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NHL players reflect on return of mumps

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The return of the mumps has caught some NHL players by surprise and they are counting on the league being better equipped to deal with the second such outbreak in a little over two years.

“Well, it happened the one time, and guys were concerned about it and thought it was going to be kind of gone forever,” Buffalo Sabres veteran forward Kyle Okposo said Tuesday. “I just hope it doesn’t reach us. I feel for the guys that have it. Just want to make sure that it gets as contained as we can this time.”

The latest outbreak began in Vancouver, where the Canucks announced last weekend defenseman Troy Stecher had been diagnosed while six other players and a trainer were showing symptoms. On Monday, the Minnesota Wild announced forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and assistant coach Scott Stevens were diagnosed with the highly contagious disease and must miss at least three games.

The developments raised concern after what occurred during the first half of the 2014-15 season: 24 players, including Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, representing five teams and two on-ice officials either showed symptoms or were diagnosed with the mumps.

The Wild were also affected in 2014, when five defensemen contracted the virus.

“I don’t know what to say to that. It’s a lot for one team in a few years,” said Wild forward Mikael Granlund, whose brother, Markus Granlund, was among the Vancouver players showing symptoms.

There was enough worry in Minnesota that center Eric Staal wondered of the potential danger of players rubbing gloves against teammates’ faces during the celebration following a 5-4 overtime win against Los Angeles on Monday night.

“If someone had it in that pile, then we all got it,” Staal said. “So we’ll see what happens.”

Wild doctors recently provided players and staff with measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, as they did in 2014. The Wild equipment staff also uses a chemical spray on locker room cubicles each time players come off the ice. And Minnesota is one of 27 NHL teams using a Sani Sport machine to disinfect players’ equipment.

In Vancouver, public health officials have yet to determine where or how Canucks players contracted mumps, Vancouver Coastal Health spokesman Gavin Wilson said. Wilson added the Vancouver region is not showing any signs of a spike in the mumps virus, unlike neighboring Washington State, which had a reported 503 cases already in 2017, as opposed to just 48 last year.

There have been other pockets of outbreaks across the continent this year, including the University of Missouri, which reported more than 320 confirmed and probably cases earlier this month.

From Jan. 1-28, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 485 mumps infections reported in the United States, which already surpasses the 229 cases reported in 2012. Since 2000, there have been only two years – 2006 and 2016 – in which the number of mumps cases have topped 3,000.

Mumps can be spread by saliva or mucus. The virus has a 12- to 30-day incubation period. It’s typical symptoms are fever, headache, muscle aches and loss of appetite, followed by swollen salivary glands.

The CDC notes that while mumps are “no longer very common” in the U.S., outbreaks do occur particularly in places where people have had prolonged close contact with a person with the virus, such as school, dorms or sports teams.

In an email to The Associated Press, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote it’s unclear what prompted the recurrence. As for how the league is attempting to contain the latest outbreak, Daly wrote: “Education, reinforcement of precautions and booster shots, where necessary.”

Though booster shots work, they are only considered effective 88 percent of the time.

In Buffalo, Sabres equipment manager Dave Williams said a protocol is put into place the moment a player shows any sign of sickness, even when involving what appears to be the common cold. The protocols include having players drink from their own water bottles, using hospital-strength disinfectant laundry detergent to wash the player’s uniform separately.

The first professional hockey-related case of mumps this year occurred last month, when three members of the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany, New York, contracted the virus.

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban said there’s very little players can do to avoid getting mumps other than taking precautions.

“Professional sports is where all teams intertwine. We all touch every rink,” said Subban, noting the Predators played both the Wild and Canucks over the past three weeks. “We’ve just been told to make sure our shots are up to date and wash our hands. That’s it. That’s all you can do.”

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell and Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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