NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 3, 2024
Connor McDavid wins the All-Stars skills competition, the Kings fire head coach Todd McLellan and the NHL will return to the 2026 and 2030 Olympics—details on these and other stories in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
NHL.COM: Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid won the 2024 NHL All-Star skills competition at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, taking home a $1 million check for his efforts. McDavid won four of the eight events for 25 points.
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar finished second with 20 points while Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews was third with 18 points. Makar’s teammate Alexandar Georgiev was the top goaltender in the event, earning a check of $100,000.
THE SCORE: Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov drew boos from the Toronto fans for what appeared to be a lackadaisical effort on his part during the passing and stickhandling events. He finished with 0.5 points through four events before being eliminated.
MAYOR’S MANOR: The Los Angeles Kings fired head coach Todd McLellan on Friday and promoted assistant coach Jim Hiller as his replacement on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: McLellan is the sixth NHL head coach to lose his job this season. He received a vote of confidence from general manager Rob Blake last month. However, the club’s ongoing slump couldn’t be overlooked any longer as it threatens to derail their season.
Changing the head coach is the easiest go-to for the general manager of a struggling team, especially one that lacks sufficient salary-cap space to make a trade or two to improve the roster.
Nevertheless, Blake isn’t escaping unscathed from this.
Elliott and Stephens pointed to the divisions in the dressing room as well as the Kings’ lack of scoring punch and inadequate goaltending. They singled out the indifferent play of Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Kings’ big-ticket acquisition last summer whose performance has been disappointing thus far. Trading away Sean Durzi, Alex Iafallo and Gabriel Vilardi last year also hurt their roster depth.
If Hiller reverses the Kings fortunes it’ll buy Blake time to reexamine his roster and make adjustments accordingly. If things remain the same or worsen it’ll cast the Kings GM into a much harsher spotlight, raising questions about his future in Los Angeles.
NHL.COM: League Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL will return to the Winter Olympics in 2026 and 2030. The last time the league participated in the Winter Games was in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The return to the Olympics was part of the league’s 2020 memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the NHL Players Association extending the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to 2026. Participation in the 2030 games is an olive branch to the PA for the league’s decision not to participate in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China, over COVID-19 concerns.
Bettman also announced a four-nation tournament involving NHL players from Canada, the United States, Finland and Sweden from Feb. 12-20, 2025. It will be held in two North American cities, one in Canada and one in the United States, with the locations to be announced at a later date.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The reason behind this “appetizer” (as Bettman called it) is based on the NHL’s stance against Russia over that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The NHL could’ve fleshed this out into a six-team tournament by following their template from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Smaller European countries such as Germany, Czechia and Slovakia formed Team Europe while North American players 23 and younger skated as Team North America. Team Europe reached the 2016 World Cup Final while Team North America became a fan favorite because of their exciting play.
Instead, we get a half-baked warm-up tournament without superstars such as Leon Draisaitl and David Pastrnak. I’ll cover it because it’s my job but I am not enthusiastic about it. I’m looking forward to the true international best-on-best hockey in the next two Winter Olympics.
NHL.COM: Bettman said he doesn’t believe the four NHL players facing charges over an alleged sexual assault in 2018 as members of Canada’s World Junior team will return to the league this season.
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart, Calgary Flames winger Dillon Dube and New Jersey Devils players Michael McLeod and Cal Foote are on indefinite leave of absence from their respective teams. They each face one charge of sexual assault while McLeod faces an additional charge.
Alex Formenton, whose rights belong to the Ottawa Senators, has also been charged. He’s been playing in Switzerland since last season and is also on a leave of absence from his club.
Bettman confirmed the four players are still being paid by their respective teams. He also said the league conducted its own investigation into the alleged incident but wouldn’t comment on whether it yielded a conclusion of wrongdoing by the players.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league wouldn’t be releasing the results of its findings while charges are pending.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The four players could end up being banned from the NHL and their contracts terminated for violating the league’s and their teams’ respective codes of conduct. However, any such action will likely wait until the completion of their trial and a verdict has been issued.
ARIZONA SPORTS: Bettman and NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh gave conflicting views on the Arizona Coyotes’ efforts to find a new arena site.
Bettman said he was “reasonably confident” that the club’s ownership could announce a new location within the next several weeks. However, Walsh said he was “extremely disappointed” in the Coyotes’ efforts, calling for the franchise to be relocated to a new city if a plan wasn’t in place by the end of this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Arizona Republic’s Stacey Barchenger reported yesterday evening that Coyotes ownership confirmed they are applying to buy about 200 acres of state trust land in North Phoenix. However, they stress they’re still considering all options and aren’t yet ready to announce which one they’ll pursue as their primary location. The soap opera continues…
DAILY FACEOFF: Bettman also confirmed that Corey Perry has a grievance pending with the Chicago Blackhawks over his contract termination on Nov. 30 but it has yet to be filed.
The 38-year-old winger’s contract was terminated over an alcohol-fueled incident that included Blackhawks employees and corporate partners. Perry signed a one-year, prorated contract last month with the Edmonton Oilers.
NYI HOCKEY NOW/NEW YORK POST: The Islanders have placed forward Julien Gauthier on waivers. They also hired Benoit Desrosiers as an assistant coach. He worked with Islanders head coach Patrick Roy for six seasons with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, winning the Memorial Cup in 2023.
KLTV: A Franklin County, Texas jury found former NHL player Mike Ribeiro not guilty of two counts of sexual assault and was deadlocked over a third count of attempted sexual assault. It’s not yet clear if he’ll be retired on the third charge. Ribeiro played for the Dallas Stars from 2006 to 2011.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Former Bruins goaltender Blaine Lacher passed away suddenly in Medicine Hat, Alberta on Jan. 29 at the age of 54. He played two seasons with the Bruins from 1994-95 to 1995-96 with a career record of 22 wins, 16 losses and four overtime losses with a 2.80 goals-against average, a save percentage of .887 and four shutouts.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Lacher’s family, friends, former teammates and coaches.