NHL Playoffs: Golden Knights Let Down By Top Players
Islanders get their first win of the Eastern Conference Final, Nathan MacKinnon wins the Lady Byng Trophy, the Penguins trade Nick Bjugstad to the Wild, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Brock Nelson’s tie-breaking goal late in the third period powered the New York Islanders to a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the third before Nelson scored and Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted the insurance goal. Isles goalie Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves for the win.
The Lightning leads the best-of-seven series two games to one. They were without two regulars in this contest. Winger Alex Killorn served a one-game suspension for boarding Nielsen in Game 2. Center Brayden Point was unfit to play following an undisclosed injury in Game 2.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A big win for the Isles to avoid falling behind 3-0 in the series. It appeared the Lightning were going to pull off a come-from-behind victory but the Isles proved their mettle in this one. Their top-six forwards led the way with Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier each netting a goal and an assist while Josh Bailey collected two assists.
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon is this year’s winner of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best displays sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability. He took just five minor penalties during the regular season while finishing fifth in points.
The Pittsburgh Penguins traded Nick Bjugstad last night to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a conditional draft pick in 2021. The 28-year-old center has a year remaining on his contract. Cap Friendly indicates they’re retaining $2.050 million of Bjugstad’s $4.1 million salary-cap hit for next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Acquired by the Penguins from the Florida Panthers in February 2019, Bjugstad was frequently sidelined by injuries, limited to just 13 games this season. He’ll get a chance to get his career back on track in his hometown next season. This is a salary dump by the Penguins as they attempt to clear some cap space, perhaps for other offseason moves.
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner rejected a report yesterday claiming he and the Golden Knights agreed to a five-year, $25-million contract back in June. “Yeah, well, it’s not true,” said Lehner. “You know, you have some talks and kind of (discuss) where you’re at, what you want to do. Nothing has been finalized.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The report might not be true but Lehner seems to suggest his camp has had some discussions with Golden Knights management. We know Lehner seeks stability after bouncing from Buffalo to the Islanders to the Blackhawks to Vegas since 2018. Perhaps he’ll find it with the Golden Knights. If so, that will only stoke speculation about Marc-Andre Fleury’s future with the club.
The 2020 NHL Draft will be held virtually from Oct. 6 and 7. The first round begins at 7 pm ET on Oct. 6, with rounds 2 through 7 taking place the following day beginning at 11:30 am ET. Broadcast times to be determined.
The NHL free-agent market opens at noon et on Friday, Oct. 9.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Kings re-signed defenseman Sean Walker to a four-year, $10.6 million contract extension. The annual average value is $2.65 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A good, affordable move by the Kings. As the report observed, Walker’s blossomed into a speedy, productive two-way blueliner. He’ll be a key piece of their rebuilding roster.
Golden Knights reportedly talking contract with Robin Lehner, plus the latest on the Bruins and Penguins in today’s NHL rumor mill.
REPORT: GOLDEN KNIGHTS HOLD CONTRACT TALKS WITH LEHNER
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Jesse Granger believes the Vegas Golden Knights intend to sign goaltender Robin Lehner to a long-term contract extension. He cites sources suggesting discussions between management and the Lehner camp might have already begun. Lehner, 29, is due to become an unrestricted free agent on Oct. 9.
With the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million next season, the Golden Knights only have $6.375 million in cap space. $3-$4 million of that could be taken up re-signing restricted free agents Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins. Granger estimates it could take a five-year deal at $5 million annually, possibly more, to keep Lehner in the fold.
Re-signing Lehner could mean parting ways with Marc-Andre Fleury, who has two years and $14 million remaining on his contract. Granger feels Fleury’s relationship with management has soured since Lehner’s acquisition at the February trade deadline. They could retain part of his cap hit to trade him, though he carries a 10-team no-trade list. They could also buy out the remainder of Fleury’s contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see what transpires, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Lehner is re-signed and Fleury traded or bought out. That’s been percolating in the rumor mill for some time, especially when Lehner got the bulk of the starts in the playoffs. It went to a full boil last month after Fleury’s agent tweeted an image of his client with a sword through his back and coach Peter DeBoer’s name on the blade.
Lehner or Fleury could draw the attention of the Colorado Avalanche. The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers suggested the Avs could pursue either goalie if they become available.
LATEST ON THE BRUINS
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Joe Haggerty reports Bruins general manager Don Sweeney intends to explore ways to improve his club between now and the start of the free-agent market on Oct. 9.
The toughest decision could be deciding whether to re-sign Torey Krug. Haggerty believes the Bruins would love to keep the 29-year-old pending UFA defenseman, but he doesn’t feel they’re in a good enough salary-cap place to do so.
Haggerty speculates Sweeney could look to within to bolster his lineup by promoting Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka into full-time roles next season. Making room for those two could mean moving out a winger like Jake DeBrusk. He’s a restricted free agent due for a significant raise but also an inconsistent scorer who managed just two points in 10 playoff games last month.
Haggerty wondered if Sweeney might consider shopping David Krejci. The 34-year-old center has one year left on his contract with an annual average value of $7.25 million who can be dealt to half the teams in the league based on the no-trade language in his contract.
Sweeney also said the Bruins have no reservations about goaltender Tuukka Rask after he opted out of the playoffs for family reasons. Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak both have a year left on their contracts and it appears the Bruins plan on continuing next season with their current goalie tandem. Sweeney pointed out Rask is up for the Vezina Trophy this year.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Krug seeks over $7 million annually, he’s probably played his final game with the Bruins. He’s indicated he’s not taking a hometown discount or a one-year deal. Boston Hockey Now’s Jimmy Murphy reports Sweeney said the two sides “haven’t found a landing spot yet.”
The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa (subscription required) also suggested DeBrusk could be a trade chip. However, he felt defenseman Brandon Carlo was more likely to move because he didn’t play up to his capabilities in the playoffs. However, if Krug departs I doubt they’ll trade away Carlo.
As for Krejci, his age, cap hit and modified no-trade make him difficult to move under the current economic conditions. He could be traded, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still suiting up with the Bruins next season.
UPDATE ON THE PENGUINS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Josh Yohe reports sources around the league have spoken with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford regarding defenseman Kris Letang. However, this isn’t uncommon and there’s no indication Letang is being actively shopped.
Yohe also reports all indications suggest the Pittsburgh Penguins will trade goaltender Matt Murray. Rutherford had little interest in moving goalie Tristan Jarry. The Penguins GM is willing to move center Jared McCann and perhaps Nick Bjugstad, though Rutherford isn’t opposed to keeping him. He also doesn’t sound interested in moving defenseman Jack Johnson.
TSN: Darren Dreger isn’t sure the speculation about Letang is legit, pointing out his agent said his client doesn’t expect to be moved. Dreger acknowledged the 33-year-old defenseman might still be traded, but it’s not his expectation. Other Penguins who could hit the trade block include Johnson, Patric Hornqvist, and Zach Aston-Reese.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was speculation yesterday claiming Letang was expecting a trade, but now his agent says otherwise. Damage control, perhaps? Or merely some confusion emerging from multiple sources on Letang’s status. Whatever it is, it seems likely Rutherford was talking to other clubs about the veteran blueliner but doesn’t appear close to considering a trade.
No one’s surprised Murray is the most likely of their two goalies to move. He’ll be more expensive for the Penguins to re-sign plus he’s also struggled with injuries and consistency over the past two years.
Hornqvist has a $5.3-million AAV through 2022-23 but his full no-trade clause becomes an eight-team no-trade list at the end of this season. He’s 33 and his style of play frequently leaves him banged-up but his experience and gritty style around the net could be enticing to other clubs.
McCann could also draw some interest. Bjugstad’s been hampered by injuries the past two years, appearing in 64 games last season and just 13 this season. That will put a damper on his trade value.
Golden Knights down the Stars to tie the Western Conference Final, the latest on Mathew Barzal and Kevin Shattenkirk, the dates for the draft and free agency are adjusted, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Vegas Golden Knights blanked the Dallas Stars 3-0 to even the 2020 Western Conference Final at a game apiece. Robin Lehner turned in a 24-save shutout while Paul Stastny had a goal and an assist. Game 3 is Thursday, Sept. 10 at 8 pm ET.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights took control of the game in the second period with three goals as they outshot the Stars 19-7. If not for Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin it would’ve been a more lopsided result. The Stars made things worse for themselves by taking six penalties, resulting in William Karlsson’s power-play goal that put Vegas up 2-0.
NEW YORK POST: Islanders center Mathew Barzal has matured as a player during his club’s postseason run. He played a crucial role in eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers with two goals and four assists in that seven-game series.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barzal sits third among Islanders scorers with 14 points, but it’s his all-around play that’s garnering attention in this postseason.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has nine points in this postseason, sitting second among Bolts blueliners behind Victor Hedman. Five of those points came in the last two games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Shattenkirk downplayed his recent production but he’s been quite effective for the Lightning in these playoffs. All but one of those points came at even strength.
TSN: The 2020 NHL Draft is slated for Oct. 6-7. The free-agent market opens on Oct. 9 at noon ET.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s shaping up to be a busy, interesting October.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: The Devils have hired Mark Recchi as an assistant coach.
SPORTSNET: Calgary’s Dampy Brar is the winner of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, presented to the individual “who best utilizes hockey as a platform to help people build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience.” Brar, who played minor pro in the IHL and West Coach Hockey League, now coaches and mentors youth, and co-founded the APNA Hockey program.
A Big Offseason Goalie Market
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TSN: Following the St. Louis Blues trading Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens, Frank Seravalli listed a number of goaltenders potentially available in the offseason.
Free-agent options include Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom, Vegas’ Robin Lehner, Washington’s Braden Holtby, Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, the New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, Chicago’s Corey Crawford, Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Edmonton’s Mike Smith, Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, Anaheim’s Ryan Miller, and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.
Possible trade chips include Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, Arizona’s Antti Raanta, and one of Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins.
Among the trade options, Seravalli reports the Penguins are believed to have an offer on the table for Murray. He speculates the Leafs, Oilers, Flames, Senators, Sabres and perhaps the Avalanche could become suitors.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This summer could be a buyer’s market for goaltenders. Plenty of options to choose from here.
Of the UFAs, I believe Markstrom, Lehner and Crawford will re-sign with their current clubs. The Stars could stick with Khudobin as Ben Bishop’s backup depending on what he seeks in his next contract. The Flyers could bring back Elliott for another year backing up Carter Hart.
Holtby, Greiss and Talbot would be the best available options. However, finding new homes and lucrative deals could be difficult to come by depending on what happens in the trade market.
The trade candidates are a mixed bag. Andersen could be the best of the bunch. He catches a lot of flak from some Leafs fans over his playoff record, but he’s not to blame for his club’s porous defense. It’s to his credit he’s posted up the numbers he has given his heavy workload.
Murray has two Stanley Cups on his resume but he’s also struggled with injuries and consistency over the past couple of years. Raanta is an outstanding netminder when he’s healthy but he’s often sidelined.
Korpisalo and Merzlikins both played well this season, but are they truly ready for full-time starter’s work? Either guy could be a bit of a gamble.
Fleury turns 36 in November and his play during this season in part prompted the acquisition of Lehner at the trade deadline. Lundqvist is past his prime and carries an $8.5 million cap hit next season with a full no-movement clause. I doubt the Rangers will find many takers for King Henrik unless he waives his NMC and the Blueshirts pick up a healthy chunk of his cap space.
Smith, Howard, Miller and Anderson are well past their prime. Maybe Miller returns with the Ducks for one last season. Otherwise, he and the others could face retirement.
THE EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples cited Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman including goalie Darcy Kuemper among the Arizona Coyotes’ trade chips. Staples feels Kuemper would be worth pursuing by the Oilers if they can clear out some money on defense. The Coyotes are without a first-round pick in the 2020 Draft, leading Staples to wonder if it would be wise for the Oilers to give up a first-rounder when other goalies could be more affordable in contract and return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Based on Kuemper’s performance this season, the Oilers should definitely look into acquiring him. I’m not saying they should overpay, but if what Kuemper did over the past two seasons is an indication of what lies ahead, he could be a big upgrade between the pipes in Edmonton. His performance in this year’s postseason will likely draw lots of interest from other clubs if the Coyotes shop him. As Friedman noted, however, that will depend upon what the next Coyotes’ GM wants to do.
THE ATHLETIC: James Mirtle examined the Leafs options to replace Andersen if they decide to trade him. While acknowledging there’s no guarantee they’ll move Andersen, Mirtle believes they have a legitimate interest in Robin Lehner and could be among the bidders for his services when he becomes a UFA.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehner will cost a lot more than the $5 million AAV the Leafs are paying Andersen for next season. He’s already making that much on a one-year deal. Yes, the flattened cap will have an effect upon Lehner’s next contract and those of his fellow pending UFAs. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got offers between $6-$7 million annually on a four- or five-year deal. The Leafs will have to shed more payroll if they hope to land Lehner.
Kevin Kurz recently observed the San Jose Sharks need a goaltender to pair with or supplant starter Martin Jones. He wondered if Andersen might be a better fit with the Sharks, noting he played his first three NHL seasons in the Western Conference with the Anaheim Ducks. If the Carolina Hurricanes decide to pursue a top-flight netminder, perhaps the Sharks could bring back James Reimer. He likely wouldn’t cost much beyond a mid-round pick.
The Lightning take a 3-1 series lead over the Bruins, the Islanders and Golden Knights go up 2-1 in their respective series, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Ondrej Palat scored twice and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves as the Tampa Bay Lightning downed the Boston Bruins 3-1 to take a 3-1 lead in their second-round series. Nikita Kucherov collected two assists for the Bolts.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You can read my take of this game by following this link. If both teams keep playing the way they have over the past three games, this series could be over on Monday evening.
Three unanswered goals by Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, and Anders Lee gave the New York Islanders a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers and a 2-1 lead in their second-round series. Semyon Varlamov returned to the net after giving up three goals on 10 shots in Game 2, stopping 26 shots for the win.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A strong first period by the Flyers was snuffed out by the Isles’ solid defense and opportunistic scoring over the next two periods. In what’s become a running theme in this postseason, the Flyers’ leading scorers weren’t much of a factor. Their playoff bubble will burst if this trend continues.
Robin Lehner picked up his second shutout in three games by kicking out 31 shots to blank the Vancouver Canucks 3-0. Alex Tuch and Zach Whitecloud scored in the first period and Mark Stone tallied in the third. The Golden Knights lead the series 2-1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The game was pretty much over in the first period when Vancouver failed to cash in on a 5-on-3 opportunity. Defensive mistakes by the Canucks led to all three Vegas goals, the most egregious being Alex Tuch blazing through the defense to open the scoring.
Easy to point the finger at Benn on Tuch’s goal, but Beagle should’ve recognized that Benn had stepped up and stayed with Tuch. Not that Beagle would’ve had much luck keeping pace with Tuch… pic.twitter.com/vAbDBZ5hnN
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) August 30, 2020
THE DENVER POST: The recent two-day protest pause in the schedule could help the Colorado Avalanche, allowing banged-up players like Nikita Zadorov, Joonas Donskoi, and Matt Calvert a chance to heal and return to the lineup.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: George Richards reports former Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli could be the one to watch as the Florida Panthers narrow their list of contenders for their general manager position.
TSN: Darren Dreger reports NBC Sports hockey analyst Ed Olczyk has interviewed for the GM position.
NEW YORK POST: Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury has withdrawn his name from consideration for the Panthers job.
SPORTSNET: Kevin Weekes, Mike Futa and Bill Armstrong are also being considered by the Panthers, as well as the Arizona Coyotes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out for the Panthers and Coyotes. Both clubs desperately need quality management.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The San Jose Sharks re-signed center Joel Kellman to a two-year contract extension worth an annual average value of $750K. The first season is a two-way deal.