The Golden Knights’ new coach hopes to help Jack Eichel improve while Nick Suzuki talks about the Canadiens’ captaincy and the pressure of playing in Montreal. Details and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
THE ATHLETIC: Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy hopes to elevate the play of center Jack Eichel, who has yet to appear in postseason competition after seven NHL seasons. Cassidy has spoken with the 25-year-old center about his goals and said he’s motivated to win the Stanley Cup.
Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (NHL Images).
Eichel spent most of his NHL career with the struggling Buffalo Sabres before he was traded last season to the Golden Knights. He missed over half of last season recovering from neck surgery and played with a fractured right wrist down the stretch.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eichel and Cassidy face tremendous pressure this season as the Golden Knights attempt to bounce back from missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. A strong performance by Eichel will be crucial toward achieving that goal and should make Cassidy’s job easier.
MONTREAL HOCKEY NOW: Appearing on the “Raw Knuckles Podcast,” Nick Suzuki spoke about the Canadiens’ captaincy and the pressure of playing in hockey-mad Montreal.
Suzuki, 23, is considered by some observers a favorite to become the Canadiens’ next captain. Asked about that role, he said he would “definitely be ready for it” if it came his way, pointing to examples set by former captain Shea Weber and teammates such as Brendan Gallagher.
Speaking about the pressure from fans and media in Montreal, Suzuki acknowledged their high expectations. However, he doesn’t let it interfere with how he prepares for the game. “As a player, you have to self-motivate, know where your game’s at, know how you’re playing and don’t let anything outside affect you,” he said.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see who the Canadiens choose as their next captain. It could be a rising young star such as Suzuki or perhaps a veteran such as Gallagher who’s been with the team for years.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators signed restricted free agent defenseman Erik Brannstrom to a one-year, $900K contract.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Former Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid has been invited to help as a guest coach with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Smid, 36, spent nearly eight of his 10 NHL seasons with the Oilers.
SAN JOSE HOCKEY NOW: The Sharks are reportedly considering rebranding their home and away jerseys for 2023-24.
Leon Draisaitl talks about how his ankle injury affected his postseason play, Joe Thornton won’t be returning with the Panthers, Mike Babcock intends to retire from coaching and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE SCORE: Kayla Douglas cited Leon Draisaitl telling Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman how his high ankle sprain during the playoffs forced him to change his style of play. The Edmonton Oilers center suffered the injury in Game 6 of his club’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (NHL Images).
Draisaitl usually relies on speed to beat his opponents. He explained that the injury forced him to slow down his game and evolve as a player. “I tried to find a way to be productive in a different way,” said Draisaitl. “I thought I did a pretty good job of that.”
For the remainder of the Oilers’ playoff run, Draisaitl scored twice and collected 22 assists in 10 games while playing a more stationary style.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It was apparent Draisaitl was hampered by his injury yet his output was impressive. It’s bad news for opponents that he used the experience to evolve his style of play. This lesson could also help him remain productive when age inevitably slows his skating.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: On Wednesday, Joe Thornton’s wife posted to her private Instagram account that the family will be moving on from South Florida. He signed a one-year contract last summer with the Panthers but appeared in just 34 regular-season games and one playoff contest. It’s uncertain what the future holds for the 43-year-old free-agent forward.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: After 24 seasons, Thornton’s NHL career has likely come to an end. His performance has been declining since his season-ending knee injury in 2017-18.
650 CKOM: Mike Babcock said he intends to retire from coaching after stepping down earlier this week as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. While he seemed to leave the door open for a possible return to the NHL coach ranks, the 59-year-old indicated retirement was best for himself and his family.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Babcock had a long and successful career in the NHL. He sits 10th all-time in wins (700) between 2002-03 and 2019-20 with the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, winning the Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008. Babcock faced allegations of bullying players following his dismissal by the Leafs but he has denied those claims.
DETROIT HOCKEY NOW: The Red Wings signed Filip Zadina to a three-year contract with an average annual value of $1.825 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chosen sixth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, Zadina has struggled to play up to expectations as a top-six winger. The Wings appear intent on staying patient with the 22-year-old right winger. His affordable new contract could also make him easier to trade if the two sides feel he might benefit from a change of scenery.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning signed Philippe Myers to a one-year, $1.4 million contract extension. The 25-year-old defenseman was acquired from the Nashville Predators as part of the return in the Ryan McDonagh trade earlier this summer. Myers is entering the final season of his current contract with a $2.55 million cap hit.
DAILY FACEOFF: Vegas Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon said the club will go with the goalie tandem of Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit to start the upcoming season. There was speculation over how they would address the absence of Robin Lehner, who is undergoing double hip surgery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: McCrimmon has no choice. There are no viable replacement options via free agency or the trade market for his cap-strapped club.
TSN: cited the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reporting Senators general manager Pierre Dorion saying he’s still talking with the agents for Erik Brannstrom and Alex Formenton. He anticipates the two restricted free agents to be signed before training camp opens next month.
In other Senators’ news, they recently reached an affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Allen Americans. Speaking of NHL teams and ECHL affiliates…
CALGARY SUN: The Flames named the Rapid City Rush as their ECHL affiliate.
A look at five players on non-postseason contenders with something to play for down the stretch in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.
DAILY FACEOFF: Phil Kessel and Travis Konecny are two of the five players on non-playoff clubs that Matt Larkin believes still have something to play for over the remaining weeks of this regular season.
Kessel sits second on the all-time consecutive games-played list with 971. He won’t catch Keith Yandle’s record of 989 but he could reach 982 by season’s end if he stays in the lineup.
Arizona Coyotes winger Phil Kessel (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kessel’s pursuit of the NHL Ironman record isn’t a rumor, but it could play a part in his efforts to find a new club after this season. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 13 and the Coyotes aren’t expected to bring him back.
Kessel’s best seasons are behind him but the 34-year-old right winger sits third on the low-scoring Coyotes with 44 points and is their leader with 37 assists. Those are respectable numbers and could make him enticing as an affordable short-term free-agent signing by a playoff contender this summer.
Konecny, meanwhile, has struggled over the past two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s difficult to judge the 25-year-old winger’s performance when the entire club has underachieved. Larkin’s colleague Frank Seravalli reported Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher had spoken with other clubs about Konecny. While no deals materialized before the trade deadline, the groundwork may be laid for an offseason move. His performance over the remainder of this season could determine his fate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Konecny’s contract could also become a factor in whether he’s traded this summer. He carries an annual average value of $5.5 million through 2024-25 and lacks no-trade protection. The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor recently suggested he could become a trade candidate if Fletcher decides to shake up the roster core this summer.
Columbus Blue Jackets center Jack Roslovic’s inconsistent play this season saw him become the subject of trade rumors. A restricted free agent this summer, the final weeks of this season could give him an opportunity to show the Jackets that he’s worth retaining. Larkin speculates he could accept the Jackets’ qualifying offer in the hope of improving his value next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Roslovic had six points in 10 games leading up to the March 21 trade deadline. He had a four-point performance Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings (including a hat trick) but that’s accounted for most of the six points he’s had in the 10 games since deadline day.
Dylan Strome’s erratic production frequently surfaced in trade chatter this season. However, the 25-year-old center has 22 points in his last 17 games since being moved to the top line alongside Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat at the start of March. If he continues playing well with those two it could earn him a multi-year extension.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The rebuilding Blackhawks could also try to trade Strome this summer while his value is up.
Larkin also wondered what the future could hold for Erik Brannstrom as the 22-year-old Ottawa Senators defenseman attempts to establish himself as a full-time NHLer. A solid effort down the stretch could earn him a bridge deal with the Senators.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Larkin observed Thomas Chabot’s season-ending hand injury has opened the door for Brannstrom. He’s been paired with Artem Zub and is seeing regular top-four minutes. However, the addition of top prospect Jake Sanderson could make Brannstrom’s future in Ottawa an uncertain one.
If the Canadiens decide to move Gallagher and/or Toffoli it’ll likely happen in the offseason. It’s difficult to move older players with several years on their contracts during the season, especially with 22 teams carrying less than $3.6 million in cap space. Some will have more cap room by the trade deadline but they must also keep an eye on next season’s payrolls with the cap only rising by $1 million.
Predators GM David Poile said in July he was engaging in a “competitive rebuild”. That could continue with Forsberg’s departure. If they’re still in playoff contention by the deadline they’ll keep him as an “own rental” and let him walk this summer if they can’t reach an agreement on an extension.
Marek is referring to the Edmonton Oilers. However, that depends on the health of Oiler goalie Mike Smith, whether Fleury would accept a trade to Edmonton and if the Blackhawks are willing to pick up part of his cap hit.
Tarasenko hasn’t rescinded his trade request and is fully recovered from his shoulder surgeries. However, his $7.5 million annual average value through 2022-23 remains a sticking point as it was this past summer. The fact he’s owed $9.5 million in actual salary this season and I believe the earliest he gets moved is next summer.
New York Rangers GM Chris Drury won’t budge on honoring Vitali Kravtsov’s trade request unless he gets something of quality in return. Backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev’s name has also been in the rumor mill.
Kravtsov is on loan to KHL club Chelyabinsk and can’t return to the NHL until the KHL season is over. Georgiev’s solid effort filling in for sidelined starter Igor Shesterkin could improve his trade value but the Blueshirts could be reluctant to move him unless they’ve got a reliable backup to replace him.
I doubt the Penguins shop any of those three if they’re holding a playoff berth by deadline day. Rust is the only one lacking any kind of no-trade protection and carries the most affordable cap hit ($3.5 million).
Marek wondered if Oilers GM Ken Holland will use his first-round pick as trade bait to bring in immediate help for his roster. He also mused over whether the Buffalo Sabres would use one of their three 2022 first-round picks to address an organizational need.
Alex Ovechkin moves up again on the all-time goal-scoring list, Jack Eichel undergoes surgery, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Alex Ovechkin tallied his 742nd career NHL goal while Conor Sheary scored the game-winner late in the third period as the Washington Capitals defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3. Ovechkin overtook Brett Hull to move into fourth place on the all-time goal-scoring list. Garnet Hathaway netted two goals for the Capitals while Sean Kuraly replied for the Jackets with two goals.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ovechkin now sits 24 goals behind Jaromir Jagr for third place. At his current rate of production (12 goals in 14 games), the Capitals captain could surpass Jagr by mid-January.
The Buffalo Sabres upset the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 thanks to two goals by Dylan Cozens and a 33-save performance by Dustin Tokarski. Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl tallied twice to lead the league with 14 goals and 28 points while teammate Connor McDavid collected an assist to extend his season-opening points streak to 13 games. The Sabres improve their record to 6-5-2.
An overtime goal by Auston Matthews lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames. William Nylander set up both goals by the Leafs, who’ve won seven of their last eight contests. The Flames are winless (0-2-1) in their last three games.
Carter Hart turned aside 39 shots to backstop the Philadelphia Flyers over the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1. Joel Farabee and Zack MacEwen netted third-period goals to give the Flyers the win.
The Chicago Blackhawks have three straight wins under interim head coach Derek King as they nipped the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Dylan Strome’s game-winner in the third period. Patrick Kane collected two assists as the Blackhawks improve their record to 4-9-2. The Coyotes, meanwhile, have just one victory (1-12-1) thus far.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Golden Knights center Jack Eichel underwent successful artificial disk replacement surgery in Denver on Friday. He’s expected to spend three weeks in Denver recovering before returning to Las Vegas for the remainder of his expected three-month rehab.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators will play the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in Kanata and the Calgary Flames on Sunday despite their COVID-depleted roster. Nine Senators are currently on the COVID protocol list.
The league instructed the club to cancel practice for the third time this week on Friday to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The Senators had hoped to convince the NHL to postpone several games until some of the players are well enough to return to action.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: According to the report, the league sympathizes with the Senators’ plight but hopes to avoid rescheduling games until the club has almost no more players left to recall from their AHL affiliate.
While I understand the league’s reluctance to face rescheduling games as they did last season, they’re not doing the Senators any favors here by forcing them to ice a significantly depleted lineup. There’s also the risk of spreading the virus among themselves or their opponents. The good news (so far) is no other players have tested positive since Thursday.
Speaking of the Senators, defenseman Erik Brannstrom will be sidelined for up to eight weeks with a broken hand suffered during Thursday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
SPORTSNET: Seven San Jose Sharks players (Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kevin Lebanc, Jake Middleton, Matt Nieto and Radim Simek) and head coach Bob Boughner have returned to the active roster since being placed in COVID protocol on Oct. 30.
SAN JOSE HOCKEY NOW: Karlsson, Middleton and Boughner described how their contracting COVID-19 affected their families. They were among the first of five others on the club to recently test positive for the coronavirus.
Karlsson said his wife and two-year-old daughter also tested positive. While his daughter is doing well, his wife is still dealing with symptoms. Middleton, meanwhile, had to put his girlfriend and their dog into a hotel during the 10 days he was in COVID protocol. Boughner’s parents were visiting when he got his positive test. He immediately quarantined himself into a hotel while his parents returned to Canada safe and sound.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The report also indicated the Sharks organization is fully vaccinated. Neither Karlsson, Middleton or Boughner know where or when they were exposed to COVID.
NHL.COM: The department of player safety suspended Vancouver Canucks defenseman Tucker Poolman for two games for high-sticking Colorado Avalanche forward Kiefer Sherwood on Thursday.
TSN: Braydon Coburn announced his retirement yesterday after 16 NHL seasons. The 37-year-old defenseman tallied 234 points in 983 games with the Atlanta Thrashers, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders. He won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2020.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Coburn and his family in their future endeavors.
Could the Avalanche shop a defenseman for a scorer? What the latest on the Senators? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE DENVER POST: Mike Chambers believes the strong performance by rookie defenseman Bowen Byram might explain why the Colorado Avalanche were among the suitors for Jack Eichel before the Buffalo Sabres traded the 25-year-old center to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard (NHL Images).
Chambers took note of Eichel telling Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman following his trade that at one point he thought he might be going to the Avalanche. He also speculated the Avs likely would’ve offered up defenseman Samuel Girard plus a top prospect or two and draft picks for Eichel but the Sabres likely would’ve wanted more.
Girard, 23, carries a $5 million annual salary-cap hit through 2026-27. Byram’s early-season play plus Devon Toews’ return from offseason shoulder surgery could’ve made it possible to dangle Girard in a package deal for Eichel. Chambers believes he’s still expendable if the Avs seek an elite forward or goaltender.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Girard also surfaced in the rumor mill earlier this year, Chambers and a couple of his Denver Post sportswriting colleagues suggested he could become an offseason trade candidate following the Avalanche’s disappointing second-round exit from the 2021 playoffs.
Despite trading away Ryan Graves last summer, the Avalanche still possesses a deep defense corps. If Byram continues to blossom, general manager Joe Sakic could consider using Girard as a trade chip to add a second-line scorer before the March 21 trade deadline. He lacks no-trade protection and could interest teams in need of a skillful young puck-moving blueliner.
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Ian Mendes was asked why the Ottawa Senators sent promising defenseman Erik Brannstrom to their AHL affiliate to start the season. He felt it was done because he was waiver-exempt and they needed to move a body.
Mendes believes Brannstrom is frustrated and that could be why he changed agents. His sense of the situation is the young blueliner hasn’t requested a trade and he doesn’t think the Senators are shopping him. His guess is Brannstrom will either be playing with the Senators following the trade deadline or he’ll be dealt away. This is his last season with waiver-exempt status.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mendes felt the Senators need to know what they’ve got in Brannstrom or risk losing him to waivers next fall. He believes they want to give him a legitimate shot on their roster. Still, it could be worth monitoring Brannstrom’s situation.