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Maple Leafs should rest workhorse goalie Andersen

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Earlier this season, much of the discussion about the Edmonton Oilers’ struggles revolved around the possibility that Cam Talbot was worn out from 2016-17. At least when people weren’t making trade jokes.

There’s no denying that Talbot carried a heavy burden last season, starting a Brodeurian 73 regular-season games and then heading Edmonton’s playoff push.

One cannot help but wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs are taking similar risks with their 28-year-old workhorse goalie Frederik Andersen. No goalie has faced more shots (3,923) and made more saves (3,605) than Andersen since he joined the Buds last season. In fact, it’s not particularly close, with Andersen leading Talbot and the rest of the pack by at least 200 shots faced/saves.

To his credit, Andersen’s passed his tests with flying colors, generating a .919 save percentage so far despite those heavy minutes.

That’s all a testament to Andersen, who seemed pretty happy with the idea of carrying such a burden last season. Still, Mike Babcock & Co. should think long and hard about giving Andersen more rest down the stretch, even if they might need to ward off the occasional rebuttal. Take, for instance, what Nazem Kadri told the Canadian Press about resting players about a year ago:

“Never. Never,” Kadri said when asked about the subject before adding a slight caveat. “Maybe if you had first locked into place by a mile and it was the last game of the year on the road or something — maybe you sit a guy out. But never for multiple games … If a healthy player is healthy he’s playing.”

Now, the Maple Leafs don’t have “first locked into place by a mile,” yet they seem more or less stapled to third in the Atlantic Division. With the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins hammering out what could be a tight battle for the division crown, Toronto could make for a tough opponent if they bring younger and fresher legs into such a series.

As formidable as the Bruins and Lightning look, both teams are banged up. The B’s are playing it safe with Tuukka Rask, too:

The Maple Leafs are already taking a cautious approach with healing up Auston Matthews‘ shoulder injury, so why not play it safe with Andersen?

Beyond (ideally) reducing the odds of an injury, there are some other benefits to giving him a breather.

The Other Guys

Quietly, Curtis McElhinney has been fantastic as Andersen’s aging backup. The 34-year-old has 11 starts and 13 appearances, going 7-4-1 with a splendid .931 save percentage. He was pretty sturdy last season, too, generating a .917 save percentage between his time with Columbus and Toronto.

At minimum, it seems like McElhinney’s earned a few more looks, and the Maple Leafs would be wise to keep him sharp in case anything happens to Andersen.

Going further, the Maple Leafs also might want to take another glance or two at overqualified AHL goalie Calvin Pickard. The 25-year-old got a raw deal in being claimed off of waivers after getting lost in the shuffle with the Vegas Golden Knights, and if he’s sulking with the Toronto Marlies, he’s not exactly letting it affect his play. Pickard’s 17-8-0 with a .924 save percentage in the AHL this season.

With McElhinney signed through 2018-19 and Pickard set as a pending RFA, the Maple Leafs might have to make a choice regarding their backup situation soon. Giving one or both of them reps down the stretch might just bump up their trade value this summer, so there are benefits even beyond limiting Andersen’s fatigue.

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Now, this isn’t to say that Andersen should stick to the bench until April.

Goalies prefer to stay sharp, and considering the volume of shots the Maple Leafs often yield, he might feel like too much rest is like going cold turkey. There’s a balance to be struck here, and that may be the job of trainers, if not sports psychologists.

Still, the Maple Leafs lean a ton on Andersen, so they’d be wise to consider taking their feet off the pedal for a bit. At least until the real race begins in the playoffs.

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.