Curtains on Broadway: Rangers buy out Richards

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After much speculation, the rumors have proven true — New York has used a compliance buyout on Brad Richards, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

Per CapGeek, Richards — who holds a no-movement clause — opted against being placed on waivers, allowing the Rangers to immediately move forward with the buyout process. Capgeek also reports it’s the fourth-largest buyout in NHL history.

Richards just wrapped the third of a massive nine-year, $60 million deal signed in 2011. This move will free New York from his annual $6.6 million cap hit, but the club will pay Richards $1.05 million annually until 2025-26.

The Rangers will also avoid potential cap recapture penalties for Richards’ back-diving contract. The deal paid $57 million in salary in the first six years, and just $1 million over the final three seasons — so, should Richards have retired prior to fulfilling the duration of the contract, the Rangers would’ve been hit with gigantic penalties:

The decision to use the compliance buyout comes after Richards, 34, enjoyed something of a bounce-back campaign this year. He racked up 51 points in 82 games — third on the Rangers in scoring — and 11 points through his first 20 playoff games, averaging close to 17 minutes a night.

While he struggled in the Stanley Cup Final (no goals, one assist, minus-4 rating and a fourth-line demotion midway through the series), agent Pat Morris recently expressed optimism that Richards would be retained by the Rangers, thanks to conversations he had with GM Glen Sather.

“Gut feeling, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s kept,” Morris told Sportsnet’s Fan 590 last Tuesday. “Glen was pretty positive about Brad’s role this season, especially after [former Rangers captain Ryan] Callahan left.”

Today may be a difficult day for Richards, but he should be comforted by the following two facts:

Update: Per Sportsnet, Richards cannot sign with a new team until July 1.

NHL stays with status quo as Canada pot legalization looms

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As Riley Cote took and delivered countless punches over more than a decade of junior and pro hockey, he was eager to avoid painkillers.

Early on, marijuana was touted to the enforcer as a healing option.

”I started noticing some therapeutic benefits,” Cote said. ”It helped me sleep, helped with my anxiety and general well-being.”

Now a handful of years into retirement, Cote is a proponent of cannabis and its oils as an alternative to more addictive drugs commonly used by athletes to play through pain. Marijuana can be detected in a person’s system for more than 30 days, is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency without a specific therapeutic use exemption and is illegal in much of the United States.

Canada on Wednesday will become the largest country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana. That means it will be available under the law in seven more NHL cities (it’s been legal to adults in Denver since 2012). The move is a step forward for those who, like Cote, believe marijuana has been stigmatized and should be accepted as a form of treatment.

”It was so tainted for a long time,” Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene said. ”And now people are starting to learn a little bit more about it and there is definitely some positive uses to different elements of it.”

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association plan no changes to their joint drug-testing policy, under which players are not punished for positive marijuana tests. It is the most lenient approach to cannabis by any major North American professional sports league.

”The Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program for decades has been educating players on using drugs, legal or illegal,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”That process will continue and we will consider what changes, if any, in our program have to be made. But right now, we think based on the educational level and what we do test for and how we test, at least for the time being, we’re comfortable with where we are.”

While the NFL and NBA can suspend and MLB can fine players for multiple marijuana infractions, only a significantly high amount of the drug found in NHL/NHLPA testing triggers a referral to behavioral health program doctors. Cote estimated about half of players during his NHL career from 2007-2010 used some sort of cannabis for medicinal purposes, though players suggest use in hockey currently is lower than the population at large.

More than two dozen U.S. states allow marijuana use for a variety of ailments, but the federal government has not approved it for any medical use. Some players have already done research into the benefits of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) oils. There’s a curiosity about whether marijuana could one day replace or limit painkillers like oxycodone, even if players aren’t yet ready to make that leap.

”There’s not a lot of science out there yet in terms of long-term effects,” said Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele, who is still on the fence about cannabis use for medical reasons. ”I think it’s something that still needs to be thought really clearly about in terms of understanding the long-term effects.”

Through his Hemp Heals Foundation and work with Lehigh Valley University in Pennsylvania, Cote is doing his part to increase the information available. He’s quick to point to studies on cannabis that suggest it can help people after PTSD or head trauma. And yet he acknowledges there’s a long way to go.

”There’s a lot of different things that point to the fact that the science is now backing it up,” Cote said. ”There’s probably billions of anecdotal stories, but those don’t mean anything unless it’s backed by science, unless it follows the order of the way it’s supposed to be.”

Bettman contends the mainstream medical community has not concluded that cannabis prevents or heals injuries, and said an argument could be made to the contrary. NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said it’s a subject that is ”at best in its infancy and is going to develop over time.”

Given the looming Wednesday legalization in Canada, the league and union opted for education over policy changes.

”What we feel was an important element is at least educating the players better on the current marijuana landscape both from a legal and illegal perspective and what’s permitted and not permitted,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. ”But also ‘What are the products out there?’ because there’s probably publicly a great misconception of what marijuana is, how it’s used, what it’s used for to what the reality is.”

Players who aren’t yet educated about marijuana are willing to ask around about potential benefits as more studies are done.

”I say this more talking about the CBD side of it, obviously: You’d be stupid not to at least look into it,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. ”When your body’s sore like it is sometimes, you don’t want to be taking pain stuff and taking Advil all the time. There’s obviously better ways to do it. … You’re seeing a lot of smart guys look into it. You’re seeing a lot of really smart doctors look into it. If all the boxes are checked there and it’s safe and everything like that, then I think you would maybe hear them out.”

The possibility of experimenting with cannabis extracts is more possible in the NHL than for players with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors or MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays because of the regulations in those sports.

In the NBA, a second positive test carries a $25,000 fine and each subsequent test a suspension of five games, then 10 and so on. In baseball, a player on a 40-man roster could be fined up to $35,000, while a player not on a 40-man roster is subject to a 50-game suspension for a second positive test and 100 for a third.

A Raptors spokeswoman said it’s business as usual for the team because the new laws in Canada don’t change NBA drug policy. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins also largely deferred to the league office.

”Major League Baseball does a good job on educating players across the game on risk in and around that,” Atkins said. ”It’s a complex situation that is very personal. I’d need more information to say if we’d just tolerate it or not.”

For now, marijuana is technically a banned substance as a drug of abuse in the NHL. Cote would love to see marijuana removed from NHL/NHLPA testing to open the doors to widely accepting it, though players say it would take years for hockey culture to welcome such a change – if it ever would.

”I played in Colorado where it was legal for a while and I thought it was going to change society a little bit, and it didn’t, really,” Duchene said. ”I don’t think it’s going to be as big a thing as people might think.”

AP Baseball Writer Ron Blum, AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and freelancer Ian Harrison contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Crawford close to return; draft steal Rielly

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Corey Crawford is very close to returning for the Chicago Blackhawks. If all goes well, he’ll be between the pipes Thursday vs. Arizona. [Chicago Tribune]

• “If the so-called ‘tough’ players on this [Canucks] roster aren’t being paid to prevent this from happening, and aren’t being paid to respond when it does, what are they being paid to do?” [Canucks Army]

• Former Canucks president Trevor Linden spoke for the first time since leaving the organization: “I think I left (the team) in a better place than I found it. At the end of the day, I recognized exactly the spot we were coming into this thing and the whole continuum of how teams are built … and how they need to get to where they need to be.” [Sportsnet]

• You can’t stop Patrice Bergeron, you can only hope to contain him. [Bruins Daily]

• Wanting to give him a chance to play somewhere, the Winnipeg Jets waived Marko Dano and he was picked up on Monday by the Colorado Avalanche. [Mile High Hockey]

• The 2012 NHL Draft featured plenty of talent, including Morgan Rielly, who could end up looking like a steal. [Featurd]

• How the “Shanaplan” is doing against the NHL salary cap. [Spector’s Hockey]

• Bob Hartley, now coaching in the KHL, says he would love if William Nylander came to his team, Avangard Omsk, who own the Toronto Maple Leafs’ forwards rights. “I would love to see him in our team. I coached his father in Zurich, and William himself is a great player, even though he is sitting without a contract.” Nice try, Bob. [TSN]

• How long will the good times last for the Anaheim Ducks? [Yahoo]

• Injuries will be testing the Philadelphia Flyers’ depth for the next little while. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The Imagine Dragons curse affecting the Vegas Golden Knights is real. [Knights on Ice]

Chandler Stephenson, first line center, will continue to be a thing. [NBC Washington]

• It’s way too early to start panicking about the St. Louis Blues. [St. Louis Gametime]

• A New York Rangers fan is willing to watch Henrik Lundqvist leave if it means a better shot at a Stanley Cup. [Gotham Sports]

• How do the Florida Panthers go about fixing their slow start? [The Rat Trick]

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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.

The Buzzer: Tatar’s three-point night; Matthews makes more history

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Three Stars

1. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. Two big wins in a row for the Canadiens. Two big nights for Tatar, who now has six points in his last two games. During a 7-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Tatar scored a goal and assisted on two others. Last season, Tatar had only two multi-point games the entire year.

2. Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs. Kapanen continued his red-hot start with a pair of goals during the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He now has four goals and eight points through seven games this season, really making most of this opportunity in William Nylander‘s absence.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. A 37-save effort from Anderson helped the Senators dispatch the Dallas Stars 4-1. It was Anderson’s second win in a row and over his last two games he’s stopped 73 of 75 shots faced.

Highlights of the Night

• During their game Monday night, the Senators remembered the late Ray Emery:

• Maxime Lajoie can’t stop scoring. The Senators defensman potted his fourth of the season and now has seven points on the season.

• In his 1,000th NHL game, Tomas Plekanec scored:

• One of Kapanen’s goals was this bank shot:

• Good luck trying to stop this Matt Dumba rocket:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Maple Leafs 4, Kings 1

Senators 4, Stars 1
Canadiens 7, Red Wings 3
Predators 4, Wild 2

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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.

Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games for slamming Pettersson to ice

NHL
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The NHL announced on Monday evening that Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson has been suspended two games for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct” against Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson over the weekend.

Petterson has been entered in to the NHL’s concussion protocol and is expected to be sidelined for the next 7-10 days as a result of the play.

The incident took place early in the third period of Saturday’s game in Florida and left the Canucks completely furious. Just after Pettersson had dangled around Matheson in the offensive zone, Matheson again encountered the talented rookie along the boards and after checking him, proceeded to slam him to the ice with the puck nowhere near the two players.

Here is the video as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner tried to defend his play on Monday by saying that Matheson is an honest player and that he was just attempting to finish his check hard, while Matheson’s agent said that his client was “surprised” by how light Pettersson is and that it all happened very quickly.

On Monday, Canucks coach Travis Green was still upset about the play and how it resulted in his team losing a bright young star to injury on a play that was not necessary.

“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I’m really upset, I still am,” Green said. “We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary. I’m pissed off right now, still talking about it.”

Matheson forfeits $52,419.36 in salary and is eligible to return to the Panthers’ lineup Saturday against Detroit.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.