPECULATION
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Kurt Leavins cited a New York source claiming there was “renewed smoke” over the possibility of a trade that would see the Oilers ship winger Jesse Puljujarvi to the New York Rangers for center Lias Andersson. However, word out of New York is Oilers general manager Ken Holland would also demand a first-round pick from the Rangers, with the Oilers including another mid-level prospect in a two-for-two swap.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Under that scenario, I envision it ending with Rangers GM Jeff Gorton rolling his eyes skyward, politely thanking Holland for his offer, and hanging up the phone.
Jim Matheson doesn’t expect to see the Oilers trading Puljujarvi to the Florida Panthers for center Henrik Borgstrom. The Panthers currently value centers over wingers, especially after trading away Vincent Trocheck. The Panthers also don’t need Puljujarvi when they’ve got Owen Tippett and Grigori Denisenko in their pipeline. Speaking of Tippett, sources consider swapping him for Puljujarvi a non-starter.
Regarding a recent suggestion of the Oilers shopping Puljujarvi to the Ottawa Senators for their third first-round pick in the 2020 draft, Matheson said sources indicate the Senators are lukewarm on the Oilers winger because they’re deep in farm forwards ready to make the jump to the NHL.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Matheson also indicates Holland won’t be talking to other GMs about Puljujarvi’s rights until hockey resumes. In other words, the aforementioned rumors are probably just media spitballing.
The latest on the league’s efforts to resume the season, an update on the 2020 NHL Draft, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LATEST ON THE NHL’S ATTEMPT TO RESUME THE SEASON
THE MERCURY NEWS: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dismissed the notion the league won’t resume its season and award the Stanley Cup later this year. Speaking at a virtual town hall hosted by the San Jose Sharks for its business alliance, Bettman said he wasn’t contemplating canceling the season. “I believe that if the right time comes, and the right circumstances, based on all of the options that we’re considering and our ability to execute them, we’ll get this season done,” Bettman said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman not contemplating canceling this season (Photo via NHL.com)
Bettman also suggested that close discussions with the NHLPA on the current situation could lead them closer to a CBA extension. He indicated the league’s Seattle expansion franchise remains on pace to begin in 2021-22. He acknowledged the need for standardized cleansing of arenas. Bettman also said the league is working on new ways to connect with its fans through social media and other means.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The possibility of long-term labor peace between the NHL and NHLPA could be the silver lining that emerges from this pandemic. The current CBA expires in 2022. The last thing the league needs is another lockout within two years of a shortened season.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In an interview with Pierre LeBrun, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league hasn’t locked into any potential playoff format. Daly also indicated the league and the PA hopes to launch Phase 2 of its Return to Play plan at some point over the next month.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Growing speculation suggests the NHL could return with a 24-team playoff format. There’s also talk of jumping straight into a 16-team format based on current standings or points percentage, or a 20-team format to allow playoff bubble clubs an opportunity to play their way into the post-season bracket.
Daly said there remains no rush on the league’s part to stage the 2020 NHL draft in June. LeBrun believes we could find out one way or the other sometime next week.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports teams are stepping up their preparations for this year’s draft while awaiting final word from the league. LeBrun speculates Bettman and Daly could be having second thoughts about their scheme for a June draft after getting pushback from general managers. Daly has indicated the league needed a month to prepare if they hold the draft in June. If they give the go-ahead next week, the draft could be held between June 17 and 23.
Regarding the possibility of resuming the season in four neutral-site host cities, Daly indicated the league is starting to cut down the list of possible hosts. LeBrun points out the league has a window between July and October to resume the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: B.C Premier John Horgan will speak with Bettman today about Vancouver becoming a host city. Chris Zimmermann, the president and CEO of business operations for the St. Louis Blues, wants his city to be a host. A rumor emerged claiming Arizona was a front-runner, but a league source dismissed it as “completely false.”
TSN: Darren Dreger reports the hope is for Phase 2 to begin later this month, but he adds it’s impossible to determine a true deadline.
“Now, some of the protocol in Phase 2 is pretty obvious. It’s small gathering stuff. It’s social distancing. It’s scheduled shifts when players are allowed to return to their home clubs. It’s small dedicated team staff working on training and whatnot. It’s strict sanitization protocol. All of this could be decided and determined and agreed upon at some point this week. It could drift into next week,” said Dreger.
LeBrun reported the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2020 selection and announcement will proceed on June 23 and 24. It remains to be seen if the induction ceremony will be carried out as scheduled on Nov.16.
Bob McKenzie reported on the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks declaring bankruptcy. He indicates it was related to owner Bill Gallacher’s issues in the gas and oil industry and having to file Chapter 11 for his parent company. For now, this is a one-off, but McKenzie warns there might not be any junior hockey if there are no fans in the stands in 2021.
IN OTHER NEWS…
ARIZONA SPORTS: Arizona Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen is no longer with the organization.
TRIBLIVE.COM: The Pittsburgh Penguins announced four-month furloughs for several employees because of the ongoing pandemic.
THE ATHLETIC: Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon denied a report out of Finland claiming Panthers center Henrik Borgstrom was considering signing with the KHL’s Helsinki Jokerit. “We talked to his agent, and that is not true,” said Tallon. “Maybe it is a bargaining tool. But according to his agent, his preference is to sign with us.”
The impact of the AHL’s season cancelation upon the NHL, the ongoing search for a solution to resume the season, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
HOW WILL THE AHL’S SEASON CANCELATION AFFECT THE NHL?
SPORTSNET: The American Hockey League (AHL) yesterday announced the cancelation of its 2019-20 season. The league is the primary feeder system for the National Hockey League. AHL president David Andrews said the league couldn’t afford to complete the season without fans in the arenas. This will mark the first time since 1937 that the Calder Cup won’t be awarded to the AHL champion.
The American Hockey League canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 season.
Chris Johnston reported Andrews indicated there’s uncertainty over the league’s 2020-21 season. “The American Hockey League as it presently operates can not play in front of empty buildings for any sustained period of time,” he said.
Andrews said the AHL will play next season, pointing out its value as a development league for the NHL. Johnston reports the prevailing opinion among NHL executives is that the AHL won’t return with all of its teams to start next season, which could result in some shared NHL affiliation agreements until things get back to normal.
Johnston pointed out that some AHL players could join their NHL affiliates. “The NHL is still actively engaged in trying to finish its season and teams believe they’ll return with expanded rosters of 30 players or more if it manages to restart. Those taxi squads will be essential to finishing out an expanded 24-team Stanley Cup playoff format that’s currently believed to be the favored option of the league.”
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin reports the AHL’s closure isn’t a harbinger of what could be in store for the NHL. “The NHL has far more resources at its disposal than the AHL and, under return-to-play scenarios, can ease back into competition by broadcasting the games on national TV. Given the ratings we’ve already seen for events such as the NFL draft, there’s an excellent chance the NHL’s empty-arena games would draw huge national audiences in Canada and the U.S. upon returning.”
Larkin also reported NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated there won’t be any need to make an exception to the rules to allow NHL teams to expand their rosters. That’s because it’s already permitted following the annual trade deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The AHL’s 2020-21 season will depend upon how long health restrictions remain in place in its respective markets. Because it is more reliant on gate revenue than the NHL, it could face significant challenges if the pandemic stretches into next season.
LATEST ON THE NHL’S ATTEMPTS TO RESUME ITS SEASON
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun interviewed Philadelphia Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk regarding his role on the NHL’s Return to Play Committee. “There’s a good mix of guys on each side, so no stone will be left unturned as we try to navigate the safest, best way to hopefully get things going again,” said van Riemsdyk. He indicated ensuring the health and safety for all concerned remains their primary focus.
JVR acknowledged whatever format the league chooses for its return probably won’t please everyone. He pointed out the difficulty of trying to find the right scenario given how quickly things can change throughout the pandemic.
THE SCORE: Josh Gold-Smith reports the NHL isn’t permitting teams to sign contracts with players for the current season. “After the NHL suspended its season amid the coronavirus pandemic in March, the league told teams that no contracts for draft picks or college, junior, or European free agents could be signed with a start date of the current season.” According to Gold-Smith, any contracts signed will be dated July 1 and take effect in 2020-21.
Blue-Skying some potential tweaks to the game with a medical expert to allow play during a pandemic. See below for a few ideas and a quote from Bill Daly on the NHL’s willingness to entertain potential changes. pic.twitter.com/Stdrl8gvZV
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Kings’ assistant general manager Michael Futa will be leaving the organization following the imminent completion of his contract. He played a key role in building the Kings’ championship rosters in 2012 and 2014.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Futa is frequently mentioned as a candidate whenever a team is in the market for a general manager. Perhaps this decision means he’s finally about to take the plunge. The New Jersey Devils are believed in the market for a new GM.
JATKOAIKA 65: reports Florida Panthers center Henrik Borgstrom is reportedly talking contract with KHL club Jokerit. Borgstrom is a restricted free agent at season’s end.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Borgstrom was once considered a promising part of the Panthers’ future. The 22-year-old center debuted in 50 games last season but saw action in just four games in his sophomore campaign. Perhaps Borgstrom’s rumored talks with Jokerit are being conducted with the Panthers’ blessing. They’ll still hold his NHL rights beyond next season. Spending a year back home in Finland might help get his career back on track.
TSN: To celebrate their 25th anniversary next season, the Colorado Avalanche are considering playing a handful of games in the old Quebec Nordiques jersey. The Nordiques were relocated to Denver and renamed the Avalanche following the 1994-95 season.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ryan Kennedy unveils his final rankings for the top 120 prospects in this year’s draft.