The Best And Worst Luck In NHL Draft Lottery History
Players mull over the idea of performing in arenas without fans, Ryan Reaves and Evander Kane put aside their differences to help form Hockey Diversity Alliance, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE CANADIAN PRESS (via CTV News): Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and teammate Darnell Nurse, Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, and Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler are among several NHL players pondering playing in arenas without fans under the league’s return-to-play plan later this summer.
NHL players are accustomed to playing in front of thousands of noisy fans, drawing energy and intensity from the crowds. That won’t be the case during the 24-team playoff tournament, as fans won’t be allowed into the two hub arenas due to COVID-19 concerns.
Nurse believes it will be a test for the players to create their own intensity. Tavares acknowledged it’ll be unlike what the players are used to, but pointed out the game between the boards remains the same.
Wheeler suggests players will have to push aside the distraction of silence and remember millions of fans will be watching them on television. McDavid, meanwhile, acknowledged it won’t be the same. “It’ll suck, but we gotta do what we gotta do.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The lack of fan noise will be a little disconcerting at first, but I expect the players will quickly adjust. As Nurse pointed out, the players will have to find other ways to create their own environment and draw sufficient motivation.
THE SCORE: Vegas Golden Knights winger Ryan Reaves and San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane have a well-documented rivalry. However, the two put their differences aside to become part of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, which seeks to eradicate racism from hockey.
“I spoke to Evander and told him I want to jump in on this powerful message,” Reaves told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Ed Graney. “We have to put aside our differences on the ice and come together for a much bigger cause.”
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said he and his staff intend to use their time leading up to the tournament in preparation to face the Edmonton Oilers, their qualifying-round opponent. They intend to work on improving their systems while ramping up their focus on the Oilers as the tournament draws near.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: NHL coaches will have plenty of time to prepare. Late July is the earliest the tournament could begin, though early August seems the more likely time.
NJ.COM: Executives from the seven non-playoff clubs are hoping the NHL will allow them to spend some on-ice time evaluating their players during their long off-season. The New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, and San Jose Sharks failed to qualify for the post-season tournament.
Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald said those teams are hoping to get in some form of game action for their players.
“Bring them in in any shape or form. It could be a mini-camp. It could be rookie camp. It could be a rookie tournament. Maybe the Eastern teams get together. Maybe there’s an appetite for all of us to somehow have some sort of mini-tournament. But there’s definitely going to be some push from us at least to be able to have the ability to work with our players in a smaller window, whatever that may look like. We all believe it’s not fair that we go nine months without being able to have contact with our players.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Getting those teams together could be difficult as they’d all have to follow the same protocols as those participating in the playoff tournament. Perhaps mini-camps or rookie camps would be acceptable, though those clubs might have to pick up the costs of travel, accommodation, and COVID-19 testing.
HOKEJ.CZ: reports Dallas Stars forward Martin Hanzal is considering retirement after spending the past several seasons plagued by back injuries. He’s in the final year of his contract and spent the entire 2019-20 season on long-term injury reserve. With his contract still technically on the Stars’ books, he’ll likely wait until this season is over before making it official.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Craig Morgan reports Hanzal told him two months ago retirement was likely, but he’d wait until his contract expired to make an official decision. Morgan writes Hanzal’s back problems flare up whenever he plays hockey.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Former Oiler Nail Yakupov, the first-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is bouncing around the KHL with the same frequency as he did during his final NHL seasons.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I attributed Yakupov’s NHL woes to the revolving door of coaches during his four seasons with the Oilers. However, it appears his problems are much deeper than that. He has the dubious honor of being among the biggest draft busts in NHL history.
SPORTSNET: Montreal Canadiens mascot Youppi! is the first character from a Canadian-based sports team to be inducted into The Mascot Hall of Fame. He’s also the first two-sport mascot to be inducted, having joined the Canadiens in 2005 after serving with the Montreal Expos from 1979 until the MLB club was relocated in 2004. Youppi! is also the only mascot to be ejected from an MLB game.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Congratulations, Youppi! One of my favorite mascots of all time.
Latest on Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson, Antti Niemi, Nail Yakupov, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t ruling out captain Zdeno Chara from Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight in St. Louis. However, he suggested the big defenseman wasn’t trending in the right direction. Chara suffered what the Bruins are calling a “facial injury” in Game 4 and some reports suggest his jaw is broken. He didn’t participate in practice yesterday.
Bruins blueliner Matt Grzelcyk, meanwhile, participated in practice wearing a no-contact jersey. He’s been under concussion protocol since Game 2 but hasn’t been ruled out for Game 5.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo returns to the lineup for Game 5 after being a healthy scratch in the previous contest. He’ll replace Joel Edmundson, who will be a healthy scratch for the third time in this postseason.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson underwent surgery on May 31 to address a groin injury suffered during the regular season. He’s begun rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in time for next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That injury plagued Karlsson since midseason. He was sidelined for 29 games during the regular season and missed the final game of the Western Conference Final. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Karlsson’s health will be a factor during his contract negotiations.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Former Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi signed with Finnish club Jokerit in the KHL.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Niemi’s NHL career is over after 11 seasons. The 35-year-old backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup in 2010 and enjoyed his best seasons (2010-11 to 2014-15) with the Sharks. In recent years, however, his performance declined as he bounced from the Sharks to the Dallas Stars. Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, and the Canadiens as a backup goalie.
NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: Former Flyers forward Jori Lehtera is joining SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. In March, he was sentenced to “four months of conditional imprisonment (probation) in his native Finland for obtaining and possessing cocaine, a case that stemmed back to September 2018.”
TSN: A report on Tuesday claimed the Arizona Coyotes had interest in KHL winger and former NHL player Nail Yakupov. However, The Athletic’s Craig Morgan cites an NHL source claiming that report is “completely inaccurate.”
THE SCORE: Winnipeg Jets center Jack Roslovic fired agent Ken Robinson and replaced him with Claude Lemieux. Roslovic is slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1.
OTTAWA SUN: The Senators have held talks with former New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano about possibly becoming an assistant coach in Ottawa.
Check out the latest Oilers, Kings, and Coyotes speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT SHOULD THE OILERS DO THIS SUMMER?
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples disagrees with Sportnet’s Brian Burke over how the Oilers should rebuild their roster. Burke recently suggested the Oilers should bundle young winger Jesse Puljujarvi with either Andrej Sekera or Kris Russell to free up some salary-cap space to pursue a No.2 defenseman. He also advocated finding a scoring winger and a character bottom-six forward.
Staples, however, doesn’t believe the Oilers should try to build via free agency, pointing out they have a rather spotty history of free-agent signings. He also doesn’t see Edmonton as a prime destination for this summer’s top free-agent talent.
Staples doesn’t reject the notion of moving players (except for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) if the return improves the Oilers. Still, he recommends the club should build “by properly identifying young talent, drafting it and grooming it”, pointing out they’ve already made improvement in that area. He also encourages being patient with Puljujarvi, citing his age (20), upside and current limited trade value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I concur with Staples’ take. There’s no easy way for the next Oilers general manager to dig his club out of the hole dug by previous management. Building with youth and exploring a savvy trade or two seems the best route at this point.
With over $71 million invested in 16 players, they should still try to shed some salary, preferably those of underachievers. Easier said than done, of course, but they should at least look into it.
If they can find a way to shed Lucic’s $6-million cap hit, even if it means absorbing part of it or packaging him with a draft pick or a prospect, it should be done. They could go the buyout route but, as Cap Friendly indicates, they won’t get much in the way of cap savings in the first four years, though it’ll drop significantly to $625K per season over the final four years.
SHOULD THE KINGS MOVE QUICK AND KOVALCHUK?
ESPN.COM: Finding a new head coach, trading goaltender Jonathan Quick, and determining Ilya Kovalchuk’s future are among Greg Wyshynski’s offseason keys for the Los Angeles Kings.
He doesn’t expect interim bench boss Willie Desjardins will return as their full-time coach. Trading Quick won’t be easy because of his age, injury history and $5.8-million cap hit, but he lacks no-trade protection and the Kings could use the younger assets he might fetch in a trade. He wonders if Kovalchuk is willing to stay or if the Kings believe he might improve under a new head coach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Quick could be the best trade chip the Kings have this summer, or at least, the best one they’re willing to part with. I think a younger player like Tyler Toffoli would attract more interest but the Kings want to keep him as part of their rebuild. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, and Colorado Avalanche could be among the clubs with interest in Quick this summer.
As for Kovalchuk, he turns 36 next month and his best seasons are well behind him. If a team show interest and he’s willing to waive his no-movement clause they should trade him, even if it means picking up part of his $6.25-million cap hit.
COYOTES NOT PURSUING YAKUPOV
TSN: A report out of Russia yesterday claimed the Arizona Coyotes were one of three Western Conference clubs with interest in former NHL winger Nail Yakupov, who’s playing for KHL club St. Petersburg. However, The Athletic’s Craig Morgan cited a league source calling that rumor “completely inaccurate.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: So, who are the other two Western clubs supposedly interested in Yakupov? Who do you think they might be? Feel free to make your best guess in the comments section below.
Islanders sign Robin Lehner and acquire Matt Martin, Hurricanes sign Calvin de Haan and Nail Yakupov heading to the KHL. Details and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
NEWSDAY: The New York Islanders yesterday signed unrestricted free agent goaltender Robin Lehner to a one-year, $1.5-million contract and re-acquired winger Matt Martin from the Toronto Maple Leafs for goalie prospect Eamon McAdam.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is doing what he can to plug the holes in his roster with the slim pickings available to him via free agency and the trade market.
Lehner’s posted up respectable numbers over the past three years backstopping a lousy Buffalo Sabres club but it remains to be seen if he’ll be a significant improvement over Thomas Greiss and the departed Jaroslav Halak. Martin will bring back a physical style to the Isles that’s been missing since he signed with the Leafs two years ago.
The Leafs, meanwhile, shed Martin’s $2.5-million annual cap hit, freeing up room additional space to re-sign restricted free agent William Nylander and perhaps address their need to bolster their defense corps.
SPORTSNET: The Carolina Hurricanes signed former Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan to a four-year, $18.2-million contract. Hurricanes GM Don Waddell believes de Haan’s two-way play will “help solidify the left side and upgrade our defence”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This signing could also set the stage for a trade of Justin Faulk. More on that later this morning in the Rumors section.
TSN: Nail Yakupov, the first-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, has signed a two-year deal with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In the wake of this news, I’ve seen several pundits praise Yakupov’s speed, shot and personality but blame his “lack of hockey sense” for his poor NHL career. That’s as may be, but I think the revolving door of coaches and the culture of losing he played under during most of his four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers did him no favors. He was pretty much damaged goods by the time he joined the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Jets star Patrik Laine “helped calm some kids Monday night who were frightened by a drunken passenger causing a disturbance aboard a flight from Malaga, Spain to Helsinki.” Laine lightened the mood by talking to the youngsters, posing for photos and signing some autographs, helping each child to relax.
BOSTON GLOBE: The Bruins re-signed forward Sean Kuraly to a three-year contract worth $1.25 million per season.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Arizona Coyotes signed center Brad Richardson to a two-year, $2.5-million contract.
STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis Blues re-signed forward Robby Fabbri to a one-year, $925K contract.