Sabres Desperately Need Experienced Management and Coaching
The Islanders advance to the Eastern Conference Final, the NHL will begin announcing its award winners, and more in today’s morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders are going to the Conference Finals. They shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in Game 7 of their second-round series and face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final in Edmonton.
Thomas Greiss made 16 saves for the shutout while Brock Nelson led the way offensively with a goal and two assists.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It was a complete team victory by the Islanders. They stifled the Flyers’ offense with their defensive play and aggressive forecheck. Head coach Barry Trotz’s decision to start Greiss over Semyon Varlamov also paid off.
The lack of consistent production by the Flyers’ top scorers was a problem throughout the playoffs. It came home to roost in Game 7 against the Isles defense.
The NHL will begin revealing some of the winners of its individual awards from Sept. 6 to Sept. 13. Those to be announced include the King Clancy Memorial Trophy (Sept. 6), Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (Sept. 7), Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award (Sept. 8), Jack Adams Award (Sept. 9), Frank J. Selke Trophy (Sept. 10), Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Sept. 11), Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award (Sept. 12), and the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award (Sept. 13).
A 30-minute program during the Stanley Cup Final will announce the winners of the Calder Memorial Trophy, the Hart Memorial Trophy, James Norris Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and the Vezina Trophy.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I like this format and I hope the league sticks with it going forward. Their annual award show in Las Vegas has a cringe factor comparable to “The Dundies” episode of The Office.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: The Capitals have reportedly interviewed Mike Babcock and Gerard Gallant for their vacant head-coaching position.
SPORTSNET: The Arizona Coyotes have interviewed NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire for their vacant general manager job.
LAS VEGAS SUN: Vegas Golden Knights winger Ryan Reaves received a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Vancouver Canucks forward Tyler Motte.
TRIBLIVE.COM: The Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed defenseman Juuso Riikola to a two-year contract worth an annual average value of $1.15 million.
SPORTSNET: A resolution has yet to be reached allowing the families of the players on the remaining four NHL clubs to join them in the playoff bubble in Edmonton. Discussions are ongoing between the league, the NHL Players Association, and the Canadian federal government.
Sabres captain Jack Eichel grows weary of constant losing, four regular-season awards are handed out, the latest updates on the league’s return-to-play format, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
EICHEL AND RISTOLAINEN TIRED OF LOSING IN BUFFALO.
WGR 550: Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen are growing weary of missing the playoffs. Eichel, a five-year NHL veteran who has yet to make a post-season appearance, said he’s “fed up with the losing”. Ristolainen, a seven-year veteran, said he’s never been part of a winning culture in Buffalo. Both players, however, praised first-year coach Ralph Krueger and his staff for the improvements the club made this season despite missing the playoffs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres have been mismanaged for years, and it’s taking a toll on Eichel and Ristolainen. While I don’t believe Eichel will demand a trade in this off-season, his patience probably isn’t limitless. He could decide his NHL future lies elsewhere if the Sabres fail to improve over the next couple of seasons.
Ristolainen, on the other hand, could be playing elsewhere whenever next season begins. I’ll have more on that in the Rumors section.
FOUR NHL AWARDS WINNERS ANNOUNCED.
NHL.COM: With the regular season over, the NHL released a list of four award winners. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl is the winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s points leader (110). Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin and Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak share the Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy as the leading goalscorers (48 each).
Bruins goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak share the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals (174), while the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best overall record with 44 wins.
UPDATES ON NHL’S RETURN-TO-PLAY FORMAT
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports the NHL told the NHL Players’ Association that Phase 3 of its return-to-play plan, which includes training camps, won’t begin before July 10. The league hopes to begin Phase 2, which includes small group workouts at team facilities, as early as next week.
TSN: Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top health official, said proposals are being reviewed from sports leagues (including the NHL) to resume play, but the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country remains in place for now. Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver are among 10 cities on the NHL’s shortlist of two host locations for its 24-team playoff tournament. Many NHL players are still in Europe and the United States.
Pierre LeBrun reports Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning suggested holding training camps in the United States because of Canada’s current border guidelines. Many players, such as Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and goalie Frederik Andersen, are working out in the US and won’t be in a big hurry to return to Canada and undergo a 14-day quarantine before they can resume training.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The United States deemed professional athletes and their training staff as essential workers, making it easier for players in Canada and Europe to travel into that country for training camps.
Darren Dreger reports the NHL and NHLPA are negotiating to push the June 1 deadline for signing entry-level players to July 1. There’s also a debate between the league and the PA over allowing players recently signed to entry-level contracts (such as Montreal’s Alexander Romanov) to take part in the playoff tournament.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: To no one’s surprise, the league is against it while the PA is for it.
Bob McKenzie reports Alexis Lafreniere, considered to be the top prospect in this year’s NHL draft, is considering all his options for next season. That could include perhaps playing in Europe if the NHL, AHL, or CHL 2020-21 seasons haven’t begun by this fall.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If he does play in Europe this fall you can bet his contract will contain an out-clause enabling him to return to the NHL whenever the puck drops on the ’20-’21 season.
LeBrun reports the seven teams not eligible to participate in the 24-team playoff format can begin making trades with each other. He points out non-playoff clubs usually wait until closer to the draft to begin dealing, but if there’s a fit among those seven teams for whatever reason, they can go ahead.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ll have more on this later today in the Rumor section.
NEW YORK POST: Rangers rookie winger Kaapo Kakko might not be able to participate in the playoff tournament. Kakko is a type-1 diabetic and has a higher-than-normal risk of contracting COVID-19. Rangers president John Davidson said they’ll listen to their medical people to determine if Kakko will be able to play.
SPORTSNET: In his latest “31 Thoughts” column, Elliotte Friedman reported collective bargaining talks between the league and the PA are expected to ramp up enough for the latter to form a negotiating committee. Ryan Miller and Ron Hainsey remain active from the 2012-13 version.
Costs for COVID-19 testing during the playoff tournament could cost as much as $3 million.
Friedman thinks there’s a decent chance the tournament could be re-seeded following the qualifying round instead of going to a bracket format.
The New Jersey Devils are believed to be considering at least four candidates for their head coaching job. Current interim coach Alain Nasreddine, along with Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette, and John Stevens, are believed to be in the running.
The Chicago Blackhawks could be making some cuts to the professional scouting department.
TSN: Player agent Mike Liut is advising any player who’ll listen to review their disability insurance before they return to the ice.
IN OTHER NEWS…
LAS VEGAS SUN: The Golden Knights announced their new AHL affiliate will be named the Henderson Silver Knights.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators prospect center Josh Norris, 20, was selected as the AHL’s rookie of the year for 2019-20.
Check out the latest on the Detroit Red Wings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan reports the Detroit Red Wings season may be over, but general manager Steve Yzerman faces a busy off-season.
One of his first decisions will be whether to pick up the option year in head coach Jeff Blashill’s contract or find a new bench boss. Gerard Gallant and Lane Lambert (former Yzerman teammates) could be among the candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year for guiding the Vegas Golden Knights to the 2018 Stanley Cup in their expansion season. He could become the front-runner if the job becomes available.
In addition to deciding which of his free agents to re-sign, Khan speculates Yzerman could look to this year’s unrestricted free agent market for affordable second- and third-tier talent on short-term deals as stop-gap measures during the roster rebuild. He believes the Wings need a winger with scoring ability, a pair of defensemen, and a backup goaltender.
Khan also anticipates Yzerman will make low-risk value trades similar to his acquisitions of Robby Fabbri and Brendan Perlini.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Fabbri acquisition worked out well, but Perlini struggled throughout this season and probably won’t be back. Nevertheless, Yzerman will likely keep his eye open for once-promising players struggling with other clubs who could benefit from a fresh start elsewhere.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan recently posted a three-part series examining potential UFA targets to address the Red Wings’ roster needs.
He doubts Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall or Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will be interested in joining a rebuilding clubs like the Wings. He also expects the St. Louis Blues will re-sign Alex Pietrangelo while Michigan native Torey Krug could be re-signed by the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some pundits suggested Krug might be willing to return home if he can’t sign with the Bruins. While we shouldn’t rule it out, I think he’d prefer playing for a contender.
Kulfan’s list of proposed forward options includes Colorado’s Vladislav Namestnikov, Florida’s Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, or Erik Haula, Nashville’s Mikael Granlund, Vegas’ Tomas Nosek, or the New York Rangers’ Jesper Fast.
Blueline possibilities could include Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz, Washington’s Brenden Dillon, or the New York Islanders’ Andy Greene.
Goaltending targets could include Vegas’ Robin Lehner, but the term and price would have to be worked on). Others include Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, and Calgary’s Cam Talbot.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Wings have over $46.2 million invested in 11 players. Once Yzerman re-signs key free agents like Fabbri, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Anthony Mantha, he’ll have plenty of cap room to bring in a couple of quality veteran free agents on short-term deals.
With the salary cap remaining around $81.5 million and several clubs looking to pinch pennies, that could work in Yzerman’s favor. If he sticks to affordable short-term options, he’ll have plenty to choose from once the notable names are snapped up.
The Devils interview Gerard Gallant for their vacant head-coaching position, the latest speculation on the 2020 Draft, a potential stumbling block for the league’s plans to resume the schedule, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: Pierre Lebrun cites sources reporting the New Jersey Devils held a virtual interview last week with former Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant regarding their vacant head coaching position. Interim Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald has also spoken to several other candidates. Current interim coach Alain Nasreddine remains a legitimate candidate for the job.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: Abbey Mastracco wonders if Fitzgerald conducting these interviews for a new bench boss indicates he’ll remain the Devils GM. She points out it would make little sense otherwise for him to be interviewing new coaches. The ownership group recently interviewed former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis for the management job. Fitzgerald last week said he hadn’t had discussions with ownership regarding the future of his role.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With the Devils all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention if the schedule resumes, it’s understandable that they would want to start interviewing potential coaching candidates now. Mastracco makes a good point about Fitzgerald’s role. A new GM usually wants to hire his coaching staff. Maybe this is an indicator that Fitzgerald will remain the general manager after this season.
LeBrun, Frank Seravalli, and SPORTSNET’s Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL is considering staging the 2020 Draft in June before the potential resumption of the schedule this summer. It would be unprecedented, as no draft has ever been held before the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While it would create some much-needed buzz for the league, potential complications – such as the draft lottery, conditional draft picks tied to playoff placement, and trading players on current rosters – would have to be addressed. Seravalli indicated this might not be universally embraced by NHL general managers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I get the NHL’s desire to draw attention back to its product at a time when there’s little actual sports news taking place. Nevertheless, staging the draft before the season resumes could create unnecessary headaches. Best to stage the draft following the playoffs and avoid unwanted complications.
Friedman also reports the idea of staging neutral-site games could be a no-go. Instead, the league could consider using one NHL city per division for staging its games. The plan remains to resume the regular season.
TSN: Mark Masters reports Carolina Hurricanes goaltender James Reimer advocates for exhibition games if the league returns to action this summer. He feels it would be helpful for goaltenders to have a training camp and get in a couple of exhibition contests.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It would also be beneficial for all players to get back into game shape before resuming the season, especially with the playoffs being staged soon afterward.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks believes integrating European players will be a stumbling block for the league’s plans to resume the schedule. Different countries have different responses to coronavirus pandemic.
Sweden, for example, has opted for a herd immunity strategy, meaning their social distancing restrictions aren’t as stringent as in North America. Some Swedish NHL players have resumed skating because rinks aren’t closed in their country. The NHL doesn’t intend on issuing a directive to stop them.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Depending on where the returning players are coming from, they could be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days before rejoining their teammates. The league will also have to ensure mass testing of all its players before it can resume play.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Red Wings forward and NHLPA player rep Luke Glendening said he and his teammates would love to finish this season. Health and safety concerns remain important issues, but Glendening said his teammates were “chomping at the bit” to return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Critics of the NHL’s plans to resume the schedule often point to a perceived unwillingness of players on non-playoff clubs, like the Red Wings, to complete the season. It’s assumed they would lack sufficient motivation to return for a season that, for them, is already lost.
Glendening’s comments, however, suggest otherwise. If the players on the worst team in the league are keen to come back, it’s probably safe to assume those on the other non-contenders share that sentiment.
THE ATHLETIC (SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED): James Mirtle examined why NHL players opted to defer their final paycheck, pointing out it’s tied directly to the league’s financial health, hockey-related revenue (HRR), the salary cap, and the collective bargaining agreement.
Mirtle also points out the league’s escrow system wasn’t designed for huge drops in HRR. If it spills over into next season, the league and the players will have to come up with other solutions. He suggested a salary rollback combined with a salary-cap drop.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be very interesting to see what happens beyond this season. If there’s a second coronavirus wave that shuts down part or all of next season, it could have far-reaching consequences for the players and the team owners.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin looks at the leading candidates for this season’s major NHL awards. They include Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (Hart Trophy), Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson (Norris Trophy), Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (Vezina Trophy), and Colorado Avalanche rookie blueliner Cale Makar (Calder Trophy).
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks winger Tomas Hertl said all is going well in his recovery from knee surgery. There’s no indication he’ll miss the start of next season.