Kessel trade shows Leafs are trying to ‘build this thing the right way’

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In the words of Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, here’s why Phil Kessel was traded today:

“This is really about a recognition on our part that what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that. We didn’t see that this group was going to get a whole lot better, in getting us toward that goal.

“Going out and hiring a coach like Mike Babcock was a huge bonus for us, so this was really about us saying, once again, we’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

So basically the same thing Shanahan said in April, and the same thing Babcock said in May.

While Shanahan conceded today that they “gave up a heck of a player…a very, very productive player,” Kessel is also 27 years old. Theoretically, by the time the Leafs hit their sweet spot in terms of competing for the Cup (assuming they ever do), Kessel will be past his prime, if he’s not already. 

Going forward, expect the Leafs to continue dismantling their flawed core. Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, and maybe even James van Riemsdyk; they could all be traded.

And any others that don’t fit into the club’s long-term plans, them too.

Related: Babcock lays down the law — ‘Anything that’s been going on is going to get cleaned up’

Eichel, Bauer team up to donate much-needed medical equipment

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Jack Eichel was enjoying a career-best season up until the NHL pause, but his greatest impact has come during the stop in action.

Buffalo’s captain purchased 5,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) masks from the hockey equipment manufacturer, Bauer. The essential items will be distributed to various hospitals throughout Western New York.

“I am so thankful to all those medical professionals that are on the front lines taking care of our community in the battle against this virus,” Eichel said in a team issued release. “The dedication to Western New York that they continue to show is incredible. I am happy to work with my friends at Bauer to purchase these masks. Hopefully, they will help play a part in keeping our hospital workers safer and healthier.”

Bauer recently repurposed their production facilities and began developing medical shields for healthcare professionals, emergency responders and other heroes fighting the coronavirus on the front lines. According to ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan, more than 100,000 units have been ordered across Canada as of last week.

“We’re all on the same team in helping our medical professionals get the necessary protective equipment they need to help in the fight against COVID-19,” said Mary-Kay Messier, VP of Global Marketing, Bauer Hockey. “Nurses, doctors and so many others are risking their own health to save the lives of others. These are the true heroes of coronavirus. Our team was eager to step up and do what we can, just like Jack is stepping up to help his community in Buffalo. We’re grateful for this partnership with Jack and the Buffalo Sabres, and we hope others continue to help because we all need to support our families, friends and neighbors right now.”

RELATED: Bauer VP of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier joined the Our Line Starts podcast this week to discuss the company’s production transition and how others are aiding them in making protective gear.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Long-term outlook for Dallas Stars: Free agents, prospects, and more

Dallas Stars long-term outlook Seguin Klingberg Heiskanen
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Dallas Stars.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn stand as the Stars’ highest-paid players (almost $10M per year for each), and management’s most sought-after scapegoats. If CEO Jim Lites & Co. had issues with Seguin (28, contract expires after 2026-27) and Benn (30, 2024-25) already, one can only imagine how nasty things might get as Father Time really rubs it in.

At least both remain effective if you keep expectations fair — especially Seguin. Even if the Stars’ staunch and stingy system does little to goose their counting stats.

By investing quite a bit of term in Esa Lindell, the Stars figure to lean on Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg for the foreseeable future. Heiskanen’s rookie deal runs out after next season, while Klingberg will only be a bargain through 2021-22.

Ben Bishop continues to provide fantastic goaltending, easily exceeding his near-$5M AAV so far. At 33, it’s fair to wonder if a big slide is coming, so that might go from a bargain to a burden before Bishop’s contract expires after 2022-23.

It will be interesting to see who else joins the core. Looking at the list of pending free agents alone, the Stars face interesting contract challenges with Hintz, Faksa, and Gurianov. The hope is those forwards can pick up the slack for aging players like Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, and Andrew Cogliano.

One would think that a goalie-needy team would drive Khudobin out of the backup goalie price range, but if not, Dallas would be wise to see how much longer their two-headed monster over 33-year-old goalies can keep this up.

Seeing Hanzal’s cursed contract ($4.75M AAV) come off the books must be a massive, Hanzal-sized relief.

Long-term needs for Stars

Khudobin and Bishop delivered shockingly strong results, even for those who favored the two, but again, they’re both 33. Getting younger in net needs to be an emphasis, whether that means a younger (cheaper) backup, or someone on the horizon. Maybe prospect Jake Oettinger could be the answer to a number of questions?

Finding a better balance between risk and rewards lingers as a more abstract key.

Does that mean finding a different coaching option other than interim bench boss Rick Bowness? Perhaps. Seeing Seguin languish with a modest team lead in points at 50 is already a bummer. No one else reaching 40 points in 2019-20 is downright alarming.

There are some nice supplementary pieces in guys like Hintz, but if Seguin and Benn continue to sink from superstars to stars, do the Stars have enough star power? If not, they’ll need to manufacture goals by committee.

Long-term strengths for Stars

A different chef might be able to put together a winning recipe with the ingredients on hand.

In particular, there are pieces to ice a modern, mobile defense. Heiskanen already hovers somewhere between star and full-fledged superstar. Klingberg suffered through a disappointing 2019-20, yet he still has a lot of talent, and could rebound in a more creative setup.

While Lindell is a bit more meat-and-potatoes, prospect Thomas Harley provides potential for more explosive offense from the Stars’ defense.

Speaking of prospects, Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson might eventually help the Stars improve their depth on offense. If those two work out, they could help Dallas patch up slippage for Benn and Seguin alongside the likes of Hintz.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked the Stars’ farm system 18th overall in January (sub required), while his Athletic colleague placed Dallas’ sub-23 group at 15th. That’s not world-beating stuff, but it’s also pretty solid for a team that’s becoming a fairly consistent playoff squad.

Goaltending might remain a strength if Bishop ends up being one of those goalies who ages well. We’ll see.

Overall, Heiskanen stands out as the player Stars fans should be most excited about. There are a decent number of others, especially if Seguin gets better puck luck than the 6.9 shooting percentage that made his 2019-20 season far from nice.

MORE STARS:
• 2019-20 season summary
• Surprises and disappointments

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Capitals vs. Blues

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NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour continues this week with back-to-back matchups between the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues on Wednesday beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

At 5 p.m. ET NBCSN will present the EA Sports NHL 20 simulated Capitals game that originally aired on NBC Sports Washington on March 24. Washington, led by Nicklas Backstrom’s hat trick, beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues, 5-3, in an action-packed virtual matchup.

At 6 p.m. ET, in a season opening matchup that featured the past two Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals erased an early 2-0 deficit to defeat the Blues in overtime 3-2. Alex Ovechkin scored his 11th goal in his 15th NHL season opener, and Jakub Vrana netted the overtime winner. The raising of the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup championship banner will be featured.

HOCKEY HAPPY HOUR SCHEDULE
• Thursday, April 2: Penguins-Red Wings 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Game 7 (5 p.m. ET)

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

In another century, another pandemic ended Stanley Cup final

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SEATTLE (AP) — The Seattle Metropolitans were 20 minutes from a second Stanley Cup title in the spring of 1919, 20 minutes from adding their names to the trophy again.

Odie Cleghorn’s goal for the Montreal Canadiens early in the third period of Game 5 sparked a rally that ensured there would be no celebration that day — or ever. The 1919 series took a grim turn from there.

Instead of ending with a title for Seattle, or with an epic comeback by Montreal, the series became known for being cancelled during the Spanish flu pandemic that sickened several players and eventually killed Montreal’s Joe Hall. Some are drawing parallels to what’s happening today with the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain future for the NHL’s current season.

“(A few) weeks ago, I didn’t think that would ever happen again. It was just such a quirky little footnote in history, and it was a funny little story, and ‘I can’t believe this happened,’” said author Kevin Ticen, who has chronicled the Metropolitans, including in a book, “When It Mattered Most,” about the 1917 season. “And now we’re sitting here and history has repeated itself. I mean, to me it’s exactly the same.”

The abandoned 1919 finals were just one of two instances since 1893 where the championship trophy was not awarded. The matchup between the champions of the NHL (Canadiens) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (Metropolitans) was called off with the series tied. The only other time no champion was crowned was when the 2005 lockout wiped out the entire NHL season.

The coronavirus pandemic that has brought sports to a standstill worldwide has ignited a debate about whether 2020 will be another year when the title isn’t decided.

The 1919 series was a clash that featured eight future Hall of Famers — five for Montreal and three for Seattle. It was supposed to be a best-of-five — with games alternately being played under PCHA rules and NHL rules — but an extra game was added after Game 4 ended in a 0-0 double-overtime tie. Seattle sports writer Royal Brougham wrote about the tie game at the time, saying: “They may play hockey for the next 1,000 years, but they’ll never stage a greater struggle then last night’s.”

But it was Game 5 that stands out in retrospect. Seattle led 3-0 after Jack Walker scored his second of the game in the second period.

Montreal’s rally started with Cleghorn’s goal early in the third period. Newsy Lalonde then scored twice more, the second at 17:05 of the third period to pull even. Jack McDonald scored the game-winner in overtime for the Canadiens.

“The Metropolitans just completely ran out of gas,” Ticen said, noting Hall of Famer Frank Foyston was injured, Cully Wilson collapsed with exhaustion in overtime and Walker had to leave with a broken skate. “In doing research over the ’16 and ’17 season, they always won late. … They always won late and that was the first game that they imploded.”

Unknown that night, the flu was beginning to spread even as the players began looking ahead to Game 6 on April 1.

Five Montreal players and coach George Kennedy came down with the flu, registering fevers of 101 or higher, after Game 5. The Canadiens tried to bring in players from the team in Victoria, British Columbia, but the request was denied. Ultimately, Montreal attempted to forfeit the title to Seattle but the Metropolitans and PCHA wouldn’t accept. Hall died from the flu four days after the series was canceled.

“My mom talked about it. I remember her saying there was no Cup one year,” said Beverly Parsons, niece of Frank and Lester Patrick, who were the founders of the PCHA. “She said because Uncle Frank would not accept a Cup on a default, and they were defaulting because so many of the Montreal players had the flu. She said there’s no way Uncle Frank would do that. He didn’t want a Cup on a default.”

How and why the Spanish flu re-emerged in the area at that point is unclear. The Spanish flu, which may have actually started in Kansas, claimed tens of millions of lives during its three-year carnage. It was at its worst in the Seattle area late in 1918, to the point where the city essentially shut down in a similar fashion to today with the current response to the coronavirus.

Ticen said one theory is that the Canadiens, who were in Vancouver for several days before making the trip to Seattle to begin the series, may have contracted the flu from a Canadian military regiment that had just returned after World War I. It just took several days for the symptoms to show.

Whatever the reason, that finals series is a major footnote in hockey history that has suddenly become relevant again.

“It’s just wild,” Ticen said. “I don’t have another word to explain it.”