Top 10 NHL Sophomores To Watch in 2021 Season
The latest on Tuukka Rask, Mika Zibanejad, and Jack Eichel, plus the latest signings, injury updates and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask opened up about his decision to leave the 2020 playoff bubble in August to attend to a family emergency.
He based the decision on a phone call from his family indicating his young daughter was ill and an ambulance was called. “So obviously at that point, my mind is spinning and I’m like, ‘I need to get out of here’”, said Rask, adding he had no regrets about returning home.
Rask also said his preference is to stay with the Bruins beyond this season. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent in July and was the subject of offseason trade rumors. The 33-year-old goalie appeared open to talking contract during the season. “If they don’t, we’ll just wait it out and see what happens.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rask caught flak from some Bruins fans upset over his decision to leave the club but he had the full support of the club, including his teammates. In my opinion, he did the right thing by putting his family first as any decent parent would.
NEW YORK POST: Rangers center Mika Zibanejad missed his third straight day of practice but the club remains optimistic he’ll be ready in time for their season-opener against the New York Islanders on Jan. 14. Zibanejad, 27, has been sidelined for undisclosed reasons.
WGR550: Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson joined their Buffalo Sabres teammates on the ice yesterday after each was recently sidelined by upper-body injuries. Meanwhile, Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons’ season is over before it began, undergoing surgery to repair a hamstring injury. His recovery period is expected to last six months.
TSN: The Columbus Blue Jackets signed forward Oliver Bjorkstrand to a five-year, $27 million contract extension yesterday. The annual average value is $5.4 million.
THE TENNESSEAN: The Nashville Predators inked forward Luke Kunin to a two-year, $4.6 million deal. The AAV is $2.3 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You can read my take on both signings here.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw admitted he considered retirement during his 14-month recovery from post-concussion symptoms. Shaw says he’s now fully recovered and excited about resuming his playing career.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Shaw’s gritty style of play contributed to his injuries. It’ll be interesting to see if he changes his game.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes received approval from the City of Glendale allowing 25 percent capacity (3,450 fans) during their six home games in January.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Panthers are also allowed 25 percent capacity (around 5,000 fans) at the BB&T Center to start the upcoming season.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning are permitted to allow 23 percent capacity (3,900 to 4,000 fans) at the Amelie Arena to start the season.
Meanwhile, the Lightning reached an agreement with the Panthers to share their AHL affiliate (Syracuse Crunch) for the 2020-21 season. The Panthers affiliate (Charlotte Checkers) opted out of playing this season because of the pandemic.
Anaheim #Ducks have signed goalie Anthony Stolarz to a 2 year contract extension worth $1,900,000.
Signing Stolarz gives Anaheim a second goalie that meets the minimum exposure requirements for Expansion, and allowing them to protect Gibson. pic.twitter.com/sjX8CtNfNu
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) January 7, 2021
Mika Zibanejad and Victor Olofsson start training camp on the sidelines, Travis Hamonic signs PTO with the Canucks and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE SCORE: cites the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reporting Mika Zibanejad is listed as day-to-day and won’t be taking to the ice for the Rangers’ first practice session on Monday. No word as to what’s ailing the 27-year-old center.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Zibanejad is the Rangers’ first-line center. He tallied a career-high 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games last season.
CBS SPORTS: Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson exited practice yesterday with an apparent arm injury after crashing into the net during a one-on-one drill. No details this morning as to the 25-year-old Swede’s condition but he’s considered day-to-day.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres are also without captain Jack Eichel, who’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
TSN’S Rick Dhaliwal this morning tweeted former Calgary Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic will join the Vancouver Canucks in training camp on a professional tryout offer. Dhaliwal wonders how the Canucks will fit him in under their limited cap space if he makes the club. He also indicated they stopped calling the agent for free-agent defenseman Sami Vatanen two days ago.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hamonic would be a welcome addition to the Canucks’ blueline. Cap Friendly shows the Canucks sitting above the $81.5 million salary cap by just over $1.5 million. However, they could get some cap relief if winger Micheal Ferland’s ongoing post-concussion symptoms keep him on the sidelines to start the season.
Placing Ferland on long-term injury reserve to start the season would give the Canucks about $2 million in wiggle room, enough to ink Hamonic to a cost-effective one-year deal. They could also free up additional space if necessary by placing a player on waivers and putting him on their taxi squad.
OTTAWA SUN: Following Germany’s elimination Saturday from the 2021 World Junior Championships, winger Tim Stuetzle headed to Ottawa to join the Senators. He’ll join his new teammates following a week of quarantine and four negative COVID-19 tests.
The Senators will be playing without a captain again this season, but they named Thomas Chabot, Erik Gudbranson and Brady Tkachuk as their three alternates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stuetzle was dazzling at the WJC, showing the world why he was such a coveted prospect in this year’s draft. If he adjusts well to the NHL game, the Senators will have a potential superstar in their midst.
THE TENNESSEAN: The Nashville Predators brought back defenseman Yannick Weber on a professional tryout offer. Weber played with the Predators from 2016-17 to 2019-20 before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
The Sabres avoid arbitration with Victor Olofsson, the Stars name Rick Bowness as a full-time coach, former Panthers GM Dale Tallon cleared of wrongdoing, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with Victor Olofsson by reaching an agreement on a two-year, $6.1 million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Olofsson had an impressive first full NHL season, scoring 20 goals and 42 points in 54 games to become a finalist for the 2019-20 Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. This is a reasonable raise for the 25-year-old winger, who becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in 2022.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The Stars removed the interim tag from head coach Rick Bowness’ job title as he signed a two-year contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise. Bowness took over behind the bench on Dec. 10 and guided the Stars to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The NHL has cleared former Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon of wrongdoing following an investigation into whether he used racially-charged language during the club’s time in the Toronto playoff bubble.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tallon was reportedly being considered for an advisory role with the Pittsburgh Penguins. This could clear the way for his new job but is being greeted with criticism by some observers.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes are renouncing the rights of 2020 fourth-round pick, Mitchell Miller, after reports emerged of his bullying and racially taunting an African-American classmate with developmental issues four years ago.
THE DENVER POST: Former Colorado Avalanche winger Colin Wilson discussed his struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, in The Players’ Tribune on Thursday. The 31-year-old center also indicated hip injuries may have brought his NHL career to a close. He’s now sober, receiving therapy and back in New England preparing for the next step in his life.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wilson spent 11 seasons in the NHL with the Nashville Predators and the Avalanche, tallying 113 goals and 286 points in 632 games. Best wishes to him in his future endeavors.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon has an option to sell the club back to former owner Peter Karmanos. While the coronavirus is affecting the NHL’s economics, Dundon doesn’t believe it will affect his ownership of the club. “I don’t have any intention of not owning the team,” he said.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning officially announced the signings of Patrick Maroon and Luke Schenn. The pair signed new contracts with the Lightning on Oct. 9.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: The Blackhawks have loaned center Kirby Dach to Team Canada’s roster for the 2021 World Junior Championships.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A wise decision by the Blackhawks. This will allow Dach to get in some meaningful playing time under a quarantine bubble in Edmonton as he and the Hawks await the start of the 2020-21 season.
WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets signed restricted free agent defenseman Sami Niku to a two-year contract worth an annual average value of $725K.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: The New Jersey Devils signed defenseman Colton White to a one-year, two-way contract.
TVA SPORTS: The Montreal Canadiens have been refused access to their practice facility in Brossard by public health officials. The facility is within a COVID-19 red zone.
SPORTSNET: Travis Roy, who was left paralyzed in his first college hockey game with Boston University in 1995, has died at age 45. He went on to become an advocate for spinal cord injury survivors both in and outside the sports world, raising over $9 million through the Travis Roy Foundation. He also worked in tandem with the Boston Bruins, with team president Cam Neely and former Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque among those extending condolences.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My sympathies to Roy’s family, friends, and former teammates. Neely put it best when he called him “the ultimate symbol of determination and courage.”
More details on what next season might look like, update salary-arbitration schedule, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks provides more tidbitS on what next season might look like following the NHL’s meeting with general managers on Friday.
The objective remains to start on Jan. 1 and playing a full 82-game schedule with full arenas but the league knows that’s unlikely. It will continue monitoring the course of COVID-19, travel restrictions between Canada and the United States, and regulations regarding large indoor gatherings to determine which teams could allow fans in arenas and how many.
A shorter schedule and playing in several hub cities require authorization from the league and the NHL Players’ Association. Players and staff wouldn’t be segregated from the general public but could be expected to follow protocols similar to those of Major League Baseball during their 2020 season.
Groups of teams could shuttle into designated hub cities for two-three weeks, then return to their home cities for a week of practice before heading to the next hub. There could be a geographical realignment of divisions, including an all-Canadian division.
Training camps would be 14 days and limited to 35 players. The seven clubs that didn’t qualify for the 2020 return-to-play would have an additional seven-to-10 days. Each team would play three to four exhibition games.
Brooks also reported team facilities are currently allowed to be open under Phase 2 restrictions for up to 12 players on the ice at the same time. Players would be tested twice weekly and are asked not to skate in other arenas once they’re “in-market”. Most players have yet to be “in-market” because they’re training at home awaiting definitive word on the training camp schedule.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nothing has been decided yet for training camp or next season’s schedule. That’s to be determined by a return-to-play committee involving the league and the PA which is expected to begin meeting soon. Brooks’ report, and those from TSN, Sportsnet and The Athletic since Friday give us at least some idea of what’s under consideration.
NHLPA: Twelve of the 26 players who filed for salary arbitration have avoided hearings by reaching agreement on new contracts with their respective teams. Those still scheduled for hearings include Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi (today), Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark, Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson, Colorado’s Devon Toews, the New York Rangers’ Ryan Strome and the New York Islanders’ Ryan Pulock. The final date of hearings is Nov. 8.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman yesterday reported Ullmark seeks $4.1 million while the Sabres countered with $1.8 million. Big gap to close there.
CALGARY SUN: The Flames signed free-agent winger Josh Leivo to a one-year, $875K contract. He joins former Vancouver Canucks teammates Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Louis Domingue who signed with the Flames this month.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ladies and gentlemen, your Calgary Canucks, er, Flames!