NHL Offseason Lookahead – St. Louis Blues
Islanders blank the Flyers, Stars take 2-0 series lead over the Avalanche, the mental challenge of life inside the playoff bubble, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Semyon Varlamov made history with 29 saves as the New York Islanders blanked the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in Game 1 of their second-round series. Varlamov became the first goalie in franchise history to record consecutive playoff shutouts. Defenseman Andy Greene’s first-period goal proved to be the game-winner. It was also his first postseason goal in 10 years, with the last also coming against the Flyers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Islanders did a fine job neutralizing the Flyers with strong defensive play, solid goaltending, and an aggressive forecheck. Many of the Flyers’ leading scorers are struggling to find the back of the net in this postseason. Their playoff bubble will burst if they don’t address this soon.
The Dallas Stars overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2, taking a 2-0 lead in their second-round series. The Stars tallied four goals in the second period, including two on the power-play. Joe Pavelski netted his team-leading seventh goal while Alexander Radulov had a goal and an assist.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Avs’ inability to score with a 5-on-3 when the game was tied was the turning point. Esa Lindell’s controversial goal late in the second period gave the Stars a 4-2 lead that the Avs couldn’t overcome. Colorado also came into this game without goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Erik Johnson. Both are sidelined indefinitely following injuries suffered in Game 1.
SPORTSNET: The NHL’s received no positive COVID-19 tests for the fourth straight week inside their Edmonton and Toronto bubbles.
ASSOCIATED PRESS (via Chicago Sun-Times): Bubble fatigue is becoming a mental challenge for teams participating in the NHL’s return-to-play plan. Close confines, daily COVID testing, restricted access, monotony, and separation from families are weighing heavily on everyone.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly indicated the league is “actively trying to minimize” the length of the playoffs because of “the dynamics and constraints of ‘bubble life’”. He added the league “will continue to pursue all ‘move up’ opportunities aggressively as we go forward.” The league is still checking with health officials to determine if families can join the players within the bubbles before or during the Conference Finals.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For the most part, everyone involved is doing their best to cope with this situation. Nevertheless, it’s apparent the league will try to keep the postseason moving briskly to complete the schedule as quickly as possible.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh is a game-day decision for tonight’s second game of his club’s second-round series with the Boston Bruins. McDonagh left the third period of Game 1 with an undisclosed injury.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: The Bruins might have to turn to rookie backup goalie Dan Vladar for Game 3 against the Lightning tomorrow night. Jaroslav Halak is expected to start Game 2.
THE SCORE: Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk suffered a concussion against the Dallas Stars in their first-round series. Defenseman Rasmus Andersson suffered a broken foot and forward Sam Bennett had a torn triceps muscle.
STLTODAY.COM: Long-time Blues forward Alexander Steen indicated he intends to return for his 16th NHL season, which would also be his 13th with the Blues.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Steen is frequently mentioned as a cost-cutting candidate as the Blues attempt to free up salary-cap space to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo and blueliner Vince Dunn. Steen, however, carries a full no-trade clause into next season.
THE DETROIT NEWS: The Red Wings yesterday re-signed forward Robby Fabbri to a two-year, $5.9-million contract extension.
Hearing the NHL and PA have had preliminary talks about next season. One proposal is to create 4 bubble cities, and rotating all 31 teams in those venues in 8 game increments.
At present, there’s no indication if all the cities would be in Canada.
But makes the most sense.
— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) August 24, 2020
What next for the Canadiens and Blues now that their seasons are over? Is Jesse Puljujarvi close to re-signing with the Oilers? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Julian McKenzie believes the Montreal Canadiens have good reason to be optimistic over their future following their surprising performance in the 2020 postseason. Nevertheless, they have some issues to address. They must land a proven scoring forward and a reliable backup goaltender for Carey Price.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski believes the Canadiens must reevaluate core forwards Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, and Phillip Danault. He wonders if they’ll move any of them to make room for promising youngsters like Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He feels they need more size on the wing and must sort out the left side of their blueline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: All those forwards Wyshynski mentioned lack no-trade protection. I don’t see the Canadiens moving away from Drouin after he developed some chemistry with Suzuki during the postseason. Gallagher is a heart-and-soul guy so he’s not going anywhere. Neither is Danault, who could move down into a third-line center role with Suzuki and Kotkaniemi on the rise. Tatar is an unrestricted free agent next summer and I expect the Habs will keep him for next season and see what unfolds.
That leaves Domi, a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who was a fixture in the Montreal trade rumor mill throughout this season. That speculation grew louder given his lackluster playoff performance. Granted, he was a late arrival to training camp over COVID-19 concerns given his health conditions. He may have been nursing an injury. Nevertheless, he could become the odd man out.
TVA Sports recently cited The Athletic’s Michael Russo including Domi on his list of possible trade targets for the Minnesota Wild. There’s also some chatter linking Domi to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It remains to be seen if those clubs have any interest in him or if Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin intends to shop him. Still, I expect this isn’t the last time Domi’s name surfaces in the rumor mill.
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan wonders what the future holds for Alex Pietrangelo now that the St. Louis Blues are out of the playoffs. The Blues captain becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. He wants to stay in St. Louis and the Blues want to keep him, but he’s in line for a lucrative new contract. Because of the flat salary cap, Kaplan expects a compromise could be worked out between the two sides.
The cap-strapped Blues will have to move out some contracts to make it work. Kaplan suggested goaltender Jake Allen’s trade value has never been higher. Other veterans could be on the move, such as Tyler Bozak, Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Steen, or Carl Gunnarsson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Blues have over $79.4 million invested in 21 players, with Pietrangelo and restricted free agent Vince Dunn to re-sign. Keeping both means shedding some salary even if they’re willing to accept hometown discounts.
Steen has a full no-trade until next February and there probably wouldn’t be much interest in a 36-year-old forward with a $5.75-million cap hit. Schwartz has a modified no-trade but he’s also a valuable part of their core forwards. Bozak is 34 and carries a $5-million cap hit through next season with a 10-team no-trade clause.
Allen’s solid performance this season, his cost-effective $4.35-million cap hit for next season and lack of no-trade protection makes him the most likely trade option. Gunnarsson has a five-team no-trade but the 33-year-old carries an affordable $1.75 million cap hit through next season. Moving those two, however, won’t free up enough room for Pietrangelo and Dunn. GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Bruce McCurdy cites Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reporting there have been quiet discussions between Oilers GM Ken Holland and the agent for unsigned winger Jesse Puljujarvi. After contacting both sides, Spector expects Puljujarvi will sign a new contract with the Oilers and join them in training camp in the fall.
(NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: A restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract, Puljujarvi spent last season in Finland awaiting what he hoped would be a trade from the Oilers. Holland, however, reportedly didn’t find any offers to his liking. Looks like Puljujarvi realizes if he wants to continue his NHL career, it’ll have to be with the Oilers.
SPORTSNET: Spector also recently reported Holland isn’t sure yet whether he’ll re-sign Mike Smith for another season or find another goaltender to share the crease with Mikko Koskinen. The Oilers GM has only so many assets and cap space to improve his roster for next season.
Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry could be available in the trade market. The Blues could look at moving one of their goaltenders to free up the cap room for Alex Pietrangelo.
Spector doesn’t see Holland pursuing Washington’s Braden Holtby via free agency and doesn’t expect the Vancouver Canucks will part ways with Jacob Markstrom. That leaves Vegas’ Robin Lehner as the best under-30 UFA option.
(AGAIN, NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the Oilers should prioritize improving their goaltending depth. Landing Lehner seems unlikely as he’ll want a big raise on a long-term contract. Trading for Allen is one possibility, though his inconsistency throughout his career is a concern. Murray could be peddled by the Penguins but his injury history and consistency issues are red flags. Holtby is far too expensive and Markstrom’s probably not going anywhere.
Recaps of Sunday’s action plus the latest on Andrei Svechnikov, David Pastrnak, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The New York Islanders have the Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination following their 2-1 overtime victory in Game 3 of their best-of-seven first-round series. Mathew Barzal broke a 1-1 tie to give the Isles a commanding 3-0 series lead. Anders Lee opened the scoring for the Islanders while Evgeny Kuznetsov tied it in the second period.
— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) August 16, 2020
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Capitals have been outplayed by the Islanders, especially five-on-five. They held Washington captain Alex Ovechkin to just one shot in this contest. The Isles also held the Caps to just five goals in this series and can complete the sweep on Tuesday.
Joe Pavelski’s hat trick set the stage for Alexander Radulov’s overtime goal as the Dallas Stars edged the Calgary Flames 5-4 to tie their series at two games apiece. Stars defenseman John Klingberg picked up three assists. Flames forward Sam Bennett scored twice while Calgary goalie Cam Talbot made 57 saves.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A vintage playoff performance by Pavelski, having the type of game the Stars expected when they signed him last summer. The Flames’ undisciplined play did in them in, taking seven penalties to the Stars’ four.
Corey Crawford made 48 saves as the Chicago Blackhawks staved off elimination with a 3-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. Drake Caggiula, Matthew Highmore, and Alex DeBrincat scored for the Blackhawks. Vegas winger Max Pacioretty was fined $2,500.00 for slashing DeBrincat as he scored into the empty net.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crawford saved the Blackhawks’ bacon. Most of this game seemed to be played in the Chicago zone but he put in a stellar performance to steal this one and keep his team’s hopes alive.
Braydon Schenn scored in overtime as the St. Louis Blues nipped the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in Game 3 of their first-round series. Jake Allen made 39 saves for the win while Ryan O’Reilly collected two assists. Jacob Markstrom kicked out 46 shots for the Canucks, who lead the series 2-1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A big win for the Blues to avoid falling behind 3-0. Allen was solid replacing a struggling Jordan Binnington. The Blues were also playing without Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen as they were declared unfit to play for this game. Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes is just the third rookie defenseman in NHL history to tally points in six straight playoff games.
The Philadelphia Flyers spoiled Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price’s 33 birthday with a 1-0 win to take a 2-1 lead in their opening-round series. Flyers goalie Carter Hart made 23 saves while Jakub Voracek scored the only goal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A good bounce-back performance by Hart and his teammates after getting blown out 5-0 in Game 2. This was a tight-checking, choppy game with Hart and Price once again the standouts.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Caroline Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said it’s highly doubtful Andrei Svechnikov returns to action during their opening-round series against the Boston Bruins. The winger suffered a leg injury during Game 3 on Saturday and will undergo an MRI today. Brind’Amour doesn’t rule out Svechnikov returning if the Canes reach the Eastern Conference Final or the Stanley Cup Final.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Svechnikov’s injury might not be playoff-ending for him, but his absence will be felt by the Hurricanes. He and linemate Sebastian Aho provided Carolina with a potent one-two scoring punch.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy guessed there’s a 50-50 chance David Pastrnak suited up for Game 4 today against the Hurricanes. The winger’s been sidelined since suffering an apparent leg injury during Game 1.
A look at the five teams affected the most by a flat salary cap in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin lists the Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Arizona Coyotes as the five clubs that will be most affected by a flat salary cap in 2020-21.
The Lightning has 15 players signed for next season with $5.33 million in projected cap space. That won’t be enough to re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Larkin suggests Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn as trade candidates. Gourde has a no-trade clause but Larkin thinks he could waive it for a fresh start elsewhere after seeing a reduced role this season. Larkin’s no-trade clause becomes a partial listing of 16 no-trade destinations.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Athletic’s Joe Smith (subscription required) considers Killorn the top trade candidate, in part because of the flexibility his modified no-trade provides the Lightning. He also suggests Tyler Johnson ($5 million AAV through 2023-24) might be willing to waive his no-trade clause if it’s for a destination where he’d have a top-six center role. Cedric Paquette ($1.65 million through next season) could also be a trade option.
I think there will be more interest in Killorn, who’s more affordable ($4.45 million annual average value through 2022-23) than Gourde ($5.16 million AAV through 2024-25) and has a better reputation as a two-way forward. There’s no certainty Johnson would agree to be moved and his lengthy contract could be a deal-breaker for some clubs during these uncertain times.
The Blues have 20 players under contract for next season with a little over $2 million in cap space and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn to re-sign. Larkin speculates they’ll attempt to move out goaltender Jake Allen ($4.35 million AAV through 2020-21) and suggests keeping an eye on winger Jaden Schwartz ($5.35 million AAV through ’20-’21, 15-team no-trade list).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeff Gordon wonders how other teams will view Allen’s cap hit. Center Tyler Bozak has come up in recent trade speculation, but Gordon considers Bozak’s $5 million AAV a luxury few teams can afford.
Meanwhile, The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford considers moving Schwartz far-fetched while the Blues’ championship window remains open. They could buy out the final season of Alexander Steen’s contract ($5.75 million AAV) but they’ll only get $2.4 million in cap relief for next season.
If the Blues intend to re-sign Pietrangelo and Dunn, significant cost-cutting is in order. Any way you slice it, however, it means parting with a couple of meaningful players.
The Blackhawks have 18 players inked for next season with $7.35 million in projected cap space. Larkin believes they could get much-needed cap relief if Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million AAV through 2023-24) and Andrew Shaw ($3.9 million AAV through 2021-22) go on long-term injury reserve for next season. Seabrook however, is attempting to return for the upcoming playoff tournament.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Larkin and The Athletic’s Scott Powers point out the Blackhawks lack sufficient cap space to re-sign goalie Corey Crawford and forwards Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. Powers suggests they could buy out defenseman Olli Maatta ($4.083 million AAV through 2021-22) and center Zack Smith ($3.25 million through 2020-21). The combined savings (over $5.5 million) along with Shaw potentially remaining on LTIR would free up valuable cap room to re-sign those key players.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have 16 players signed for next season with $4.59 million in projected cap room. With Tyson Barrie expected to depart via free agency, Larkin believes they won’t have enough space to bring in one or two impactful right-shot defensemen. GM Kyle Dubas could attempt to shop a mid-tier forward like Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, or Alexander Kerfoot for a blueliner. He also wonders if Dubas might attempt to acquire more LTIR contracts with David Clarkson and Nathan Horton coming off the books in the off-season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran points out the cost of re-signing Travis Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev could eat up most or all of that cap space. He also anticipates one of those mid-tier forwards could be shopped, including Zach Hyman among them. Unless the CBA extension prohibits clubs from acquiring the contracts of players on permanent LTIR, it wouldn’t be surprising if Dubas goes to that well again to gain some wiggle room.
The Arizona Coyotes have 16 players signed with just $1.51 million available, though they’ll gain some cap relief with Marian Hossa ($5.75 million) on permanent LTIR. They need more than that if they hope to re-sign pending UFA winger Taylor Hall. Larkin suggests packaging center Derek Stepan ($6.5 million through next season) with a sweetener to free up more room.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It could take one helluva sweetener to tempt a rival club with more cap space into taking Stepan’s contract.