Well, this is it for the New York Islanders. They’re officially in must-win territory heading into Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
Now that their backs are against the wall, head coach Barry Trotz admits that changes could be coming to the lineup tonight. That’s normal considering the predicament they’re in right now. But the interesting twist here, is that Trotz said he’s considering tweaks “at all positions,” including between the pipes.
So, the team that’s scored three goals in the first three games of their series is thinking about swapping out a goaltender who has allowed six goals. Changing goaltenders isn’t necessarily based of performance either, though. It could just be a way to get his players’ attention, but it’s probably not the right way to go about it. Nothing against Thomas Greiss, but Robin Lehner deserves to stay in the net with the season on the line.
The biggest issue for the Islanders, is that they simply can’t find the back of the net. No team is good enough defensively to score three goals in three games and have a series lead. No one. Trotz should take a page for Stars head coach Jim Montgomery’s book and make the necessary changes to his forward lines.
He has to figure out a way to get his team’s attention by mixing up lines. Is it time to break up the best fourth line in hockey? How do you get Anders Lee going? Mathew Barzal has just one goal in three games. If he doesn’t get going, there’s no way they can come back to win this series. Where has Jordan Eberle gone? He scored in every game in the first round, but he hasn’t found the back of the net against Carolina.
Trotz isn’t exactly in an enviable position given how quiet this offense has been. But we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he came in to New York and turned this team into a 100-point squad in short order. That’s not to say that you have to believe the Isles are coming back in this series, but you can’t bury them yet.
“There’s 23 teams that would love to be playing (tonight), and they’re not,” Trotz said, per NHL.com. “You get an opportunity. You can’t look back. You can’t correct what’s already done; you can only correct what’s right in front of you. (Tonight’s) a chance to start correcting it in the right way. Focus on that. It’s always a great opportunity. You’re still alive.”
We’re another step closer to hockey resuming after the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on a Return to Play Plan and a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Collecting Bargaining Agreement.
The deal adds four years to the current CBA and updates the league’s off-season critical dates calendar. A four-year extension means the new CBA would expire Sept. 15, 2026. The current agreement was scheduled to expire Sept. 15, 2022.
The next step is the approval process, which means the NHL’s Board of Governors, the NHLPA’s Executive Board, and then the full union membership need to sign off on it.
Once all approvals are in order, training camps for the 24-team tournament will begin Monday, July 13 in their home cities. On July 26 teams will then travel to their respective hub cities — likely Toronto or Edmonton — and the Qualifying Round will begin on August 1.
While the hub cities have yet to be officially announced, it’s expected that Edmonton will host the Western Conference and Toronto will serve as the main site for the Eastern Conference. Rogers Place (Edmonton) will likely be the site of the conference finals and 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
• Golden Knights
No. 5 Oilers vs. No. 12 Blackhawks
No. 6 Predators vs. No. 11 Coyotes
No. 7 Canucks vs. No. 10 Wild
No. 8 Flames vs. No. 9 Jets
No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens
No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers
No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers
No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets
The Qualifying Round series will be best-of-five, while the top four teams in each conference will play three games with points percentage used as a tiebreaker to determine seeds Nos. 1-4 in the East and West. All series beginning with the First Round will be best-of-seven and teams will be re-seeded.
But managing a flat salary cap — likely by shedding players they didn’t want to expel — is a job for overwhelmed GMs, particularly of big-market teams. For the rest of us, we can fill some time by daydreaming about different NHL free agent scenarios. (Some more realistic than others.)
In other words, what are the best destinations for some of the NHL’s top free agents? Actually, scratch that. Let’s go with the most fun NHL free agent situations. They occasionally might even make sense!
NHL fans have watched too many “super teams” form in the NBA. In some of those cases, said NBA stars flexed their leverage by agreeing to shorter deals. LeBron James left Cleveland after getting a hometown ring. Kawhi Leonard can eat apples elsewhere if the whole Clippers thing doesn’t work out.
In the case of this hypothetical scenario with the Avalanche, it would be more of an “everybody wins” scenario — except maybe Colorado’s competition. Consider these factors:
Pietrangelo would just block promising young defensemen like Bowen Byram working into the mix with Cale Makar if Pietrangelo signed a long-term deal. But if it was short? He buys Colorado time and can maybe hand down some life lessons to those kiddos.
Taylor Hall has suffered enough. Let’s get him on a good team, which Colorado … at least has a good chance of being for the foreseeable future. Right? Possibly?
Let’s be honest, with all of the financial turmoil going on, Pietrangelo and Hall might not enjoy much of a market. Truly, Pietrangelo might be better off taking a one-year deal to stay in St. Louis. But that’s not as fun (unless you’re a Blues fan).
The Avalanche figure to have a lot of money to burn, but I’m not sure that it would be wise to risk Hall and Pietrangelo hitting the aging curve. This scenario basically buys everyone some time for longer-term solutions, while taking a big swing at a 2020-21 Stanley Cup.
To which I retort: we’d get to talk about that time the Avalanche brought in Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. Was it as much of a disaster as we thought? (Sounds like quality content either way.)
2. Buffy to Buffalo
Just imagine the bad puns and headlines that could come from Dustin Byfuglien reviving his career with the Buffalo Sabres.
As much as anything else, the Sabres and their fans need some joy. Adding a much-needed defenseman who’s as flat-out as unusual as Byfuglien would be pretty fun, if you ask me.
Could it be another disaster? Sure, but in that scenario, at least cruel people would have fun? I think it’s worth the risk. (<— Person not signing any of these checks.)
3. Hurricanes and Robin Lehner, an NHL Free Agency story of “Finally”
Despite putting up fantastic numbers for two seasons, Robin Lehner can’t seem to get the sort of stability he wants. Despite putting together deep and talented teams, the Hurricanes are always a few netminding meltdowns from throwing all of that shrewd team-building away.
Frankly, I was a little surprised the Hurricanes shrugged their shoulders at Lehner last summer. Sure, they’re analytics-leaning with Eric Tulsky calling a lot of shots (although I wonder if Don Waddell “went camping” by acquiring Brady Skjei and his not-particularly-fancy-stats?). But Lehner seemed like a buy-low candidate, particularly in signing a low-risk, one-year deal with the Blackhawks during the 2020 offseason.
Maybe it’s finally time for Carolina to take the plunge?
OK, so the smarter move might be to continue going shorter term. Perhaps Corey Crawford would take a shorter deal than what Lehner is clearly seeking. Jacob Markstrom might be the craftier addition, if the Canucks let him walk.
Lehner and the Hurricanes would rank as the more interesting story, though.
Speaking of interesting narratives that might not be as wise as they look on paper, Holtby to the Sharks would be fascinating.
Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have been disastrous for the Sharks lately. Of course, there’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument, though, as the Sharks defense often hangs its goalies out to dry.
In Holtby, you have a Stanley Cup winner whose overall body of work is highly impressive. For a Sharks team tormented by playoff letdowns, Holtby’s postseason resume shines especially bright (Stanley Cup win, .928 save percentage over 89 career playoff games).
Yet, on the other hand, things have been bumpy for Holtby for some time. His game had already been slipping, but it really dipped badly in 2019-20 with a disturbing .897 save percentage. Holtby probably will demand a hefty contract thanks to his prior work, too.
So … there are a lot of red flags here. That said, the Sharks are pretty desperate. At minimum, it would be interesting to see if that gamble would pay off for San Jose.
Assorted fun NHL free agent scenarios of varying realism
As interesting as it would be for Joe Thornton to ship back up to Boston, I keep going back to Thornton with the Winnipeg Jets for some reason. The Jets would actually be a sensible landing spot for someone like Torey Krug, but Thornton chasing a Stanley Cup with the Jets just feels right.
The Maple Leafs are going to experience an agonizing cap squeeze. If Kevin Shattenkirk took another one-year, low-dollar deal, maybe Toronto would come calling? He’s the sort of double-edged sword defenseman who could help the Maple Leafs more than hurt them. But oh, how that hockey-crazed media and fan base will overreact to those mistakes …
The Blackhawks seem pretty deep in a “just try to outscore their problems” phase. Is there a better defenseman for that pursuit than Tyson Barrie? I mean, probably, but that could make for a white-knuckle ride.
Let’s get Evgenii Dadonov to a California team. With any luck, Dad would attend a Padres game.
The National Hockey League says 35 total players have tested positive for the coronavirus over roughly the past month.
The league says 23 of 396 players checked for COVID-19 at team facilities have tested positive since voluntary workouts began June 8, a 5% rate. In that same period of time, it is aware of 12 additional positive test results.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association on Sunday night agreed on protocols to start training camps and resume the season. That includes daily testing once games get under way for players, coaches and staff.
Resuming is contingent on each side approving an extension of the collective bargaining agreement and the return to play agreement.
PHT Morning Skate: Four Blues players, one coach test positive for COVID-19; Future for Rask
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 email@example.com.
Blues players test positive for COVID-19, and other return-to-play issues for NHL teams
• Four Blues players and one coach tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the team to cancel practices late last week. It sounds like the Blues will attempt to resume activities on Monday. [According to various reporters, including Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
• Beyond trying to start things back up, what’s next? Lou Korac of NHL.com reports that the Blues players who tested positive for COVID-19 are likely to miss the beginning of formal training camps (aka “Phase 3”). [Korac on Twitter]
Last Monday, the NHL announced that 26 players (15 of at least 250 who participated in Phase 2; 11 who weren’t participating in activities and team facilities) tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began on June 8. This bumps the player count to at least 30 during Phase 2.
• Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan recently said that assistant Jacques Martin is expected to be a full participant during the potential NHL return. Plenty of coaches are at a noteworthy age, considering the heightened risks for serious complications from COVID-19 for older people. At 67, you’d understand if Martin decided not to participate, or to scale back in some way. That’s not the case, at least according to Sullivan. [Pittsburgh Hockey Now]
Other hockey links
• Some early thoughts on the proposed changes to how the CBA works as the NHL and NHLPA work to hash out an extension. [Blue Seat Blogs]
• Jim Matheson believe that it is “big gulp” time for prospective NHL free agents. Go ahead and scratch off some 7-Eleven jokes, then read up on the predicament many are in. [Edmonton Journal]
• Last week, PHT evaluated how the Kings might use the No. 2 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. While we discussed a few scenarios, the piece focused quite a bit on Quinton Byfield vs. Tim Stutzle. Mayor’s Manor goes deep on that comparison, too, and adds a wrinkle: assessing Lucas Raymond as the possible second pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, too. [Mayor’s Manor]
• Speaking of going deep, Joe Haggerty breaks down what the future might look like for Tuukka Rask. With retirement sounding unlikely any time soon, what happens after Rask’s contract expires following the 2020-21 season? The Bruins could extend Rask as soon as this summer, but there’s a lot of cap uncertainty going on right now. [NBC Sports Boston]
• As far as Finnish hockey has come, Aatu Raty has a chance to break new ground. Could he be the first Finnish player to go first overall? It’s a long way until the 2021 NHL Draft, but Mark Masters spoke with Raty about the possibility. [TSN]
• Did the David Clarkson contract set the stage for the Maple Leafs to turn things around? For all we know, it may have accelerated certain processes, such as hiring Brendan Shanahan, who cleaned house of many of the people who … well, thought that Clarkson contract was a good idea. [Leafs Nation]
• Kevin Kurz shares the fascinating story of Ned Colletti. “MLB GM to NHL scout” isn’t a common career path, so expect an uncommon story. [The Hockey News]