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How Drouin’s doing heading into Tampa Bay return

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Even Jonathan Drouin‘s critics would probably admit that they’re surprised by how little he’s been missed in Tampa Bay in the early months following that splashy Mikhail Sergachev trade.

With an NHL-leading 54 standings points and an unearthly duo in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (plus plenty of lesser-mentioned strengths), the Lightning are eyeing a possible Presidents’ Trophy one season after missing the playoffs altogether.

Such context makes it easy to understand this column from Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times, which hypothesizes that Drouin’s return to Tampa Bay will be met not really with boos or cheers but instead a shrug of the shoulders. For what it’s worth, Drouin said all the right things about Lightning fans, via Joe Smith, also of the Tampa Bay Times:

“Thanks for all the support,” Drouin said when asked if he had a message for fans. “Even through the rough times when I came back, didn’t know what to expect, but they were great. It’s a hockey town and people are starting to figure that out, that it’s a city that loves their hockey, they’re passionate about it. It was a great atmosphere. I always had most respect for all the fans in Tampa.”

(The full Q & A is worth your time, as he discusses the pressures of playing in Montreal and if he has any regrets about his time with the Lightning.)

So, the Lightning are doing great and the Canadiens are struggling mightily. Also, when you look directly at the simplest numbers, Sergachev seems to be having a better season that Drouin and it seems like he’ll stick around long enough that this will be close to a one-for-one swap. (A pick could have turned into a second-rounder if Sergachev didn’t stick around, but it sure looks like he will.)

Graphics like these do Drouin no favors:

Still, let’s dig a little deeper to see if the gap is that big. Either way, kudos to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for getting strong value out of Drouin, a player who ultimately wasn’t part of the team’s future plans.

Success for Sergachev

Sergachev is currently in a comfy spot: being set up for success while being shielded from tougher assignments.

The talented teenager averages more power-play time per game (1:50) than shorthanded time served all throughout this season so far (53 seconds). Overall, he’s logging just 15:10 per game, ranking 14th on the Lightning.

It adds some perspective, although it also cements how remarkably dangerous he is offensively. Sergachev has eight goals and 23 points in 35 games; while some of that work will cool off (10.8 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman), you can forgive the Lightning for daydreaming about the kind of force he may become when he grows into more frequent reps.

Promoted to a level of incompetence?

Drouin, meanwhile, is in a tough spot with the Canadiens. Marc Dumont makes a strong argument at The Athletic that Drouin and Max Pacioretty should be split up (sub required), and you wonder if Drouin is the same not-quite-a-top-center that Alex Galchenyuk seems to be punished for arguably not being. (Despite getting less ice time than Sergachev at 14:55 per game, Galchenyuk has 21 points to Drouin’s 18, even with Drouin getting 17:41 on average).

Drouin is struggling by just about every measure, as you can beat him up for even poorer than usual work in the faceoff circle (41.2 percent, a career-worst, according to Hockey Reference). Drouin’s possession stats are suffering, and he’s only connecting on 6.6 percent of his shots on goal.

Obviously, things are going poorly, but it must be noted that the Lightning are putting Sergachev in a position to succeed, while the Habs are arguably setting Drouin up to fail by putting too much on his plate.

There could be a light at the end of the tunnel, though. At 22, Drouin has plenty of time to improve his all-around game, even if those steps might seem awkward at times under the harsh spotlight in Montreal.

It would be silly to deny his struggles so far in 2017-18 nonetheless.

For many, tonight will be a situation where Drouin gets humbled. Really, though, this is just another reminder of the mismanagement going on in Montreal, which contrasts especially harshly with the well-oiled machine they’re facing in Tampa Bay.

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.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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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.