Random Thoughts On The NHL – June 16, 2021

Random Thoughts On The NHL – June 16, 2021

Some folks believe the Tampa Bay Lightning circumvented the salary-cap system when Nikita Kucherov returned to the lineup in time for the playoffs after missing the regular season recovering from hip surgery.

The Lightning were facing a big salary-cap crunch approaching the start of this season. They were sitting above the $81.5 million ceiling and had to be cap compliant when the season began in mid-January. They unsuccessfully attempted to move a fading Tyler Johnson and his $5-million cap hit via trade or waivers. Speculation suggested they’d have to part with someone like Alex Killorn or perhaps convince Ondrej Palat to waive his no-trade clause.

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov (NHL Images)

Kucherov underwent hip surgery on Dec. 29 with a recovery period of four to five months. By placing him on long-term injury reserve, the Lightning garnered $9.5 million in cap relief. Not only did they not have to make a cost-cutting trade, but they also had sufficient wiggle room to take on defenseman David Savard at the trade deadline.

Because the salary cap only applies during the regular season, Kucherov’s return when the playoffs began raised some eyebrows. Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton seemed to stoke that fire following his club’s second-round elimination by the Lightning, claiming they were beaten by a team sitting $18 million over the cap.

Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois pointed out Kucherov’s status was investigated by the league and no wrongdoing was found. Kucherov, meanwhile, said he had to have the surgery and took the necessary time to recover. He also said he didn’t make the rules regarding LTIR.

Yes, the Lightning circumvented the salary cap, but only because they’re allowed to do so under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Long-term injury reserve allow cap-strapped teams the flexibility to replace players who could miss a significant portion of the regular season.

A team with limited salary cap space can exceed the cap by the equivalent of the injured player’s salary to bring in a replacement, provided they are cap compliant when the sidelined player is medically cleared to return to action.

This isn’t the first time an NHL team has gone this route. In February 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks placed superstar winger Patrick Kane on LTIR with a broken collarbone. Kane missed the remainder of the regular season, allowing the Blackhawks to use the cap relief to bring in Antoine Vermette, Kimmo Timonen and Andrew Desjardins. Kane returned for the start of the playoffs, and the Blackhawks subsequently won the Stanley Cup.

That issue was discussed during a meeting of NHL general managers in March 2016. The league had the opportunity to close that loophole with the NHLPA during last year’s CBA extension negotiations but nothing came of it.

Either there wasn’t sufficient time to hammer out a suitable change to the LTIR rule or both sides saw little reason to change it.

*****

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks pointed to the Lightning’s cap payroll (and that of the Vegas Golden Knights) as proof the hard salary cap is a myth because those teams play in places without state taxes. That means they’re able to sign players for less than what they would’ve sought from teams in taxed states and provinces.

Brooks also praised the management of the Lightning and Golden Knights for managing their cap payrolls better than other clubs in non-tax states like the Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, and Florida Panthers.

Despite that advantage, the Lightning and Golden Knights will soon discover how difficult it is to maintain a Stanley Cup contender under the salary-cap system.

If not for Kucherov going on LTIR to start this season, the Lightning would’ve lost a key player like Alex Killorn. They’re sitting above the cap by over $5 million for next season, and while they’ll likely try to swing a deal with the Seattle Kraken to get them to take Tyler Johnson and his $5 million, they’ll still have to shed salary to find sufficient cap space to fill out the rest of their roster. They’ll likely lose David Savard and wingers Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to this summer’s free-agent market.

The Golden Knights, meanwhile, have over $2.4 million in cap room with top-three defenseman Alec Martinez slated to become an unrestricted free agent. They’ll have to pare that down if they hope to clear more room to re-sign him.

Even if their respective managements can minimize the damage and remain Cup contenders next season, the long-range outlook isn’t good.

Golden Knights veterans Marc-Andre Fleury and Reilly Smith are UFAs in 2022 while promising defenseman Zach Whitecloud is a restricted free agent. It’s worse for the Lightning, with over $70 million invested in 12 players in 2022-23. Brayden Point becomes a restricted free agent next summer while Ondrej Palat is due for UFA status.

*****

Pierre-Luc Dubois had a disappointing performance with the Winnipeg Jets following his trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets in January. The expectation is he’ll bounce back next season and regain his solid two-way form.

But what happens if he doesn’t? He will become a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights whose actual salary for 2021-22 is $6.65 million. The Jets will have to spend that much to just qualify his rights.

That would leave general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff facing a tough decision. Attempt to re-sign Dubois or try to trade him. Considering he gave up Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to the Blue Jackets to get the 22-year-old center, either choice could provide fodder for Cheveldayoff’s critics.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 6, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 6, 2021

The Lightning push the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination, the Islanders tie their series with the Bruins, the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy finalists are announced, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The Tampa Bay Lightning pushed the Carolina Hurricanes on the brink of elimination with a 6-4 victory in Game 4. They hold a commanding 3-1 lead in their second-round series. The teams combined for eight goals in the second period as the Lightning rallied from a 4-2 deficit. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos each scored two goals and collected an assist.

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That second period was the most entertaining of this year’s playoff thus far. A lack of discipline proved costly for the Hurricanes as the Lightning tallied three power-play goals on six attempts with the man advantage. The series returns to Carolina for Game 5 on Tuesday.

Mathew Barzal broke a 1-1 tie as the New York Islanders beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 to even their second-round series at two games apiece. Semyon Varlamov made 28 saves for the win while Casey Cizikas and Jean-Gabriel Pageau padded the lead with empty-net goals. This series moves back to Boston for Game 5 on Monday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo missed this game with an upper-body injury that is suspected to be a concussion. He remains day-to-day.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin, and Minnesota Wild blueliner Jared Spurgeon are this year’s finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.

WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets need Pierre-Luc Dubois to make his presence felt if they hope to overcome a 2-0 series deficit against the Montreal Canadiens. He replaced suspended center Mark Scheifele on the Jets’ top line in Game 2 but his impact was minimal.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dubois struggled throughout this season following his trade to Winnipeg from Columbus in January. He missed four games in February with a lower-body injury. Perhaps that’s an ongoing ailment he’s been trying to play through.

TSN: Speaking of the Jets, sidelined center Paul Stastny traveled with the team to Montreal for Game 3 tonight against the Canadiens. He missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury and there’s no indication if he’ll return to the lineup for the next two games.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars center Tyler Seguin is focusing on the last phase of his rehab from last fall’s hip surgery after missing all but the final three games of the regular season. He’s hoping to be fully healthy in time for training camp in September.

NHL.COM: Minnesota Wild prospect Marco Rossi has resumed skating for the first time since January following complications from COVID-19. He was the ninth overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. It’s expected the 19-year-old center will be ready to report to training camp in September.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 22, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 22, 2021

Recaps of Sunday’s action featuring a hat trick for Bruins winger David Pastrnak plus injury updates and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: David Pastrnak tallied a hat trick to lead the Boston Bruins to a 7-3 romp over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday at Lake Tahoe. It was Pastrnak’s second hat trick of the season and the 10th of his career. James van Riemsdyk had a goal and two assists for the Flyers, who pulled goaltender Carter Hart after the second period. Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon left the game early in the first period with an undisclosed injury.

Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Any lingering concerns over the effects of offseason hip surgery on Pastrnak’s performance must be alleviated by now. He’s picking up where he left off last season and climbing up the NHL stat board. Hart, meanwhile, appeared to have trouble tracking the puck in the outdoor environment.

Winnipeg Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois scored twice, including the winner in overtime, in a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Dubois also added an assist in his first game since being sidelined by a muscle injury 10 days ago. Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele also each collected three points. Elias Pettersson scored twice for the Canucks.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jets moved Dubois to left wing on the top line alongside Wheeler and Scheifele while moving Kyle Connor down to the second line. It’ll be interesting to see if that becomes a permanent change.

The Washington Capitals got two power-play goals from T.J. Oshie and another from Alex Ovechkin to hold off the New Jersey Devils 4-3. Kyle Palmieri and Andreas Johnsson each had two points for the Devils.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ovechkin now has 712 career NHL goals, putting him five back of Phil Esposito for sixth on the all-time goalscoring list.

Brady Tkachuk’s overtime goal lifted the Ottawa Senators over the Montreal Canadiens 3-2. Senators’ goalie Matt Murray made 30 saves for the win while Habs netminder Jake Allen made 36 stops. Montreal winger Jonathan Drouin left the game in the first period with an undisclosed injury.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens were lucky to escape with a point as they were outplayed by the lowly Senators. The Habs bolted from the gate this season with a 7-1-2 record, leading the league in scoring and jockeying with the Toronto Maple Leafs for first place in the overall standings. They have since dropped five of their last seven games, managing just 13 goals during that stretch and slipping to fourth in the North Division.

HEADLINES

WGR 550: Buffalo Sabres winger Jeff Skinner could become a healthy scratch in their upcoming game against the New York Islanders. He’s hasn’t scored a goal in 14 games this season.

THE ATHLETIC: John Vogl reports there’s concern Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe may have suffered a season-ending knee injury on Saturday. The results of his examination are expected today and a source said they’re bracing for ligament damage.

TSN: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins suffered an upper-body injury during Saturday’s game against the Nashville Predators. He’s listed as week-to-week.

THE ATHLETIC: Multiple sources tell Jeremy Rutherford St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko has a back injury. It’s not known if he’ll require surgery. The club intends to rest him for now and see how he responds.

OILERS NATION: Edmonton Oilers defenseman Slater Koekkoek suffered a broken collarbone during the club’s 7-1 win on Saturday over the Calgary Flames.

NHL.COM: The Department of Player Safety fined Los Angeles Kings defenseman Austin Strand over $3,100.00 for cross-checking Arizona Coyotes forward Conor Garland on Saturday.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Anaheim Ducks have recalled top prospect Trevor Zegras from their AHL affiliate in San Diego. The young prospect had nine points in eight games in the AHL.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Zegras was the MVP of the 2021 World Junior Championship as he led Team USA to a gold medal in the tournament. The Ducks hope the youngster will provide a boost to an anemic offense with a league-worst 1.83 goals per game average.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 18, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 18, 2021

Recaps of Wednesday’s action, including Connor McDavid tallying his 500th career point, injury updates and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: Connor McDavid collected two assists to pick up his 500th career NHL point as the Edmonton Oilers edged the Winnipeg Jets 3-2. McDavid accomplished the feat in his 369th NHL game, tying Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby as the eighth fastest player to reach that milestone. Leon Draisaitl scored twice for the Oilers, who’ve won four of their last five.

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (NHL Images).

Earlier in the day, the Jets placed center Pierre-Luc Dubois on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Dubois could return to action on Friday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews tallied his league-leading 14th goal as his club nipped the Ottawa Senators 2-1. Matthews also extended his points streak to 14 games. Alex Kerfoot tallied the game-winner in the third period. Brady Tkachuk replied for the Senators. Earlier in the day, the Leafs announced defenseman Rasmus Sandin is out indefinitely with an injured foot.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored twice (including the game-winner in overtime) and collected an assist in the Florida Panthers 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers overcame a 2-0 deficit but Vincent Trocheck tied the game for the Hurricanes to force the extra frame.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Huberdeau (20 points) sits among the NHL’s top-10 scorers. He’s among the key factors behind the Panthers’ strong performance this season.

Chicago Blackhawks rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen made 29 shots for his first career NHL shutout to blank the Detroit Red Wings 2-0. Philipp Kurashev and Alex DeBrincat scored for the Blackhawks in their third straight victory.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks have 22 points and sit in second place behind the Panthers in the Central Division. Neither club was expected to be in those positions when the season began. The Panthers were coming off an offseason of numerous roster changes while the Blackhawks began the season without an established starting goalie and three key players (Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Brent Seabrook) sidelined by illness and injuries.

Brock Boeser had a goal and two assists as the Vancouver Canucks rolled to a 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames. Braden Holtby made 35 saves while J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat each had a goal and an assist for the Canucks.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Ongoing power outages related to recent winter storms in Texas have forced the postponement of tonight’s game between the Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NEW YORK POST: Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba will be sidelined four-to-six weeks with a broken thumb suffered during Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Sidelined winger Artemi Panarin and defenseman K’Andre Miller are expected to return to action tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers.

THE BUFFALO NEWS: For the first time since Feb. 1 the Buffalo Sabres no longer have players on the COVID-19 protocol list. Casey Mittelstadt became the ninth Sabre to come off the list yesterday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The number of players on the list has steadily declined in recent days. Eighteen players were still on the list yesterday, seven of those members of the Philadelphia Flyers.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 10, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – February 10, 2021

Recaps of Tuesday’s action, the Penguins hire Ron Hextall as GM and Brian Burke as head of hockey ops, Mikko Koivu retires, and more game postponements related to COVID-19 in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: The Florida Panthers edged the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on a tie-breaking third-period goal by Patric Hornqvist. Jonathan Huberdeau collected two assists for the Panthers. Wings forward Luke Glendening was unavailable due to an upper-body injury and is expected to miss at least one additional game.

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen made 40 saves in a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were held pointless for the first time in 10 games. Earlier in the day, the Oilers revealed winger Zack Kassian is week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. The Senators, meanwhile, announced defenseman Erik Brannstrom was placed on injured reserve for seven-to-10 days.

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos (NHL Images).

Steven Stamkos and Mathieu Joseph each scored twice as the Tampa Bay Lightning extended their win streak to six games by thumping the Nashville Predators 6-1. Brayden Point and Mikhail Sergachev each collected three assists.

The Chicago Blackhawks picked up their third straight victory by nipping the Dallas Stars 2-1 in overtime. Kevin Lankinen kicked out 34 shots while Pius Suter tallied the game-winner.

Zach Whitecloud snapped a 4-4 tie in the third period to give the Vegas Golden Knights a 5-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks, who had overcome 3-0 and 4-1 deficits. Following the game, the Golden Knights canceled its virtual post-game press conference citing COVID-19 concerns. The club also canceled today’s practice, adding there would be no media availability to answer questions. The Ducks’ post-game presser was also cut short.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights returned to action on Feb. 5 after having three games postponed when a coach tested positive and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Their next game is slated for Thursday against the Ducks.

The San Jose Sharks nipped the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout. Evander Kane tied the game late in the third period and Logan Couture netted the winning goal. Sharks forward Patrick Marleau passed Jaromir Jagr for third place on the all-time games played list with 1,734. Dustin Brown scored twice for the Kings, who lost defenseman Drew Doughty to an apparent arm injury after blocking a shot in the third period.

Pierre-Luc Dubois’ debut with the Winnipeg Jets was spoiled as they fell 3-2 to the Calgary Flames. Elias Lindholm got the winner on a power-play goal late in the third period. Dubois was held scoreless while Nikolaj Ehlers tallied twice for the Jets.

HEADLINES

TRIBLIVE.COM: The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Ron Hextall as general manager and Brian Burke as president of hockey operations.

The former GM of the Philadelphia Flyers and an advisor to the Los Angeles Kings hockey ops department, Hextall brought in many of the players currently on the Flyers roster and helped build the Kings into a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Burke is a former general manager of the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs, winning a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He was also president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hextall’s hiring wasn’t a shock as he was considered among the front-runners for the job. Burke’s hiring was surprising as he seemed comfortable in his recent role as an in-studio hockey analyst for Sportsnet.

This will make an interesting mix of personalities. Hextall is patient to a fault when it comes to building a roster. His reluctance to make trades to speed up the Flyers’ rebuild led to his dismissal. Burke, meanwhile, is known for his outspokenness, his love of physical hockey and his willingness to tinker with his rosters. How well they mesh will play a big role in determining the direction of the Penguins.

The hiring of Hextall and Burke have given rise to questions over how they’ll run the Penguins. I’ll have more in the Rumors section.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets center Mikko Koivu announced his retirement, bringing his 16-season NHL playing career to an end. Koivu signed with the Blue Jackets after 15 seasons with the Minnesota Wild. He was their captain from 2008-09 to 2019-20, becoming their franchise leader in games played (1,028), assists (504) and points (709) while finishing second all-time with 205 goals. He had one goal and one assist in seven appearances with the Jackets.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Koivu and his family in their future endeavors. His retirement, however, leaves the Jackets even thinner at center.

THE SCORE: Speaking of the Blue Jackets, Patrik Laine’s benching during the club’s 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday was reportedly the result of his being disrespectful to a member of the Jackets’ coaching staff.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s been an interesting week thus far for the Jackets.

NHL.COM: Last night’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals was postponed after Flyers’ Claude Giroux and Justin Braun were added to the league’s COVID-19 protocol list. Teammate Travis Sanheim was placed on the list Sunday. The league has postponed 32 games thus far due to COVID-19.

STARTRIBUNE.COM: Cam Talbot and Jonas Brodin joined the Minnesota Wild’s growing list of players on the protocol list. They now have 12 players on that list.

NEW YORK POST: Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev declined to elaborate on his altercation with former teammate Tony DeAngelo following a game on Jan. 30. The incident resulted in DeAngelo’s banishment from the Rangers. “Emotions happened and that’s all I can say,” said Georgiev. “I wish Tony the best moving forward.”










Tortorella’s Benching Move A Far Cry From Accusations Against Babcock

Tortorella’s Benching Move A Far Cry From Accusations Against Babcock