What We Learned This Week In The NHL: Week 5
Austin Watson receives 27-game suspension, Blue Jackets re-sign John Tortorella plus updates on Jake Allen, Marian Gaborik and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE TENNESSEAN: Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson received a 27-game suspension from the NHL following its investigation after he pleaded no contest in July to misdemeanor domestic assault.
SPORTSNET’s Chris Johnston reports the NHL Players Association will file an appeal on Watson’s behalf.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The appeal will likely be for a reduction in the length of Watson’s suspension rather than overturning the league’s decision. In the wake of domestic assault cases involving NHL players (Semyon Varlamov, Slava Voynov) in recent years, the league is sending a clear message it won’t tolerate such behavior. Because Watson’s not one of the Predators’ core players, his absence likely won’t adversely affect their on-ice performance.
STLTODAY.COM: Back spasms are expected to sideline St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen for 10-to-14 days.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s a good opportunity for the Blues’ goalie prospects to catch the eye of the coaching staff in Allen’s absence.
Speaking of the Blues, they re-signed defenseman Jordan Schmaltz to a two-year contract. It’s a two-way deal for the upcoming season, paying him $700K at the NHL level.
SPORTSNET: The Columbus Blue Jackets re-signed head coach John Tortorella to a two-year contract extension.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tortorella’s done a good job turning the Blue Jackets from a bottom feeder into a perennial playoff team. This extension expresses the front office’s confidence in his ability to guide them into Stanley Cup contenders.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators winger Marian Gaborik still hasn’t been medically cleared to play and it’s uncertain if he’ll suit up this season. He had surgery earlier this year to repair a herniated disc.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Injuries have hampered Gaborik throughout his career. Cap Friendly indicates he’s signed through 2020-21 with an annual salary-cap hit of $4.875 million. The Senators will likely place him on long-term injured reserve to start the season.
TSN: The Humboldt Broncos played their first game since a bus accident last April killed 16 and injured 13. The Broncos lost 2-1 to the Nipawin Hawks, last year’s Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions. The Broncos were on route to meet the Hawks in a playoff game when the tragedy took place. “Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter are the only two players who were involved in the crash and are back on the Broncos this season.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: An emotional night for the Broncos, the families of the dead and the survivors, and the town of Humboldt. Best of luck to everyone this season.
Game recaps, seven of eight opening-round playoff series set, Rangers fire Vigneault, Red Wings re-sign Holland and the hockey world mourns junior hockey tragedy. Details and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Gabriel Landeskog scored and collected two assists as the Colorado Avalanche defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-2 to clinch their first playoff berth since 2014. The Avs will face the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the 2018 playoffs, while the Blues will miss the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Thanks to Claude Giroux’s first career hat trick, the Philadelphia Flyers also clinched a playoff berth by shutting out the New York Rangers 5-0. Giroux also reached the 100-point plateau (102) for the first time, becoming the first Flyer to do so since Eric Lindros in 1995-96. The Flyers’ opening-round opponent will be the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers’ win also ended the Florida Panthers’ playoff hopes. Following the game, the Rangers announced the firing of head coach Alain Vigneault.
Speaking of the Panthers, they went on to set a franchise record for home wins (27) by downing the Buffalo Sabres 4-3. Vincent Trocheck and Colton Sceviour each tallied a goal and an assist for the Panthers. It was the final game for Panthers winger Radim Vrbata, who is retiring after 16 NHL seasons.
The Boston Bruins picked up their 50th win of the season by downing the Ottawa Senators 5-2. With 112 points, the Bruins sit one back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division and can overtake the Lightning if they defeat the Panthers tonight.
As for the Lightning, they picked up a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bolts overcame a 2-0 deficit to force the extra frame.
The Toronto Maple Leafs set a franchise record for most points in a season (105) with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen established a franchise record for single-season victories with 38. The Leafs will face either the Lightning or Bruins in the opening round.
Filip Forsberg tallied a hat trick as the Nashville Predators doubled up the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2. Before the game, the Predators were honored with the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record. The Blue Jackets’ opening round opponent will be the Washington Capitals.
Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 48th and 49th goals of the season in a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils. Ovechkin wins the Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer for the seventh time. Like the Leafs, the Devils await the outcome of tonight’s Bruins-Panthers game to determine if their first-round opponent will be Boston or Tampa Bay.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ovechkin narrowly missed reaching the 50-goal mark for the eighth time in his career. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine 50-goal seasons) have more.
Connor McDavid picked up two assists and Leon Draisaitl scored the winning goal as the Edmonton Oilers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2. Canucks stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin were held without a point in what was their final NHL game but were feted by the Oilers and their fans following the game. McDavid finished the season with 108 points to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer for the second straight year.
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck became the first American-born netminder to win 44 games as he backstopped his club to a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. The Jets will face the Minnesota Wild in the opening round.
The Anaheim Ducks secured second place in the Pacific Division by shutting out the Arizona Coyotes 3-0. Ducks winger Corey Perry picked up his 400th career assists. The Ducks hold home-ice advantage in their first-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks, meanwhile, fell 6-3 to the Minnesota Wild. Jason Zucker scored twice for the Wild and teammate Eric Staal netted his 42nd of the season.
Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn netted a hat trick in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, who’ll face the Vegas Golden Knights in the opening round.
The Golden Knights, meanwhile, were crushed by the Calgary Flames 7-1. Flames rookie Mark Jankowski scored four goals.
John Tavares scored in overtime as the New York Islanders edged the Detroit Red Wings 4-3. Isles forward Anders Lee scored his 40th of the season. The Red Wings also announced they re-signed general manager Ken Holland to a two-year contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You can see the 2018 opening-round playoff bracket here.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL: 15 people were killed and 14 injured when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League collided with a semi-trailer late-Friday afternoon. Among the dead is Jaxon Joseph, son of former NHL defenseman Chris Joseph.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This tragedy overshadowed yesterday’s news and shook up the tight-knit hockey community. My sincere condolences to the families of the dead and injured, the Broncos organization and the town of Humboldt. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the families.