The Bruins’ plan to fill their top-two center roles this season, front office changes for the Sabres and Capitals, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery is very confident that Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle can fill the club’s top-two center positions. Those roles became areas of concern following the recent retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
Boston Bruins center Pavel Zacha. (NHL Images)
Montgomery believes Zacha is ready to handle the first-line center role, saying the 26-year-old still has a high ceiling after his career-best performance (21 goals, 57 points) last season.
The Bruins were rumored to be interested in Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm and Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele earlier in the offseason. One NHL source claimed they would circle back on Lindholm if he became available before the start of this season.
They were also said to be prepared to move Linus Ullmark. However, it appears the asking price for the desired center was too high and the return too low for Ullmark.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bruins probably have no choice but to go with Zacha and Coyle to start this season. It’s believed they lack sufficient trade capital to outbid other clubs that could have an interest in Lindholm. That probably holds true as well for Scheifele.
BUFFALO HOCKEY NOW: Terry Pegula has taken over as the Sabres team president. Pegula Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, is being dissolved and separating resources, with each club focusing on their respective efforts.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: The Washington Capitals also made some front-office changes, naming general manager Brian MacLellan as president of hockey operations. They also promoted Chris Patrick to assistant general manager.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some observers suggest this move lays the groundwork for Patrick to eventually take over as general manager, allowing MacLellan to focus solely on his role as hockey ops president.
NHL.COM: The Edmonton Oilers formally announced they’ve signed forwards Sam Gagner and Brandon Sutter to professional tryout agreements.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise here. It was previously reported in the Edmonton media that Gagner and Sutter would get professional tryout offers.
COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: Speaking of PTOs, the Avalanche signed former Dallas Stars forward Joel Kiviranta.
TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs added some size to their blueline yesterday, signing former Simon Benoit to a one-year, $775K contract. The 6’3”, 203-pound defenseman spent the past three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Panthers and Canadiens tie a record for most first-period goals, Sidney Crosby reaches another scoring milestone, Connor McDavid tops 130 points on the season, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
NHL.COM: The Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens combined to tie a league record for most first-period goals with 10 as the Panthers romped to a 9-5 victory after scoring seven in the opening frame. Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and three assists while Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe each tallied twice for the 34-27-7 Panthers (75 points), who moved to within three points of the New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth. The Canadiens have dropped eight of their last nine and fell to 27-36-6 on the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers also set a franchise record for most goals in one period.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby collected two assists for his 18th career point-per-game season in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers. Chris Kreider scored twice while Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck each had two points as the Rangers (39-19-10) hold third place in the Metropolitan Division with 88 points. The Penguins (34-24-10) continue to cling to the first Eastern wild-card spot with 78 points and two games in hand over the Islanders.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crosby now sits second in most point-per-game seasons. Wayne Gretzky is the leader with 19 seasons. The Penguins activated Ryan Poehling off long-term injured reserve for this game.
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (NHL Images).
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid surpassed 130 points on the season with a goal and an assist to defeat the Dallas Stars 4-1. Mattias Janmark scored two goals as the Oilers improved to 38-23-8 and hold third place in the Pacific Division with 84 points. The 37-19-13 Stars cling to first place in the Central Division with 87 points.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: McDavid is the first player to reach 130 points in a season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96.
The Boston Bruins got a 36-save performance from Jeremy Swayman in a 3-0 shutout of the Winnipeg Jets. Trent Frederic, Pavel Zacha and Tomas Nosek scored for the Bruins (51-11-5) as they sit on top of the overall standings with 107 points. The Winnipeg Jets sank to 38-29-3 and hold the final Western Conference wild-card berth with 79 points.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bruins defenseman Derek Forbort left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury. Earlier in the day, the Jets announced Sam Gagner (hip surgery) is done for the season.
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos scored twice and collected an assist while Alex Killorn scored in the shootout to nip the New Jersey Devils 4-3. The 41-22-6 Lightning (88 points) moved within one point of the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division. Timo Meier tallied twice and Nico Hischier had two assists for the Devils (44-17-7). With 95 points, they sit one point back of the first-place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division.
The Colorado Avalanche picked up their fourth straight win by holding off the Ottawa Senators 5-4. Mikko Rantanen had a goal and two assists while Nathan MacKinnon collected three assists for the 39-22-6 Avalanche, who sit third in the Central Division with 84 points. Tim Stutzle had three assists for the Senators (33-31-4) as they sit eight points out of the final Eastern wild-card berth with 70 points.
Calgary Flames forward Tyler Toffoli scored twice and added two assists in a 7-2 thumping of the Vegas Golden Knights. Blake Coleman also had two goals for the Flames as they improved to 31-24-14 (76 points) and move within three points of the Jets for the final Western Conference wild-card spot. It was Jonathan Quick’s first loss (4-1-0) with the Golden Knights (42-21-6) as they hold first place in the Western Conference with 90 points.
A four-goal second period carried the Los Angeles Kings over the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1. Pheonix Copley made 29 saves for the 40-20-9 Kings, who sit one point back of the Golden Knights in the Western Conference standings. The Blue Jackets (21-39-7) sit dead last in the overall standings with 49 points.
An overtime goal by Vince Dunn lifted the Seattle Kraken to a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks. Oliver Bjorkstand scored the game-tying goal and Philipp Grubauer stopped 31 shots as the Kraken improved to 38-23-7 and hold the first Western wild-card berth with 83 points. William Eklund scored his second goal in as many games for the 19-36-14 Sharks.
The Chicago Blackhawks got a 35-save effort from Alex Stalock to upset the Nashville Predators 2-1. Lukas Reichel and Joey Anderson scored for the 24-38-6 Blackhawks while Roman Josi replied for the 34-25-7 Predators (75 points), who sit four points out of the final Western wild-card spot.
Arizona Coyotes forward Travis Boyd scored twice in a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson had a goal and an assist for the Canucks. The Coyotes 26-32-11 extended their points streak to seven games while the Canucks dropped to 29-33-5.
IN OTHER NEWS…
STLTODAY.COM: St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington received a two-game suspension by the NHL department of player safety for roughing Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Hartman on Wednesday.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Anaheim Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz underwent season-ending knee surgery. His expected recovery time is six to eight weeks.
DETROIT HOCKEY NOW: Red Wings defenseman Ben Chiarot could be sidelined on a week-to-week basis with an upper-body injury.
ESPN.COM: The Arizona Coyotes signed Josh Doan to a three-year entry-level contract. He’s the son of former Coyotes captain Shane Doan.
The Canucks sign J.T. Miller to a seven-year contract extension, the Jets ink Sam Gagner to a one-year deal, the Oilers add Ryan Murray on a one-year contract, and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
VANCOUVER HOCKEY NOW: The Canucks signed J.T. Miller on Friday to a seven-year, $56 million contract extension that goes into effect in 2023-24. The average annual value is $8 million and includes a no-movement clause throughout the deal, with a full no-trade clause for the first four years and a modified NTC over the final three.
Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (NHL Images).
Miller, 29, is in the final season of his current contract with an AAV of $5.25 million. He would’ve become an unrestricted free agent next July. As a result, he was the subject of media trade speculation for months amid reports that Canucks management wanted to retool around younger, more affordable talent.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Miller tallied a team-leading, career-best 99 points last season. If his production were to drop to between 70-80 points for the coming season, he still would’ve been in line for over $9 million annually if he had hit the open market next summer. His strong two-way game and ability to play center or left wing would’ve drawn plenty of suitors willing to pay big bucks for his services.
Miller’s agent, Brian Bartlett, said this deal came together very quickly after weeks of on-and-off negotiations. He indicated that his client wanted to stay in Vancouver and help the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. It was also Miller’s idea to accept less than market value.
Nevertheless, this is a hefty long-term investment by the Canucks on a talented player who will be 30 when this deal goes into effect. He should still provide solid value for them in the first half but that contract could become burdensome against their cap in the latter years when his performance will likely decline.
Miller’s new contract could also affect efforts to re-sign captain Bo Horvat, who is slated to become a UFA next summer. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $68 million invested in 14 players for 2023-24 with the cap expected to increase by just $1 million to $83.5 million. Horvat’s current AAV is $5.5 million and he could seek around $7.5 million annually, which would take a big bite out of their cap space.
Still, the Canucks were willing to spend to keep their best player in the fold. The move signals to their fans that they believe they’re a playoff contender heading into the coming season and beyond. If Miller can help them become Cup contenders, it will be money well spent.
WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets signed free agent Sam Gagner to a one-year, $750K contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A good, affordable depth move by the Jets. The 33-year-old Gagner can play at center or right wing and still has solid two-way skills. He’s coming off a respectable 31-point performance last season with the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings.
TSN: The Edmonton Oilers signed defenseman Ryan Murray to a one-year, $750K deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chosen second overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2012 NHL Draft, Murray’s NHL career has been frequently hampered by injuries. The most recent was a fractured hand last season while playing with the Colorado Avalanche. Still, he should be a decent cost-effective depth addition on the Oilers’ third pairing.
NEW YORK POST: The Rangers are bringing back Jimmy Vesey on a professional tryout contract. He began his NHL career with the Blueshirts in 2016-17 and spent three seasons with them before moving on to the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils.
STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis Blues are bringing Tyler Pitlick to training camp later this month on a professional tryout offer. The well-traveled forward has played for the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens over the past four seasons.
Rodrigues is a 28-year-old center coming off a career-best 43-point performance with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Milano, a 26-year-old winger, spent last season skating alongside promising Trevor Zegras on the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks. Subban is no longer the player he used to be but the 33-year-old defenseman could bring good value for the right price.
Former New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban (NHL Images)
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rodrigues has been linked to the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some other clubs interested in him. Milano could be a good cost-effective option as a playmaking winger.
Subban is the biggest name on this list. The former Norris Trophy winner could help a club seeking an experienced defenseman for their third defense pairing or a power-play specialist on the blue line. Oddsmakers have linked him to the Edmonton Oilers but there has been no media gossip tying him to the club.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Steel (24) is the youngest player on this list and could be an affordable reclamation project for a team willing to invest the time in his development. The versatile Gagner, 32, had a respectable 31 points with the rebuilding Red Wings last season and could be a good depth addition. Motte, 27, acquitted himself well as a checking-line winger with the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stralman could draw interest from teams seeking an experienced and reliable right-shot rearguard. Ennis and Sprong are well-traveled players who could be enticing to cap-strapped or cost-conscious clubs seeking decent depth forwards. The same applies to Aston-Reese.
Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on where these players could end up in the comments section below.
VEGAS HOCKEY NOW: Rodrigues, Milano, Sprong, Steel and Aston-Reese also showed up on Owen Krepps’ list of proposed professional tryout offer candidates for the Golden Knights. Joe Thornton and Michael Stone were the other NHL players on his listing.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some of those players on Ellis’ list could end up accepting tryout offers with the Golden Knights or other NHL clubs next month hoping to earn jobs in training camp or through preseason play.
It will be interesting to find out what Thornton’s plans are. He played with the Florida Panthers last season on a one-year contract but saw action in just 34 regular-season games and one playoff contest. Now 43, Thornton is among the greatest playmakers in league history but his performance has steadily declined in recent years as age and the grind of 24 NHL seasons have caught up with him.
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (NHL Images).
He doesn’t doubt the 24-year-old Coyotes defenseman might like to play for the Senators. They’re an up-and-coming team and his family’s summer home is a 30-minute drive from the club’s arena in Kanata. However, Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong’s asking price for Chychrun remains high and no team has yet stepped up with a suitable offer.
Morgan also dismisses speculation suggesting Armstrong must trade Chychrun before training camp lest the trade rumors become a distraction. It’s not in the defenseman’s nature to force the issue and Armstrong will make it clear that it won’t be a distraction.
It’s still possible that Chychrun gets moved before training camp. Nevertheless, Armstrong’s asking price won’t come down. He’s not going to sell off an undervalued asset.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As Morgan points out, the best way for Chychrun to get traded is to play to the best of his ability this season to entice a club into meeting Armstrong’s price. It’s believed the Coyotes GM seeks a return heavy in futures including one or two first-round draft picks, a top prospect and/or a good young NHL player.
Armstrong isn’t under pressure to move Chychrun. The blueliner is signed through 2024-25 with an affordable average annual value of $4.6 million so he’s not breaking the bank for the cost-conscious Coyotes. Cap-wise, he’s the fourth-highest paid after Clayton Keller ($7.15 million), Nick Schmaltz ($5.85 million) and Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million).
Speaking of the salary cap, the Coyotes would have to get one or two salaried players in return to ensure they remain above the $61 million cap minimum for 2022-23. They currently carry a projected $62.1 million cap payroll invested in 22 roster players.
SHOULD THE CAPITALS SHOP ELLER?
WASHINGTON HOCKEY NOW: Sammi Silber reports there’s been some speculation and questions regarding a trade of Lars Eller. The 33-year-old center managed just 31 points during a season that saw him face adversity and inconsistency. He could also face a challenge for the third-line center position from promising Connor McMichael.
Eller has a season remaining on his contract with a $3.5 million salary-cap hit. The Capitals will face a cap crunch when Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson come off long-term injury reserve later this season.
Silber, however, believes the Capitals should be patient, cautioning against trading Eller too soon. He remains an experienced defensive forward, especially on the penalty kill, a role McMichael has yet to take on in the NHL.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Capitals have the cap flexibility to start the season with Eller in the lineup. Maybe his role changes over the course of the season if McMichael successfully challenges him for the third-line center role. Otherwise, it would be best to see how things unfold over the course of the coming season.
COULD THE OILERS REUNITE WITH GAGNER
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Kurt Leavins reports the Oilers could be interested in bringing back Sam Gagner for a third tenure. The 33-year-old free agent put up a respectable 31 points with the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings playing as a right win last season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Leavins believes Gagner is among several veteran free agent wingers that Oilers GM Ken Holland could be looking at. He could be a more affordable option plus he’d probably fit in well there. Gagner is coming off a one-year, $850K contract with the Wings.
The Jets keep their playoff hopes alive, Evgeni Malkin is suspended, Drew Doughty is done for the season, the three stars of the week and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Winnipeg Jets got third-period goals from Evgeny Svechnikov and Adam Lowry to double up the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 in the only game on Monday’s schedule. Jets forward Paul Stastny reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time since 2013-14. With the win, the Jets (81 points) move to within five points of the Dallas Stars for the final Western Conference playoff berth.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rookie Morgan Barron collected his first two points since joining the Jets at last month’s trade deadline from the New York Rangers in the Andrew Copp deal. Meanwhile, his younger brother Justin missed his third straight game with the Montreal Canadiens with a suspected broken right ankle that could finish his season. Like his older brother, the younger Barron was also traded on deadline day. The Canadiens acquired him from the Colorado Avalanche in the Artturi Lehkonen trade.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (NHL Images).
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: The NHL department of player safety handed down a four-game suspension to Penguins center Evgeni Malkin for his “retaliatory and aggressive” crosscheck on Nashville Predators defenseman Mark Borowiecki on Sunday. It’s the second time in Malkin’s NHL career that he’s been suspended for a stick infraction.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Kings defenseman Drew Doughty will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing wrist surgery on Monday. He’s expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp in September.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Doughty is the Kings’ top defenseman. His absence could cripple their efforts to secure their first playoff berth since 2017-18. The Kings are clinging to third place in the Pacific Division with 86 points, two points ahead of the surging Vegas Golden Knights.
NHL.COM: Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, and Florida Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending April 10.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog has not yet returned to on-ice activities in his recovery from knee surgery. However, he’s still expected to return to action when the playoffs begin in early May.
TORONTO SUN: Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin (knee injury) has resumed solo skating but there’s still no timetable for his return to the lineup. Leafs winger Ondrej Kase remains sidelined with a concussion.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues defenseman Torey Krug could return to the lineup tonight against his former club, the Boston Bruins. He’s missed the last 10 games with an upper-body injury.
MLIVE.COM: Sam Gagner is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer but hopes to return with the Detroit Red Wings next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wings reportedly appreciate the 32-year-old Gagner’s experience, leadership and two-way skills. He’s on a one-year, $850K contract and should be an affordable re-signing if they wish to bring him back next season.
THE ATHLETIC: Eric Stephens reports sources indicate Dallas Eakins will return next season as head coach of the Anaheim Ducks.