Five Surprises So Far From the NHL Central Division
Recaps of Monday’s action, the three stars of the week, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: A third-period goal by Vincent Trocheck set the stage for Martin Necas’ overtime winner as the Carolina Hurricanes edged the Florida Panthers 3-2. Necas also collected two assists while Alex Nedeljkovic made 44 saves for the win. The Panthers (30 points) remain in first place in the Discover Central Division, one point ahead of the Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. They also played with winger Anthony Duclair as he’s sidelined at least a week with a lower-body injury suffered during Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes.
Ottawa Senators winger Drake Batherson scored twice to extend his franchise-record goal streak to six games in a 5-1 upset of the Calgary Flames. Matt Murray got the win with 27 saves and Senators rookie Tim Stutzle picked up two assists. The Flames (22 points) have dropped three of their last four games and remain one point behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens in the Scotia North Division.
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko made 27 saves for his first NHL shutout in a 4-0 upset of the Winnipeg Jets. Elias Pettersson and Nate Schmidt each had a goal and an assist for the Canucks, who moved to within three points of the Canadiens.
Mark Stone collected five primary assists as the Vegas Golden Knights overcame a 4-2 deficit to nip the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime, snapping the Wild’s six-game win streak. Max Pacioretty scored twice, including the game-winner. Marcus Foligno tallied twice for the Wild (25 points), who remain two points back of the first-place Golden Knights in the Honda West Division.
The St. Louis Blues got two goals and an assist from Zach Sanford to hold off the Anaheim Ducks 5-4. The Blues sit one point behind the Golden Knights. Ducks forward Isac Lundestrom collected his first career NHL hat trick.
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson kicked out 31 shots in a 3-0 shutout over the Edmonton Oilers. William Nylander and Morgan Rielly each had a goal and an assist for the Leafs, who blanked the Oilers for the second straight game.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs accomplished this feat with leading goal scorer Auston Matthews and starting goalie Frederik Andersen sidelined by injuries.
The San Jose Sharks scored six unanswered goals in a 6-2 drubbing of the Colorado Avalanche. Evander Kane had a goal and two assists while Timo Meier collected three helpers. The Avalanche played without defenseman Cale Makar, who returned to Denver for further evaluation regarding an upper-body injury suffered during Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane and Minnesota Wild winger Mats Zuccarello are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending Feb. 28.
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline reports Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is expected to make public comments today supporting head coach John Tortorella, who’s in the final season of his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tortorella’s future has become the topic of speculation as the Jackets has dropped five straight games and seven of their last eight, leaving them seven points behind the fourth-place Chicago Blackhawks in the Central.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: The Oilers claimed goaltender Alex Stalock off waivers yesterday from the Wild.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stalock revealed he was diagnosed with the heart condition myocarditis after testing positive for COVID-19 last November. He received clearance to resume training in mid-January but was unable to regain his spot on the Wild’s goalie tandem. As he’s crossing the US-Canada border he must quarantine for two weeks before joining the Oilers.
THE PROVINCE: Former NHL forward Todd Bertuzzi was arrested for drunk driving in Michigan over the weekend.
Recaps of Sunday’s games feature Patrick Kane and Alain Vigneault reaching career milestones plus updates on Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Gabriel Landeskog and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Patrick Kane scored his 400th career goal as the Chicago Blackhawks thumped the Detroit Red Wings 7-2. He had a three-point performance while Alex DeBrincat collected four points and Kevin Lankinen made 44 saves for the Blackhawks. They’ve won six of their last eight games and sit third in the Discover Central Division.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some observers wondered how the Blackhawks would fill the leadership void when team captain Jonathan Toews was sidelined by a mysterious illness. Kane has certainly risen to the occasion. He’s also tied for second with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (34 points) in the NHL scoring race.
Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault picked up career win 700 as his club blanked the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. Goalie Carter Hart made 28 saves for the shutout while James van Riemsdyk had a goal and an assist.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vigneault is tied with Mike Babcock for eighth on the all-time list.
The Boston Bruins got two goals from Charlie Coyle and two assists from David Pastrnak as they defeated the New York Rangers 4-1. Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev played most of the game with a scratched left eye suffered in the first period. He went to the bench for repairs and returned to the game.
A 28-save performance by Juuse Saros helped the Nashville Predators down the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1, sweeping their two-game series and handing the Jackets their fifth straight loss. Columbus coach John Tortorella said he wasn’t concerned about his job security in a post-game press conference.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Changes could be coming to the Jackets if they don’t snap out of this tailspin soon. They’re now six points behind the fourth-place Carolina Hurricanes in the Central.
Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winning goal as the Washington Capitals edged the New Jersey Devils 3-2. Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 19 saves in his first game since coming off the COVID-19 protocol list. Jakub Vrana had a goal and an assist for the Caps. Devils captain Nico Hischier missed the game and is listed as day-to-day after taking a puck to the face on Saturday.
New York Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin made 20 saves for his second straight shutout in a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Oliver Wahlstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were the goal scorers.
THE SCORE: Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel claimed he didn’t get hurt during pregame warmup before Thursday’s loss to the New Jersey Devils, contradicting what coach Ralph Krueger told reporters that night. Eichel said he got hurt in New Jersey on Tuesday, which also forced him to miss Thursday’s game. Krueger said Sunday he wasn’t trying to mislead anyone with his statement on Thursday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This would be at best a minor issue for a normal team. For the floundering Sabres, however, it’s seen by their critics as yet another example of the dysfunction within the club.
TORONTO STAR: The Maple Leafs could face the Edmonton Oilers tonight without center Auston Matthews and goalies Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell. They’re nursing injuries and listed as day-to-day. Michael Hutchinson will get the call if Andersen and Campbell can’t play.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog tied Peter Forsberg for the third-most goals (202) in franchise history during Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
NBC SPORTS: Florida Panthers winger Brett Connolly and Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock were placed on waivers yesterday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’m interested to see if a team in need of goalie depth plucks Stalock off the waiver wire. He had decent numbers last season but has been relegated to third-stringer behind Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen this season.
STLTODAY.COM: Jacob de la Rose became the sixth player on the St. Louis Blues to be placed on injured reserve.
TSN: Four players – Arizona’s John Hayden, Detroit’s Patrik Nemeth, the New York Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl – remain on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There were calls from some in the media in mid-February for the NHL to pause or reduce the schedule over the growing number of players on the protocol list and the postponement of games as a result. Those numbers have significantly dropped over the last two weeks, suggesting the league’s updated protocols are working.
Pierre-Luc Dubois’ benching raises more speculation over his future with the Blue Jackets, plus the latest on the Penguins in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST DUBOIS SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline believes the Columbus Blue Jackets’ efforts to manage Pierre-Luc Dubois’ situation following his trade request may be spiraling out of control after he saw less than four minutes of ice time in yesterday’s 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 22-year-old center was benched for the final two periods of regulation and overtime.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella wouldn’t talk about why he benched Dubois while the center declined to be interviewed. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen has taken multiple calls on Dubois but Portzline said it’s unclear how he’s hoped to handle this. It was assumed Kekalainen wanted to get through this season before trading Dubois.
Portzline said sources say the relationship between Dubois and Tortorella isn’t the direct reason he’s requested a trade. The Jackets coach said the onus is on the player to determine their ice time. “You’re going to get out there if you play the proper way,” he said.
SI.COM: Ken Campbell believes the skids are being greased for Dubois’ departure from the Blue Jackets. This has become an untenable situation that must be addressed sooner rather than later. He wondered if Dubois is trying to force a trade with his indifferent play against the Lightning or if Tortorella has had enough of the drama of players who want out of Columbus.
Campbell expects Kekalainen will receive multiple calls from his peers around the league. He doubts Dubois’ value in the trade market will be diminished, pointing out the center is a known commodity around the league who’s also under contract through 2021-22.
Dubois’ situation has been compared to the departures of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky nearly two years ago. However, those players didn’t request trades but merely indicated they would test the free-agent market when their contracts expired.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t doubt Kekalainen preferred to hang onto Dubois for the remainder of this season and then attempt to shop him this summer when it’s easier to swing major trades. Last night’s incident, however, suggests that might not be an option if this situation grows toxic.
Kekalainen could meet with Dubois and Tortorella to settle things down. Perhaps Dubois’ teammates will weigh in on the situation before it gets out of control.
There’s no question Dubois has considerable value in the trade market. Almost a dozen teams have been linked to him, maybe more. Finding a suitable offer, however, is the sticking point.
Unless Kekalainen decides to blow up his roster and rebuild he won’t want a return of draft picks and prospects. He’ll want a scoring forward who can have an immediate positive effect upon the roster, preferably a center to replace Dubois. If a one-for-one swap like that isn’t available, he’ll want a couple of promising NHL-ready players as part of a package deal.
The rules on non-essential travel between the United States and Canada will affect attempts by Canadian teams to acquire Dubois. It’s been pointed out that the acquiring Canadian team would have to wait two weeks for Dubois to complete his self-quarantine period before he would join the roster. Meanwhile, that club would also be without the assets they gave up to acquire him.
This situation could be resolved in the coming days if Kekalainen finds an acceptable deal. The question is whether that deal is available in-season.
PENGUINS SEEKING A DEFENSEMAN
TSN: Darren Dreger reports injuries to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blueline has GM Jim Rutherford shopping for a defenseman. He’s in the market for the best one he can find but might have to settle for a third-pairing rearguard.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Just over a week into this season, the Penguins are short three defensemen with Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola sidelined by injuries. Cap Friendly indicates they have $1.9 million in cap space but that won’t leave much wiggle room to make an addition.
The Penguins were linked earlier this week to Winnipeg Jets’ winger Jack Roslovic. That’s likely headed to the back-burner with Rutherford seeking to plug holes on his blueline.
Updates on Pierre-Luc Dubois and Keith Yandle in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NHL.COM: John Lane reports Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella confirmed Pierre-Luc Dubois’ trade request. “Yeah, he wants out,” said Tortorella, commending the 22-year-old center for his honesty but wishing he’d be more transparent about his reasons.
Tortorella indicated Dubois had a good training camp but he intends to keep the center on a short leash this season. “He needs to continue to do the things to help this team and be the best teammate he can be, or I’m not sure where it goes,” he said. “It’s a situation, and we’ll go to it day by day.”
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline suggests big changes could be coming to the Blue Jackets after this season. In addition to Dubois’ trade request, Tortorella is in the final year of his contract, as is team captain Nick Foligno. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen also has to decide whether Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins is their starting goalie as both are slated for UFA status in 2022.
Portzline believes Kekalainen has shown no urgency to move Dubois but wonders how long this can fester before he’s forced to act. The center is under contract through 2021-22. Dubois could be with the Jackets throughout this season unless they fall out of playoff contention and receive a tempting trade offer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently reported the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets were among the clubs with interest in Dubois. Kekalainen will set a significant asking price, perhaps seeking a scoring forward (preferably a center) in return. The Jackets GM isn’t known for hasty trades and will wait until the offseason if necessary for the right return.
The fates of Tortorella, Foligno and their goaltenders will be determined by the club’s performance this season. Missing the playoffs or another early postseason exit could bring about a shake-up.
SI.COM/THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin wonders what’s next for Keith Yandle now that the Florida Panthers are trying to ease the 34-year-old defenseman out of their lineup. His no-movement clause prevents them from placing him on their taxi squad unless he agrees to waive it. They could start the season by making him a healthy scratch, ending his 866-game Ironman streak.
Yandle’s declining performance could hurt his trade value. Larkin suggests the Panthers might have to absorb part of his $6.35 million annual average value (through 2022-23) to make him enticing in the trade market, provided he agrees to waive his NMC. Larkin reports a source said Yandle hasn’t been the initiator on any plans to waive his clause.
Larkin suggested the Boston Bruins as a potential fit. The New York Islanders could be another but they lack sufficient cap space to find room for Yandle.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see any club having an interest in Yandle at this point in his career. He has too much tenure on his contract even if the Panthers agreed to pick up a healthy chunk of his annual cap hit. Never say never, of course, because we’ve seen instances in the past where seemingly untradeable players get moved. Still, the Panthers could be forced to wait until the offseason to make that happen.