A month and a half after becoming the Sabres’ $40 million man, Christian Ehrhoff finally met face-to-face with the Buffalo media. It might not be as pressure packed as the media circus in Vancouver, but with that shiny new contract in hand, Ehrhoff can expect more pressure than he’s ever experienced in his career. Such is life when he’s the new guy in town and just signed a contract that pays $10 million next season and will keep him in Buffalo for the next decade.
Forget “good.” “Good” is an adjective reserved for guys who come-and-go and make millions less. Ehrhoff better be spectacular. If he is, it’ll go a long way towards making the Sabres legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference and possibly the Stanley Cup.
“Pressure is part of the business and you have to deal with those expectations and that pressure. I played in Vancouver before. It’s a very pressure-filled city and I think I’ve dealt with that pretty good.”
Part of the pressure is the vital role he’s expected to play on the team. The Sabres are expected to be an up-tempo team and Ehrhoff’s transition game should play right into their team philosophy. His booming slap shot has the potential help the Sabres improve upon their 19.4% power play that was good for 9th in the league last year. His 14 goals were good for 6th among defenseman; his 50 points was 7th among blueliners and a career high. This just in: he’s an offensive defenseman.
“Christian fits the way we play,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “We’re a team that has our defense involved and gets up ice. If you look at the way Vancouver’s defense played and were involved in the offensive side of the game, it’s an automatic fit.”
For his part, Ehrhoff thinks it should be a good fit as well. Once he dealt with the disappointment of getting traded from the Canucks (he thought they were making progress), he turned his attention to his future. Yes, he was looking for a raise from the $3.4 million contract that he earned last season. But at the same time, he wanted to play for a championship. Many will remember that he turned down a deal worth more per year from the New York Islanders a day before the Sabres acquired his negotiating rights.
Ehrhoff says he signed in Buffalo for the opportunity to win with the Sabres.
It also sounds like he did his due diligence before signing on the dotted line with Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Co. After weighing his options and asking former teammates, he was comfortable with the situation.
“Everybody had good things to say about the city of Buffalo being a great place to live with your kids and a good place for them to grow up – which was another criteria I was looking for. And since Terry (Pegula) took over the team he has showed that he is very committed to putting a team together that can win the Stanley Cup. For me it made a lot of sense and that’s why I joined the team.”
All of this is the easy part. For the time being, Ehrhoff has a honeymoon period with the media and fans alike. He’s the new guy who brings hope and the promise of success. If he fits in as Ruff expects and produces like he has for the Canucks over the last two seasons, then $4 million will be a relative bargain for a top-flight point producing defenseman. But if he struggles, the stories won’t be as positive as they are today. $4 million can sound like a good deal for a guy playing well—but the flip side to Ehrhoff’s contract is that his $10 million could look like a huge mistake if he is anything less than magnificent.
But like he said, he’s dealt with the demands of Vancouver. Playing with daily pressure should be nothing new for the German newcomer. We’ll see.
Blackhawks say team name honors namesake who inspired
CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks say they will continue to use their team name because it honors a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.
”The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the NHL team said in a statement Tuesday.
”We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.
”We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation. Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people. ”
The Athletic first reported on the team’s statement.
Under renewed pressure to change their name, the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced a ”thorough review” of the issue. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians are also looking into it while the Atlanta Braves declined.
Prospects like Kaprizov, Romanov, Sorokin won’t be eligible for NHL return, playoffs
NHL teams hoping to get a playoff/return-to-play boost from the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) seem to be out of luck. At least for what’s left of 2019-20 for the NHL, aka the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others can’t play yet — but can burn a year off ELCs
There is a wrinkle, though.
Such reports indicate that Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others could burn a year off of their entry-level contracts, even though they can’t participate in the NHL return to play to wrap up 2019-20.
Now, would it be logical to burn a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov? Probably not. Overall, there are likely too many drawbacks for the players, teams, or both.
Take Kaprizov and the Wild, for example.
If you want detail about the Kaprizov/Wild/KHL situation, Russo’s covered those bases multiple times at The Athletic, including here (sub required). But to simplify things, the Wild and/or Kaprizov probably won’t go for burning off 2019-20 from a two-year entry-level deal because:
The Wild would only really have Kaprizov signed for 2020-21. While that would finally draw him to the NHL, it would merely give them a single season to gauge Kaprizov’s value. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming as a continued threat to stability, who knows if they’d even get that season?
Considering that the 2020-21 NHL season might start in December or January, Kaprizov would be stuck idle since March. Meanwhile, the KHL aims to begin its 2020-21 season around September. Kaprizov would risk serious uncertainty for limited gain.
So … yeah, teams have some reason to at least consider burning a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. But it just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, generally speaking.
With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Kaprizov and the Wild, Sorokin and the Islanders, Romanov and the Canadiens.
Waiting game continues for Wild, fans, Kaprizov
Plenty of people deem Kaprizov, 23, as the best player in hockey not playing in the NHL.
Kaprizov ranked first in the KHL in goals (33 in 57 games), also finishing close to the scoring title with 62 points. This was no fluke, as Kaprizov also scored the most goals (30) in the KHL during the 2018-19 season. Doing so at such a young age only leaves Wild fans even more anxious to see him.
And, unlike other young scorers, it doesn’t sound like many critique Kaprizov’s overall game. Back in May, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin collected some rave reviews about Kaprizov, noting comparisons to “Artemi Panarin‘s mind” combined with Vladimir Tarasenko‘s tank-like body.
Sounds pretty good! The Wild should probably think about bringing Kaprizov over, eh? *Ducks*
But, yeah, a Wild team searching for good news and breakthrough talent could sure use Kaprizov. Maybe next season? Sadly, it sounds like at least a medium-sized maybe.
When you compare immediate concerns, Ilya Sorokin seems more like a luxury for the Islanders.
After all, the Islanders enjoyed another season of above-average goaltending. Semyon Varlamov was solid, and much like in 2018-19, Thomas Greiss provided comparable work to the Islanders’ would-be No.1. The sum result wasn’t at the level of what Greiss and Robin Lehner accomplished, but plenty of NHL teams must envy the Islanders’ goaltending.
So they don’t “need” Sorokin, seemingly.
But we’ve seen teams put together big playoff runs with rookie goalies intermittently since at least Ken Dryden swooped in, dominated, and leaned pensively on his goal stick for the dynasty-era Canadiens. That thought goes for goalies of various pedigrees, but particularly someone like Sorokin.
Besides, at 24, Sorokin’s getting to that age where the Islanders want to see what they have. Varlamov is 31, and Greiss is on an expiring contract and is 34.
However unlikely, a Sorokin-powered playoff run would’ve been the dream. Getting a better idea of where Sorokin ranks on the depth chart would have been nice, too.
Canadiens won’t get to make defense deeper with Romanov
How much of an impact would Alexander Romanov make for the Canadiens? Answers may vary.
The Ahtletic’s Scott Wheeler barely squeezed Romanov on his top 50 drafted prospects list at No. 48 (sub required). That said, Wheeler admitted that he’s lower on Romanov than many in the hockey world. This seems to be true, as Romanov placed 10th on The Hockey News’ future watch list, representing a meteoric rise from 45th the previous year.
Perhaps some of that variance comes down to how much weight given experts put on tournaments vs. season play.
The now-20-year-old defenseman earned top defenseman billing at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and excelled during the 2020 tournament, as well.
On the other hand, Romanov’s KHL stats have been modest, including a single goal over two KHL seasons (86 regular-season games).
But, in cases like Romanov’s, it’s often a debate regarding “How good?” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote that Romanov “looks like a future top-pair defenseman.” Wheeler sees Romanov more as a “sound defenseman” who could help in transition, yet probably won’t put up big numbers.
Either way, the Canadiens absolutely could use a player like Romanov. The better he ends up, the happier they are, of course. But even a steady presence would have helped against the Penguins.
Plenty of other prospects not involved in NHL return beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin
Naturally, there are noteworthy players who won’t get to participate in the NHL return to play beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but two other players come to mind:
Grigori Denisenko – The Panthers share some of the same space as the Wild and Canadiens as bubble-adjacent teams who could use a boost. Denisenko isn’t considered as surefire as Kaprizov, but there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old forward. That said, this would hurt even more if Denisenko was a defenseman, because Florida is pretty brutal in that area.
Jack Dugan – Like Romanov at 48, Dugan snuck into Wheeler’s top 50 at 47 (Denisenko ranks at 36, Kaprizov sits at six). Wheeler ranks among those that wonder if Dugan would make an immediate impact for the Golden Knights out of the NCAA. Some wonder if Dugan can eventually become a top-six forward. In other words, this isn’t necessarily a Cale Makar-style instant success story.
But Dugan breaks from some of the others on this list in being a prospect for a more proven team. The Golden Knights rank among the top four Western Conference teams, thus they’ll participate in the Round Robin for Seeding. I’d argue that Vegas stands out as one of the best of even that smaller group.
So imagine if Dugan can merely give them a boost? It’s arguable that Dugan could be a bigger deal than maybe a better prospect for a more needy team.
We won’t get to find out, though. While it’s the safer move, it’s a letdown for teams hoping for Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov, Denisenko, Dugan, and others.
After the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the Return to Play protocols and to a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, voting by the Board of Governors and full union membership comes next. Once ratified, we can officially say hockey will be back with training camps opening up next week.
The two hub cities will likely be Edmonton and Toronto with Rogers Place hosting the Western Conference and Scotiabank Arena the home for the Eastern Conference. As the two sides agreed to the RTP protocols, we know just how they plan to keep everyone in those “bubbles” safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For starters, there will be a lot of testing, which we’ll get to. Safety will come first and there are mechanisms on both sides to pull the plug.
Training camps should open Monday, July 13 and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will begin August 1. Before we get there, here’s how the league will run the “bubbles” in Edmonton and Toronto.
Who can come?
According to the Phase 4 document sent out Monday evening, teams can bring a maximum 52 people, which includes no more than 31 players. Teams must submit their traveling party to the league by July 13, the expected start of training camps. As part of the traveling party, teams must include three coaches, two trainers, one doctor, one security rep, one equipment manager, one massage therapist, one ART therapist/chiropractor, a compliance officer, and one content creator/social media person.
The compliance officer will have the job to “certify, in writing, by 10 p.m. local time each day, to the League Facility Hygiene Officer, that all members of the Club’s Traveling Party remain compliant with all necessary aspects of the Phase 4 Protocol. They also report any noncompliance, and how it will be remedied.”
Tests, tests, and more tests
There will be daily COVID-19 tests for every team’s traveling party. These will be done via nasal swab and there will be temperature checks and symptom screens. That’s a whopping 1,248 daily tests across the 24 teams, not including arena and hotel workers who will also require tests.
What if someone tests positive?
Anyone who shows COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolated and consult with their team’s physician. If that person tests positive, they cannot return to their team’s facilities until they test negative twice in a 24-hour period after their symptoms have subsided.
“The individual can also return to team facilities after a minimum of 10 days in self-isolation following the onset of symptoms if they have had no fever or respiratory symptoms for more than 72 hours.”
If a person tests positive and asymptomatic, they will take a confirmatory test to verify the first positive. Asymptomatic individuals who have their initial tests confirmed by a second test will have to self-isolate until they produce two negative tests within 24 hours or have 10 days pass since the first positive test. Should the confirmatory test come back negative, the asymptomatic person will stay isolated and take another test after 24 hours. If that test comes back negative they will be able to return to their team once cleared by the team physician.
Players who test positive or develop symptoms will not be publicly identified unless approved by the league and union. Expect plenty of speculation each time a player misses practice or a game.
As we’ve seen in baseball and basketball, players will have the ability to opt-out of participating, penalty-free. They just need to notify their teams in writing within three days of the agreement’s ratification.
What could cause a delay or postponement?
The league and union have the power to cancel, delay or postpone games if there are health and safety risks to players that could affect the “integrity of the competition.”
It’s unknown the specific number of positive tests that could cause a postponement or what would define an “uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19,” according to the agreement. The union has the ability to contest any ruling coming from Commissioner Gary Bettman by way of an “expedited arbitration of a grievance” in front of an impartial arbitrator.
Not playing by the rules
Violating the protocol could lead to “significant penalties, potentially including fines and/or loss of draft picks.” If a player refuses to be tested he will be forbidden to play and could also be removed from the tournament. Once inside the “bubble” you must be tested.
Players will have their own rooms on designated floors and cannot enter the room of someone else. The bars and restaurants will be open as long as everyone follows social distancing guidelines.There will also be contactless room service and delivery/pick up available from local restaurants.
Up for a round of golf? The NHL will also have trips inside and outside the “bubble” arranged for players with transportation provided. Masks are mandatory.
Speaking of masks…
Masks must be worn at all times except when exercising, eating, or on the ice. Coaches and referees do not have to wear masks during games.
Emergencies and family situations
A number of players could become fathers during the RTP. Once authorized, a person can leave the “bubble” for medical or personal reasons. When they return they must quarantine and cannot rejoin their team until testing negative four times over a four-day period.
Players will not be able to have their families visit until the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final. Families can stay in their room after quarantining and undergoing testing once inside the “bubble.”
Arena workers will disinfect benches, dasher boards, water bottle areas, and floors while players are in the dressing room. There will be dividers separating the individual water bottles.
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• In case you missed it: The NHL and NHLPA have reached a tentative four-year CBA extension. Now we wait for the agreement to be ratified by the NHL’s Board of Governors, the NHLPA’s Executive Board, and then the full union membership. [PHT]