Have The Toronto Maple Leafs Turned The Corner At Last?
Results from the first exhibition games of return-to-play, an update on David Pastrnak, the Ducks re-sign Sonny Milano, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Connor McDavid scored twice to lead the Edmonton Oilers over the Calgary Flames 4-1 as exhibition games began yesterday leading up to the upcoming playoff tournament beginning Aug. 1. Elias Lindholm netted the sole goal for the Flames, who outshot the Oilers 37-30.
Scott Laughton scored in overtime as the Philadelphia Flyers edged the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby played over 19 minutes and said he had no issues after missing five of six practices last week to an undisclosed ailment.
The Toronto Maple Leafs tallied two shorthanded goals to double up the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly scored and set up two others while Alexander Kerfoot potted two goals. The Canadiens went zero-for-six on the power play.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The overall play in those three games wasn’t bad. Granted, these were exhibition games following a nearly five-month layoff for the teams involved, lacking the intensity and crisp play one expects to see when the tournament begins on Aug.1. The players were still working out the kinks.
Nevertheless, the quality of play was better than I expected. Not great, but not horrible. The games also felt a little weird with piped-in noise and no fans, but I didn’t find it detracted from the on-ice action. I’ll get used to this as Phase 4 (hopefully) rolls on.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins winger David Pastrnak took responsibility for his actions that resulted in missing almost all of the Phase 3 training camp with his teammates. He confirmed returning to quarantine after skating with some amateur players at a rink north of Boston at the start of Phase 3. He traveled with the Bruins to Toronto for Phase 4 and has resumed practicing with his teammates.
THE PROVINCE: Canucks winger Micheal Ferland continues to impress his teammates with his play in practice. Ferland was questionable to participate in the playoff tournament after missing most of this season dealing with head-trauma symptoms. He’s expected to be in the lineup for today’s exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks yesterday re-signed Sonny Milano to a two-year, $3.4 million contract. The 24-year-old winger was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the February trade deadline, collecting five points in nine games with the Ducks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Cap Friendly, Milano’s annual average value ($1.7 million) leaves the Ducks with over $77.3 million invested in 17 players for 2020-21.
Here’s the average age of the 24 NHL teams involved in the restart: pic.twitter.com/H2ywugfSxS
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 28, 2020
Check out the latest Maple Leafs and Red Wings speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked how much it could cost the Toronto Maple Leafs to re-sign Morgan Rielly when the defenseman’s contract expires in 2022. A good comparable is the Arizona Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s eight-year, $66-million deal. Fox also suggested paying attention to whatever Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug gets in the coming off-season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox acknowledged the fallout from the pandemic could affect the salary cap by 2022, which could impact what Rielly’s next contract looks like. Then again, perhaps league revenue rebounds by that point. Given Rielly’s value to the Leafs, don’t be surprised if his agent seeks top dollar. It’s worth noting the Leafs have over $55 million invested in just seven players for 2022-23.
Asked about a suggestion in The Athletic in which the Leafs trade goaltender Frederik Andersen and sign Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray or Vegas’ Robin Lehner, Fox isn’t sold on either guy as an upgrade over Andersen. He doesn’t expect Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to break up his current goalie tandem in the off-season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Agreed. I expect the Leafs will return with their Andersen-Jack Campbell tandem next season. Their performances will determine their long-term futures in Toronto. Murray, by the way, is a restricted free agent. The Leafs will have to trade for him or sign him to an offer sheet.
Fox doesn’t see the Leafs acquiring another LTIR contract to free up cap space to pursue St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. However, he thinks Dubas could attempt to acquire a defenseman via trade. “Paying Ryan Kesler or Marian Hossa to not play hockey won’t help Toronto land Petro. Paying Kesler might, in theory, help Dubas acquire a Josh Manson plus a draft pick from Anaheim in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dubas and his staff surprised observers with their wheeling and dealing last summer to free up sufficient cap space to re-sign Mitch Marner. We can’t rule out a scenario like that mentioned by Fox to bring in a defenseman, although that might not be necessary with yesterday’s signing of Mikko Lehtonen. Speaking of which…
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien believes the addition of Lehtonen could bring some intrigue to the Leafs defense corps. On paper, his addition creates a log-jam of left-handed defensemen. O’Brien wonders if the Leafs could trade someone like Travis Dermott to balance things out on the right side.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehtonen said he’s comfortable playing either side. If he adjusts well on the right side with the Leafs, they won’t have to trade someone like Dermott for a right-handed defender.
DETROIT FREE PRESS: Helene St. James examined potential free-agent options to bolster the Red Wings’ defense corps. The best of the bunch is St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, but he’d probably prefer going somewhere more competitive if he doesn’t re-sign with the Blues. It might not be possible to lure Michigan native Torey Krug away from the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Red Wings have over $46.2 million invested in 11 players for 2020-21. A good chunk of that cap room will be invested in re-signing key players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha.
Provided ownership is willing to spend toward the cap ceiling, they should have enough to make a competitive offer to one of those UFAs in the offseason. Nevertheless, the rebuilding Wings might have to overpay to entice one of those blueliners to join them.
The Bruins become the first team to reach 100 points this season, Mika Zibanejad and Filip Forsberg set franchise records with their respective clubs and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask kicked out 36 shots to shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 2-0, snapping the latter’s nine-game winning streak. Matt Grzelcyk and Patrice Bergeron were the goal scorers as the league-leading Bruins became the first team to reach 100 points this season. The Flyers played without defenseman Philippe Myers, who’s sidelined at least four weeks with a fractured patella in his right knee.
Mika Zibanejad became the fastest player to reach 40 goals in New York Rangers history in a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars. Rookie Kaapo Kakko scored twice for the Rangers (78 points), who sit three points out of an Eastern wild-card berth. The slumping Stars (82 points) sit third in the Central Division, but they’re winless in their last six contests.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Considering how many great scorers the Rangers have had in their long history, that’s quite an achievement by Zibanejad.
The Nashville Predators (78 points) moved into the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference by doubling up the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. Filip Forsberg scored twice, becoming the first player in Predators’ history to register six 20-goal seasons. Earlier in the day, the Canadiens announced leading scorer Tomas Tatar is sidelined indefinitely with an upper-body injury.
Auston Matthews’ 47th goal of the season was also the game-winner as the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. Teammate Mitch Marner collected two assists as the Leafs (81 points) opened a three-point lead over the Florida Panthers for third place in the Atlantic Division. Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly returned to action for the first time after suffering a broken foot nearly two months ago. The Lightning are eight points behind the Bruins.
Evgeni Malkin scored twice and picked up an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the New Jersey Devils 5-2. With 86 points, the Penguins sit third in the Metropolitan Division. Earlier in the day, the Penguins announced center Nick Bjugstad is considered week-to-week with an undisclosed injury.
Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian tallied twice and added an assist in a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek made 23 saves in his first game since being sidelined by a concussion in late February. With 81 points, the Canes move into the first wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference. The Wings, meanwhile, have the dubious honor of clinching last place in the overall standings.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The silver lining for the Wings is they have the best odds of winning the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.
The struggling New York Islanders winless skid reached seven games as they fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Vancouver Canucks. Brock Nelson scored twice for the Isles while Thatcher Demko made 45 saves for the Canucks (78 points), who moved back into the second Western wild-card berth, The Isles (80 points) sit one point out of an Eastern wild-card spot.
A natural hat trick by Nicolas Deslauriers carried the Anaheim Ducks to a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon’s status remains uncertain after suffering a lower-body injury during Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar is expected to provide an update later today. Meanwhile, the Avs announced former Colorado Rockies stars and MLB Hall-of-Famer Larry Walker will be their honorary emergency backup goalie during Sunday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
STLTODAY.COM: The Blues placing Troy Brouwer on waivers has raised speculation sidelined winger Vladimir Tarasenko could be nearing a return from shoulder surgery.
CALGARY SUN: Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic could return to action against the Islanders on Thursday.
NHL.COM: The Winnipeg Jets assigned Mark Letestu to their AHL affiliate for a conditioning stint. A diagnosis of myocarditis sidelined him for all but seven games this season.
THE SCORE: The Columbus Blue Jackets will continue to allow fans at their home games despite the Ohio governor’s recommendation that indoor sports events be held without spectators over coronavirus concerns. The team has recommended those fans at higher risk, including the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, should avoid these events.
Leon Draisaitl tallies four goals against the Predators, the three stars of the week, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Leon Draisaitl tallied four goals and Connor McDavid had four assists as the Edmonton Oilers thumped the Nashville Predators 8-3. The Oilers broke a 3-3 tie with five unanswered third-period goals. With 78 points, the Oilers moved within two points of the first-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division. The Predators (72 points) cling to the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Draisaitl (107 points) holds a big lead in the NHL scoring race. He also moved into fourth place (43 goals) in the goal-scoring race.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barring injury or a significant scoring drought, Draisaitl has the Art Ross Trophy locked up for this season. He’s also put himself into the running for the Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and should be a serious contender for the Hart Trophy as MVP.
The Colorado Avalanche (87 points) edged the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 to move within one point of the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues. Michael Hutchinson made 17 saves in his debut with the Avs. Colorado rookie defenseman Cale Makar missed the game with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. The Wings, meanwhile, played without winger Adam Erne, who could miss the remainder of the season with a broken hand.
Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, and Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz were the NHL’s three stars for the week ending March 1.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson underwent shoulder surgery on Monday and will need four-to-six months to recover.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was considerable interest in Anderson leading up to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, but uncertainty over the status of his injury likely scared off potential suitors. His status as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’s also a year away from unrestricted free agent status could make him a fixture in this summer’s rumor mill.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The San Jose Sharks indicated defenseman Jacob Middleton is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. They’re also believed to have agreed to a four-year, $8-million contract extension with blueline Radim Simek, though this hasn’t been confirmed by general manager Doug Wilson.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Sidelined Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brian Dumoulin and John Marino are close to returning to the lineup. Both are game-day decision’s for tonight’s contest against the Ottawa Senators.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: And not a moment too soon for the struggling Penguins, who’ve dropped six straight games.
TORONTO SUN: Sidelined Maple Leafs blueliners Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci have returned to practice and could rejoin the lineup sometime next week.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey is expected to return to action tonight against the Buffalo Sabres after being sidelined for four games with an upper-body injuy. Winger Patrik Laine (left foot injury) could also return tonight.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg is returning to Sweden for family reasons. The club hopes to provide a further update shortly.
SPORTSNET: The NHL has no plans to make any changes to its emergency backup goalie rule.