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NHL All-Star Media Day notebook: McDavid on doubters; Karlsson, Matthews talk contracts

SAN JOSE — You were out of luck if you were hoping to get a comment out of Connor McDavid regarding the Edmonton Oilers’ firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli this week.

“We’re here for the All-Star Game. I want to enjoy that as much as I can,” he said.

As the Oilers sit three points out of a Western Conference wild card spot, McDavid said he’s ready to push the negativity surrounding the franchise to the side and help the team make a playoff push.

“What I look forward to coming back from the break is trying our best to prove everyone wrong,” he said. “We have an opportunity here where things seem pretty down on us. There’s a sense of negativity with the media, with everyone around the team, and we get to prove people wrong. We get to decide how we’re going to finish the second half.”

Despite some talk (and hope in some cities) that McDavid was sick of the constant failures of the Oilers and would look to find a way out of Edmonton, he shot that idea down quickly.

“That’s just not the case at all,” he said. “I’m here to be a part of the solution, and that’s all I’ll say.”

The Oilers are a team that needed the All-Star break as a chance to get away and clear their heads. They’ve banked enough points, despite their issues, that the hole they’re currently in isn’t too deep. The captain is keeping the faith that the final 32 games of the season will be looked at in a positive light.

“You’ve got to believe,” McDavid said. “You have to believe that we’re going to turn it around and, like I said the other day, if you don’t, you don’t have to be here.

“Obviously, losing isn’t fun. It’s not fun for anybody. I’m no different. You want to win and you want to build something special and something that you’re proud to be a part of, and we’ve got to still build it.”

Matthews, Karlsson talk contracts

One’s set to become a restricted free agent, while the other can hit unrestricted status. Both will see rather large increases in their salary next season, it’s just matter of what the term and dollars look like.

“The sides are talking and making progress and that’s great,” said Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, who can become an RFA on July 1.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say [it’d be a] relief. I would say it’s just a step,” he said. “For me, it’s not something I think about much. When it gets done it gets done. Until then, I’m not worrying about it. I’ll let my agent handle it with [Leafs GM] Kyle [Dubas] and his management team. They’ll talk. When my agent calls and says I’m ready to sign, then I’ll sign. Until then I’m focusing on the Toronto Maple Leafs and just live every day.”

[NHL players express mixed feelings about player and puck tracking]

“We have no timetable on anything,” said San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, who cannot sign an eight-year extension until after the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline. He has been eligible to ink a seven-year deal since Jan. 1. “Whatever goes on is going to be handled privately. [Sharks GM] Doug Wilson has been great with us ever since we got here. He’s been very respectful. I appreciate that a lot, both me and my wife do. When the time comes for a decision to be made, whenever that is, I think they’ve done everything they possibly can to give us the most information we need to make the right decision.  

“We came in here with an open mind, and I think we’re going to do everything we can to make the best possible decision for everyone, and especially ourselves with the information that we have at the time. They provided more than enough.”

Giroux on Flyers’ changes, Gritty

He’s the goalie of the future but may also end up as the goalie of the now depending on how the Flyers play out the rest of the season. Goaltender Carter Hart was reassigned back down to AHL Lehigh Valley this week but showed glimpses in 12 starts this season why the franchise thinks so highly of him.

“You don’t see a lot of goalies that are 20 years old and they come in this fast,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “For him to get called up and do the things that he’s doing right now, it’s obviously not a circumstance that we wanted to happen. We had a few injuries for our goaltenders, but for him to come in, play the way he is right now, it’s pretty amazing.”

Hart’s NHL arrival was one of a number of changes for the team this season. Gone are GM Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol. Replacing them are Chuck Fletcher and, on an interim basis, Scott Gordon. Those changes acted as a wakeup call that Giroux believe the team needed.

“Yeah, when you see a coach or GM get fired, as a player you take it personally,” he said. “You’re responsible for it. You could have done something else to not let that happen. New GM, new coach, a lot of things are happening right now, but we’re going in the right direction.”

On the positive side, this has been the year of Gritty, the jovial mascot who is also trying to get Giroux to become its best friend.

“He is a big deal. I remember the first preseason game, he got booed and I think it was a big motivation for him to do better,” Giroux said. “He’s been shining still.”

Landeskog enjoying All-Star Weekend

The Colorado Avalanche’s top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are all in San Jose this weekend after a first half that put them in the conversation of who employs the best line in the NHL. The 26-year-old Landeskog is tied for third in goals scored (29) this season and despite his success didn’t expect to see himself taking part in the festivities.

“To be honest, I never really see myself as an All-Star. I think this popped out of nowhere. It’s the result of a good line and a team that’s been doing pretty good in the first half of the season,” he said. “An All-Star Game is always something that you keep an eye on and you always know who’s an All-Star in the league. But to say that I was expecting this, I’d be lying if I said that.”

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ONE-TIMERS

“It’s hard to not choose Connor McDavid. Just the way he skates, he’s faster than everybody else. His hands kind of follow his feet. He makes plays that not a lot of players can make.” – Giroux on who he thinks is the NHL’s best player.

“When you just come here, you’re just taking everything in, you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, you’re just going with the flow. I think that’s what I did my first year. This year, I’m more comfortable knowing what to expect coming in and that’s important.” – Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones on taking part in his third straight All-Star Weekend.

“I like this layout…  The 3-on-3 format is nice because you can’t really hide. When you play 5-on-5 sometimes you get a little lazy. When it’s 3-on-3, you’ve gotta skate. If you don’t, you’ll get embarrassed, especially the talent that’s here. It forces you to play intense and I think that’s what the fans want to see.” – Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues on the 3-on-3 format.

“I wouldn’t say there’s anything that really jumps off the page. As you get closer, the little details start to come out a little bit more. In terms of that, there hasn’t even been any bargaining, any real discussions over what either side wants. It’s a little bit premature to have those talks.” – Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on important facets of the next CBA from the players’ side.

“Every single day he’s the hardest worker on the ice, in the gym. First person at the rink, last person at the rink. He’s the ultimate captain. The success he’s having this year doesn’t surprise me one bit. He’s just a great leader and a great hockey player. I could talk about Gio for 10 straight minutes everything he does for our team, what he does for the community. It’s just awesome to be able to play for him and play with him and learn from him as a captain.” – Johnny Gaudreau on Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters
Pass or Fail: NHL’s eco-friendly 2019 All-Star Game jerseys
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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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.

NHL, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

The 47 pages of protocols outline the health and safety measures the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations. Any player has until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify his team if he’s choosing to opt out of participating in training camp and games.

For those playing, each team is limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games. Each team is limited to 52 personnel in its game city, a group that must include two trainers, a doctor and compliance officer in addition players, coaches and management.

They are expected to be quarantined from the general public during play at least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds. Family members will be permitted to join when play is moved to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

All team and league employees plus hotel, restaurant and arena staff coming in contact with players will be tested daily in the two ”hub” cities.

One player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

”The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. ”It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

The protocols include a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone, delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Assuming the protocols are approved, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 – nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results ”eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

”We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. ”The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered.”

If the protocols and an CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players, there will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports