No Lead Is Safe In The NHL This Season
Recaps of Thursday’s action, the league introduces enhanced COVID-19 protocols, two more Flyers are added to the protocol list and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Evgeni Malkin’s game-tying goal late in the third period set the stage for Sidney Crosby’s shootout winner as the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the New York Islanders 4-3. Penguins Bryan Rust had a goal and an assist while teammate Zach Aston-Reese scored in his first game since returning from offseason shoulder surgery.
The Florida Panthers picked up a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to snap the latter’s six-game winning streak. Alex Wennberg and Aaron Ekblad each tallied a goal and an assist for the Panthers, who were playing without winger Anthony Duclair as he was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. The Lightning played without captain Steven Stamkos, who’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers have 18 points (8-1-2) and sit one point behind the Lightning in the Central Division.
A four-goal third period rallied the Columbus Blue Jackets from a 4-2 deficit to nip the Chicago Blackhawks 6-5, ending the latter’s three-game win streak. Cam Atkinson scored and collected three assists while Jack Roslovic tallied twice. Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat each had a goal and two assists. The Blackhawks played without Andrew Shaw as he suffered another concussion during Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars. They also learned defenseman Connor Murphy will miss 10-14 days with an injured right hip.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Shaw has a history of head injuries. It may be time for him to consider retirement rather than risk further serious injury by continuing his playing career. Roslovic, meanwhile, has four goals and nine points in eight games since being acquired from the Winnipeg Jets and now centers the Jackets’ top line.
The Nashville Predators ended a three-game losing skid by clipping the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. Dante Fabbro netted the game-winner in the final minute of the third period. Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm missed the game with an undisclosed injury and was placed on injured reserve.
Connor Hellebuyck made 41 saves backstopping the Winnipeg Jets over the Ottawa Senators 5-1, handing the latter their fourth straight defeat. The Senators also lost goalie Matt Murray as he left the game after two periods following a collision with teammate Nikita Zaitsev. More information about his condition could be released later today.
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith made 38 saves for his 40th career shutout to blank the slumping Montreal Canadiens 3-0. Jujhar Khaira, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie were the goal scorers. The start time for the game was pushed back an hour after Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi was held out of the game-day skate and placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. The game was allowed to proceed following rapid testing of his teammates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens have returned to earth after their red-hot start. They’ve dropped three of their last four games and managed just six goals during that period. Opponents have neutralized the Habs’ offense by clogging the neutral zone and outworking them in their own zone. In recent years the Canadiens have started strong only to suffer setbacks during the second quarter of the schedule that leaves them struggling over the remainder of the season. Time will tell if the latest slump is a minor speed bump or the harbinger of yet another collapse.
The Carolina Hurricanes dumped the Dallas Stars 5-3 to hand the latter their four straight loss. Nino Niederreiter broke a 3-3 tie with a breakaway goal early in the third period. Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho each had a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes. Stars defenseman Andrej Sekera returned to the lineup after spending a week on the COVID-19 protocol list while goalie Anton Khudobin played his first game after being scratched from Sunday’s game for missing Saturday’s practice.
Jacob Markstrom made 33 saves to give the Calgary Flames a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Markstrom and teammates Chris Tanev and Josh Leivo were playing their first game in Vancouver since the former Canucks signed with the Flames last fall. Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano each collected two points for the Flames while the spiraling Canucks suffered their sixth straight defeat.
The Los Angeles Kings picked up their first win in six games by thumping the San Jose Sharks 6-2. Drew Doughty collected three assists for the Kings while Tomas Hertl scored both goals for the Sharks. Earlier in the day, the Sharks announced goaltender Devan Dubnyk was listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sharks coach Bob Boughner called out goalie Martin Jones following this game, saying his performance was “not up to our standard.” Jones (5-3-0) has been erratic, playing well in his victories and getting pulled early in each of his defeats this season.
Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson made 21 saves to shut out the Vegas Golden Knights 1-0. Max Comtois tallied the lone goal as Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (27 saves) suffered his first loss of the season. The Golden Knights played without netminder Robin Lehner, who’s listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
SPORTSNET: The NHL is adding game-day rapid testing for players, team personnel and on-ice officials as part of its expanded safety protocols in hope of stemming potential COVID-19 outbreaks.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: The number of Flyers on the COVID-19 protocol list rose to five as Jakub Voracek and Morgan Frost were added on Thursday. The club’s next scheduled game is Feb. 18, after which they’re slated to travel to Nevada to face the Boston Bruins in an outdoor game at Lake Tahoe.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL could be forced to find a replacement for the Flyers in that game or postpone that contest and shift it to an indoor venue at a later date.
TWINCITIES.COM: The Minnesota Wild are cleared to resume team activities today though 12 players remain on the protocol list. They are scheduled to return to action against the Kings on Tuesday.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes fired assistant general manager Steve Sullivan, adding they would not be seeking a replacement for him. Sullivan was interim GM after John Chayka left his role with the club last summer.
CBS SPORTS: A lower-body injury will sideline Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk against the New York Rangers tonight.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery today.
NHL.COM: Willie O’Ree’s number retirement ceremony has been rescheduled to Jan. 18, 2022, to allow for in-person attendance. A trailblazer for players of color, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2018. He’ll become the 12th player in Bruins history to have his number retired.
The latest on Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, Canucks acquire Nate Schmidt, the Islanders sign Cory Schneider and trade Devon Toews to the Avalanche, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPORTSNET: Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said he will be keeping his goaltending tandem intact for next season and won’t be trading Marc-Andre Fleury. He also indicated Robin Lehner will undergo shoulder surgery but will recover in time for training camp.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fleury was the subject of trade speculation after Lehner got the bulk of the starts in the playoffs and signed a contract extension earlier this month. There was talk they were trying to move Fleury by getting a third team involved who would absorb part of his $7 million salary-cap hit. It was assumed he’d be moved to clear salary-cap space to sign Alex Pietrangelo, but the Golden Knights made another move (see below) to address that issue.
The coming season could be Fleury’s last in Vegas. He lacks a full no-movement clause and will likely be left unprotected in next year’s expansion draft.
THE PROVINCE: The Golden Knights found another way to shed some cap payroll after signing Pietrangelo yesterday, trading Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in 2022.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights shed Schmidt’s $5.95 million cap hit. They’re still above the $81.5 million salary cap by over $974K but that’s within the 10 percent allowable offseason cap overage.
The Canucks, meanwhile, find a suitable replacement for Chris Tanev, who signed with Calgary as a free agent. Schmidt is a good puck-moving defenseman who can log over 21 minutes per game and skate on the left or right side of the blueline. He’s got five years remaining on his contract, which could become a cap headache in the latter years, but he should be a welcome addition to the Canucks defense corps in the short term.
TSN: The New York Islanders signed goaltender Cory Schneider to a one-year, $700K contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Isles are expected to go with Semyon Varlamov and promising Ilya Sorokin as their goalie tandem next season. Schneider is an affordable insurance move in case Sorokin struggles to adjust at the NHL level.
THE DENVER POST: The Colorado Avalanche acquired defenseman Devon Toews from the Islanders in exchange for a second-round pick in 2021 and a second-rounder in 2022. They also re-signed defenseman Ryan Graves to a three-year, $9.5 million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Avs were looking for a defenseman after shipping Nikita Zadorov to Chicago for Brandon Saad over the weekend. Toews, 26, is a fine replacement. Colorado GM Joe Sakic sang his praises as “a smart, two-way puck-moving defenseman” who logs over 20 minutes per game and is “excellent in transition”.
Graves’ new contract is worth an annual average value of $3.16 million. That’s a considerable raise over the $735K of his previous deal. He earned it with a career-best 26-point performance and a league-leading plus-minus of plus-40.
Speaking of the Avalanche, The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark took to Twitter reporting preliminary contract talks have begun with captain Gabriel Landeskog. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: The Flyers signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year, $3-million contract.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: The Blackhawks signed center Mattias Janmark to a one-year, $2.25-million contract and center Lucas Wallmark to a one-year deal worth $950K.
TWINCITIES.COM: The Minnesota Wild re-signed goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen to a two-year, $1.45-million contract.
NEW YORK POST: Alexis Lafreniere signed a three-year entry-level contract with the New York Rangers. The 19-year-old left-winger was the first-overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.
THE ATHLETIC: Bill Shea reports talks are ongoing to extend the NHL’s 10-year, $2-billion broadcast rights contract with NBC Sports that expires at the end of next season. While the league’s playoff ratings were down due to the pandemic, it still helped NBCSN have one of its best-ever third quarters. ESPN, Fox Sports and Turner Sports are also interested in the NHL’s TV and streaming business.
TSN reports the Vegas Golden Knights have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a five-year, $25-million contract. The annual average value is $5 million. Lehner, 28, was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on Oct. 9.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehner probably could’ve received a higher annual average value on the open market. But after spending the past two seasons bouncing from the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders to the Chicago Blackhawks to the Golden Knights, he obviously wanted long-term security. The uncertainty over league revenue and the salary cap generated by COVID-19 may have also factored into this decision.
In 2018-19, Lehner won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and shared the William M. Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss. He was also a finalist that season for the Vezina Trophy. Acquired from the Blackhawks at the February trade deadline, Lehner outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury and took over the starter’s job in the 2020 playoffs.
The Golden Knights believe their future in goal rests with Lehner. The question now is what the future holds for Fleury. He’s indicated a willingness to stay and share the crease with Lehner. However, his $7 million annual average value through 2021-22 will be a problem for the Golden Knights, whose payroll sits just over the $81.5 million cap ceiling.
Someone’s got to go and it could Fleury via the trade market. He’s got a 10-team no-trade list, giving the Golden Knights some flexibility to find a suitable trade partner.