NHL Playoffs: Lightning One Win Away From Stanley Cup Final
Lightning edge Islanders to take 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final, Bruce Cassidy wins the Jack Adams Award, GM of the Year finalists announced, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Nikita Kucherov scored with 8.8 seconds remaining in regulation as the Tampa Bay Lightning edged the New York Islanders 2-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning holds a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Islanders winger Matt Martin opened the scoring in the first period but Victor Hedman tied it before the period was over.
This was a close-checking, physical contest. Lightning winger Alex Killorn was ejected early in the first period for boarding Isles center Brock Nelson, who left the game under concussion protocol but returned to action. Martin and Luke Schenn received fighting majors early in the second period. Martin and Pat Maroon received roughing minors later in the period.
It was a costly victory for the Lightning as first-line center Brayden Point left the game in the second period with an apparent lower-body injury. Head coach Jon Cooper said an update on Point’s condition could be revealed on Thursday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was a heartbreaking loss for the Islanders. They rebounded well from their 8-2 blowout loss in Game 1 and did a good job for the most part shutting down the Lightning’s offense until Kucherov struck in the dying seconds. They outshot the Bolts 13-4 in the first period and 28-21 overall.
However, the Isles couldn’t get more than one puck past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and failed to capitalize on four power-play opportunities. They now find themselves in a deep hole against a very talented club approaching Game 3 on Friday night.
Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins is the 2020 winner of the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. He guided the Bruins to this season’s best record as they were the only club to reach 100 points, winning the Presidents’ Trophy for their efforts.
Julien BriseBois of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders, and Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars are this year’s finalists for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.
TSN: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is still targeting an 82-games schedule for 2020-21. However, he admitted the projected start date of Dec. 1 appears less likely. They’re also hoping to have fans in the stands when they reopen but can’t guarantee that’ll be the case. Daly also doesn’t think it would be a problem if the league staged games next summer, pointing to how well ice conditions held up in the bubble cities of Edmonton and Toronto.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barring a miracle, next season won’t open on Dec.1. Or Jan. 1. And I have my doubts it’ll start on Feb. 1. My guess is we’ll see a shortened schedule between 50-60 games starting in mid-February at the earliest, with the playoffs running into late-July.
THE SCORE: NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire is no longer in the running for the Arizona Coyotes’ vacant general manager position.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Several folks on Twitter yesterday observed McGuire almost always seems to be in the running for a GM job and always seems to be the first one eliminated from the competition.
Meanwhile, Arizona Coyotes Insider Craig Morgan reports former Coyotes captain Shane Doan isn’t under consideration for the job. He cites several sources suggesting the club believes Doan, who works for the NHL, had a hand in the sanctions the league handed the Coyotes for violating fitness testing rules for draft-eligible players. However, there’s no indication Doan was involved in the league’s decision.
THE ATHLETIC: Dan Hinote is expected to join the Nashville Predators as an assistant coach.
The latest on the Canadiens, Oilers, and Red Wings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin examined how the Montreal Canadiens could use their cap space and their stockpile of draft picks and prospects to acquire players who otherwise wouldn’t be available at bargain prices.
They believe the Canadiens don’t have to trade winger Max Domi, who’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Despite his tepid playoffs, they feel he still has value to the Canadiens as a skilled offensive player. However, that could also make Domi valuable to other clubs. The Canadiens could swap him for another RFA like Detroit’s Anthony Mantha or Columbus’ Josh Anderson, package him with a first-round pick in hopes of landing an impact player or swing a hockey trade by shopping him to a club like the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Jonas Brodin.
Basu and Godin wonder whether the Habs would shop the first-round pick (16th overall) in this year’s draft for immediate help. The Habs could also use the flattened salary cap to their advantage by re-signing players like Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to value deals. They could go the free-agent route to fill minor holes in the lineup, such as their backup goaltending.
They also suggested looking at trade targets on cap-strapped teams, pointing to Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn, Dallas’ Stephen Johns, and Columbus’ Markus Nutivaara. Killorn would bolster their forward lines (provided he waives his no-trade clause), while Johns or Nutivaara are right-side defensemen.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey reports Danault could face an uncertain future in Montreal with the rise of promising young centers like Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki. The two-way center was employed in a defensive role during the playoffs but indicated he wouldn’t want to limit himself to that specific part. With what he’s contributed in Montreal, Danault doesn’t expect his role will change, pointing out his offensive and defensive contributions.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is expected to be busy in the off-season. He has a lot of assets to draw upon. Cap Friendly indicates the Canadiens have over $63 million invested in 16 players for next season, giving him plenty of room to take on a salaried player or two. He’s also got 14 picks in this year’s draft, including three in the second and fourth rounds and two in the third and fifth rounds He also holds eight picks through rounds three, four, and five of the 2021 draft.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Domi in the offseason. He’s considered the Habs’ most likely trade chip, but that will depend upon how contract discussions go and his value in the trade market.
Danault’s remarks about playing solely a defensive role prompted some fans and pundits to speculate he could be on his way out of Montreal, but I don’t think that’s the case. Reading his full remarks, he indicated he believes his role won’t change. I agree with him. He remains the Habs’ best two-way forward. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi played well in the postseason, but they still have limited NHL experience. I think Bergevin will stick with Danault centering one of his top-two lines for next season and see how things unfold.
As Basu and Godin point out, Bergevin must be careful not to overspend. He has a lot of cap space to work with for next season, but Danault, Gallagher, Petry, Armia, and Tartar become unrestricted free agents in 2021. The Habs GM can’t take on so much salary this year that it adversely affects efforts to retain most of those pending UFAs next summer.
MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan recently examined the unrestricted free agent goaltending options for the Detroit Red Wings. Among them are Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Washington’s Braden Holtby, Vegas’ Robin Lehner, Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom, Chicago’s Corey Crawford, Dallas’ Anton Khudobin and the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Khan also listed Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott and Edmonton’s Mike Smith, but I don’t believe either guy can help the Wings between the pipes. They need an experienced starter.
With over $47 million invested in 11 players for 2020-21, the Wings have plenty of salary-cap space to go shopping for goalie help in the UFA market. Nevertheless, GM Steve Yzerman will have to sell them on the merits of joining his rebuilding club. Markstrom and Crawford will likely stay with their current clubs. Lehner, too, if Vegas decides to part ways with Marc-Andre Fleury.
THE ATHLETIC: (subscription required) Max Bultman recently examined possible ways the Wings could address their second-line center position. He suggested Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot or Colorado’s Tyson Jost as trade options. Nashville’s Kyle Turris could be a free-agent option if the Predators buy out his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bultman’s article appears before the Leafs traded winger Kasperi Kapanen. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas hinted more changes could come but that doesn’t mean Kerfoot could follow Kapanen out the door.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples cited NHL insider Brian Lawton speculating the Oilers could trade two of their top-four defensemen. Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, and Ethan Bear currently hold those spots.
Staples doesn’t see Bear going anywhere and thinks Nurse’s leadership, skating, physical play, and even-strength scoring should keep him in Edmonton. He took note of the recent speculation suggesting Larsson could be shopped, and also felt Klefbom could be moved if the right offer (No. 1 goal, top-line forward) came along.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Allan Mitchell recently listed Florida winger Mike Hoffman, Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner, and Boston defenseman Torey Krug among his suggested free-agent targets for the Oilers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Oilers have over $70.4 million committed to 16 players next season. Unless they shed considerable salary, they can’t afford guys like Hoffman, Lehner, or Krug. If GM Ken Holland were to trade Larsson and/or Klefbom in cost-cutting moves, that would free up sufficient cap space for a proven starting goalie or a top-line forward.
Has Henrik Lundqvist played his final game with the Rangers? What’s the latest Devils’ speculation? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NEW YORK POST: During his analysis of the Rangers’ 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of their qualifying-round series, Larry Brooks wondered if goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played his final game for the Blueshirts. The long-time Rangers starter has appeared in 129 consecutive playoff games.
With the Rangers facing elimination today, Brooks speculates Igor Shesterkin could get the start if healthy or backup Alexandar Georgiev could get the call.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lundqvist didn’t play badly in Game 2, but he wasn’t as sharp as in Game 1. As a team, the Rangers have struggled against the Hurricanes’ smothering forecheck. Head coach David Quinn could opt for Shesterkin or Georgiev as part of a lineup shake-up for today’s crucial Game 3.
Lundqvist has one year remaining on his contract worth an annual average value of $8.5 million. He also carries a full no-movement clause. Since Shesterkin joined the lineup there’s been growing speculation the Rangers could ask him to waive his clause. Their other option is buying out his contract.
The Rangers need to free up the cap room to re-sign or replace Georgiev, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Lemieux, and Ryan Strome. They’re slated to become restricted free agents with arbitration rights at the end of the season. Trading or buying out Lundqvist could be the only solution.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Corey Masisak was asked about the possibility of the New Jersey Devils moving defenseman P.K. Subban in the off-season. He doesn’t expect that will happen, suggesting Subban’s trade value is lower than it was a year ago when the Devils acquired him. His contract also runs through 2021-22 and carries an annual cap hit of $9 million. He doubts the Devils will give up on the blueliner after one bad season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Subban’s play declined over the past two seasons. Combine that with his cap hit and the Devils won’t find many takers unless they agree to pick up half of his AAV, and even then, they’ll probably have to add a sweetener.
Asked if Tampa Bay Lightning winger Alex Killorn would be a fit with the Devils, Masisak believes he’d be a good trade target, provided the Devils aren’t on his 16-team no-trade list. He also likes the fact Killorn has three years remaining on his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Killorn would be a terrific addition among the Devils’ top-six forwards. The Lightning could shop him to free up cap space to re-sign Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. The sticking point, of course, is his modified no-trade, but if the Devils are on his list of preferred destinations, they should definitely explore that option.
Check out the latest on the Devils and Kings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Corey Masisak recently examined how next season’s flat salary cap of $81.5 million could benefit the New Jersey Devils. He observed they’ll have over $27 million in cap space and lots of roster holes to fill.
Part of that will be taken up re-signing restricted free agents such as goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, defenseman Mirco Mueller, and forward Jesper Bratt. They could also promote two or three players like Nick Merkley, Janne Kuokkanen, and Ty Smith.
Assuming around $14 million of remaining cap space following re-signings of key players and promotions, general manager Tom Fitzgerald will have sufficient flexibility to bring in some skilled veterans via trades and free agency.
Among his suggested Eastern targets were Tampa Bay Lightning winger Alex Killorn, Columbus Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson, and Florida Panthers wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov. Western options could include St. Louis Blues defensemen Vince Dunn, Minnesota Wild blueliner Jonas Brodin, and San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In an ordinary year, I’d make the case that a rebuilding club like the Devils might not be a desirable destination for free agents or players with no-trade clauses. However, it could be a different story under the new economic landscape.
Players that otherwise wouldn’t be available via trade could become expendable for teams trying to shed salary, while free agents seeking lucrative contracts could find the Devils more appealing. Perhaps one or two of those on Masisak’s list will be sporting Devils jerseys next season.
That depends, of course, on how much Devils ownership is willing to invest next season. Just because they’ll have lots of cap room doesn’t mean they’re going to spend to the cap.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Lisa Dillman was asked about the odds of the Los Angeles Kings signing a restricted free agent such as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to an offer sheet. She considers those odds virtually nil, as that rarely-used tactic seldom pans out. The Kings have other plans and ideas for rebuilding their roster.
Asked if the Kings might take on a bad contract for assets from a cap-strapped club, Dillman pointed out they’ve never been aggressive in complex deals like those. She also noted that’s not something GM Rob Blake has pursued in the past. She also doesn’t seek the Kings making a big splash in this year’s UFA market, though they could look at some bargain signings.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Blake and the rest of the Kings’ front office have put their focus on rebuilding with youth, primarily from within their system. Their prospect depth is considered among the best in the league right now. Blake could keep his powder dry for next summer’s UFA market when there could be better options available.