AP

Brendan Smith, a pending UFA, showing well in playoffs

4 Comments

Brendan Smith could really cash in this summer.

A pending unrestricted free agent, the 28-year-old defenseman has shown well since being traded from the Red Wings to the Rangers at the deadline.

Smith is plus-8 in nine playoff games. Among Rangers d-men, only Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been on the ice more.

“I love his game. He’s so hard to play against,” said teammate Tanner Glass, per the Daily News. “I remember the same thing when we was playing in Detroit. He was always one of those guys that when you go to the net you’ve got to be aware of when he’s out there.”

It is not a bumper crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

Smith told the Daily News he could see himself signing in New York.

But the Rangers may not have the flexibility to keep him — especially if they pursue Shattenkirk, as many expect them to do.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour schedule: June 1-4

NBC Sports
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour features original shows, films and documentaries this week on NBCSN, headlined by Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson, The Joe: Joe Louis Arena Documentary and 2020 All-Star All Access.

Beginning Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET, NBC Sports will present two episodes of NHL’s Who Wore It Best? on NBCSN. The episodes will feature analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp taking part in debates over the best players to wear certain jersey numbers in NHL history.

NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban continues Monday at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Hosted by the Devils defenseman, the show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire will join the show, as well as Hockey Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

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

Monday, June 1 – NBCSN
• NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 8) – 5 p.m. ET
• The Joe: Joe Louis Arena Documentary – 5:30 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 2 – NBCSN
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 3) – 5:30 p.m. ET
• Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game – 6 p.m. ET
• Unveiled: Smashfest – 6:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday, June 3 – NBCSN
• #HockeyAtHome: He Skates, She Skates – 4 p.m. ET
• Our Line Starts – 4:30 p.m. ET
• Fort Neverlose – 5 p.m. ET

Thursday, June 4 – NBCSN
• 2020 All-Star All Access – 5 p.m. ET
• Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson – 6 p.m. ET

MONDAY, 6/1

NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN : NBC Sports’ ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will join the eighth episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. The show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Hockey Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

THE JOE: JOE LOUIS ARENA DOCUMENTARY: The film highlights the construction of the arena and a number of the significant moments that took place there over the years, including the team’s Stanley Cup-clinching win in 1997 that ended a 42-year championship drought. The Joe includes interviews with former captain and current GM Steve Yzerman, as well as late Red Wings legends Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.

TUESDAY, 6/2

NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST?: NHL’s Who Wore It Best? will feature hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The five-part series will air on NBCSN every Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. The second episode features NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones, who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 55, 40, 34, 32 and 31. The third episode features NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp, who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 28, 27, 26, 25 and 21.

DISTANCED TRAINING: READY TO GET BACK IN THE GAME: NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth hosts a digital series, Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game, which showcases the home workouts and mental training of some of the world’s top professional, collegiate, and Olympic athletes. This 30-minute special from the digital series includes interview clips with:

• Sabres forward Jack Eichel
• Predators forward Matt Duchene
• 2018 Olympic women’s hockey team gold-medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield
• Panthers forward Noel Acciari
• Devils forward Joey Anderson and brother Mikey Anderson, a defenseman on the Kings
• Capitals defenseman Brenden Dillon

UNVEILED: SMASHFEST: Former NHL player Dominic Moore hosts a 30-minute program with special guests Brad Marchand of the Bruins and Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs who work with a world-renowned street artist to design custom ping pong tables for charity.

WEDNESDAY, 6/3

#HOCKEYATHOME: HE SKATES, SHE SKATES: NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen co-hosts a 30-minute program that features three sets of NHL players and their family members who play the sport professionally or collegiately. The pairings are:

• Avalanche forward J.T. Compher and sister Jesse Compher, who plays for Boston University
• Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and cousin Sarah Nurse, who plays professionally and for Team Canada
• Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson and wife Emily Pfalzer Matheson, who plays professionally and for Team USA

OUR LINE STARTS: The latest episode of NBC Sports’ weekly NHL podcast will be presented at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The show is hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, who analyze the league’s Return to Play format and potential matchups in the Qualifying Round.

FORT NEVERLOSE: Titled after the nickname of the Nassau Coliseum, this one-hour special examines the Islanders’ history and memorable moments on the ice in the storied arena.

THURSDAY, 6/4

2020 ALL-STAR ALL ACCESS: This behind-the-scenes special, narrated by actor Jon Hamm, looks at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend, which took place in St. Louis, Mo. in January. The program includes exclusive audio content from mic’d players and features on numerous All-Stars throughout the entire weekend, including the fan fest, skills competition and the three-on-three All-Star Game.

CENTER OF ATTENTION: THE UNREAL LIFE OF DEREK SANDERSON: This one-hour documentary chronicles NHL star and two-time Stanley Cup champion Derek Sanderson’s remarkable life on and off the ice. The film, narrated by actor John Slattery, features interviews with eight Hockey Hall of Famers, including Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

NHL clarifies how conditional picks will be handled for 2020 NHL Draft

Leave a comment

Teams had plenty of questions after the NHL announced its return-to-play plan. Of the dangling threads, “How will conditional draft picks be handled?” represented one of the tougher conundrums. Certain details still need to be determined, yet the Athletic/TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that a memo cleaned up some of the biggest questions about conditional draft picks.

LeBrun’s full report at the Athletic (sub required) is well worth a read, as he drills deep on many questions on a case-by-case basis.

For this post, we’ll ponder broader strokes, and then ask some other questions.

How conditional draft picks from trades might be addressed for 2020 NHL Draft (and 2021)

Again, not every conditional draft pick situation was settled. After all, NHL teams got pretty creative, and thus things got pretty specific. But, thanks to LeBrun, we get to glance at the bigger picture.

One of the most common conditions revolves around whether a team reaches the playoffs or not. When NHL teams exchanged such conditional picks — during the trade deadline, or even before the season began — they of course didn’t realize there would be a 24-team format thanks to a global pandemic.

So how will it work? Via LeBrun, we can see how the league memo addressed this question:

“More specifically, for Trade condition purposes, a Club will not be deemed to have qualified for the Playoffs unless or until they have progressed into the Round of 16, and ‘Playoff Games/Rounds’ will only include the games/rounds played in the Round of 16 or later. We believe this interpretation will best reflect the intentions of the parties at the time of the Trade …”

Short version: making the cut for the 24-team format doesn’t meet the “make the playoffs” standard. Instead, you need to make it to “the Round of 16 or later.”

Seeing an actual example might help. Take, for instance, the Canucks’ 2020 first-round pick (and/or their 2021 first-rounder) that was conditionally tossed around in the J.T. Miller and Blake Coleman trades. Will the Devils make that 2020 first-round selection, or will it be the Canucks?

The parameters might make the most sense to you see if you see them via this screenshot from essential resource Cap Friendly:

Coleman Miller conditional draft pick Devils Canucks
via Cap Friendly

So who gets it? Well, that’s still to be determined:

  • If the Canucks win their Qualifying Round series against the Wild, then the Devils receive Vancouver’s 2020 first-rounder.
  • If the Canucks lose their Qualifying Round series vs. the Wild, then the Devils instead receiver Vancouver’s 2021 first-rounder.

That all seems pretty fair, really. At least considering the circumstances. But there are some other tricky situations, and maybe a few burning questions.

More complicated conditions and situations

On one hand, you have easier-to-resolve issues such as that conditional Canucks pick situation. LeBrun notes that there are still some details to hash out.

If you want to pinpoint a fairly zany situation, consider the performance-based elements regarding the Milan LucicJames Neal trade. Again, it might be easiest to get your head around things quickly by looking at the Cap Friendly screenshot first:

Lucic Neal conditional draft picks Flames Oilers
via Cap Friendly

That third-round pick is in flux, as Neal sits at 19 goals, 11 more than Lucic (eight). Lebrun guesses that you would “prorate” Neal’s goals over a full season, and give the Flames the third-rounder.

There’s room for argument, there, though. After all, it’s plausible that Neal could have been injured. It’s also worthwhile to note that Neal’s scoring was frontloaded. Neal started red-hot with 11 goals in 14 October games, and 19 goals through December 31. He failed to score a goal once the calendar turned to 2020, however, managing four assists over 13 games. What if that slump persisted?

So there are some tricky situations, at least if teams want to harumph about it. A more interesting discussion revolves around which situations teams might want to play out.

If you’re the Devils, do you prefer the Canucks’ 2020 or 2021 first-round pick? If you get the 2020, you get a prospect into your system, developing sooner. The 2021 pick would be more of a gamble. The Canucks could take another step to become a dominant team in the Pacific. On the other hand, they could slide back and present a situation like Ottawa earning a lucrative Sharks pick for 2020.

These are interesting questions to debate. They also might be useful ones, if you’re missing hockey and rooting for a team that won’t be able to return to play until whenever 2020-21 kicks off.

Of course, the NHL must also determine when the 2020 NHL Draft will actually take place, among other questions …

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.

Virus-proofing sports facilities presents a big challenge

1 Comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The jersey-wearing camaraderie. The scent of sizzling sausages. The buzz before a big game.

The distinctive atmosphere of live sports, that feeling in the air, will return in time as pandemic restrictions are eased. But will that very air be safe in a closed arena with other fans in attendance?

The billions of dollars spent on state-of-the-art sports facilities over the last quarter-century have made high-efficiency air filtration systems more common, thanks in part to the pursuit of green and healthy building certifications. Upgrades will likely increase in the post-coronavirus era, too.

The problem is that even the cleanest of air can’t keep this particular virus from spreading; if someone coughs or sneezes, those droplets are in the air. That means outdoor ballparks have high contaminant potential, too.

“Most of the real risk is going to be short-distance transmission, people sitting within two, three or four seats of each other,” said Ryan Demmer, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. “It’s not really about the virus spreading up, getting into the ventilation system and then getting blown out to the entire stadium because this virus doesn’t seem to transmit that way. It doesn’t aerosolize that well.”

The three hours spent in proximity to thousands of others is part of the fan experience. It’s also why major sports leagues have been discussing plans to reopen in empty venues, for now. High-touch areas with the potential to spread the virus — called fomite transmission — are plentiful at the ballgame, of course. Door handles. Stair rails. Restroom fixtures. Concession stands.

Hand washing by now has become a societal norm, but disinfectant arsenals need to be brought up to speed, too.

“I can’t really find good hand sanitizer easily in stores. So think about trying to scale that up, so everybody who comes into U.S. Bank Stadium gets a little bottle of Purel. Things like that can be modestly helpful,” Demmer said.

There is much work to be done. Vigilant sanitizing of the frequent-touch surfaces will be a must. Ramped-up rapid testing capability during pre-entry screening could become common for fans. Minimizing concourse and entry bottlenecks, and maintaining space between non-familial attendees, could be mandatory. Mask-wearing requirements? Maybe.

Most experts, including those at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, believe the primary mode of transmission for COVID-19 is close person-to-person contact through breathing, coughing or sneezing but there’s no consensus on some of the details.

“There’s still widespread disagreement between experts on which mode of transmission dominates for influenza. So the likelihood of us figuring this out soon for this virus is low,” said Joe Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program and an assistant professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “We may never figure it out, but I also think it’s irrelevant because it’s a pandemic and we should be guarding against all of them.”

Including, of course, the air.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers designed the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) scale to measure a filtration system’s effectiveness (from 1-16) at capturing microscopic airborne particles that can make people sick. Not just viruses, but dust, pollen, mold and bacteria. Most experts recommend a MERV rating of 13 or higher, the minimum standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

An emerging technology in this area is called bipolar ionization. Connecticut-based AtmosAir has a bipolar ionization air treatment system in about 40 sports venues. Staples Center in Los Angeles was one of the first major sports customers. TD Garden in Boston and Bridgestone Arena in Nashville are among the others who’ve signed on.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority approved last year a 10-year contract for a little more than $1 million with AtmosAir to install its system in U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Vikings and the first indoor NFL stadium to use it. The building, which measures 1.8 million square feet, has 53 air handling units with AtmosAir tubes installed, including 30 in the seating bowl.

The ions act like fresh air, reducing the amount of outside air needed to be introduced for the cleansing process. The protein spikes in the coronavirus particles make them easier to catch and kill, said Philip Tierno, a New York University School of Medicine professor of microbiology and pathology.

Said AtmosAir founder and CEO Steve Levine: “We’re never going to create a mountaintop, but we’re going to put in maybe three to four times the ions over the ambient air and then let those ions attack different pollutants in the air. The ions grab onto particles and spores and make them bigger and heavier, so they’re much easier to filter out of the air.”

The next time fans do pass through the turnstiles, in a few weeks or a few months, in most cases they will probably encounter an unprecedented level of cleanliness.

“There will be some controls that are visible, extra cleaning and disinfection, but some of it will be invisible, like for what’s happening in the air handling system,” said Allen, the Harvard professor. “The consumers will decide when they feel comfortable going back, and that’s going to depend on what strategies are put in place in these venues and stadiums and arenas and, most importantly, how well these organizations communicate that to the paying public.”

NHL Power Rankings: Qualifying Round storylines

1 Comment

There’s been an excitement in the air since the NHL announced its Return to Play plans last week. Of course, there’s a big if to be added at the beginning of it all. As long as planning and testing goes well, the puck should drop later this summer to determine the 2020 Stanley Cup champion.

There’s still lots of work to do.

But it’s a good first step and allows us to talk hockey for the first time in a few months. The Qualifying Round will kick things off with eight series with lengths that are currently undetermined.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at the top storylines a round with some interesting matchups.

1. Non-playoff teams given second life

Thanks to the RTP format, the Canadiens and Blackhawks, two teams more than six points out of a wild card spot were given a second life. Could they have made a run in the final month of the regular season? Sure, so could the other teams that were out of a playoff spot at the time of the March 12 pause. 

“That was a huge issue in putting the format together, trying to figure out numbers, who deserves to be in, who deserves maybe a handicap and whatnot, but ultimately there’s just no way,” said Oilers forward and Return to Play Committee member Connor McDavid. “I mean, we’ve beaten this thing to death, there’s just no way to handicap those teams. This maybe isn’t the most fair way but I think the integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is still going to be intact.”

But now? Everything is reset and a hot goaltender plus a possible short series could mean an upset.

Say what you will about teams like Montreal and Chicago getting in — if they somehow become champions, they will definitely have earned it.

“Let’s say a team like Montreal beats Pittsburgh and does go on to win the Stanley Cup,” McDavid added, “I think they’re a very deserving team. If they’re going to win five rounds and go through some really good teams, then maybe they do deserve it. There’s never going to be a perfect scenario.”

2. Who is most vulnerable in a potential short series?

As we noted, while the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven, it’s yet to be determined whether the Qualifying Round, First Round, and Second Round will be best-of-five or the usual best-of-seven.

With the amount of time off and the possibility that only three wins could be needed to advance, which higher seeds might be most at-risk?

The Blue Jackets, after a season of filling their trainers’ room every week, should be close to full-health. They’ve been playing with a chip on their shoulders all season and have succeeded after losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. The Maple Leafs will enter the series with the pressure of winning given their star-studded lineup and dangerous offense. As if John Tortorella needs anything more to add to the “underdog” mantra.

Every playoff team dreads facing the “hot goalie.” All it takes is one 2010 Jaroslav Halak and Cup dreams can come to an end. Is it a stretch to see Carey Price providing issues for the Penguins or Corey Crawford shutting down McDavid and Leon Draisaitl or Igor Shesterkin further cementing his place as New York’s No. 1 by ending the Hurricanes’ season?

At least each team’s pro scouting department will have more than enough time to pick apart the opposition.

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

3. The goalie battles

We touched on this Friday with the Rangers. Will Henrik Lundqvist get one last ride in New York or will David Quinn go with the impressive rookie, Shesterkin? Will Mike Sullivan allow training camp to determine if he goes with Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray? Is Mikko Koskinen the definitive choice in Edmonton over Mike Smith? Can Antti Raanta challenge Darcy Kuemper for the Coyotes’ No. 1 job?

Any goalie decision is an important, and the wrong one could swing a series, especially in a possible best-of-five.

A goaltender’s success or struggles before the pause may be erased given the amount of time off. History against a specific team (Henrik Lundqvist dominance over Carolina, for example) or experience can play in a coach’s decision on who to start. That will make training camp performance vital for those who don’t necessarily have the No. 1 job locked down.

4. Stars getting healthy

Seth Jones, Dougie Hamilton, Conor Garland, Jacob Markstrom and Jake Guentzel are a few names in the Qualifying Round who should be back on the ice when play resumes. With nearly four months between games, this round will allow teams to be healthier than usual. It will also put a further importance on training camp leading up to puck drop.

Hamilton, for example, hasn’t played since mid-January, and Jones’ ankle took him out of the lineup in February. Camp will be valuable time not only for those them to get back into hockey mode but also ensure no setbacks when it’s time for contact.

Jason Zucker #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second goal
Getty Images

5. Deadline pickups having an effect

The trade deadline seems like it arrived years ago. Let’s now all remember that Tyler Toffoli is a Canuck, Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck are Hurricanes, Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau are Penguins, J.G. Pageau is an Islander, Alex Galchenyuk is a Wild, and Andreas Athanasiou is an Oiler.

Those players will be among the names in the Qualifying Round who switched teams this season, but didn’t get a ton of time to settle into their new digs. Toffoli (6-4-10–10 GP), Zucker (6-6-12–15 GP) and Galchenyuk (3-4-7–14 GP) have had strong starts and will be needed in their individual series.

Meanwhile, Taylor Hall had a longer run with the Coyotes and in 35 games put up 27 points.

In a number of cases — Zucker, Skjei, Pageau, Trocheck, etc — the players have term remaining on their contracts. But then you have the pending unrestricted free agents. The Canucks gave up a good package to add Toffoli; Arizona is hoping to entice Hall to stay; Toronto is relying on Kyle Clifford to bolster their bottom six in what’s going to be a grind-it-out series vs. Columbus.

These players will get time during July training camps to get acclimated with their new teammates and further educate themselves on their new systems. Disappointing outputs could have a big effect on their next contracts.

6. The swan songs

Justin Williams took a break after last season and rejoined the Hurricanes in January. Hanging up his skates for good after this season is something he spoke about in April. Who else could join him?

Wild captain Mikko Koivu has an expiring contract and has hinted his days in Minnesota could be coming to an end. Could GM Bill Guerin value his leadership enough for a one-year deal or will the forward choose to end his playing career at home in Finland?

Is there a spot somewhere in the NHL for Jason Spezza next season? “I’m just enjoying coming to the rink every day, trying to get better day to day,” he said in February. “I can’t say I’ve been too nostalgic at all, kind of going in and out of places. I hope to have a good year and keep going.”

A tighter salary cap could squeeze out a number of veterans as teams look for cheaper, younger alternative already in their systems. Will any get to have their Ray Bourque moment?

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

————

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.