Penguins GM Ron Hextall talks about his club’s offseason and their plans for the upcoming season, plus the latest on Jason Demers, Bo Byram, Ryan Donato and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
POST-GAZETTE.COM: In an interview with Mike DeFabo, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said “there wasn’t a feeling around here” that big changes were needed during this offseason. “I think the part you can’t lose sight of is we did win the division last year,” he said.
Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall (NHL.com).
Hextall doubts team captain Sidney Crosby will be sidelined long-term by his recent wrist surgery. However, he conceded Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery) could start the season on long-term injury reserve. Hextall also said the departures of Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev were cost-cutting measures to remain under the salary cap. He also
Turning to the UFA status of Malkin, Kris Letang and Bryan Rust, Hextall remains hopeful of reaching an agreement with the trio that’s fair for both sides. He’s also looking for better performances from defenseman Marcus Pettersson and John Marino and winger Jason Zucker.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins failed to advance past the first round in two of the last three postseasons and didn’t get past the qualifying round during last year’s expanded playoff format. Questionable goaltending and an aging roster core were contributing factors behind those playoff disappointments.
Hextall’s limited cap space prevented him from making any significant additions to his roster this summer. The outcome of this season could determine if Malkin, Letang and Rust still fit into the Penguins’ long-term plans.
PHNX: Craig Morgan reports former Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers is still waiting to find an NHL team to play with. “There’s hard days and there’s good days,” he said. “You’ve just got to focus on keeping yourself ready and making sure you don’t look too far ahead or you can make yourself go crazy, sitting in the house.” The 33-year-old Demers is training in Arizona.
COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: Avalanche defenseman Bo Byram is hoping for a healthier season after being limited to just 19 games in 2020-21 by concussion symptoms and testing positive for COVID-19.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Byram could see more playing time and responsibilities this season following the offseason departures of Ryan Graves and Patrik Nemeth.
CAP FRIENDLY: reports Ryan Donato signed a one-year, $750K contract with the Seattle Kraken.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Oilers prospect Dylan Holloway might not be on the ice for the club’s rookie training camp. He underwent offseason surgery to repair a broken thumb suffered last season playing for the University of Wisconsin but it may not be fully healed.
The Avalanche take a 2-0 series lead over the Golden Knights, the Canadiens beat the Jets in their second-round series opener, the Sabres win the draft lottery, the Ted Lindsay Award finalists are announced, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Mikko Rantanen’s overtime power-play goal lifted the Colorado Avalanche to a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights and a 2-0 lead in their second-round series. Brandon Saad and Tyson Jost also scored for Colorado while Alec Martinez and Reilly Smith replied for Vegas. Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves. Marc-Andre Fleury returned to the Golden Knights’ net after being the backup in Game 1.
Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vegas coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t happy with the officiating on the slashing call on Rielly Smith that led to Rantanen’s PP goal. “Just a soft call”, he said, going on to accuse the Avalanche players of embellishment throughout the game.
The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 in Game 1 of their second-round series. Eric Staal had a goal and an assist while Carey Price made 27 saves for the win. Their victory, however, was overshadowed by a dangerous hit by Jets center Mark Scheifele on Habs center Jake Evans as the latter was scoring an empty net. Evans was stretchered from the ice while Scheifele received a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was out of character for Scheifele, who has no history of supplemental discipline. He let his emotions get away with him and could face a suspension. Evans, meanwhile, was evaluated by the Canadiens’ medical staff. John Shannon reported he was back at the team hotel following the game, where he was described as doing fine, alert but shaken.
It should be noted that Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers protected the prone Evans during the ensuing scrum. He also called for additional medical attention for the fallen Hab. “In a situation like that, you don’t want anyone falling on top of him,” said Ehlers. “I was just trying to keep everyone away.”
Winnipeg center Paul Stastny missed this game with an undisclosed injury. Jets defenseman Dylan DeMelo left the game early in the first period with a lower-body injury.
The Buffalo Sabres won the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery yesterday. The expansion Seattle Kraken won the second-overall pick while the Anaheim Ducks will select third.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres could select University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power. He’s listed as this year’s top prospect by NHL Central Scouting.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, and Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid are the finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award.
TORONTO STAR: Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan defended his team’s top-four players during the club’s end-of-season press conference. He did, however, acknowledge the club lacked a “killer instinct” that must be addressed.
SPORTSNET: Leafs captain John Tavares said he’s doing “really well” in his recovery from the traumatic head injury suffered during Game 1 against the Canadiens. Tavares missed the rest of the series with a concussion and a knee injury. He said he has no memory of the incident and doesn’t intend to watch the replay.
TSN: Leafs winger Mitch Marner denied a report that he refused to play a goal-line role on the club’s power play. “It’s a complete lie,” he said.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Don’t expect Marner, Tavares, Matthews or William Nylander to be traded this summer if Shanahan’s comments are anything to go by. However, that hasn’t stopped the speculation among the Toronto media. I’ll have more in today’s Rumor Mill.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck’s status for Game 3 tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning remains uncertain. He was still being evaluated yesterday following his ankle-to-ankle collision with teammate Warren Foegele in Game 2.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins winger Craig Smith could return to the lineup for Game 3 tonight against the New York Islanders. He missed Game 2 with a lower-body injury suffered during the previous game.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said he’d be comfortable returning with the same group of players next season. He defended beleaguered starting goaltender Tristan Jarry, lauded the coaching staff and expects core players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang to return next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hextall and president of hockey ops Brian Burke intend to bring some size and toughness to the line next season. There will be some changes but those will likely involve their secondary players. They could also acquire an experienced backup as a mentor for Jarry.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: Flyers center Kevin Hayes underwent successful sports hernia surgery last week. His expected recovery period is five weeks.
Nazem Kadri’s neutral arbitration hearing is scheduled for Friday. That’s also the date of the 5th game of his 8-game suspension.
The Bruins tied their series with the Capitals, the Avalanche and Hurricanes draw first blood in their respective series, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Brad Marchand’s goal 39 seconds into overtime lifted the Boston Bruins over the Washington Capitals 4-3 to even their best-of-seven first-round series at one game apiece. Boston winger Taylor Hall scored the tying goal late in the third period to send the game into the extra frame. Garnet Hathaway scored twice for Washington, who got a 44-save performance from goaltender Craig Anderson. Capitals center Lars Eller left the game in the second period with a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Questionable officiating saw this game deteriorate into a sloppy contest. Game 3 goes Wednesday evening in Boston.
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (NHL Images)
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon scored twice and set up another in a series-opening 4-1 victory against the St. Louis Blues. Gabriel Landeskog had a goal and two assists as the Avalanche broke the game open with three goals in the third period. Jordan Binnington kicked out 46 shots for the Blues.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Binnington was the only reason this game was tied through two periods before the Avs blew it open in the final frame. This series will end quickly if he doesn’t get more help from his teammates. Games 2 is on Wednesday evening.
The Carolina Hurricanes got two goals from captain Jordan Staal to defeat the Nashville Predators 5-2 in Game 1 of their first-round series. Nino Niederreiter tallied the game-winner by snapping a 2-2 tie early in the third period. Juuse Saros turned aside 33 shots for the Predators.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Predators defeated the Hurricanes in the final two games of the season but the latter took six of eight in their regular-season series. The Canes dominated the play through the final two periods of this one. The two sides face off again in Game 2 on Wednesday.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and winger Brendan Gallagher played in the Laval Rocket’s 2-0 loss to the Toronto Marlies last night. Price and Gallagher were on a long-term injury conditioning stint with the Habs’ farm club before their opening-round series against the Maple Leafs. Price allowed two goals on 15 shots while Gallagher had two shots on goal and a double-minor penalty for high-sticking.
ESPN.COM: The NHL department of player discipline handed a one-game suspension to Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett for boarding Tampa Bay Lightning forward Blake Coleman in Game 1 of their series on Sunday.
TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs promoted Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser to senior director of player development and Danielle Goyette has joined the department as a director.
Speaking of the Leafs, TSN’s Kristen Shilton reports defenseman Ben Hutton has a non-COVID, non-hockey-related medical issue that is being monitored by the team.
NEW YORK POST: ESPN hired Leah Hextall as the first woman to do play-by-play as a regular part of a national NHL TV package. She did play-by-play of an NHL game last season for Sportsnet.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hextall previously worked for CTV Winnipeg, NESN and Sportsnet. Hockey runs in her family. She’s a cousin of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall and her grandfather was Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall.
AWFUL ANNOUNCING: Veteran NHL reporter Frank Seravalli has decided to leave TSN after six seasons. Speculation suggests he might join ESPN or Turner Sports ahead of their coverage of the NHL starting next season.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators have offered up Canadian Tire Centre to the city and the province of Ontario as a mass vaccination site.
TSN: A civil lawsuit has been filed against Vancouver Canucks winger Jake Virtanen alleging he sexually assaulted a young woman in 2017.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: A lawyer representing a former Chicago Blackhawks player in a sexual assault lawsuit against the team intends to call a former teammate to the stand as a witness in the case.
What the Penguins hiring Ron Hextall and Brian Burke could mean for the club going forward in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Rory Boylen wonders what’s in store for the Pittsburgh Penguins following their hiring of Ron Hextall as general manager and Brian Burke as president of hockey operations. Hextall has a reputation for patiently building a team while Burke is known for his aggressive moves.
There’s no indication they’ll move away from ownership’s current win-now mentality. Nevertheless, Boylen questions how much their current core of talent has left in the tank. Team captain Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang are 33 while Evgeni Malkin is 34. The latter two have contracts that expire at the end of next season.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (NHL Images).
Boylen ponders what will happen if the Penguins miss the playoffs or suffer another early elimination. Do they re-sign Letang and Malkin or move in a different direction?
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Paul Zeise also deliberates over how well Hextall and Burke will work together. He suggests perhaps Hextall will focus on the draft, scouting prospects and building up the foundation while Burke can focus on trying to give the Penguins a chance of winning the Stanley Cup around their current core.
Zeise believes the first order of business is to upgrade the goaltending. However, he admits that’s easier said than done. He questioned who has the priority when it comes to making big decisions on personnel, and at what point do they decide the Penguins are no longer Cup contenders and try to retool by dumping some of their big-name players.
TSN: Darren Dreger recently reported on the possibility Crosby and Malkin might not finish their careers in Pittsburgh. Asked how their futures could be affected by the hiring of Hextall and Burke, Dreger believes it depends upon the conversations they have with those two and Letang about the club’s direction. That could happen in the short term and perhaps in the offseason.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski included Malkin’s situation among the five factors facing Hextall and Burke. Multiple sources indicate ownership’s unwillingness to move Malkin and Letang. He noted the Penguins have been approached in recent years with tantalizing offers for Malkin that could help the club in the short and long term only to be rebuffed.
A top priority is figuring out where Malkin and Letang fit best. If it’s not with the Penguins, they’ll have to convince ownership to buy into that.
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Dan Kingerski feels Hextall and Burke made it clear during their introductory press conference yesterday that moving Letang or Malkin is unlikely at least for this season. They and Crosby were cited as the top players to build around.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Attempting to build up the roster around Crosby, Malkin and Letang is the short-term goal for Hextall and Burke. That’s not going to be easy during a pandemic-shortened season when most teams have limited salary-cap space and trades between Canadian and American clubs are hampered by tight border restrictions.
Hextall and Burke might not shake things up right away if the Penguins fall short this season because of ownership’s insistence on sticking with their aging core. The goal this summer could become restocking their prospect cupboard while attempting to make trades and/or free-agent signings that provide immediate help, especially if they can land younger talent. They could also open contract-extension talks with Letang and Malkin or put those off until the end of next season.
The Penguins, however, have limited cap room for 2021-22. Cap Friendly indicates they have $79.3 million invested in 17 players. With the cap expected to remain at $81.5 million, there’s little wiggle room for free-agent additions while trades would have to be dollar-for-dollar.
If the Penguins fail to improve next season, Hextall and Burke will have no choice but to convince ownership that it’s time for big changes. That means deciding whether to re-sign Letang and Malkin, assuming they haven’t already been signed to new deals. It could also mean shopping them before next year’s trade deadline.
Preparing for a rebuild will also mean determining whether Crosby wants to be part of it. He’s signed through 2024-25 so there’s not as much urgency about his situation as there is with Letang and Malkin. Still, the front office will have to have that discussion with their captain sooner or later.
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.
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.
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.”