Sabres Desperately Need Experienced Management and Coaching
Recaps of Friday’s action plus the latest on Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Vladimir Tarasenko and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Two goals in 12 seconds by Colin Blackwell and Chris Kreider lifted the New York Rangers to a 6-2 drubbing of the Boston Bruins in front of 1,800 fans at Madison Square Garden. Ryan Strome had a goal and two assists for the Rangers. Bruins’ captain Patrice Bergeron scored to collect his 889th career point, surpassing Bobby Orr for fifth on the club’s all-time points list while linemate Brad Marchand netted his 300th career goal. The Bruins have dropped four of their last five contests.
The Minnesota Wild picked up their fifth straight victory by downing the Los Angeles Kings 3-1, snapping the latter’s six-game win streak. Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov scored his fifth of the season and leads the Wild and all NHL rookie skaters with 16 points in 17 games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kaprizov must be considered the favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year. The smooth-skating 23-year-old is very entertaining to watch and a big reason why the Wild are playing so well of late.
Nazem Kadri had a goal and two assists as the Colorado Avalanche held off the Arizona Coyotes 3-2. Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist while rookie goalie Hunter Miska made 16 saves for this first NHL win.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews is listed as day-to-day with an injured hand. Goaltender Frederik Andersen (lower-body injury) was on the ice yesterday ahead of Leafs practice while winger Joe Thornton and defenseman Jake Muzzin joined their teammates in practice.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Matthews’ injury is reportedly considered a minor issue. He and his teammates are slated to meet the Edmonton Oilers tonight.
ESPN.COM: Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury while goaltender Linus Ullmark is expected to miss at least two games with a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eichel’s absence could force Sabres coach Ralph Krueger to insert Jeff Skinner into the lineup. The struggling winger was a healthy scratch for the club’s last three games.
STLTODAY.COM: Vladimir Tarasenko could soon return to the Blues’ lineup before the club’s six-game road trip ends on March 8. The 29-year-old winger has been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery but is taking part in practice with his teammates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues have struggled of late so the return of their top sniper should provide a welcome boost to their offense. They’ll have to do some juggling with their salary cap space to make room for his $7.5 million annual salary-cap hit when he comes off long-term injury reserve.
THE ATHLETIC: Jim Rutherford told Pierre LeBrun he’s ready to work in the NHL only a month after suddenly stepping down as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rutherford insists he was “treated great” by the Penguins and has no regrets. He also said he has no geographical limitations on where he’d like to work.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rutherford has a solid reputation around the NHL as one of the savviest general managers in the business. I doubt he’ll be unemployed for long.
NHL.COM: Former Montreal Canadiens general manager Irving Grundman passed away on Friday at age 93 following a short illness. He was the Habs GM from 1978-79 to 1982-83, winning the Stanley Cup in his first season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Grundman’s family, friends, and the Canadiens’ organization. During his tenure as GM he drafted future Hall-of-Famers Chris Chelios and Guy Carbonneau, as well as such noteworthy players as Mats Naslund, Craig Ludwig and Mike McPhee.
The Canucks beat the Senators, the Predators edge the Blackhawks, Jim Rutherford steps down as Penguins GM, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-1 thanks to a 42-save performance by goaltender Thatcher Demko. J.T. Miller and Tyler Motte each scored twice as the Canucks broke a 1-1 tie with a three-goal outburst in the second period. The Senators also lost defenseman Christian Wolanin to a lower-body injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canucks were outshot 23-7 in the first period. The outcome of this game would’ve been very different if not for Demko.
Matt Duchene scored the deciding goal in a shootout as the Nashville Predators nipped the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1. Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen kicked out 41 shots. Earlier in the day, Lucas Wallmark became the third Hawks player added to their COVID-19 list this week.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawk are without Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist yet they’ve managed to pick up at least one point in their last five games. Lankinen’s been a major factor in that streak, going 2-0-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Jim Rutherford stunned the hockey world yesterday by announcing he was stepping down as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Assistant GM Patrik Allvin has taken over from Rutherford on an interim basis as the club begins its search for a permanent replacement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Under Rutherford, the Penguins became the first team to win consecutive Stanley Cups (2016 and 2017) since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. A savvy wheeler-dealer, he was never afraid to make bold moves to bolster his roster as he saw fit.
Rutherford and the Penguins denied his decision was health-related or that he was retiring from the game. Nevertheless, some pundits found the timing of this move surprising and curious. It comes just seven games into this season when he has just months remaining on his contract, sparking some speculation perhaps it was less amicable than we’re being led to believe.
Shortly before Rutherford’s announcement, the Penguins revealed they signed free-agent defenseman Yannick Weber to a one-year, $700K contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A rash of injuries has walloped the Penguins defense corps, with Brian Dumoulin the latest to be sidelined. That made them the subject of recent trade chatter. The Weber signing is an inexpensive short-term move to add some veteran depth.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: The Golden Knights placed defenseman Brayden McNabb on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The San Jose Sharks yesterday announced they’ll be returning to SAP Center in San Jose on Feb. 13 for their scheduled home game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks have been playing home games in Arizona this season because of restrictions against team sports in Santa Clara County. That restriction was recently amended after the state of California lifted its’ stay-at-home order.
The Sharks also pulled off a rare three-team trade yesterday. They shipped defenseman Trevor Carrick to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Jack Kopacka, then sent Kopacka and a seventh-round pick in 2022 to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Christian Jaros.
THE SCORE: cites a report in Sports Business Journal indicating the NHL has borrowed $1 billion US to divide among its 31 teams to address revenue shortfalls occurring from COVID-19 restrictions.
How will the Bruins replace Zdeno Chara? Are any moves coming for the Penguins before the season opens? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
HOW WILL THE BRUINS REPLACE CHARA?
THE ATHLETIC: Fluto Shinzawa reports the Boston Bruins could go with one of the younger defensemen within their system to fill the gap on their blueline left by the departure of Zdeno Chara. The former Bruins captain yesterday signed a one-year deal with the Capitals.
The Bruins have three young left-shot defensemen in Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Urha Vaakanainen. Shinzawa observes they’ve played a combined 44 NHL games. He also noted team president Cam Neely last week indicating the Bruins were studying the trade market for help on defense, something they’re liable to keep doing as cap-strapped clubs seek to shed salary.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bruins could also look to free agency for affordable options. Boston Hockey Now’s Jimmy Murphy cited sources saying they’re interested in Sami Vatanen and Karl Alzner, while his colleague Joe Haggerty recently reported they’re looking at Ben Hutton.
Management will likely evaluate the roster during training camp to determine if they need to make a move. Given Neely’s remarks and the rumors they’re checking out free-agent options, it wouldn’t be surprising if they add a veteran left-side rearguard before the season opens on Jan. 13.
THE LATEST PENGUINS SPECULATION
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Dan Kingerski recently observed the Penguins weren’t in on affordable free agents Carl Soderberg or Erik Haula to bolster their third-line center position. He wonders if GM Jim Rutherford is saving his cap space to perhaps swing an impact trade during the regular season.
THE ATHLETIC: Josh Yohe reports Rutherford doesn’t intend to make any trades before the season opens on Jan. 13. “I would say it’s highly unlikely,” said the Penguins GM, adding he wants to see his club play and see what they have.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rutherford is a proven wheeler-dealer so we shouldn’t rule out the possibility he’ll make a trade before the season begins. That probably won’t happen, however, until he gets an opportunity to evaluate his roster in training camp.
A look at the factors currently affecting the trade and free-agent markets in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC: Thomas Drance observes it’s been nearly eight weeks since an NHL trade was made and a month since the last unrestricted free agent signings (Dominik Kahun with the Edmonton Oilers). However, there’s still discussion and negotiation going on among general managers and player agents.
Drance cites an NHL player agent saying those markets have slowed of late because of ongoing uncertainty over when the 2020-21 season will begin. “We want to see what develops out of this,” said the agent. “At this point, it doesn’t make sense to do something until we know what things look like.”
The agent, who represents one of the top UFAs, said teams remain interested in his client but some of them are waiting. Clarity on provisional rules, such as recalling players from the minors, could also affect UFA signings. There’s talk of allowing teams to use a so-called “taxi squad” of players this season who can be re-assigned and disappear from a team’s cap payroll, perhaps without having to pass through waivers.
Drance believes a second wave of trade and free-agent signings will begin once the league and NHLPA agree to a start date for the season. He notes there are five UFAs who produced at least 30 points last season (such as Mike Hoffman) as well as some decent depth forwards like Ilya Kovalchuk, Corey Perry and Andreas Athanasiou. Defense options include Zdeno Chara and Travis Hamonic.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree with Drance on the factors currently affecting the trade and free-agent markets and when we can expect business to resume. There’s still enough decent UFA talent available, which also includes Mikael Granlund, Anthony Duclair, Sami Vatanen and Erik Haula, to draw interest among general managers. Most of those UFAs, however, could be forced to accept inexpensive one-year deals given the few teams with cap space to invest in the free-agent market.
Meanwhile, Drance’s colleague Rob Rossi reports Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is bracing for the possibility of limited trade activity during the 2020-21 season. He hopes to tweak his roster before the puck drops on the new season.
Rutherford, one of the league’s notable in-season wheeler-dealers, doesn’t know how the trade market could be affected by a shortened season or if there could be restrictions that limit player movement. He feels it might be best to get as many players in place before the season begins because it might not be as easy once the schedule is underway.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rutherford said he doesn’t have any inside information for his opinion of what the coming season’s trade market could look like. He’s taking the same “wait-and-see” approach as the rest of his colleagues.
Drance noted trades will have to be made by some cap-strapped clubs before the season begins. We’ll likely see a flurry of deals before and during the training camp period as teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning attempt to shed salary to re-sign key players and/or to become cap compliant when the season opens.
There’s also usually plenty of activity leading up to the annual trade deadline. This season, however, could be different depending on what provisional rules are implemented and how much cap flexibility teams have as the deadline nears.
The rumors among pundits and fans over possible trades and free-agent signings will continue as they always do. However, we could see fewer significant moves this season compared to other years.