NHL Playoffs: Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes Game 1
Walter Gretzky, the father of Wayne Gretzky, passed away at 82, the Flames replace head coach Geoff Ward with Darryl Sutter, plus recaps of Thursday’s games and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Walter Gretzky, father of Wayne Gretzky, passed away at age 82 after battling several illnesses including Parkinson’s disease. The world’s most famous hockey dad, Walter’s guidance and tutelage helped develop Wayne into the greatest player in NHL history.
“For my sister and my 3 brothers, Dad was our team captain – he guided, protected, and led our family every day, every step of the way,” wrote Wayne on Twitter in announcing Walter’s passing.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to the Gretzky family and Walter’s friends. He will be greatly missed. A kind, friendly man who devoted considerable time to charitable causes and always had time for a fan, Walter’s passing leaves a void in the hockey world.
“There’s no relationship like a father and son.” – Wayne Gretzky
As long as there is hockey, Walter’s story will be told. Stephen Brunt remembers Canada’s favourite hockey dad. pic.twitter.com/fhkv1YemyV
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 5, 2021
The Calgary Flames’ 7-3 drubbing of the Ottawa Senators was overshadowed by their firing of head coach Geoff Ward following the game. His replacement is Darryl Sutter, who coached the Flames from 2002 to 2006 and was also their general manager from 2003 to 2010. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports the Flames signed Sutter to a three-year contract (this season plus two more).
Flames winger Dillon Dube tallied his first career NHL hat trick while Matthew Tkachuk collected three assists. Sam Bennett was made a healthy scratch from this contest as a “coach’s decision” by Ward.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ward became the Flames’ interim head coach in November 2019 and was named their full-time head coach last September. The club’s inconsistency this season has threatened to derail their playoff hopes. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform under Sutter, a no-nonsense coach who guided the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final and went on to win two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.
The New York Islanders extended their home record to 8-0-2 by dropping the Buffalo Sabres 5-2. Matt Martin scored twice and Jordan Eberle had a goal and an assist. Sabres winger Taylor Hall tallied his first goal since the club’s season-opener on Jan. 14.
Chris Kreider tallied a hat trick to lead the New York Rangers over the New Jersey Devils 6-1. It was a costly win for the Rangers as goaltender Igor Shesterkin left the game in the third period with a lower-body injury. Struggling Blueshirts center Mika Zibanejad had his ice time reduced, including being bench for the first half of the second period. Earlier in the day, the Devils announced captain Nico Hischier is week-to-week with a sinus fracture after being hit in the face by the puck during Saturday’s loss to Washington.
Carolina Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov finally faced off against brother Evgeny Svechnikov in a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Andrei had a goal and an assist while Evgeny picked up an assist for the Red Wings. Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce was fined $5,000.00 by the NHL department of player discipline for a dangerous slew foot on Wings forward Robby Fabbri.
The Philadelphia Flyers overcame a 3-0 deficit to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3. Claude Giroux scored twice, including the game-winner. Flyers forward Joel Farabee missed the game as he was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Penguin captain Sidney Crosby came off the list yesterday and picked up an assist.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Farabee is just one of three players on the protocol list, joining Boston’s Charlie Coyle and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl.
Paul Stastny scored twice and Pierre-Luc Dubois tallied in overtime as the Winnipeg Jets nipped the Montreal Canadiens 4-3. Corey Perry had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens, who’ve dropped six games in overtime this season and are 3-5-4 in their last 12 games. They hold a two-point over the Flames for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Scotia North Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on an overtime goal by Alex Killorn. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shutout streak ended at three games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A tough loss for the Blackhawks as they outplayed the Lightning through the first two periods and carried a 2-0 lead into the third.
Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad had a career-best four-point performance (two goals, two assists) as his club held off the Nashville Predators 5-4. Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov collected three helpers. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson each had a three-point game for the Predators.
The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars 3-2, handing the latter their fourth straight loss. Boone Jenner had a goal and an assist for the Jackets.
A two-goal performance by Jake Virtanen lifted the Vancouver Canucks to a 3-1 upset of the league-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. Canucks center Elias Pettersson missed the game with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.
IN OTHER NEWS…
TSN: Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was fined $5,000.00 by the league’s department of player discipline for spearing Boston Bruins forward Trent Frederic on Wednesday.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm will be sidelined for six weeks with a fractured wrist.
THE MERCURY NEWS: San Jose Sharks forward Joachim Blichfeld received a two-game suspension by the league for an illegal hit to the head of Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon on Wednesday. MacKinnon’s status remains uncertain as the Avs have yet to release an update on his condition.
A look at some predicted moves for this season involving Patrik Laine, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Duncan Keith and more in the NHL rumor mill.
TSN: In his 31 bold predictions for the new NHL season, Frank Seravalli envisioned the Winnipeg Jets moving winger Patrik Laine before the Apr. 12 trade deadline. Two potential destinations: the Columbus Blue Jackets (for Pierre-Luc Dubois?) and the Carolina Hurricanes (for Brett Pesce or Vincent Trocheck?).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ve learned never to say never in this business so I don’t rule out Laine hitting the trade block before Apr. 12. However, I don’t see that happening if the Jets are in the thick of the playoff chase.
Seravalli isn’t the only pundit suggesting swapping Laine for Dubois. On paper, it makes sense. The Jets get a reliable second-line center while the Jackets bring in a type of goal scorer they haven’t had since Rick Nash left town almost 11 years ago.
The problem is we don’t know if Jets management wants to swap Laine for a second-line center when blue-line depth is their primary concern. I think they’ll want much more than that for a winger with 50-goal potential. We also don’t know how well Laine will get along with Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. There’s also the concern over whether Laine or Dubois would commit long-term to their new clubs.
Laine would certainly provide a boost to the Hurricanes’ offense but he could end up on the second line if he doesn’t click with first-line center Sebastian Aho. A return of Trocheck and Pesce could tempt the Jets, but not if it’s just one or the other unless something else of significance is included in the deal. Moving Trocheck for Laine would leave the Hurricanes without a suitable second-line center.
Seravalli predicts Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could become the top target on TSN’s top free-agent list for 2021. The 27-year-old center wants to stay with the Edmonton Oilers but the club has no plans of going beyond $7 million annually on a long-term deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The flattened salary cap for next season could work to the Oilers’ advantage here. Nugent-Hopkins might not find many better offers because a number of teams will have limited cap space to make a competitive bid for his services. We’ll see how things unfold by July.
Speaking of the Oilers, Seravalli believes they’ll trade for another goaltender before the trade deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli made that prediction before Smith landed on long-term injury reserve last week. General manager Ken Holland will keep an eye on the waiver wire in the short term but I wouldn’t rule out Holland testing the trade market this season.
Seravalli thinks Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith will seek a trade after this season. The 37-year-old blueliner has two years left on his contract at $5.5 million annually.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Again, never say never. He’s got a full no-movement clause but could waive it if the right opportunity presents itself. Cap Friendly indicates Keith only has $3.6 million in actual salary remaining on his deal ($2.1 million for next season, $1.5 million for 2022-23). However, the cap hit itself could be difficult to move unless the Blackhawks pick up part of it. His age will also be a factor. He turns 38 this summer and his best seasons are now behind him.
Updates on the Jets and Leafs, plus the latest speculation about Matt Dumba and Brandon Saad in today’s NHL rumor mill.
JETS TRADE OPTIONS
WINNIPEG SUN: Ted Wyman believes the Jets have money to spend in this offseason with Dustin Byfuglien and Dmitry Kulikov off the books and the uncertainty over center Bryan Little’s future following last season’s serious injury. He feels they don’t have to trade away a young star like Patrik Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers unless they’re getting a star player without a no-trade clause or a big-minute defenseman and a two-way, top-six center in return.
Wyman suggests general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff dangle the Jets’ first-round pick (10th overall) in this year’s draft and young players like Jack Roslovic, Sami Niku and Kristian Vesalainen. He thinks they could get something good, like Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. Failing that, Wyman proposed pursuing unrestricted free agents like Travis Hamonic, Brenden Dillon or T.J. Brodie on defense, Mikhail Granlund, Alex Galchenyuk or Derick Brassard at center.
SPORTSNET: Ken Wiebe listed Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli or Tyler Johnson, Montreal’s Phillip Danault, Florida’s Erik Haula, Philadelphia’s Nolan Patrick, Vegas’ Paul Stastny and the New York Islanders Derick Brassard as possible trade targets to address their second-line center need.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ll be very surprised if Cheveldayoff moves Laine or Ehlers. Wyman’s proposals won’t land a superstar but I agree the Jets could get one or two good players from cap-strapped teams. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports they’re believed to have some interest in Dumba, but they don’t have a top-six center to entice the Wild.
Looking at Wiebe’s list, I don’t see the Lightning trading Cirelli and doubt Cheveldayoff will try to go the offer-sheet route to get him. Johnson, however, could be available but he’ll have to waive his no-trade clause. I don’t see the Canadiens parting with Danault. If they do, they’ll want a scoring winger in return.
Haula has been hampered by injuries. Patrick’s been dealing with a migraine disorder that cost him the entire 2019-20 season. Stastny was effective in his short tenure with the Jets in 2018 but the 34-year-old performance has declined since then. Brassard seems best suited for checking-line duty now.
LEAFS GM MUST GET CREATIVE TO ADDRESS DEFENSE ISSUES
TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan believes there are blue-line options out there for Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, but he’ll have to get creative to acquire them. Given the Leafs limited cap space, he doesn’t expect they’ll sign St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo if he hits the open market.
Koshan assumes Dubas will acquire a right-shot rearguard. Free-agent options include Sami Vatanen, Travis Hamonic, Dylan DeMelo, Justin Schultz and Chris Tanev. He also wonders if Dubas will take another look at Zach Bogosian, who’s played well for the Tampa Bay Lightning in this year’s playoffs.
Dubas could make a splash in the trade market by shopping William Nylander but Koshan doubts he’ll do that. Trade chips could include Andreas Johnsson or Alexander Kerfoot, or perhaps the first-round pick he acquired from Pittsburgh. He thinks Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, St. Louis’ Colton Parayko, Anaheim’s Josh Manson or Carolina’s Brett Pesce would look good in a Leafs jersey.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wild reportedly seek a center for Dumba. I doubt they’ll part with him for a third-line center like Kerfoot. I don’t see Parayko or Pesce going anywhere. The Ducks might listen if a scoring forward is offered up for Manson but Kerfoot or Johnsson won’t do it.
Dubas might have to go the free-agent route to land that right-shot blueliner. He’ll have to shed a little more salary to do it.
UPDATE ON SAAD
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Mark Lazerus was asked if the Chicago Blackhawks might trade Brandon Saad before his UFA eligibility next summer. He doesn’t think there will be much of a market for a winger with a year left on his contract and a $6-million cap hit.
Lazerus also doesn’t see trading Saad making the Blackhawks better with the front office still in “win-now” mode. If they do move the left winger it’ll likely be at the trade deadline if they’re out of playoff contention by then.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the Hawks are willing to absorb part of Saad’s contract there would be more interest in him this summer. They could try to peddle him as a cost-cutting move, but they’ll likely have better luck shopping or buying out Olli Maatta or Zack Smith to free up the cap dollars to re-sign Dominik Kubalik, Corey Crawford and Dylan Strome.
Reaction to the Maple Leafs’ elimination from the qualifying round in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston believes a seismic change is needed for the Toronto Maple Leafs following their elimination from the qualifying round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Their disappointing loss and a stagnant salary-cap could force management to make some difficult decisions.
Johnston considers the Leafs defense to be second-rate and took a big blow after losing Jake Muzzin in Game 2. Secondary scoring was an issue after Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe put Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner on the same line in Game 5.
Except for Matthews, Johnston expects one of the Leafs core players (Tavares, Marner, William Nylander, Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly) will be sacrificed as part of wider changes before next season. “Everything else must be up for consideration, pending the forces at play in the marketplace.”
If the Leafs win tonight’s draft lottery, Johnston suggests selecting left wing Alexis Lafreniere, trade away one of the high-priced, high-impact forwards, and use the savings to address their blueline needs.
TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos believes it’s time for Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to trade William Nylander for defensive help. He pointed out the Blue Jackets did the same thing several years ago, shipping center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for blueline stud Seth Jones. “Maybe Nylander can get the Leafs a Seth Jones or, at the very least, a Josh Manson or Brett Pesce.”
THE SCORE: John Matisz listed John Tavares, Frederik Andersen, and Kaspari Kapanen among those on the hot seat heading into the off-season.
Matisz wondered how Tavares will be perceived following his inconsistent play against the Jackets, especially carrying an $11 million annual average value for the next five years.
Replacing a goaltender of Andersen’s caliber won’t be easy, as he’s usually top-10 caliber during the regular season. While he’s undoubtedly safe, he will face increasing pressure heading into his contract year
If a shake-up is coming, Matisz believes Kapanen (and perhaps Andreas Johnsson) could become a trade chip. He carries an affordable contract ($3.2 million AAV for the next two years), had a decent scoring touch and skates like the wind.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll see and hear a lot more speculation about the Leafs’ off-season plans in the coming weeks. No one should be surprised. The Leafs are top-heavy offensively and lack sufficient blueline depth. They can get by with that during the regular season, but it’s their undoing in playoff or qualifying-round series.
Dubas, with the blessing of Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, approved that hefty contract for Tavares two years ago, bringing in a player they didn’t need. That’s not to disparage Tavares. I don’t blame him for taking the big bucks to play for his hometown club. He didn’t pressure the Leafs to sign him, and he’s played well for them.
However, the Leafs’ defensive shortcomings were obvious two years ago. They were coming off a season where they were among the top-five in scoring but also in shots-against per game. Andersen’s goaltending was the only reason they finished 12th in goals-against per game (2.80).
But the Leafs front office got distracted by a shiny thing in the summer of 2018, and Tavares’ $11 million AAV handcuffed them ever since. That’s why they had their contract standoff last season with Nylander, it’s why Dubas and his capologist engaged in salary-cap gymnastics last summer to free up room to re-sign Marner, and it’s why they failed to suitably address their defensive needs.
I praised Dubas’ efforts last summer because he hadn’t made the team any worse. However, it’s clear he didn’t make them any better. And now, he faces a daunting challenge of addressing those weaknesses with even less cap room.
So who gets moved? I agree it won’t be Matthews. It also won’t be Rielly. Trading their best defenseman for defensive help would be ridiculous.
They could move Andersen, but the cost of a replacement will be expensive via trade or free agency. That’s a move likely to be kicked down the road a year. They could move Marner but that’s unlikely after all those moves last summer to accommodate his new salary. Tavares has a full no-movement clause. Even if he agrees to waive it, good luck trying to move that contract in the current economic environment.
That leaves Nylander, who Dubas reportedly promised wouldn’t be moved as long as he was the general manager. The youngster could find out that sometimes general managers break their promises for the good of the team.
Nylander had a breakout performance this season, carries a reasonable $6.962 million AAV, and lacks no-trade protection. Teams in the market for a scoring winger will definitely be interested if he becomes available. The Leafs could also move Kapanen, but he won’t fetch the type of return the Leafs need.
Dubas and company could shock us by moving someone else, but I think it’s got to be Nylander.
What do you think, Leafs fans? Let me know in the comments section below.
A listing of this year’s top UFA forwards and the latest on the Leafs in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TOP FORWARDS IN THIS YEAR’S UFA MARKET
THE SCORE: Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, Florida Panthers winger Mike Hoffman, and Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli sit atop Josh Gold-Smith’s recent ranking of this year’s top NHL unrestricted free agent forwards. Panthers winger Evgenii Dadonov and Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund round out the top five.
Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Colorado Avalanche forward Vladislav Namestikov, Edmonton Oilers winger Tyler Ennis, Predators winger Craig Smith, and Coyotes center Carl Soderberg complete the top-10.
Other notables include Minnesota Wild forward Alex Galchenyuk, Florida Panthers center Erik Haula, New York Islanders center Derick Brassard, Buffalo Sabres winger Wayne Simmonds, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You can quibble over some of Gold-Smith’s rankings, but it’s clear this isn’t a great year for UFA forward talent.
Hall is the best of the bunch. Hoffman and Dadonov are reliable scorers while Toffoli is the best two-way forward. Granlund struggled through most of his tenure with the Predators, but his play improved after Peter Laviolette was replaced as head coach with John Hynes. A solid playoff tournament performance could boost his stock.
It’s pretty much buyer beware for most of the rest. They either haven’t panned out (Galchenyuk), were hampered by injuries (Haula), or are on the downside of their careers (Kovalchuk, Brassard, Simmonds, Spezza).
LATEST LEAFS SPECULATION
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked for the Toronto Maple Leafs likely blueline targets in the off-season. Given their limited salary-cap space, he doesn’t expect they’ll land Alex Pietrangelo, suggesting instead Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev, Sami Vatanen, or Radko Gudas as more viable options.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap constraints will also hamper efforts to sign the others. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $76.9 million invested in 16 players. Some cost-cutting would have to be made to pursue them.
Turning to the trade market, Fox pointed out Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas tends to deal for players with term remaining on their contracts. High-end right-hand shots include Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, Columbus’ David Savard, Carolina’s Brett Pesce, Buffalo’s Colin Miller, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, and Anaheim’s Josh Manson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see Dumba, Pesce, Larsson, or Manson getting moved. Ristolainen or Miller could be available, but it depends on whether the Sabres will trade with a hated division rival like the Leafs. Savard might be a trade option if Dubas offered up a decent scoring forward like Kasperi Kapanen.
Regarding Frederik Andersen’s contract status, Fox feels that they should kick it down the road. Andersen becomes a UFA next summer. He also expects defenseman Travis Dermott and winger Ilya Mikheyev will receive bridge deals.