Sochi notes: Women’s hockey tourney has an interesting format

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Hey, have you missed me? You didn’t even notice I was gone, did you. Sigh. Well, I’ve been in Sochi for a few days now. I’ll be here until the end of the Olympics, which will culminate with the men’s gold-medal game on Feb. 23. I’m hoping I can pop in here from time to time and share a few offhand thoughts on the hockey, and just being in Russia. Otherwise I’ll be writing stories that appear on both PHT and NBCOlympics.com, or in some cases just NBCOlympics.com.

OK, onto my first list of notes:

—- Full disclosure: I’d never covered international women’s hockey until I came to Sochi, and I hadn’t really followed it since the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Like most hockey fans, I knew the basics – Canada and the United States are really good, everyone else is trying to catch up – but it’s not easy to parachute in (figuratively speaking; they have an airport and everything here) and start asking questions. Not good ones, at least. Fortunately, the American and Canadian players/coaches/management have all been super friendly and open during the media availabilities I’ve attended. I guess they know it’s important to promote their sport during the Olympics, which is really the only time there’s a significant media contingent on hand to cover it.

—- They’ve got an interesting format to the women’s tourney this year. In the preliminary round, the top four ranked teams — Canada, U.S., Switzerland, and Finland – will play each other – and the bottom four teams – Sweden, Japan, Russia, and Germany – will play each other. After that, the top two teams from the first group (probably the U.S. and Canada) will advance to the semis while the bottom two teams from the first group will play off against the top two teams from the second group for the other two spots in the semis. Got it? Good. A couple of reasons I figure they’re doing this. 1. They want to guarantee at least one game between Canada and the U.S. 2. They don’t want the blowouts we saw in 2010, like Canada 18, Slovakia 0 or the U.S. 13, Russia 0. Blowouts aren’t fun to watch, and they only shine a spotlight on the disparity between the top and bottom teams. I believe there’s genuine concern that women’s hockey will be removed from the Olympics if the rest of the world doesn’t start catching up to the two powerhouses.

—- I watched the U.S. and German women scrimmage earlier this week, and the disparity was vast. You could see it right off the bat in the warm-ups. On one side, the Americans were ripping shots crossbar and in; on the other, the Germans were — and I’m not trying to be mean here — basically floating theirs. They didn’t keep score in the scrimmage, but I can tell you it wasn’t close and the Americans ended with a really high Corsi rating.

—- I don’t want to say U.S. star Amanda Kessel (sister of Phil) waffled when asked if she was back to game shape after skipping the pre-Olympic tour to manage an injured hip (which required surgery in 2012), but she definitely didn’t give a resounding yes. “Getting there” was how she put it. “Decent.” She did look pretty good in the scrimmage though, and coach Katey Stone said later she was “100 percent.”

—- I wrote on Wednesday about new Canadian coach Kevin Dineen’s decision to take the captaincy away from women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser and give it to Caroline Ouellette. The more I think about it, the more I wonder just what was going on with this team last year. Remember that Dineen only replaced coach Dan Church in December after the latter abruptly resigned. So that’s a coaching change and a captaincy change right before the biggest tournament in women’s hockey, which only occurs once every four years. Clearly Dineen felt the team needed a shakeup, and I guess you have to give him credit for making a tough move he believed in, because it would’ve been a lot easier to just go with the status quo. I’ll still be surprised if it’s anyone but Canada and the U.S. in the final game, but the U.S. sure does seem like it has a great chance to snap Canada’s streak of three straight gold medals. And of the two favorites, if one is going to get upset by another country, I’d have to bet it’s going to be Canada.

—- I’m sure you’ve all heard the stories of reporters and their unfinished hotel rooms. Well, mine is just fine, thanks. I did, however, have a panic the other morning that I’d lost my wallet. Fortunately, it was right there in my pocket the whole time, but I was sweating it big time for a bit. I just can’t imagine the hassle of trying to replace all the credit cards and other stuff in my wallet while in Russia. You may be wondering, how could I possibly think I’d lost my wallet when it was in my pocket? Good question. Best I can explain is my whole pockets routine has been thrown off over here. Usually I keep three things in my pockets – wallet, keys, phone. Same three things every day. Over here, it’s totally different. I have my own phone and a temporary local phone, and I don’t always take my wallet with me, plus I’ve got credentials hanging around my neck and sometimes I carry a little digital recorder and everyone’s speaking a bunch of different languages and I didn’t sleep for the first 36 hours I was here because I stayed up to watch the SEA-HAWKS! win the Super Bowl. You can see how a blogger’s pockets routine could get thrown off. I figure it’s a bit like North American hockey players having to adjust to the bigger international ice surface. I have no idea where my keys are, by the way.

I’ll leave you with one of the many pictures hanging in the hallways of the massive main press center here. Just the definition of old school Olympics.

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NHL adds times, exhibition games to 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers playoff schedule

Dates times NHL 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers exhibition schedule
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Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule.

You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.

Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.

NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule

As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:

NHL exhibition game schedule 2020 Stanley Cup
via the NHL

Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES

EASTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)

(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m.
Tuedsay, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

* – if necessary

Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Prefer a day-by-day format instead? Want both? The NHL also shared that version, if it works better for you:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS DAY-BY-DAY SCHEDULE

(All times ET; TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

Saturday, Aug. 1

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 1, 12 p.m.
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 1, 4 p.m.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 1, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 1, 3 p.m.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 1, 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 2

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins, 3 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 1, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs, Nashville Predators, Game 1, 2 p.m.

Round-robin

St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche, 6:30 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 1, 10:30 p.m,

Monday, Aug. 3

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 2, 12 p.m.

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 2, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 2, 2:30 p.m.

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 2, 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 2, 12 p.m.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 2, 4 p.m.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 3, 8 p.m.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 2, 12:30 p.m.

Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 3, 6:45 p.m.
Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 2, 10:45 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 5

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 3, 12 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins, 4 p.m.

Best-of-5 series

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 3, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 3, 12:30 p.m.

Round-robin

Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m,

Best-of-5 series

Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 3, 10:30 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 6

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 3, TBD
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 3, TBD
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

Friday, Aug. 7

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 4*, TBD
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 4*, TBD
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 4*, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 4*, TBD
Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 4*, TBD
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 4*, TBD

Saturday, Aug. 8

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 5*, TBD
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 5*, TBD
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche, TBD

Sunday, Aug. 9

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 5*, TBD
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 5*, TBD
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

Islanders sign goalie Sorokin to $2M deal for next season

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The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.

The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.

Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.

All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.

The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.

While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.

Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”

The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.

Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.

The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
• Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy
• Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy
• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Oilers remember Colby Cave as training camp opens

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As the Oilers skated for the first time together since the March 12 NHL pause, Colby Cave looked on from above.

With Rogers Place sporting some fresh ice, the image of the late Cave was on the scoreboard as the Oilers practiced Monday as training camps opened for the 24-team Return to Play.

Cave, 25, died April 11 after suffering a brain bleed. He was set to be one of the team’s Black Aces when play resumed.

“Colby was an unbelievable young man, great teammate. Obviously a friend to everybody in our locker room,” said Tippett. “He would be with us today if he hadn’t passed. He planned to be with our group. He’s with us in spirit.”

[Related: Cooper Marody honors late Colby Cave with tribute song]

The Oilers are preparing for their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Oilers, which begins Aug. 1. Cave played 44 games with the Oilers in the last two seasons and spent most of 2019-20 with AHL Bakersfield. He had many friends on the roster, and his teammates will use his memory as inspiration going forward.

“This is first time we’ve all been together in a big group since Colby passed,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Those emotions are still fresh, and it makes it even more real now that we’re all together and he’s not able to join us. He’s going to be in our thoughts and in our hearts as we go forward and move through training camp and into the [playoffs], and hopefully, go on a deep run here.

“We’re going to play for Colby, and he’ll be with us throughout.”

MORE: Day 1 of NHL training camps: Uncertainty about Crawford, and more

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.