Eichel, Zibanejad among NHL stars already sidelined
The Blue Jackets sign Dubois, the Blues ink Vince Dunn, plus the latest on Mathew Barzal, Zdeno Chara, Brent Burns, Nico Hischier, Micheal Ferland and more in the first NHL morning coffee headlines of 2021.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets yesterday signed Pierre-Luc Dubois to a two-year, $10 million contract. A restricted free agent before the signing, the 22-year-old center will earn $3.35 million this season and $6.65 million in 2021-22. The annual average value is $5 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A skilled two-way player, Dubois enters this season as the Jackets’ No. 1 center. Coming off his entry-level contract, Dubois had little leverage other than to stage a contract holdout or demand a trade. It’s an affordable short-term deal for the Blue Jackets and a reasonable raise for the young center, but he’ll be in line for a more lucrative deal in two years’ time when he has arbitration rights.
Before the signing, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported there were “rumblings” from a few clubs around the league that Dubois wanted a “change of scenery.” I’ll have more about that in the Rumors section.
STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis Blues yesterday signed restricted free agent Vince Dunn to a one-year, $1.85 million contract. Like Dubois, the 24-year-old defenseman was coming off an entry-level deal and lacked sufficient leverage to seek a better deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dunn deserves more than that but the Blues are pressed for cap space this year. While they’ll place Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko on LTIR for this season, they need to ensure sufficient space for the latter’s anticipated return in March.
The Blues also have winger Mike Hoffman in training camp on a tryout offer and must ensure sufficient cap room to sign him to a one-year deal. I daresay Dunn can expect a much better deal next year when he has arbitration rights and the Blues have more cap room.
NEW YORK POST: The Islanders had yet to sign Mathew Barzal to a new deal but general manager Lou Lamoriello said the RFA center is in New York and contract discussions are ongoing. Lamoriello also revealed the Isles have signed winger Matt Martin, defenseman Andy Greene and goaltender Cory Schneider.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With training camps opening for last season’s 24 playoff clubs on Sunday, Jan. 3, don’t be surprised if Barzal and the Isles reach an agreement on a new contract as soon as today. No details yet on the new deals for Martin, Greene and Schneider but they’re probably affordable one-year contracts.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara revealed the club wanted him back for this season but in a reduced role as they transitioned toward younger defensemen. He also said the Bruins made him a contract offer months ago. Chara signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals earlier this week.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It sounds like the Bruins envisioned Chara filling the role of a seventh defenseman, meaning he wouldn’t see anywhere near as much playing time as he’s used to. He admitted he’s got no guarantees with the Capitals but he’ll have the opportunity to compete.
THE MERCURY NEWS: San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns spent part of the offseason making a guest appearance in two episodes of the Amazon Prime series “Vikings”.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Burns does look like a modern-day Viking so he’d be a natural for a bit part in that series. His most recent acting gig was a commercial during the 2020 playoffs for Kit Kat Chunky.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier is listed as week-to-week with an injured foot. While it’s not considered serious and doesn’t require surgery, the injury could sideline the 21-year-old center for the start of the season on Jan. 13.
THE PROVINCE: Vancouver Canucks forward Micheal Ferland won’t be in Vancouver on Sunday for his training camp physical and is expected to undergo testing remotely with team doctors. Ferland’s agent revealed his client is still attempting to recover from post-concussion symptoms suffered last season. If the winger fails his physical, the Canucks are expected to place him on long-term injury reserve for this season.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: The Flyers are attempting to turn oft-injured defenseman Samuel Morin into a left winger for the coming season. Morin, who said he’s “fighting for his career”, approves of the move. He could become part of the Flyers’ taxi squad for the upcoming season.
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres have reportedly hired former NHL defenseman Dan Girardi in a player development role.
TSN: Players on Canada’s seven NHL teams will be exempt from the country’s 14-day quarantine rule. The Canadian government has approved of the teams’ training-camp plans to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 but all teams must operate within provincial guidelines for regular-season play. Alberta is the first province to approve NHL regular-season games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: All seven Canadian teams are able to stage training camps in their respective cities. If the other provinces don’t approve regular-season games, the Canadian clubs could start the season playing their games in a hub city like Edmonton. However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly recently reiterated the league believes it has clearance to play in all seven Canadian cities.
Jonathan Toews sidelined by a mysterious illness, P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn end their relationship, Nico Hischier sidelined, Jack Roslovic asks for a trade, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Jonathan Toews has been sidelined by a mysterious illness that’s left him “drained and lethargic,” according to a statement released yesterday by the Blackhawks captain. There’s no timetable for his return.
Toews indicated he’ll be working with doctors to better understand his condition. He said he won’t join his teammates until his health and fitness levels return to where he feels he can play at an elite level.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s hoping Toews can make a complete recovery and return to action soon.
This is terrible news for a Blackhawks club already reeling from the recent loss of promising center Kirby Dach (fractured wrist) and Alex Nylander (knee surgery) for the next four-to-six months.
Toews’ absence is a major setback for the Blackhawks entering this season. Instead of challenging for a playoff berth, they could become a lottery team in the 2021 draft. I’ll have more about the Blackhawks in the rumors section.
ESPN.COM: One of pro sports’ notable power couples is no more. New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban and former Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn ended their relationship after three years together.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Subban won’t be looking back on 2020 with any fondness. In addition to splitting up with Vonn, his declining performance dropped him out of the ranks of the NHL’s all-star players.
SPORTSNET: Speaking of the Devils, center Nico Hischier will miss the upcoming start of training camp with an injured leg. Fortunately, the issue isn’t expected to be long term.
TSN: Jack Roslovic has asked the Winnipeg Jets for a trade. The restricted free agent forward is reportedly home in Columbus and won’t be joining his teammates in training camp when it opens on Sunday. If he returns to the Jets, he’ll have to undergo a seven-day quarantine and have four negative COVID-19 tests.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Roslovic frequently surfaced in trade speculation during this offseason. I’ll have more about his status in the Rumors sections.
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: The Kings officially announced they’ve signed forward Andreas Athanasiou to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.
The Buffalo Sabres are bringing veteran center Riley Sheahan to training camp on a PTO.
NHL.COM: The Edmonton Oilers signed forward Devin Shore and defenseman Ryan Stanton to professional tryout offers.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Panthers signed goaltender Scott Darling to a professional tryout offer (PTO).
TSN: Speaking of the Panthers, they’ve informed their season-ticket holders that they are allowing 25 percent capacity at the BB&T Center when the season begins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Insert tired joke about the Panthers’ usually woeful attendance here.
THE TENNESSEAN: The Nashville Predators are working on a plan to allow a limited number of fans at Bridgestone Arena after receiving approval from Nashville’s Board of Health.
More details revealed for the Stanley Cup playoff tournament, three Canadian cities remain among potential host destinations, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the NHL released a directive to its clubs on Friday following a general managers’ meeting setting the dates for the start of the 24-team Stanley Cup tournament.
According to Brooks, the qualifying round will begin on July 30 at two host cities that will be selected within the next week or so.
Training camps scheduled to commence July 10 will last approximately two weeks, followed by a travel period (July 23 or 24) for the 24 teams to move to their respective host cities. Teams will play one exhibition game each before the tournament begins.
Training camp rosters will contain 30 skaters plus unlimited goaltenders. The tournament roster will consist of 28 skaters and unlimited goalies. Players on injured reserve won’t count again the limit.
Brooks reports coronavirus testing will be done every other day for all personnel entering the facility. It’s unclear if media will be granted access. Players and staff won’t be allowed to socialize outside the facility in numbers larger than the local social distancing guidelines.
The schedule is expected to be part of a comprehensive agreement between the NHL and NHL Players Association. It will also contain health and safety protocols for the training camps and the tournament, as well as a possible extension to the collective bargaining agreement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given the time frame set for Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (tournament) of the return-to-play plan, the league and the PA need an agreement on the guidelines soon. Any delay could push those dates further ahead in the calendar and create further complications.
Reports indicate teams are reaching out to their players to return to their respective NHL cities by the end of this week. That will provide sufficient time for any returning players testing positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days in order to be recovered in time for training camp.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports it’s his understanding the NHL has reduced the number of host city candidates from 10 to six. Las Vegas remains in the mix, as well as Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver. A decision could come by week’s end as the league must negotiate deals (hotels, etc) with the host cities.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given the rise of COVID-19 cases in some American NHL markets, there’s a chance both host cities could be in Canada, where the pandemic curve has been flattened and reduced. There’s some recent speculation out of Vancouver suggesting that city could become a front-runner.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Michael Russo and James Mirtle report the NHL isn’t considering pushing back the July 10 start date for training camps despite 11 players testing positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 (voluntary small-group training) commenced on June 8.
The report cites an unnamed Western Conference player claiming the recent outbreak confirms his belief the league is moving too quickly with its return-to-play plan.
“Guys are not happy. This is why we better have a full player vote and not just an executive board vote. But I’m not convinced (NHLPA executive director) Don (Fehr) is going to allow that because he knows there’s so many of us on the fence. That’s why I think the league was trying to be hush-hush on these positive tests.
“In my opinion, no way we play.”
Russo and Mirtle cite several player agents indicating a growing number of their clients are expressing concern over returning to play in a hub city. One agent suggested 35 to 40 percent could be on the fence.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The players have every right to be concerned following Friday’s report of 11 positive tests among their ranks. They’re the ones putting their health – possibly their lives – at risk, as well as those of their teammates and families. If they feel the league can’t guarantee their safety, they have the power to stop the return-to-play plan dead in its tracks.
The report also suggests the league might have to give the players sufficient enticement to ease their concerns. They’re already aware that a projected loss of $1.1 billion in hockey-related revenue from canceling the season will have far-reaching consequences for their paychecks.
Perhaps a CBA extension with some concessions from the league (like a cap on escrow and assurances of Olympic participation) might garner sufficient approval from the PA membership. They could also allow players who wish to opt-out of the tournament to do so without facing repercussions.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE SCORE: A rare Connor McDavid rookie card fetched over $113K US at a recent auction.
NJ.COM: New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier is spending the off-season as a reservist in the Swiss Army. Service is mandatory for Swiss citizens once they turn 18. He’ll complete his initial training in August.
THE DENVER POST: Mark Kiszla believes the Colorado Avalanche could win the Stanley Cup this year if they get decent goaltending from Philipp Grubauer or Pavel Francouz.
STLTODAY.COM: Only three Blues are expected to participate in small-group training this week as the team reopens its training facilities for the first time since mid-March. Some of the Blues are skating elsewhere in St. Louis while others are training out of town.
RUSSIAN MACHINE NEVER BREAKS: cites a report from Isport indicating Martin Erat has retired. Erat spent 13 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, and Arizona Coyotes from 2001-02 to 2014-15, with nearly 11 seasons with the Predators. He went on to spend one season in the KHL and four in the Czech League. Erat tallied 176 goals and 545 points in 881 career NHL games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Erat in his future endeavors. His best seasons were with the Predators, enjoying eight straight 49-plus point seasons. He was also involved in one of the most controversial trades in Capitals history, as they gave up then-prospect Filip Forsberg as part of the deal for Erat at the 2013 NHL trade deadline. He washed out with the Caps while Forsberg would become the Preds’ best forward.
Game recaps, Leafs acquire Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the Kings, plus the latest on Mark Giordano, Anthony Mantha, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Charlie McAvoy’s overtime goal gave the Boston Bruins a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Sean Kuraly also scored for the Bruins (78 points), who picked up their fifth straight victory. They move one point ahead of the Washington Capitals into first place in the Eastern Conference and overall standings. Alex DeBrincat replied for the Blackhawks (58 points), who picked up a point to move within two of the Calgary Flames for the final Western Conference wild-card spot.
Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored six seconds apart in the first period as the New York Rangers downed the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3. Rangers winger Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and two assists. Auston Matthews scored twice for the Leafs (63 points), who remains two points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot and one back of the Florida Panthers for third in the Atlantic Division.
Following the game, the Leafs traded winger Trevor Moore, a third-round pick (originally from Columbus via Ottawa) in 2020, and a conditional third-rounder in 2021 to the Los Angeles Kings for goaltender Jack Campbell and winger Kyle Clifford. The Kings retain half of Clifford’s $1.6-million annual salary-cap hit. The 2020 third-rounder becomes a second-round pick if the Leafs re-sign Clifford, or Campbell wins six regular-season games and the Leafs reach the playoffs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas had no choice. Starting goalie Frederik Andersen is day-to-day with a neck injury, Michael Hutchinson isn’t getting the job done as the backup, and third-stringer Kasimir Kaskisuo has limited NHL experience. With the Leafs spinning their wheels and in danger of missing the playoffs, Dubas had to shore up his goalie depth.
Campbell’s stats (8-10-2, 2.85 GAA, .900 SP) are better than Hutchinson’s. He’s also signed through 2021-22 at an affordable $1.65-million AAV. Clifford, meanwhile, should bring some welcome grit and veteran leadership to the Leafs’ lineup. Moore, 24, is a Southern California native who can be an immediate fit with the rebuilding Kings’ checking lines.
If this deal doesn’t pan out, it’ll stoke ongoing criticism of Dubas’ inability to suitably address his club’s depth between the pipes.
CALGARY SUN: No word yet regarding the status of defenseman Mark Giordano. The Flames captain underwent an MRI for a lower-body injury suffered during Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Flames were reportedly in the market for a top-six forward. Their priority could shift if Giordano is out long-term.
OTTAWA SUN: Bobby Ryan rejoins the Senators for the first time since entering the NHL’s Players’ Assistance program on Nov. 20. While medically cleared to resume skating, there’s no timetable when he’ll return to action.
DETROIT FREE PRESS: Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha revealed he suffered a punctured lung after being slammed to the ice by Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin during an altercation on Dec. 21. He also came down with the flu that week. Mantha estimates he could return to the lineup between Feb. 10 – 15.
NJ.COM: New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (laceration, left knee) and defenseman Sami Vatanen (lower-body bruise) will miss tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
THE WASHINGTON POST: Capitals rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov is listed as day-to-day with a head injury from a high shot taken by Alex Ovechkin during practice on Tuesday.