The scary thing about Mathew Barzal is that he may just be gaining steam.
Any time the New York Islanders play these days, it turns into Barzal Watch (in the Twitter world: #BarzalWatch). Even if the Islanders had plummeted as of late with five losses in their past six games heading into Monday, many are just tuning in to see what the dynamic rookie is going to do.
Indeed, Barzal has been lights this season, with 44 points in 44 games prior to Monday and coming off the buzz of a five-point game on Saturday — the second time he’s done that this season.
But John Tavares, who had just one goal in nine games coming into Monday, stole some of that spotlight back with a shorthanded goal in regulation and then the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
Tavares second of the game came 1:51 into over time and after Carey Price made quite the save to stop a redirected attempt by Tavares just before the latter scored the winner.
Barzal was at it again early in the first period as the Islanders jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.
Barzal fed Anthony Beauvillier with a nice lead pass and the latter ripped home his eighth of the season just down the road from where he grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, beating Carey Price with New York’s first shot of the game.
It was Barzal’s 30th assist of the season and he followed that up with his 16th goal of the year on the Islanders just over five minutes later for the two-goal advantage. Barzal finished with three points and now has 10 in his past three games.
The Canadiens entered the game 2-0-1 in their past three games but were without Phillip Danault due to a puck to the head on Saturday and Andrew Shaw, who was injured in the same game.
Despite their recent success, things looked grim early on, with Price allowing two goals on four shots.
The Hab battled back, first by forcing a turnover in New York’s zone, allowing Jakub Jerabek to quickly find a wide open Nicolas Deslauriers out front to make it 2-1.
Another defensive breakdown by the Isles led to the tying goal as Paul Byron snatched his 12th of the year on a rebound.
Barzal grabbed his third point of the night early in the second period as the Isles restored the lead with Adam Pelech‘s first of the season at 2:37. And the Islanders led by two for the second time as John Tavares scored shorthanded 1:59 later on New York’s 10th shot.
The Canadiens, down two again, needed a second comeback and they put it together beginning with Jonathan Drouin‘s marker with 34 seconds left in the second period.
Montreal completed the comeback on the power play in the third, with Max Pacioretty scoring his 14th at 13:01.
NHL: Players can start voluntary group workouts next week
The NHL cleared the way Thursday for players to return to practice rinks next week and firmed up its playoff format even as a ninth player tested positive for the coronavirus.
After unveiling the final details of its 24-team plan if the season is able to resume this summer, the league said teams could reopen facilities and players could take part in limited, voluntary workouts beginning Monday. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association must still iron out health and safety protocols before moving ahead with training camps and games.
Players can skate in groups of up to six at a time under ”phase 2,” which includes specific instructions on testing, mask-wearing and temperature checks. It’s another step closer to the ice after the league said every playoff series will be a best-of-seven format after the initial qualifying round and teams will be reseeded throughout.
That announcement came at nearly the same time the Pittsburgh Penguins revealed one of their players had tested positive. The team said the player is not in Pittsburgh, isolated after experiencing symptoms and has recovered from COVID-19.
Of the nine players who have tested positive, five are from the Ottawa Senators, three from the Colorado Avalanche and one from Pittsburgh. The league is expected to test players daily if games resume. The NHL is still assessing health and safety protocols for what would be 24 teams playing in two hub cities.
”We still have a lot of things to figure out, namely the safety of the players,” Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler said earlier this week. ”We’ve got to make sure that our safety is at the top of that list. Because we’re a few months into this pandemic, we don’t know what the long-term effects are going to be. A lot of questions to be answered.”
The final details of the format answered one question: Players preferred re-seeding throughout a 24-team playoff as a means of fairness, though the league likes the brackets that have been in place since 2014.
”We prefer as a general matter brackets for a whole host of reasons,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week. ”We’ve told the players who have been debating it internally if they have a preference, we’re happy to abide by it.”
The top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding. Re-seeding each round puts more value on the seeding tournaments between Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East, and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West.
”Those games are going to be competitive,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said.
The remaining 16 teams will play best-of-five series to set the final 16.
Toronto captain John Tavares, a member of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, said he preferred the traditional seven-game series once the playoffs were down to the more traditional 16 teams. A majority of players agreed.
”Everybody is used to a best-of-seven,” Pittsburgh player representative Kris Letang said. ”You know how it’s structured. You know how it feels if you lose the first two or you win the first two. You kind of know all the scenarios that can go through a best-of-seven.”
Having each series be best-of-seven will add several days to the schedule to award the Stanley Cup as late as October. But players felt it worth it to maintain the integrity of the playoffs.
”Any team that is going to win five rounds, four rounds of best-of-seven … I think it will be a very worthy Stanley Cup champion and they’ll be as worthy as any team or players that won it before them,” Tavares said.
Fabbri wants to return to Red Wings; Should feeling be mutual?
“That’s something out of my control right now,” Fabbri told Kulfan regarding Red Wings negotiations. “Everything has been great since the first day I came to Detroit. It’s a great organization, great group of guys, a great opportunity here, so it’s definitely a place I want to be and play for as long as I can.”
Fabbri added that he “couldn’t be happier” playing for the rebuilding Red Wings. And, again, it’s something he’s hammered on before. The 24-year-old noted to the Detroit Free-Press’ Dana Gauruder that his girlfriend and dogs have been delighted, too.
(You know what they say: happy girlfriend and dogs, happy life?)
If Fabbri got his way, the Red Wings would hand him an extension for a at least a few years. The forward hopes for more security than the one-year “prove it” deals he’s settled for in recent seasons. Fabbri would be even happier if he could stick at his “natural position” of center. (Detroit tried him out as a center at times in 2019-20.)
“I am definitely hoping and excited to get off the back-to-back one-year contracts but that part of the game is for my agent to talk to Yzerman about,” Fabbri said to Gauruder in late May. “I’ll leave that up to them and just control what I can control …”
This begs a natural question, then. Should the Red Wings want Fabbri back? Let’s consider the circumstances.
Should the Red Wings bring Fabbri back?
It really is something to consider how different circumstances were for Fabbri in Detroit than in St. Louis. Certainly, the teams were wildly different. The Blues are the defending Stanley Cup champions, while the rebuilding Red Wings rank as one of the worst teams of the salary cap era. But that disparity opened the door for Fabbri to rejuvenate his career.
Fabbri with Blues:
After two-plus injury-ravaged seasons, Fabbri suited up for nine Blues games in 2019-20. He managed one goal and zero assists, averaging just 9:42 TOI per game. This marked easily the low point of his Blues years, as even in 2018-19, Fabbri averaged 12:39 per night when he could play (32 GP).
The Red Wings understandably hoped to see glimpses of the rookie who managed a promising 18 goals and 37 points in 72 games in 2015-16.
What Fabbri brought to the Red Wings
Generally speaking, Fabbri delivered nicely for the Red Wings.
He scored 14 goals and 31 points in 52 games, seeing his ice time surge to a career-high 17:16 per game. Fabbri’s .60 points-per-game average represented another career-high, up slightly from his previous peak of .57 per contest in 2016-17 (29 points in 51 games).
M Live’s Ansar Khan refers to the Fabbri trade as GM Steve Yzerman’s best so far with the Red Wings. Maybe that qualifies as faint praise (so far), but in general, it seems like Fabbri fit in nicely.
What should Red Wings do?
The Red Wings have a few options.
Forgive a bit of front office cynicism, but the shrewdest strategy might be to pursue a “pump and dump” during the trade deadline. Part of Fabbri’s production came from playing with players like Dylan Larkin, so maybe Detroit could be sellers at the trade deadline and get max value for Fabbri?
Things look less promising if you dig deeper. Heck, consider how Fabbri compares to Jacob De La Rose at even-strength in this Evolving Hockey RAPM chart for some perspective:
(Either way, if Jeff Blashill is a traditional coach, he might grumble at Fabbri only winning 39.4 percent of his faceoffs. Fair or not, as that’s only a small part of playing center.)
Yet, even handing Fabbri some term can make moderate sense.
The Red Wings may need some time for this rebuild to really revv up. Fabbri’s young enough at 24, and he’s also been through quite a bit in his career. Any player struggling in development can look to Fabbri as evidence that you shouldn’t give up.
And, in the meantime, Fabbri can pitch in some scoring for a team that figures to badly need it.
All things considered, it makes sense for the Red Wings to bring back Fabbri in some fashion. Considering the injury headaches Fabbri went through, it’s also easy to root for him — plus his girlfriend and their dogs:
The NHL and NHLPA agreed to some key details to how the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will operate … assuming the playoffs can happen. We now know how the league will handle the Round Robin for Seeding, Qualifying Round, all the way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Before we go round by round, note that the biggest takeaways are that the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will involve re-seeding (not bracketing) and that every round will include a best-of-seven series after the Qualifying Round/Round Robin for Seeding.
In other words, if this all comes to pass, prepare for a lot of hockey.
How the NHL Playoffs will work through 2020 Stanley Cup Final
Johnston reports that the Round Robin for Seeding will involve three games each per team. Points percentage will serve as a tiebreaker if needed during the Round Robin for Seeding.
It was first believed that teams who won Qualifying Round series would face specific opponents based on bracketing. Instead, re-seeding means that the highest seeds will face the lowest seeds all the way down to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Here’s how “home ice” will work out, via the NHL:
* In the Qualifying Round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.
2020 NHL Playoffs: First Round through the 2020 Stanley Cup Final
To reiterate, following the Qualifying Round (best-of-five) and Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece), each series will be a best-of-seven, with re-seeding. It might be easier to see how it flows this way, then:
Qualifying Round (best-of-five series, four series per conference); Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece, top four teams in each conference involved). Re-seeding instead of bracketing.
First Round (best-of-seven series, four series per conference). Teams re-seed after First Round.
Second Round (best-of-seven series, two series per conference). Teams re-seed after Second Round.
2020 Eastern Conference Final (best-of-seven series) and 2020 Western Conference Final (best-of-seven series).
Via the NHL, here’s how “home-ice” will play out before the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:
* In the First Round, Second Round and Conference Finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.
2020 Stanley Cup Final (best-of-seven series).
Finally, the league shared this “home-ice” info for the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:
* In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6
NHL, NHLPA opt for more hockey approach
Before Thursday, some expected that the First Round, and possibly the Second Round, might instead be best-of-five series. Instead, the NHL and NHLPA opted to go longer.
Johnston captures the risk part of that risk-reward scenario quite well, noting that two extra best-of-seven rounds could add nine days to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that the playoff tournament could last as long as 68 days. That requires some big gambles that COVID-19 cases won’t spike to the point that the NHL needs to go on “pause” once more.
The "integrity" of the playoffs was prioritized with this decision. It was important to the players. But the entire playoff tournament could last 68 days, which might pose challenges if a second wave of coronavirus hits in the fall.
If it all works out, then the “integrity” of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is definitely emphasized. (Also, more best-of-seven series definitely strengthens the “toughest ever” arguments.) Few can credibly say they’ve been robbed of a real chance, given that 24 teams are involved.
We’ll have to wait and see if it’s all worth it, and if the NHL can actually pull this off. Personally, re-seeding seems fair if it doesn’t lead to additional travel, while the bevy best-of-seven series seems dicey.
Naturally, the NHL and NHLPA still need to hash out other details.
Keep in mind, this is just the format agreement. Still to come are Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (games/hubs/protocol) which still have to be negotiated. Only preliminary talks so far on those fronts.
It is expected that the NHL will announce its Phase 2 plans this week. That will allow for players to workout in small voluntary groups at team facilities. Training camps are still expected to open in mid-July.
As players get set for Phase 2, the league will have strict screening protocols in place.
“We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” said NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr. “If that turns out to be daily, and that’s available, that’s OK. That would be good. If it turns out that that’s not quite what we need and we can get by with a little less, that’s OK.”