2020 NHL Playoffs: Flyers, Canadiens Could Face a Scrappy Game 6
The Stars and Islanders advance to the second round, Matt Niskanen gets a one-game suspension for a cross-check that fractured Brendan Gallagher’s jaw and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Denis Gurianov scored four times as the Dallas Stars overcame a 3-0 deficit with seven unanswered goals to crush the Calgary Flames 7-3, winning their opening-round series four games to two. Five of those goals came in the second period. Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen had a goal and three assists while teammate Joe Pavelski tallied one goal and set up two others.
— Spector’s Hockey (@SpectorsHockey) August 21, 2020
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A well-deserved victory for the Stars in this game and in this series. They’ll face the Colorado Avalanche in the second round. I was very impressed with Heiskanen’s performance in this series. The 21-year-old NHL sophomore is rapidly blossoming into an elite defenseman. Pavelski, meanwhile, continues to prove at 36 he’s still a reliable postseason performer. As for the Flames, some big changes could be coming after this meltdown.
Anthony Beauvillier scored twice, including the game-winner, as the New York Islanders blanked the Washington Capitals 4-0 to take their first-round series four games to one. Semyon Varlamov made 21 saves for the shutout.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A dominant performance by the Islanders, shutting down the league’s second-best offensive team. It was a master class by Isles bench boss Barry Trotz as he outcoached the Capitals’ Todd Reirden in this series. Two years following the Caps’ Stanley Cup championship, some changes could be in store for the roster and behind the bench.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: The NHL Department of Player Safety handed a one-game suspension to Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen for cross-checking Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher in the face during Game 5 of their first-round series.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Niskanen’s cross-check fractured Gallagher’s jaw, sidelining the Canadiens winger for the remainder of this series and possibly longer should the Habs advance to the second round.
CBS SPORTS: Vancouver Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers suffered a slightly separated shoulder. He’ll be sidelined for the remainder of the Canucks’ series with the St. Louis Blues. Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli (lower-body injury) could be in the lineup for Game 6 tonight.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Former NHL coach Bill Peters has tested positive for COVID-19. The head coach of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, Peters is reportedly asymptomatic.
Jordan Eberle and Jared Spurgeon each tally hat tricks, the Jets acquire Cody Eakin from the Golden Knights, the Avalanche re-sign Pavel Francouz, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: On the night the New York Islanders honored John Tonelli, Jordan Eberle netted a hat trick to lead them to a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The Islanders (74 points) hold the first wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings are officially eliminated from playoff contention. Earlier in the day, the Isles placed Cal Clutterbuck on injured reserve, while the Red Wings claimed defenseman Cody Goloubef off waivers from the Ottawa Senators.
Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon netted a natural hat trick to beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins collected three points for the Oilers. The Wild (65 points) sit three points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Goaltender Pavel Francouz celebrated his two-year, $4-million contract extension with the Colorado Avalanche by kicking out 26 shots to blank the Anaheim Ducks 1-0. J.T. Compher scored the only goal as the Avs (77 points) move one point ahead of the Dallas Stars for second in the Central Division.
The St. Louis Blues (80 points) opened a three-point lead atop the Western Conference by beating the Stars 5-1, leaving the latter four points behind them. Blues defenseman Colton Parayko had a goal and two assists.
Mika Zibanejad scored and set up two others to lead the New York Rangers over the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2. Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho tallied his 35th goal of the season. With 68 points, the Rangers sit five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Hurricanes (72 points) are one point behind the Jackets.
Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat scored twice in a 2-1 overtime win over the Nashville Predators. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford made 42 saves for the win. The Predators (68 points) sit two behind the Calgary Flames for the final Western Conference wild-card spot. The Blackhawks made defenseman Erik Gustafsson a late scratch, prompting speculation he could be moved before the upcoming Feb. 24 trade deadline.
Speaking of the Flames, they blew a 3-1 lead to drop a 4-3 decision to the Boston Bruins. Patrice Bergeron scored twice and David Pastrnak had two assists as the Bruins (90 points) won their fifth straight and widened their lead atop the overall standings by five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mikael Backlund scored two goals for the Flames.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eakin is expected to center the Jets’ fourth line, providing an additional measure of experienced depth to their bottom-six forward lines. By shedding Eakin’s $3.85 million salary-cap hit, the Golden Knights freed up cap room for perhaps another deal before the upcoming trade deadline.
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres yesterday placed defenseman Zach Bogosian on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. If unclaimed by noon today, Bogosian will become an unrestricted free agent.
TSN: Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan opened up about his alcohol addiction and his ongoing treatment. He’s returning to the lineup after being out of action for three months participating in the NHL player assistance program.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Ryan on his path forward.
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand will be sidelined eight-to-ten weeks with a sprained and factured ankle.
The NHL Department of Player Safety fined Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen $5,000.00 for slashing and Senators forward Scott Sabourin over $1.881.00 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
TVA SPORTS: With Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet sidelined by injuries, the Montreal Canadiens recalled defenseman Karl Alzner.
The Washington Capitals traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas. The Flyers also retained 30 percent of Gudas’ $3.35-million annual cap hit. He has one year remaining on his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Niskanen was rumored to be on the trade block as the Capitals sought to shed salary. Cap Friendly indicates this move reduces their current salary-cap payroll to just over $70.5 million.
Assuming next season’s cap reaches $83 million as projected, they’ll have over $12 million to re-sign several key players. Those include pending unrestricted free agent winger Brett Connolly and restricted free agents Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky. The Capitals are giving up skill in Niskanen but Gudas brings an affordable measure of toughness to their blueline.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher intends to use his plentiful cap room to bolster his lineup this offseason. Niskanen will provide all-around defensive skill, postseason experience, and leadership to the Flyers’ defense corps. He’s signed through 2020-21 with an annual average value of $5.75 million. The Flyers can easily afford that cap hit for the next two years as they wait for their younger blueliners to improve.
With nearly $52 million committed to 15 players, Fletcher has over $30 million to worth with. I daresay he’s not done making moves this summer.
Updates on the Sharks and Capitals plus another list of potential buyout candidates in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST SHARKS SPECULATION
THE SCORE: Josh Wegman speculates the San Jose Sharks roster could undergo “a dramatic transformation” this summer. He suggests re-signing restricted free agents Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc could cost a combined $10 million. That will put a significant dent into their salary-cap space.
Wegman doesn’t think defenseman Erik Karlsson’s recent injury history will prevent him from getting top dollar on the open market in July. He doubts the Sharks can afford to re-sign both Karlsson and captain Joe Pavelski. It’s also unlikely they can afford to re-sign pending UFA forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi. Nevertheless, they could keep their championship window open if Pavelski and Joe Thornton don’t return and they find a way to retain Karlsson.
NBC SPORTS: Joey Alfieri also looked at what’s next for pending UFAs Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton. While the 34-year-old Pavelski is a durable all-around player, Alfieri wonders if they can afford to bring him back at any cost. Still, he expects the Sharks will find a way to keep their captain. As for Thornton, he could be an effective third-line center if he’s up to it.
Karlsson’s recent injury woes make re-signing him to a lengthy, expensive contract a huge risk. It’s uncertain if he wants to return with the Sharks or not. Alfieri believes there’s no certainty Karlsson will accept a discount to stay in San Jose.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The status of Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton will dominate the Sharks’ rumor mill leading up to the start of free agency on July 1. Cap Friendly indicates the Sharks have over $58.2 million invested in 15 players. If the cap reaches $83 million as projected, they’ll have around $24 million in cap space.
Assuming it takes $10 million to re-sign Meier and Labanc (and I agree with Wegman that it could cost that much), they’ll have only $14 million left. That won’t leave much for Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton. Of those three, I expect Pavelski will be re-signed. Thornton, too, if he decides he’s got one more season left in the tank.
Of course, general manager Doug Wilson could pull a swerve, cut ties with Pavelski and Thornton, and re-sign Karlsson. But as Wegman and Alfieri noted, the 28-year-old defenseman’s health is now a concern. If Karlsson is intent on a lucrative long-term deal, we’ve probably seen the last of him in a Sharks sweater.
RECENT CAPITALS TRADE CHATTER
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: In two recent mailbag segments, J.J. Regan addressed questions from Capitals fans regarding the club’s possible offseason moves. He believes that’ll depend upon the cost of re-signing RFA winger Jakub Vrana.
Regan doesn’t expect GM Brian MacLellan will make an extreme move like trading goalie Braden Holtby to free up salary-cap space. Holtby is slated to become a UFA next summer. He sees defenseman Matt Niskanen as a possible cost-cutting trade candidate. That move could come leading up to next month’s NHL Draft weekend. It could free up space to pursue forward depth in July via free agency.
Regan doesn’t see the Capitals pursuing big-ticket UFAs like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson. Winger Carl Hagelin is most likely to depart via free agency this summer. Regan wonders if Brett Connolly will consider re-signing him for less than market value. He also suggested the Capitals could decide not to qualify RFA winger Andre Burakovsky’s rights and convince him to accept a lesser deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $72.9 million tied up in 16 players, the Capitals will have around $10 million in cap space. Niskanen, 32, is earning $5.75-million per season and carries a 10-team no-trade list. However, he’s also a skilled defenseman with a right-handed shot with just two seasons remaining on his contract. Those factors could make Niskanen enticing for clubs seeking experienced blueline depth.
With Niskanen’s salary off their books, the Capitals could have room to re-sign Vrana to perhaps an affordable bridge deal. That could leave enough to retain Connolly and Burakovsky if they’re willing to accept less money to stay put.
MORE POTENTIAL BUYOUT CANDIDATES
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox recently listed 10 potential buyout candidates, examining the pros and cons for each. Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry, Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic and Vancouver Canucks winger Loui Eriksson were the notable names on his list. Carolina’s Scott Darling, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader, Edmonton’s Andrej Sekera, Los Angeles’ Dion Phaneuf, Montreal’s Karl Alzner, and the Rangers’ Brendan Smith also made Fox’s list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox details the cost for each club of these buyouts and whether they’re worthwhile to do. Darling, Phaneuf, and Callahan seem the most likely to be bought out. The Lightning could prefer trading Callahan. If they can’t find any takers they’ll probably go the buyout route to free up cap space to re-sign Brayden Point.
Perry may look like a buyout candidate but I wonder if Ducks GM Bob Murray is willing to go that route. The former Hart Trophy winner’s production has declined in recent years but, as Fox points out, injuries took a toll on his performance. Murray could give him one more season before deciding if a buyout is justified.
I have my doubts the Oilers will buy out Sekera. Injuries sidelined him for long periods over the past two seasons. Still, new GM Ken Holland might prefer keeping him around to buy time for some of their younger blueliners to crack the lineup.
The contracts of Lucic and Eriksson are structured in such a way that buyouts won’t result in much savings in the short term. I don’t rule out a buyout for either guy but their respective clubs could instead try to trade them.
The length of a buyout is another sticking point. Lucic and Abdelkader have four years remaining on their respective deals, Eriksson and Alzner each have three. At twice the remaining tenure, their buyouts would be on the books for six or eight years.