SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hjalmarsson, 34, spent 14 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Coyotes. A shutdown defenseman, his best years were with the Blackhawks as he helped them win three Stanley Cups during his 10 seasons with the franchise. He finishes with 172 points in 821 career NHL games. Best of luck to Hjalmarsson and his family in their future endeavors.
THE DETROIT NEWS: The Red Wings re-signed defenseman Marc Staal to a one-year, $2 million contract. The deal also includes a no-movement clause.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Staal proved to be a valuable addition to the Red Wings. The 34-year-old provided experience, leadership and stability to the rebuilding club’s defense corps. He hopes to become a mentor this season to promising Wings blueliner Moritz Seider, who’s expected to make his NHL debut in 2021-22.
THE PROVINCE: The Vancouver Canucks placed Jake Virtanen on unconditional waivers yesterday for the purpose of buying out the final year of his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Virtanen was once considered a promising offensive forward but he failed to play up to expectations. His recent questionable off-ice behavior also became an issue. The Canucks attempted to trade the 24-year-old winger during this season but reportedly couldn’t find any suitable offers. He’s been on leave from the club since May 1 following a sexual misconduct allegation.
THE ATHLETIC: The Columbus Blue Jackets are expected to keep their goaltending tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo intact to start the 2021-22 season. Both are entering the final year of their contracts. It was anticipated one of them would be traded this summer but the tragic death of promising Matiss Kivlenieks on July 4 changed that plan.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Perhaps one of them will be shopped later in the season if the Jackets are out of playoff contention before the February trade deadline.
CAP FRIENDLY: The St. Louis Blues signed forward Nathan Walker to a two-year, two-way contract. He’ll earn $750K at the NHL level.
Check out the latest on the Blue Jackets, Canucks, Hurricanes, and Coyotes in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline recently reported on Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski’s recent decision to change agents. He has a year remaining on his contract but changing agents suggests he wants to open contract discussions this summer.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That would coincide with the contract talks expected this summer for Seth Jones, Werenski’s defense partner. Jones is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Werenski, meanwhile, will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’ll cost $7 million just to qualify his rights. The Jackets ownership will have to dig deep for the big bucks to keep their top-two defensemen in Columbus.
Portzline also believes Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen must evaluate his current centermen before going shopping for one via trade or free agency. Max Domi, Jack Roslovic, and Alexandre Texier struggled in that position this season. Portzline doesn’t see Kekalainen adding three centers this summer but wonders how many the GM feels he needs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As Portzline pointed out, Kekalainen might be lucky to pry away a prominent center from another team. I expect he’ll try to add one experienced center and hope for improvement from Domi, Roslovic and Texier next season, perhaps with a new coach behind the bench if John Tortorella doesn’t return.
TSN’s Darren Dreger believes Kekalainen will try his best to bring in a top-line center for winger Patrik Laine next season. That would be a costly undertaking during the best of seasons. It could prove more difficult under a flattened salary cap.
Boston’s David Krejci and Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the best centers in this summer’s UFA market. At 35, Krejci is at the tail end of his career and best suited for second-line duty. Nugent-Hopkins is a versatile two-way forward but I don’t see him as a first-line center.
Cap Friendly shows the Jackets have $56.5 million invested in 16 players for 2021-22. Kekalainen could target a cap-strapped club trying to shed salary. However, re-signing Laine (an RFA with arbitration rights this summer) will bite deeply into that cap space, perhaps as much as $8 million. It’ll take $7.5 million to qualify his right.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the Vancouver Canucks haven’t put a new offer on the table for head coach Travis Green. He wants to stay and the Canucks want to keep him. Green is earning $1 million per season, which is in the lower third among NHL head coaches. LeBrun speculates it could take around $2.5 million to get it done.
Darren Dreger reports the Carolina Hurricanes hope to get head coach Rod Brind’Amour under contract before the playoffs begin. Management seems confident it will get a deal done soon.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Brind’Amour has turned the Hurricanes into a Stanley Cup contender in just three seasons. They’re on the verge of winning their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy.
Dreger also reports Arizona Coyotes bench boss Rick Tocchet could be moving on at the end of this season. His sources indicated Tocchet is more likely to test the open market this summer.
AFTONBLADET: Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson could return to HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Hockey League after 14 NHL seasons. Hjalmarsson, 33, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He spent three seasons with HV71 before starting his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007-08.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The report doesn’t rule out Hjalmarsson staying in the NHL if he gets an offer he can’t resist or if the tax situation makes it difficult for him to play in Sweden this autumn.
Recaps of Monday’s action, Oilers-Canadiens game postponed over COVID-19 concerns, stars of the week and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Third-period goals by Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko lifted the New York Rangers over the Buffalo Sabres 5-3, handing the landing their 14th consecutive defeat. Kreider and Kakko tallied twice for the Rangers. Dustin Tokarski played his first NHL games since 2016, making 33 saves after taking over for sidelined Sabres goalie Carter Hutton early in the first period. With the win, the Rangers (32 points) moved within two points of the fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers and within four of the fourth-place Boston Bruins in the MassMutual East Division.
Dougie Hamilton collected an assist to extend his points streak to 12 games as the Carolina Hurricanes blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0. Alex Nedeljkovic made 19 saves for the shutout and Sebastian Aho picked up two assists. The Hurricanes (45 points) vaulted into second place in the Discover Central Division with a one-point lead over the Florida Panthers. The Blue Jackets (33 points) are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks but slipped to fifth place.
A third-period goal by Chris Tierney gave the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames. Rookie goaltender Filip Gustavsson kicked out 35 shots for his first NHL victory. The Flames (33 points) remain in sixth place in the Scotia North Division, four points back of the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens.
An overtime goal by Anthony Beauvillier lifted the New York Islanders to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Isles rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin made 36 saves for his eighth straight win. Flyers center Sean Couturier returned to the lineup after missing one game with a hip injury. The Islanders sit in first place in the MassMutual East, two points up on the Washington Capitals. Meanwhile, the Flyers (34 points) sit two points behind the fourth-place Bruins.
Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone (NHL Images).
The Minnesota Wild edged the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on a third-period goal by Nick Bjugstad. With 39 points, the Wild remains two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues for third place in the Honda West Division. Marcus Johansson returned to the Wild lineup after missing 16 games with an upper-body injury.
Mark Stone scored twice as the Vegas Golden Knights tallied four unanswered goals to down St. Louis 5-1. The Golden Knights have won six of their last seven contests and sit in first place in the West with 45 points, three points up on the Colorado Avalanche. The Blues remain in fourth place with 37 points.
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck turned in a 22-save shutout and Adam Lowry scored twice to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-0. Canucks center Brandon Sutter missed the game with an undisclosed injury while captain Bo Horvat limped off in the third period after being struck by a shot from teammate Alex Edler. The Jets sit in third place in the North Division, two points behind the Edmonton Oilers and three up on the Canadiens.
The Colorado Avalanche picked up their seventh straight victory by downing the Arizona Coyotes 5-1. Joonas Donskoi scored two goals and Philipp Grubauer picked up the win with 24 saves. Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson left the game with an upper-body injury. With 42 points, the Avs hold a four-point lead over the Wild for second place in the West Division.
San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones made 41 saves backstopping his club over the Los Angeles Kings 2-1. Ryan Donato tallied the game-winner in the third period. The loss leaves the Kings with 32 points, five back of the fourth-place Blues in the West.
Monday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens was postponed after Canadiens forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia were placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. The Habs also canceled practice for today.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is the first North Division game to be postponed this season. The Canadiens will be awaiting the results of further testing. Placing Kotkaniemi and Armia on the list doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve contracted the coronavirus. Further information is expected later today. If all players pass the subsequent testing there’s talk this game could be played tonight.
The additions of Kotkaniemi and Armia to the COVID protocol list pushed the total number to 10 players. The Boston Bruins have five players on the list, including David Pastrnak, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
The Canadiens also announced forward Tyler Toffoli will be sidelined until at least Sunday with a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s assuming the remainder of the Canadiens’ games for this week aren’t postponed.
Nashville Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending March 21.
TORONTO SUN: Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
THE PROVINCE: The Vancouver Canucks claimed forward Travis Boyd off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s the second time in a week the Canucks have plucked a player off the Leafs roster, having claimed Jimmy Vesey on March 17.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some see those moves as the Canucks positioning themselves to become sellers by the April 12 trade deadline. That may well be the case if they fail to gain any ground in the North Division playoff race.
SPORTSNET: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league isn’t expecting to have full arenas this season despite more American teams allowing limited numbers of socially distanced fans to attend their games.
Recaps of Tuesday’s games, Sidney Crosby on COVID-19 protocol list, the Canadiens fire their goalie coach, stars of the month and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: A 5-2 victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Philadelphia Flyers was overshadowed by the news Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list earlier in the day. Kaspari Kapanen scored twice and Tristan Jarry made 40 saves for the win. Joel Farabee tallied both goals for the Flyers (25 points), who are tied with the Penguins but hold fourth place in the MassMutual East Division with two games in hand.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crosby being placed on the list doesn’t necessarily mean he’s contracted the coronavirus. If he hasn’t returned to the lineup by the end of the week, however, it will be assumed he has it. A long absence by their captain could affect the Penguins’ efforts to clinch a playoff berth. Crosby is one of only three players on the league’s COVID protocol list.
The Montreal Canadiens got their first win under head coach Dominique Ducharme by downing the Ottawa Senators 3-1 to snap a five-game winless skid. Carey Price made 26 saves while teammates Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry each had a goal and an assist. Following the game, the Canadiens announced goaltending coach Stephane Waite was relieved of his duties. Sean Burke takes over as their new director of goaltending.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Waite’s sudden firing comes a week after they replaced Claude Julien with Ducharme. Some of the reactions on social media suggested management wouldn’t have made this move without clearing it first with Price. However, this move could also be a wake-up call from general manager Marc Bergevin to his struggling starting netminder.
Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele each collected three points as the Winnipeg Jets dumped the Vancouver Canucks 5-2. The Jets (29 points) moved in second place in the Scotia North Division, one point ahead of the Edmonton Oilers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his third straight shutout as the Tampa Bay Lightning blanked the Dallas Stars 2-0. Ondrej Palat and Yannie Gourde were the goal scorers. The Lightning have won five in a row while the Stars have just one victory in their last 10 games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill is not laying the blame for his club’s struggles at the feet of head coach Rick Bowness. “There is no hot seat,” Nill told The Athletic’s Saad Yousef. He praised Bowness’ efforts guiding the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final last year and his handling of what’s proven to be a difficult schedule this season.
The Carolina Hurricanes picked up their third straight win by doubling up the Nashville Predators 4-2. Sebastian Aho scored twice and rookie Steven Lorentz tallied his first NHL goal. Predators goalie Juuse Saros left the game early in the first period after being hit in the head. Before the game, the Predators placed defenseman Ryan Ellis and forward Luke Kunin on injured reserve and center Ryan Johansen on the COVID-19 protocol list. Ellis will be sidelined for four-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury.
Columbus Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist and teammate Zach Werenski collected two assists in a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. It’s the Jackets’ first win in six games and came after general manager Jarmo Kekalainen gave a vote of confidence to head coach John Tortorella.
New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 28 saves as his club held off the New Jersey Devils 2-1. Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee scored for the Islanders while Miles Wood replied for the Devils.
The New York Rangers edged the Buffalo Sabres 3-2, handing the latter their fourth straight loss. Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and an assist while teammate Filip Chytil returned to the lineup after missing 14 games with an upper-body injury.
IN OTHER NEWS…
Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrik Kane, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak and San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture are the NHL’s divisional stars for February 2021. Ottawa Senators forward Tim Stutzle was named the league’s rookie of the month for February.
TSN: Speaking of the Senators, the club confirmed center Derek Stepan will require season-ending shoulder surgery.
The NHL department of player safety suspended Edmonton Oilers winger Alex Chiasson one game for cross-checking Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jimmy Vesey at the end of Monday’s game between the two clubs.
AZCENTRAL.COM: Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is slated to appear in his 800th career NHL game tonight against the Los Angeles Kings
The latest on the Penguins, Coyotes, and Predators in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Josh Yohe believes Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is going to make significant moves in the coming weeks, though the pressure from team executives may have relented a bit since their qualifying-round elimination over a month ago.
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray (NHL Images).
It’s only a matter of time until goaltender Matt Murray is moved. They’d love to get a first-round pick in return but so far there are no takers. Given their cap issues, they could be fine with a return of draft picks and prospects for Murray. Yohe also expects another salaried player could be moved.
Yohe would be surprised if defenseman Kris Letang is traded. He doesn’t rule out recently re-signed Jared McCann getting traded but feels they’d like to keep him as a third-line center. He also said adding a right-hand defenseman is high on the Penguins’ wish list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Yohe recently suggested Vancouver’s Chris Tanev, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk, Ottawa’s Ron Hainsey and Philadelphia’s Justin Braun as possible right-shot free-agent defense targets for the Penguins. Depending on how much cap space Rutherford frees up, Hainsey or Braun would be his most affordable options.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Madden wouldn’t be surprised if McCann gets traded. He points out the center’s new two-year contract ($2.94 million AAV) could make him easier to move.
TSN: Travis Yost believes teams interested in acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson should be aware of the decline in his production since 2015-16. While he feels the Arizona Coyotes captain is still a good player who could be very good in the right situation, the 29-year-old defenseman is on the wrong side of the aging curve carrying a big contract ($8.25 million AAV) through 2026-27.
AZCOYOTESINSIDER.COM: Craig Morgan cites league sources say Arizona Coyotes blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson will not waive his no-movement clause for the final year of his contract. He wants to spend the season in Arizona for family reasons that likely center around his two sons. Morgan doubts the Coyotes will buy him out because the savings would be nominal and he’s already received half of his $4 million in actual salary in signing bonus money.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Ekman-Larsson trade chatter emerged weeks before their recent hiring of Bill Armstrong as their new general manager. He could prefer hanging onto Ekman-Larsson in hopes his performance improves as the roster does. If ownership insists on dumping salary, Armstrong could see what the trade market is like for his captain. The decline in his stats plus his hefty contract (with a full no-movement clause) could dampen his trade value.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Adam Vingan recently listed Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dylan DeMelo, New York Rangers winger Jesper Fast, Tampa Bay Lightning winger Pat Maroon and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk as bargain free-agent options for the Nashville Predators. He also suggested they could re-sign winger Craig Smith.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Predators have $73.3 million invested in 18 players for 2020-21. Unless GM David Poile sheds some salary, they won’t be major players in the UFA market. The best they’ll get is bargain signings like those suggested by Vingan. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring back Smith.