What Next For the New York Rangers?
Recaps of Monday’s action, three stars of the week, plus the latest on Tony DeAngelo and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Chris Kreider broke a third-period tie as the New York Rangers downed the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1. Artemi Panarin had a goal and two assists for the Rangers, who lost defenseman Brendan Smith to an upper-body injury during the first period. The Rangers were also playing without Kaapo Kakko, who’s on their COVID-19 protocol list. The Penguins were playing without defensemen Kris Letang (undisclosed injury, day-to-day) and Brian Dumoulin (undisclosed, long-term injury reserve).
Overshadowing the Rangers win was their statement indicating defenseman Tony DeAngelo has played his final game with them following a post-game altercation on Saturday with teammate Alexandar Georgiev. DeAngelo, 24, cleared waivers yesterday. The club also denied a recent rumor claiming DeAngelo had a rocky relationship with rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Rangers are reportedly working with DeAngelo’s agent to trade the blueliner. I’ll have more in the Rumors section.
The Boston Bruins tallied five unanswered goals to overcome a 3-0 deficit and defeat the Washington Capitals 5-3. David Pastrnak netted his first two goals of the season as the Bruins extended their points streak to six games (5-0-1). Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara scored against his former team.
Yanni Gourde scored twice and Steven Stamkos had a goal and an assist as the Tampa Bay Lightning completed their two-game sweep of the Nashville Predators with a 5-2 victory.
A three-goal second-period outburst powered the Montreal Canadiens to a 6-2 drubbing of the Vancouver Canucks. Jeff Petry had a three-point performance (including two goals) and Corey Perry collected his 800th career NHL point. Defenseman Victor Mete made his season debut for the Canadiens.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens earned this win with a dominating performance but the Canucks certainly didn’t help their cause with a lousy defensive effort.
Johnny Gaudreau scored in a shootout as the Calgary Flames edged the Winnipeg Jets 4-3. Gaudreau also tallied in regulation to extend his points streak to eight games. Kyle Connor scored twice for the Jets while teammate Blake Wheeler assisted on all three of his team’s goals.
NHL.COM: Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko plus Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl were the NHL’s three stars for the week ending Jan. 31.
The NHL department of player safety fined Minnesota Wild center Nick Bjugstad $5,000.00 for cross-checking Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves on Sunday.
The league also announced the rescheduling of four games involving the Vegas Golden Knights after three of their games were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: The New Jersey Devils’ next three games were postponed after four more players were added Monday to their COVID-19 protocol list. They have a league-high 10 players on that list, including Mackenzie Blackwood, Kyle Palmieri, Sami Vatanen, Andreas Johnsson, Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek could require surgery for a suspected right-arm injury after getting hurt during a collision with teammate Max McCormick during Saturday’s game against the Dallas Stars.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb was placed on long-term injury reserve with a lower-body injury.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: The Oilers placed forward Alex Chiasson on waivers.
NHLPA executive board approves tentative CBA, three games per day are planned for the playoff tournament, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LATEST CBA AND RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
NHLPA: announced its executive board (which includes the 31 player representatives) approved the tentative extension to the collective bargaining agreement. It moves today to a ratification vote by the full PA membership. The results will be announced on Friday, July, 10.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The CBA extension is packaged with the return-to-play plan that requires the approval of the players and the NHL board of governors. A simple majority by the PA membership is needed to approve the CBA extension. Despite recent reports suggesting some players weren’t happy with the process of negotiations, this package is expected to be approved.
No word yet when the board of governors will vote. That will require a two-thirds majority but it is also expected to sail through.
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the return-to-play plan will see three games a day in both Edmonton and Toronto with local start times at noon, 4 pm and 8 pm. Given the two-hour time difference between those cities, it means six games spread over 15 hours per day, perhaps longer if games go into overtime.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Talk about hockey overdose! My wife is telling me to enjoy the rest of this month because she knows she won’t see much of me in August and September. That’s assuming COVID-19 doesn’t derail the planned tournament.
The seeding games involving the top-four clubs in each conference during the qualifying round won’t go into unlimited overtime to decide a winner. They’ll instead follow the regular season rules of a brief overtime period followed by a shootout if necessary.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The 16 teams involved in the qualifying round will be under playoff overtime rules.
McKenzie also reports the league has the power to deem players unfit to play if they think there’s a higher risk of that player becoming extremely ill if they contract COVID-19. He cites Montreal Canadiens’ center Max Domi and New York Rangers winger Kaapo Kakko as examples. Both are type 1 diabetics with celiac disease. To the best of McKenzie’s knowledge, Domi and Kakko intend to play, but doctors will have to sign off on that first.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes winger Justin Williams has concerns over the coronavirus, but he’s still keen to contend for the Stanley Cup. “I didn’t come back to play 20 games,” said Williams during a video media call. “I came back for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
Williams also stressed the need for the players to take responsibility to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
“You need to tighten up the bubble of people you’re hanging out with,” Williams said. “You need make your inner circle is pretty darn small because what you do affects everybody else.
“That’s pretty much the basis of what a team is anyway. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, but at this point your weakest link can take down your whole team.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s probably going to be the approach for all the teams throughout Phase 3. Despite the increase in detection, disinfection, and social-distancing protocols during the phase, the players will still be at risk because they’re still living at home, traveling to and from their team arenas and training facilities, and still in contact with the general public.
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW: Seth Rorabaugh provides further details about the league’s protocols for Phases 3 and 4.
Some of the noteworthy Phase 3 rules include the independent media being allowed at team facilities but prohibited from direct contact with the players, the players being discouraged from socializing with one another outside team facilities, and tighter restrictions on commonly-used items and food.
In Phase 4, everyone must use league-provided and approved transportation with the secure zone. There are detailed guidelines on the use of masks and face coverings, and a limited number of media allowed access to the games, with interviews conducted remotely. Speaking of the media…
CBC: Broadcasters and print journalists still have questions over how they’re going to cover the playoff tournament in the two host cities. Rob Corte, VP of Sportsnet and NHL Production, said those details have yet to be finalized. Frank Seravalli, president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, said the situation remains in flux.
It’s believed the broadcasts will be handled like the Olympics, with only cameramen, technicians, and production staff allowed inside the bubble while commentators call the games elsewhere from a live feed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The media won’t have the usual access during these two phases that they enjoy in normal situations. It will be challenging to provide the usual in-depth coverage. The teams might prefer the absence of media intrusion, especially during and immediately following the games.
ESPN.COM: Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, doesn’t expect any hurdles in negotiations with the league regarding its intention to return to the Winter Olympics. Issues such as health insurance, travel costs, and marketing rights must be worked out before NHL players can participate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The IIHF desperately wanted the NHL to take part in the 2018 Winter Games, even offering to pick up the tab for travel, insurance, and so on.
IN OTHER NEWS…
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Blackhawks released a statement indicating they intend to keep their name and logo but are committed to raising the bar even higher in their efforts to increase awareness of Native American culture. The statement comes amid discussions by the NFL’s Washington Redskins and MLB’s Cleveland Indians about changing their names.
TSN: The NHLPA will be in court today attempting to dismiss a lawsuit by a former employee alleging the cover-up of more than $100K from union funds by one of its executives between 2008 and 2019.
Phase 2 training groups expanded, update on the host city candidates, expiring player contracts tentatively extended to Oct. 31, plus the latest on John Tavares, Vladimir Tarasenko & more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LATEST RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reported the NHL will allow voluntary small-group training to expand from groups of six to 12 players effective today. It is a continuation of Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin reports Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares remains optimistic about the return-to-play plan despite 11 players testing positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began on June 8. Tavares, a return-to-play committee member, said the league and the NHLPA continue to listen to advice from infectious-disease experts.
“Certainly, you always have to be monitoring and preparing for the worst,” Tavares said. “But what we’ve been told by the experts and world health officials, everything they’re recommending, we’re more than capable of being able to come back and play as things continue to get better and improve. The other optimism I see is what’s gone on in other countries around the world that are a few weeks and steps ahead of us, especially in Europe, the soccer leagues in how they’ve handled it with their return to play. It seems there’s been some pretty positive progress. Some of those countries were hit pretty hard by the virus.”
Because players under Phase 2 haven’t faced league-imposed restrictions, Larkin feels it’s too early to declare last week’s positive tests as a threat to the return-to-play plan. The quarantine bubble under Phase 3 beginning July 10 would be much stricter. Nevertheless, Larkin believes the league could have a significant problem if cases still pop up among players in Phase 3.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Phase 3 will tell the tale. If COVID-19 cases spike during training camp, the league could be forced to reconsider its plans.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Pierre LeBrun reports Las Vegas, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver figure prominently among the six cities under considerations as hosts for Phase 4. Sources indicate Chicago remains in the running while Los Angeles keeps pushing. The NHL sent more detailed information on the hub city bids to the NHLPA for review.
LeBrun speculates it could be Vegas and Vancouver or Vegas and Edmonton, with Toronto just on the outside. Las Vegas’ proposed quarantine bubble is considered the tightest. If both bubble cities are in the west, the league isn’t concerned about home-ice advantage because there won’t be any fans in the stands.
THE SCORE: George McPhee, the Vegas Golden Knights president of hockey operations, believes Las Vegas is well-suited to become a host city.
“It’s a service business down there and they’re used to big, big events and they can handle this one,” said McPhee.
Edmonton, meanwhile, released details of its’ proposed Olympic Village-style set up for the players.
NBC SPORTS: Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul were ruled out as host city candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vegas’ bubble had better be the tightest because cases are rising there. Vancouver and Edmonton have significantly flattened its COVID-19 curve which bodes well for their respective host-city bids. The decision is expected at the end of this week.
SPORTSNET: The NHL and NHLPA have tentatively agreed to extend all expiring player contracts and work permits to the end of October pending approval of the return-to-play plan.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That includes players on the seven non-playoff clubs. The free-agent period usually begins on July 1. Looks like the market will instead open on November 1.
IN OTHER NEWS…
STLTODAY.COM: Vladimir Tarasenko took part in small-group training with several teammates on Monday. The St. Louis Blues winger had been sidelined since late October by a shoulder injury.
FOREVER BLUESHIRTS: New York Rangers winger Kaapo Kakko is exempt mandatory military service in his native Finland because he’s a type-1 diabetic.
THE SCORE: The International Ice Hockey Federation announced the 2021 World Championship will take place from May 21 to June 6. The 2020 championship was canceled due to COVID-19.
ESPN.COM: The Dallas Stars fired a visual effects designer over a racist comment made on social media.
STLTODAY.COM: Winger Chris Thorburn announced his retirement yesterday. He spent 801 games over 14 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets, and St. Louis Blues, tallying 53 goals and 134 points.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Thorburn in his future endeavors.
Eleven players, including reportedly Auston Matthews, test positive for COVID-19. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
11 NHL PLAYERS TESTING POSITIVE FOR COVID-19
NHL.COM: The NHL released a statement yesterday indicating 11 players out of over 200 had tested positive for COVID-19 since the implementation of Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan on June 8. Those players have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols.
The statement also indicated the league will provide a weekly update on the number of tests administered to players and the results. It won’t provide information on the identity of the players or their teams.
The league’s statement came after the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily closed their training facilities after three players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The Lightning claimed the players have self-isolated and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever.
It also comes after the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons reported Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews tested positive for the coronavirus. Simmons claimed Matthews was self-quarantined at home and hopes to be healthy enough and eligible to travel to Toronto to take part in the Leafs’ camp on July 10.
The Leafs subsequently released a statement saying they would not comment on the Sun report and would adhere to the league’s policy. “A person’s medical information in this regard is private,” it said.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: These reports yesterday come as the league and the NHL Players’ Association continue negotiations toward opening training camp on July 10 under Phase 3 and staging a 24-team playoff tournament under Phase 4 beginning in August. The news generated plenty of reaction on social media among fans and pundits.
Many believe the league should cancel the season, citing those reports as evidence the players’ health and safety cannot be assured under the current return-to-play plan. Others, however, point out those recent numbers involve players living and training in two states (Florida and Arizona) where COVID-19 cases are rising. They also note players currently training under Phase 2 are more exposed to the general public, whereas they’ll be far more protected under the quarantine bubble envisioned by the league for Phase 4.
Nevertheless, these latest numbers should be cause for concern. Phase 3 sees the players returning to their NHL cities for a three-week training camp before moving on to the two host cities for Phase 4. While the teams and players will follow stricter health protocols for Phase 3, they’ll still face ongoing exposure from the general public, especially in areas where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
The NHL may have greater control over its playing environment under Phase 4, but getting to that point remains uncertain, especially if more players test positive in the coming weeks. It’s also likely to heighten concerns among the NHLPA membership, who have the power to shut this down if they lack confidence they will be suitably protected.
The NHL also announced yesterday the approval of a cohort quarantine with the government of Canada for players entering the country, waiving the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. It paves the way for Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver to be chosen as one of the two host cities for the playoff tournament.
TORONTO SUN: Given the way COVID-19 cases are spiking in some parts of the United States, Lance Hornby suggests both host cities should be among those Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Las Vegas is considered among the favorites as one of the two hosts, but Nevada is also reportedly among the American states where coronavirus cases are rising. That could force the league to consider host cities where the pandemic curve is flattened or declining.
IN OTHER NEWS…
TSN: The Pittsburgh Penguins may be leaning toward Matt Murray as their starting goalie for the qualifying round of the 24-team tournament. The Penguins are slated to face the Montreal Canadiens.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given Murray’s playoff experience, including back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, it shouldn’t be surprising. Nevertheless, his performance and health during training camp will also factor into determining if he gets the nod to face the Habs.
NEW YORK POST: Kaapo Kakko’s doctors and the Rangers’ medical staff have agreed the rookie winger can take part in the Phase 3 training camp next month. Kakko is a type-1 diabetic who could be susceptible to complications if he contracts COVID-19.
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.