Top 10 NHL Sophomores To Watch in 2021 Season
COVID-19 strikes the Stars and Blue Jackets, plus updates on Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The Stars’ training facilities are closed indefinitely and the club’s practices canceled after six players and two staff tested positive for COVID-19. The NHL is revising the Stars’ regular-season schedule with the expectation the club won’t be able to play until Jan. 19 at the earliest. That means their season-opener on Jan. 14 and their following two games (Jan. 15 and Jan. 17) will be rescheduled.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Stars and the league haven’t revealed which players tested positive for the coronavirus. The report noted forwards Jason Robertson, Joel L’Esperance and Tye Felhaber and defensemen Joel Hanley were missing from the Stars’ last practice but it’s unknown if those absences were injury- or illness-related.
While the Stars’ facilities are closed indefinitely they could reopen soon. As the report observed, the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning had several players test positive before the start of the 2020 playoffs, but their facilities opened several days later.
Despite the NHL’s health and safety protocols, it was inevitable COVID-19 would make its presence felt. Unlike the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, the upcoming regular season isn’t being held in hub cities under strict quarantine conditions.
The coronavirus also affected Major League Baseball and the National Football League this season but those leagues managed to complete their seasons. This outbreak won’t prevent the start of the NHL’s overall schedule, but it means the Stars’ 56-game schedule has become more compressed.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets yesterday held 17 players out of practice for precautionary reasons. Most were regular roster players, including team captain Nick Foligno, forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Max Domi and defensemen Seth Jones, Vladislav Gavrikov and David Savard. The Jackets didn’t indicate if any of the absent players had tested positive for COVID-19.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll find out during this weekend if those players will remain sidelined and if the Jackets will be carrying on with their practice sessions. Their season-opener is Jan. 14. The report observed the Jackets dealt with an outbreak last month during small-group workouts that closed their practice facilities for a week.
NHL.COM: Henrik Lundqvist took to social media on Friday to report he is recovering well from his recent five-hour open-heart surgery. Lundqvist had signed with the Washington Capitals but his heart condition sidelined him for the entire season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to King Henrik for a swift and full recovery.
NJ.COM: Corey Crawford is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the New Jersey Devils for personal reasons. The 36-year-old goalie signed a two-year deal with the Devils in October. There’s no timeline for his return. The Devils are expected to turn to Scott Wedgewood as Mackenzie Blackwood’s backup.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s hoping things are okay for Crawford and his family and he returns to action soon.
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres signed center Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $700K contract. Sheahan was attending Sabres’ training camp on a professional tryout offer.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle suffered a sprained right knee during a collision with another player. He’ll be sidelined for six weeks.
CAP FRIENDLY: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, New York Rangers blueliner Adam Fox, Pittsburgh Penguins rearguard John Marino, Washington Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov and Ottawa Senators winger Brady Tkachuk are among several players within five games of losing their waiver-exempt status.
ESPN.COM: Long-time Pittsburgh Penguins play-by-play man Mike Lange, 72, is sitting out the start of the 2020-21 season as a precaution due to COVID-19.
TSN: The province of Manitoba has given approval for the Winnipeg Jets to stage games in their home arena.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: All seven Canadian teams have the approval of their respective provinces to play in their home cities this season.
THE MERCURY NEWS: Growing number of COVID-19 cases in California’s Santa Clara County is casting doubt on whether the San Jose Sharks can return to the SAP Center early next month as scheduled. The Sharks are starting the season on the road because of the county’s current restrictions on sporting events.
Avalanche and Bruins tie their respective series at two games apiece. Recaps and a roundup of notable news in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer made 32 saves for his first career NHL playoff shutout in a 3-0 win in Game 4 over the San Jose Sharks. Their second-round series is tied at two games apiece. Nathan MacKinnon extended his playoff points streak to eight games while linemate Miko Rantanen had two assists.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Special teams were also a factor in this one for the Avs, killing off two penalties and tallying a power-play goal. MacKinnon, meanwhile, is emerging as an early favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s certainly been the Avs most valuable player thus far.
The Boston Bruins also tied their series at two games apiece with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Patrice Bergeron scored twice and Tuukka Rask turned aside 39 shots. Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin’s goal was controversial, coming after the puck had deflected up into the mesh behind the Bruins net.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While the Bruins were upset over the Panarin goal they didn’t lose their composure. The stage is set for what should be an entertaining Game 5 back in Boston on Saturday.
NEW YORK POST: Islanders coach Barry Trotz won’t rule out shaking up his lineup for tonight’s Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Those changes could include backup Thomas Greiss replacing starter Robin Lehner. The Isles face elimination tonight.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A popgun offense, not Lehner’s goaltending, is the reason the Isles find themselves down 3-0 in this series. Yes, Lehner’s turnover in the third period of Game 3 resulted in the Hurricanes’ game-winning goal, but he’s been otherwise solid throughout this series. Without him, the Islanders probably don’t reach the playoffs, let alone advance to the second round. Changing the goalies won’t improve the Islanders anemic scoring punch.
LAS VEGAS SUN: The Vegas Golden Knights yesterday announced assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon was promoted to general manager. Now-former GM George McPhee will remain president of hockey operations.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights didn’t want to risk losing McCrimmon to another team. There was talk he was a possible candidate for the Oilers’ vacant GM role. McCrimmon played a significant role in assisting McPhee in building and maintaining the roster. McPhee will still provide oversight over all hockey decisions but he and McCrimmon have a solid working relationship.
THE SCORE: Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews underwent a procedure yesterday to remove surgical hardware from a 2014 surgery to repair a broken femur. The procedure isn’t expected to affect his offseason training routine.
NEW YORK POST: The Rangers signed prospect defenseman Adam Fox to an entry-level contract. Earlier this week, the Rangers acquired Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes.
SPORTSNET: Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly passed away yesterday at age 91. Kelly won eight Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs during his 20-year career. He was a defenseman who could also play at center. A six-time First Team all-star, Kelly won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy four times and the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 1953-54. In 1,316 games, Kelly scored 281 goals and 823 points. He also went on to coach the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Kelly’s family, friends, former teammates, and fans. He was truly a unique NHL player and coach, pioneering the role of the puck-moving defenseman.
Sharks and Blue Jackets take 2-1 leads in their respective second-round series, injury updates, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Logan Couture tallied his first NHL playoff hat trick as the San Jose Sharks doubled up the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round series. Timo Meier had a goal and two assists for the Sharks, who had blown a 2-0 lead as the Avs tied it on goals by Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Nieto.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Avalanche made a game of this by battling back to tie it but Couture quickly snuffed their hopes for a win just over a minute after Nieto’s goal. Couture leads all playoff scorers with nine goals and is tied with MacKinnon and Vegas’ Mark Stone (12 points each) for the points lead.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves (15 in the third period) as the Columbus Blue Jackets held off the Boston Bruins 2-1 to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round series. Boone Jenner and Matt Duchene scored for the Jackets while Jake DeBrusk replied for the Bruins. There are calls for Bruins winger Brad Marchand to face supplemental discipline following his sneaky blow to the head of Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This game wasn’t pretty, folks. Both clubs came into this game with a grinder’s mindset and it showed. We can probably expect the rest of this series to be a physical, closely contested low-scoring defensive tilt.
As for Marchand, he’s earned his fair share of fines and suspensions for his cheap-shot antics over the years but I doubt he’ll get more than a warning (if anything) from the league for his latest action. At the very least, this should put a stop to the “Marchand has changed his ways” narrative that crept into this spring’s coverage of the Bruins.
TSN: Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour suggested goaltender Petr Mrazek’s lower-body injury might not be serious but declined to say when he’ll return to action. He’s expected to miss Game 3 tonight against the New York Islanders. Winger Micheal Ferland (upper-body injury) could be ready to return for Game 4.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes are a banged-up bunch, with six players (Mrazek, Ferland, Andrei Svechnikov, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jordan Martinook and Saku Maenalanen) on the sidelines. Their depleted depth could take a toll on their performance in tonight’s game against an Islanders team looking for their first win of this series.
NEW YORK POST: Speaking of the Islanders, they could be without the services of checking-line winger Cal Clutterbuck, who was helped off the ice late in Game 2 with an undisclosed injury. Clutterbuck traveled with his teammates to Carolina as the series shifted to Raleigh for Games 3 and 4.
STLTODAY.COM: Dallas Stars defenseman Esa Lindell’s embellishment efforts to draw a penalty in Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues has made him the subject of online mockery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s disappointing to see a talented blueliner like Lindell going to such ridiculous lengths to draw a penalty. Here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of his flopping antics.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: The New York Rangers acquired 2019 Hobey Baker Award finalist Adam Fox from the Hurricane in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and conditional 2020 third-round selection.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox wasn’t expected to sign with the Hurricanes and would’ve become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Rangers are reportedly close to getting Fox under contract. For those of you wondering why the trade took place now instead of following the postseason, the Rangers are a non-playoff club and Fox was a non-roster player for the Hurricanes.
Contrary to media reports, I have not contacted Mike Gillis about returning to the Canucks and have no plans to do so.
— Francesco Aquilini (@fr_aquilini) April 30, 2019
Latest on the Canadiens, Coyotes, and Hurricanes in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE CANADIENS?
ESPN.COM: In the wake of the Montreal Canadiens’ elimination from postseason contention, Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters believe they must bring in some puck-moving offensive punch to their defense. They also believe Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin should add some more scoring to the forward lines.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Bergevin’s moves last summer (acquiring Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, and Joel Armia, drafting Jesperi Kotkaniemi), the Canadiens significantly improved this season. Nevertheless, they’re still not good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Even if they’d qualified this season, they would’ve been a first-round-and-out club.
The Canadiens lack skilled depth on the left side of their defense and they need a better backup goalie behind overworked starter Carey Price. They also need another established scoring forward and must improve a god-awful power play that ranks 30th overall. I anticipate Bergevin will be busy making moves this summer to address those issues.
Cap Friendly indicates the Canadiens have over $64.3 million invested in 17 players with all their core players signed through next season. Assuming an $83-million cap for 2019-20, Bergevin will have around $19 million to re-sign or replace his depth free agents and still have sufficient room to make a significant addition if possible.
Don’t expect the Canadiens to entice top-tier UFAs like Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner to Montreal. It’s not going to happen. Bergevin could have better luck with second-tier talents like Gustav Nyquist, Kevin Hayes, or Jake Gardiner, though I don’t see him being keen to overpay for their services after the Karl Alzner debacle.
Bergevin could instead target clubs with limited cap space in need of shedding salary to re-sign young players. He could get bold and go the offer-sheet route but his recent remarks suggest that isn’t likely. Given his solid wheeling-and-dealing last year, I think he’ll be busy again in the trade market this summer.
WHAT WILL THE COYOTES DO THIS SUMMER?
ARIZONA REPUBLIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Richard Morin was asked if Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka will go shopping this summer to improve his roster. Morin believes that will depend upon the Coyotes’ budget restraints.
If there’s sufficient payroll to make some additions, Morin feels adding at least one bona fide scorer is a priority. He suggests someone like Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner could alter the complexion of the team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Coyotes have over $74.3 million invested in 17 players for 2019-20. Over $5.2 million of that belongs to the all-but-retired Marian Hossa. Nevertheless, I don’t see the Coyotes being big spenders in the UFA market.
Chayka could be forced to go the trade route to bring in a scorer like he did earlier this season by acquiring Nick Schmaltz from Chicago. Had Schmaltz not suffered a season-ending knee injury, I believe his production would’ve propelled the Coyotes into the postseason.
If the budget constraints are too tight and he can’t shed salary, Chayka could be forced to remain patient and hope promising young forwards Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, and Christian Dvorak start reaching their full potential next season.
HURRICANES STILL TRYING TO SIGN FOX
TSN: cited Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander reporting Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said his club is still trying to sign prospect defenseman Adam Fox. This comes a few days after team owner Tom Dundon indicated the plan was to trade Fox, who could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Fox is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Fox isn’t willing to sign with the Hurricanes, they’ll have little choice but to trade his rights to a team that he’s willing to sign with. Earlier this week, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes had held talks with the New York Rangers. He believes the Hurricanes would be interested in the first-round pick the Rangers received from the Winnipeg Jets in the Kevin Hayes deal at the trade deadline. Still, LeBrun added not to rule out the possibility of the Hurricanes convincing Fox to change his mind.