NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – October 13, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – October 13, 2021

The Golden Knights defeat the Kraken while the Penguins upset the Lightning as the puck drops on the 2021-22 season. Details and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: A tie-breaking goal by Chandler Stephenson lifted the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken in the latter’s first-ever NHL regular-season game. Max Pacioretty scored twice and Robin Lehner made 28 saves for Vegas, who blew a 3-0 lead as the Kraken rallied on goals by Ryan Donato (the first in franchise history), Jared McCann and Morgan Geekie.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Kraken were expected to have a strong defense but they look shaky while their offense acquitted themselves well in this contest. McCann, Joonas Donskoi, Marcus Johanssen and Jamie Oleksiak had entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Monday but were cleared to play in this game.

Kris Letang collected two assists and Tristan Jarry made 26 saves as the Pittsburgh Penguins downed the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2. Danton Heinen and Brian Boyle scored in their debuts with the Penguins. Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli replied for the Lightning, who raised their 2020-21 Stanley Cup banner in a pre-game ceremony.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning were flat throughout this game, outshot 35-28 by a Penguins team skating without scoring stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. The Bolts certainly missed former third-liners Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, who departed this summer via expansion draft, free agency and trade.

It was nice seeing Boyle score in his first NHL game since 2019-20. He missed all of last season as an unsigned free agent and earned a spot on the Penguins following a professional tryout offer.

HEADLINES

MONTREAL GAZETTE: The Canadiens signed center Nick Suzuki to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension. The annual average value is $7.875 million, making him the highest-paid forward on the roster.

Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some observers questioned the Canadiens signing Suzuki to such a hefty raise after just two consecutive 41-point performances. Anyone who watched his performance in the 2021 playoffs will understand the rationale behind this contract. The 22-year-old Suzuki blossomed into a reliable first-line center, playing a solid game at both ends of the rink.

Suzuki was scoring at a higher rate last season than in his rookie campaign. His 41 points in 56 games last season prorates to 60 points in an 82-game season. Should he reach or exceed that point total this season he would’ve been in a better position next summer to seek a more lucrative deal. The Canadiens now have Suzuki locked in through what should be his prime playing years at what could prove to be a cost-effective long-term contract.

Cap Friendly shows the Canadiens sitting at $84.88 million in projected cap space for 13 players in 2022-23, well above the projected $82 million for next season. They could get over $7.8 million in relief if Shea Weber ends up on permanent long-term injury reserve. Even then, however, they won’t have much cap space to fill out the rest of their roster.

THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss their season-opener tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s reportedly asymptomatic and feeling good. His earliest possible return is Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL announced just four players remain unvaccinated. Nevertheless, MacKinnon’s case shows why the league has implemented strict protocols for this season for even its fully vaccinated players.

WASHINGTON HOCKEY NOW: Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (hip injury) was placed on long-term injury. Though he skated yesterday for the first time as he rehabs his injury, he will miss at least the first 10 games of the season. Meanwhile, team captain Alex Ovechkin remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury but took to the ice for the club’s optional skate on Tuesday.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Speaking of Ovechkin and Backstrom, they starred in a new commercial for MassMutual.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s a funny commercial with Backstrom in a brief but memorable scene-stealing role.

TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner left practice yesterday as a precautionary measure following a collision with Wayne Simmonds. He’ll be re-evaluated today.

NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: Flyers defensemen Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen have missed several recent practices for “maintenance days.” That’s raising some concern over whether they’ll be in the lineup for their season opener on Friday against the Vancouver Canucks.

SPORTSNET 590’s Nick Kypreos took to Twitter reporting the NHL could be leaning toward suspending San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane under supplementary discipline as per Section 18-18a of the CBA. After serving a set number of games he could be cleared to resume his career. Meanwhile, Cap Friendly reports Kane’s $7 million cap hit currently doesn’t count against the Sharks cap space.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kane is currently under two league investigations regarding allegations of spousal abuse and using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets named Boone Jenner as their new captain.

WGR 550: Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons will split the captaincy of the Buffalo Sabres this season.

NEW YORK POST: Rangers winger Vitali Kravtsov refused assignment to their AHL affiliate in Hartford and could face suspension. His agent has also been given permission to speak to other teams to facilitate a trade.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kravtsov was projected as a potential third-line winger this season for the Rangers. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft.

THE PROVINCE: The Vancouver Canucks signed Alex Chiasson to a one-year, $750K contract. He earned a roster spot following a professional tryout offer.

THE ATHLETIC: The NHL set the escrow rate on players’ contracts at 17.2 percent for 2021-22.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is in line with the rates set in the CBA extension last year. The players owe the owners close to $1 billion as a result of the impact of the pandemic upon hockey-related revenue.










NHL Rumor Mill – October 7, 2021

NHL Rumor Mill – October 7, 2021

Are the Buffalo Sabres finally closing in on a Jack Eichel trade? What’s the latest on Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Nick Suzuki and Morgan Rielly? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.

LATEST EICHEL SPECULATION

TSN: Darren Dreger reports there could finally be some progress on the Jack Eichel front. Sources told him ongoing discussions between Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and clubs interested in acquiring the 24-year-old center have become more serious in recent days.

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (NHL Images).

Much of that is due to those teams having access to Eichel’s medical records specific to the impasse between the center and the Sabres regarding treatment for a herniated disc in his neck. Speculation suggests one of the interested clubs is a West Coast team like the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks though sources from those teams are downplaying their interest. Turning to Eastern clubs, New York Rangers sources say they’re not among them.

SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reported in his latest “32 Thoughts” column there’s a real push to reach a solution because Eichel’s displaced disc can’t be allowed to just sit on the nerve. It’s difficult to determine if he’ll be traded first or gets surgery, returns to health and plays some games for the Sabres to regain his trade value. There’s a growing belief there are clubs willing to allow Eichel to undergo disc replacement surgery but they have to be able to make a trade first.

Appearing Monday on the Jeff Marek Show, Friedman said the Calgary Flames were among the teams that “really tried” to acquire Eichel this summer. He also indicated not once did anyone say to him that Eichel wouldn’t go to Calgary. He also didn’t think the Sabres could swing a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights because the latter didn’t want to part with promising center Peyton Krebs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The biggest sticking point could be whether those teams interested in Eichel want to acquire him first and then allow him to have the disc replacement procedure done. The other will be the Sabres’ asking price. If it remains high, teams will be reluctant to take that chance.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM FRIEDMAN’S LATEST “32 THOUGHTS”

Regarding the investigation into whether Evander Kane used a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, Friedman isn’t sure where this is going to go. However, he isn’t under the impression that transgression could jeopardize the winger’s contract with the San Jose Sharks if proven true.

Speaking of the Sharks, Friedman feels Tomas Hertl could fetch the best return if they decide to bring in new blood.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It will be interesting to see how things play out for Kane if that investigation into his COVID card (or the one into allegations of spousal abuse) turns out to be true. For now, the club is reportedly planning to start the season without him while the investigations continue.

As for Hertl, his future in San Jose depends on the Sharks’ performance this season. He’s hinted at a willingness to entertain a hometown discount but he also wants to play for a winner. If the Sharks are out of contention by the March trade deadline, Hertl could be playing elsewhere by then.

Friedman predicts the Montreal Canadiens could attempt to sign center Nick Suzuki to a contract extension sooner rather than later to avoid any more offer-sheet shenanigans.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That depends on whether Suzuki and his agent are willing to sign a new contract before next summer. He’ll be coming off his entry-level contract and lacks arbitration rights. The possibility of an offer sheet would give Suzuki some leverage he otherwise wouldn’t have.

The Toronto Maple Leafs could let the season play out before making a decision on Morgan Rielly. It’s not just about how much it’ll cost to sign him but what else they need to do cap-wise if they sign him. His performance, and theirs, could determine the outcome here. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Even if the Leafs and Rielly play well, re-signing him is still going to force them to shed some salary. Cap Friendly shows them with $67.7 million invested in 14 players for 2022-23.

Assuming Rielly accepts a modest raise in his annual average value to $6 million to stay in Toronto, the Leafs won’t have sufficient space to re-sign fellow UFA Jack Campbell, RFA defenseman Rasmus Sandin and still fill out the rest of the roster with quality talent.










Were The Canadiens Good Or Just Lucky?

Were The Canadiens Good Or Just Lucky?

Are the Montreal Canadiens a stronger team than we thought, or did they just get lucky and go on a five-week hot streak?

The Canadiens enjoyed an impressive run in the 2021 playoffs. The lowest overall postseason seed, they upset the heavily-favored Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

They came a cropper against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, falling in five games. However, the clubs the Habs eliminated wouldn’t have fared any better against the powerful Bolts.

The Canadiens’ playoff success papered over the fact they barely qualified in the first place.

They cooled off after a hot start, replaced most of their coaching staff by midseason, saw starting goalie Carey Price endure one of the worst regular seasons of his career, endure a 25 game in 44-night second-half stretch following a COVID-19 outbreak, lost playmaking winger Jonathan Drouin for the remainder of the season for personal reasons, and endured a shaky stretch drive with Price, captain Shea Weber and alternate captain Brendan Gallagher sidelined by injury.

Little wonder no one gave them a chance of defeating the Leafs, Jets and Golden Knights in each successive round. And yet, they defied the critics and overcame the odds.

Montreal Canadiens pose with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (NHL.com).

But which team are the real Canadiens? The one that took their fans on a dazzling run that came within three games of the Stanley Cup? Or the one that stumbled through a shortened season and backed into the playoffs?

On the one hand, the Habs seemed to finally adjust to interim coach Dominique Ducharme’s system in the postseason. They played a strong team game with an emphasis on solid defensive play, quick zone transitions, and in-close scoring chances. Their penalty-killing was the best throughout this postseason.

Price bounced back, reminding everyone why he’s still among the best goalies in the game. Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson formed a solid top-four defense that cleared traffic from around Price’s net and took away the opposition’s scoring lanes.

Young forwards Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi continue to blossom into future stars. Josh Anderson provided size, speed and clutch scoring. Tyler Toffoli was strong at both ends of the rink. Phillip Danault was superb in a shutdown center role. Greybeards Corey Perry and Eric Staal provided invaluable depth experience and leadership.

On the other hand, Price admitted he didn’t play well during the first three games against the Lightning. Anderson’s scoring was inconsistent for most of the playoffs. A thumb injury robbed Weber of his fearsome point shot. Alexander Romanov’s limited postseason appearances raised questions over Ducharme’s faith in the promising defenseman. The power play often looked like they were playing with a live grenade.

So, are they an emerging Stanley Cup contender or an overachiever that crashed to earth in the Final?

Marc Bergevin was a finalist for GM of the Year, which for some weird reason is voted on following the second round of the playoffs. He wouldn’t have even been among the candidates had that vote occurred following the regular season.

The Canadiens’ playoff run probably saved Bergevin’s job (should he still want it) and should remove the interim label off Ducharme’s title. Having gotten their team to the Final, can they avoid the pitfalls that doomed many Cup Final underdogs of the past?

Everything depends on several factors.

Bergevin was able to use plentiful cap space to add Toffoli, Anderson, Perry, Staal, Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen. Making similar acquisitions won’t easy with a salary cap expected to remain flat for the next several seasons.

More promising youngsters must begin to crack the lineup. Ryan Poehling, Mattias Norlinder, Cayden Primeau, Jan Mysak, Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris have to make a positive impression within the next several years.

Price must maintain his strong playoff form throughout the regular season, something he’s had difficulty doing in recent years. The 36-year-old Weber must begin accepting a reduced role as a second-pairing defenseman, allowing Petry to take the first-pairing role on their right side.

Toffoli and Gallagher must remain healthy. Danault should be brought back but that could prove difficult given his earlier rejection of a six-year, $30 million deal. If not, a suitable replacement must be found. Perry should be an affordable one-year signing.

Suzuki, Caufield, Kotkaniemi and center Jake Evans must keep improving and take on greater roles and responsibilities. Romanov must be given more playing time and room to allow for his development. Anderson needs to find the back of the net more often. They need more from Drouin than what he’s given them in the past, assuming he can continue his playing career.

Ducharme must prove he can still make the right moves as he did through most of this postseason. He has to ensure the players still buy into his system. He must also silence critics who feel he’s slow to trust his youngsters given his seeming reluctance to insert Kotkaniemi, Caufield and Romanov into the lineup earlier in this postseason.

Even if all those factors pan out, will the Canadiens be deep enough and strong enough to match up well in an Atlantic Division? Can they compete on an even footing with the powerhouse Lightning, the improving Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators, the still-talented Maple Leafs and still-dangerous Boston Bruins?

Can they do more than just hold their own against Eastern Conference teams like the veteran-laden Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals? Will they be able to handle the rising Carolina Hurricanes, the promising New York Rangers, and the hard-working New York Islanders?

Can they keep pace with the best of the west in the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche? Or the Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers? The suddenly improved Minnesota Wild?

This year was a heckuva run for the Canadiens but they have a long way to go to prove they’re more than a one-year wonder.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 23, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 23, 2021

The Canadiens take a 3-2 series lead over the Golden Knights, Lou Lamoriello is the GM of the Year, Mathew Barzal fined, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines

NHL.COM: The Montreal Canadiens are one win away from advancing to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final after beating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 in Game 5 of their semifinal series. Nick Suzuki had a goal and two assists, Tyler Toffoli collected two helpers and Carey Price turned aside 26 shots for the win. Max Pacioretty tallied Vegas’ only goal. The Canadiens lead the series three games to two and can put it away Thursday in Game 6 on home ice.

Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some fans on social media took to blaming Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for this loss. They also questioned head coach Peter DeBoer going with Fleury after Robin Lehner played well in Game 4. The problem, however, doesn’t lie with Fleury but with their offense.

Once again, the Canadiens did a fine job shutting down Vegas’ leading scorers. Pacioretty is the only member of the Golden Knights’ top-six forwards to score a goal against the Habs, while team captain Mark Stone is facing some criticism in the local media for failing to step up in this series.

The Golden Knights may be down but they proved in Game 4 they can battle back. However, they no longer have any margin of error. The Canadiens are playing like a team that believes it can win. Price’s goaltending and their defensive play have made the difference so far. If the Golden Knights don’t figure out a way to beat the Habs’ system on Thursday, they’ll be heading to the golf course by this weekend.

For the second straight year, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is the winner of the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.

NEWSDAY: Islanders center Mathew Barzal received a $5,000 fine by the NHL department of player safety for his cross-check of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta in Game 5 of their semifinal series.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning may have routed the Islanders in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead but they aren’t taking their opponent for granted heading into Game 6 tonight on Long Island.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Isles caught a big break when Barzal didn’t receive a suspension for that cross-check on Rutta. It would’ve been a blow to their chances of winning Game 6 to lose their top center.

VANCOUVER SUN: Henrik and Daniel Sedin are returning to the Canucks, this time as special advisors to general manager Jim Benning.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll have to wait and see if the Sedins will have significant input into management decisions or if this is just window-dressing.

SPORTSNET: Referee Wes McCauley is not expected to work any remaining games in the semifinal. His last assignment was as a standby referee in Game 1 of the Lightning-Islanders series. He’s not believed to be injured and there is a possibility he’ll work a Stanley Cup Final game. Considered the consensus “best referee in the NHL,” his absence comes as the league faces growing criticism over the quality of officiating in this postseason, particularly in several semifinal games.

STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis medical examiner determined that Blues alumni Bob Plager died of a cardiac event prior to his SUV crashed in March. Plager spent 11 seasons with the Blues as a player and spent years with the organization following his playing career. He was 78 years old.

WGR 550: Former Buffalo Sabres star Rene Robert passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack last week in Florida. He was 72 years old.

Robert spent 12 seasons with the Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Rockies from 1970-71 to 1981-82. His best seasons were with the Sabres (’71-’72 to ’78-’79) with Gilbert Perreault and Richard Martin on the fabled French Connection Line. He tallied 284 goals and 702 points in 744 career games, as well as 41 points in 50 playoff contests.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Robert’s family, friends, former teammates and the Sabres organization.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 21, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 21, 2021

The Golden Knights tie their semifinal series with an OT win over the Canadiens plus ongoing reaction from Game 4 of the Islanders-Lightning series and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The Vegas Golden Knights tied their semifinal series with the Montreal Canadiens at two games apiece with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 4. Nicolas Roy tallied the game-winner in the extra frame.

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (NHL Images).

Montreal opened the scoring with a second-period goal by Paul Byron but Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb tied it midway through the third period. Robin Lehner was a surprise starter for the Golden Knights, kicking out 27 shots for the victory.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eyebrows were raised when Vegas coach Peter DeBoer went with Lehner over starter Marc-Andre Fleury for this contest. Fleury’s turnover in Game 3 cost his club that game but he’s been otherwise superb in this postseason. It was a gusty move on DeBoer’s part that paid off. Lehner played very well, showing little sign of rust in just his second game of these playoffs.

After the Golden Knights dominated Game 3 and lost in overtime, it was the Canadiens turn to fall in the extra frame after outperforming their opponent. This was one of the Habs’ best games of the playoffs despite the loss. They’ve done an effective job bottling up the Golden Knights’ scoring forwards.

The poor quality of the NHL officiating has been an ongoing theme in this year’s playoffs. It reared its ugly head in this contest. One example was Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson boarding Vegas forward William Carrier from behind right in front of referee Dan O’Rourke. Another was NcNabb manhandling Canadiens center Nick Suzuki, punching him in the face in full view of referee Chris Lee. There was no call in either incident.

LAS VEGAS SUN: Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon was placed in self-isolation yesterday after testing positive for COVID-19. The test result was revealed hours before Game 4. McCrimmon is the second person in this series to test positive. On Friday, Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive and is self-isolating for 14 days.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ducharme was fully vaccinated but a Golden Knights spokesman declined to comment when asked if McCrimmon had reached that status. The story goes on to say that 85 percent of their traveling party had reached the vaccination threshold that qualified for relaxed travel protocols. McCrimmon and team president George McPhee was seen maskless while watching Game 3 from a suite at the Bell Centre, which could be considered a protocol violation.

The games in this series are the first involving NHL teams traveling back and forth between Canada and the United States since March 2020. So far, no players have tested positive. You can bet the league will be closely monitoring this situation, reminding both clubs about the importance of maintaining its COVID-19 protocols.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: For the first time in two postseasons, the Lightning is tied 2-2 in a series heading into Game 5. They led each of their last six series three games to one heading into previous Game 5 situations.

NEW YORK POST: Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock’s game-saving block in Game 4 is earning comparisons to other famous saves in sports history.










NHL Playoffs: Underdog Canadiens Face Uphill Battle Against Maple Leafs

NHL Playoffs: Underdog Canadiens Face Uphill Battle Against Maple Leafs