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Rangers, Islanders, Devils all creating buzz in offseason

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The New York Rangers’ rebuild got a big boost with the additions of forwards Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko. The New Jersey Devils drafted Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick and traded for P.K. Subban to improve their defense.

The Islanders are coming off a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division and a run to the second round of the playoffs for the second time since 1993. Now, they return the core of their lineup for the second year under Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz and president/general manager Lou Lamoriello.

With the opening of training camps a little more than two months away, the three New York-area teams – which haven’t made the playoffs in the same year since 2007 – are buzzing with excitement.

”It’s awesome just in this area, even south Jersey with the Flyers, but Islanders, Devils, Rangers have real strong teams,” Devils general manager Ray Shero said. ”It’s an exciting time for all the teams in this area.”

New Jersey had the top pick for the second time in three years. In 2017, the Devils took Nico Hischier at No. 1 and got off to a strong start before earning a wild card. They took a step back last year and missed the playoffs, and then won the draft lottery.

Hughes and Kakko were the consensus top two picks, with the Rangers certain to take whichever player New Jersey passed on.

”They’re both really good players and it’s hard to pick one over the other,” Shero said, ”because Kakko is a great kid, a hell of a player, it’s good for the rivalry.”

The Rangers and Islanders both tried to sign Panarin, the top player available when free agency opened on Monday. The 27-year-old Panarin signed a seven-year, $81.5-million deal, reportedly spurning more money from the Islanders to join a Rangers team that has missed the playoffs two straight years after a seven-year run that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

”The rivalry will never change, which is great for the area, great for hockey,” Lamoriello said. ”As far as the ingredients to each team, all I worry about is the New York Islanders and competing against ourselves to be the best we can. I’m not losing any sleep over what anyone else is doing.”

After losing out on Panarin, the Islanders calmed their anxious fan base by re-signing captain Anders Lee and adding goalie Semyon Varlamov to replace Robin Lehner – a favorite in his one season in New York.

Last month, the Islanders inked center Brock Nelson and forward Jordan Eberle to new deals, keeping two players that were instrumental in their run to the postseason.

”We feel very good about our team,” Lamoriello said. ”We feel very good about our core players, having them all back for the most part is very important.”

Getting Panarin was a big move for the Rangers after they went into rebuilding mode at the trade deadline in 2018, dealing veterans for young players and draft picks. They continued that strategy at the trade deadline this year.

However, the Rangers have been busy improving their defense since the end of the season. They signed Adam Fox, acquired the rights to restricted free agent Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg and also signed forward Vitali Kravtsov and goalie Igor Shesterkin – two Russians they drafted in previous years.

”This by no means alters our plan,” Rangers coach David Quinn said of the contract for Panarin. ”He’s part of the rebuild and part of the process that’s been going on over the last year and a half.”

Shero liked the competitive vibe that was injected into the rivalry with the top two picks of the draft, much the way it happened in 2017 with the Flyers, who took Nolan Patrick at No. 2. He believes the division matchups make it more exciting, with the young players going to teams that play each other more often than in the case of other recent top picks that ended up in different conferences.

”It’s great for the area,” Shero said. ”It’s great for the rivalry and whether you play four or five times, we hope to play more against teams like the Islanders and Flyers and Rangers because that means we’re in the playoffs.

”You see all three teams here … it makes for a real good rivalry and a great division.”

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

2019-20 Lady Byng finalists: MacKinnon, Matthews, O’Reilly

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The NHL announced Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche), Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs), and Ryan O'Reilly (St. Louis Blues) as the three finalists for the 2020 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. The Lady Byng is awarded to the player “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

As usual, the Professional Hockey Writers Association voted on the Lady Byng Trophy.

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov won the Lady Byng in 2018-19. O’Reilly finished among the Lady Byng finalists that season.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule, now with start times]

The Lady Byng Trophy cases for finalists Hughes, Kubalik, Makar

Quick case for Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon, 24, managed another great season (93 points, Ted Lindsay Award finalist) while posting a career-low 12 PIM in 2019-20. Considering his significant ice time (21:13 TOI average), it’s impressive that the speedy scorer kept his PIM totals so low. This is his first Lady Byng nomination.

Matthews becomes Lady Byng finalist after tumultuous offseason

No doubt, Auston Matthews finishing as Lady Byng finalist will create controversy. Honestly, it’s easy to understand such critiques.

While Matthews’ disorderly conduct was dismissed in November, plenty will wonder why he finished among the top three. Would Teuvo Teravainen (63 points, eight PIM) served as a better choice, for example? Maybe Ryan Suter (12 PIM despite workhorse duties) instead?

From an on-ice perspective, Matthews makes a case as a Lady Byng finalist. Matthews produced 47 goals and shouldered a substantial ice time burden while only being whistled for eight PIM.

Ryan O’Reilly aims for another Lady Byng Trophy

As great as it’s been to see “ROR” get recognition as a Selke winner, O’Reilly has been a Lady Byng fixture for years. In fact, the dominant two-way forward won the Lady Byng in 2013-14. This marks O’Reilly’s third season in a row among Lady Byng finalists.

Remarkably, this marks the sixth of O’Reilly’s 11 seasons where he finished with 10 PIM or less. O’Reilly scored 61 points, excelled as a two-way player as usual, and kept his PIM to a neat 10 in 2019-20.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS, ANNOUNCEMENT DATES

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.

Johns, Lindblom, Ryan are 2019-20 Masterton Trophy finalists

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Stephen Johns of the Stars, Oskar Lindblom of the Flyers, and Bobby Ryan of the Senators are the three finalists for the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy. The award, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Robin Lehner was last season’s winner.

Each local chapter submits one nominee and the full PHWA membership votes at the conclusion of the regular season. You can find the full list of nominees here.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

Stephen Johns’ story: The Stars defenseman missed 22 months due to post-traumatic headaches. He made his NHL return in January and played over 18 minutes that night against the Wild. He would play 17 games this season and scored his first goal at Madison Square Garden in a win over the Rangers. “Throughout this whole process, it wasn’t just me going through hell,” he told the Dallas Morning News in June. “As parents, they want to help and for them to be here and see that, I probably know my dad was for sure crying. I’m pretty excited to go see them and give them both a big hug.”

Oskar Lindblom’s story: It was in December that the Flyers forward was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. At that time he was tied for the team lead in goals scorer (11) through 30 games. After months of treatment, the 23-year-old got to ring the bell at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia earlier this month as his treatments came to an end. He won’t play in the postseason, but there is hope he can rejoin the team for next season.

Bobby Ryan’s story: Ryan left the Senators in late November to enter the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to deal with an alcohol problem. He returned in February and recorded a hat trick in his first game back in Ottawa. That led to emotional standing ovations and Ryan being name the games’ No. 1 star. He hopes to continue to tell his story to help others. “Because I’ve been open and candid about that, I think people have looked at me and said, ‘There’s a very relatable person,'” Ryan told the Ottawa Sun. “Through my family stuff and now with alcohol issues, I’ve never hid from it and I’ve always said, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to do it in the public eye and I’m going to have to be candid with it.”

The winner will be announced during the conference finals.

The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers’ Association in 1968 to commemorate the late Bill Masterton, a player with the Minnesota North Stars who exhibited to a high degree the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and who died on Jan. 15, 1968.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Lady Byng Trophy: Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly

• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

————

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Oskar Lindblom reflects on battling cancer

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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.

Lindblom’s battle, key Wild decisions, and more

• Alex Prewitt shares a detailed, touching account of Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom‘s battle with cancer. [SI]

• USA Hockey announced the cancellation of the 2020 World Junior Summer showcase. The event was originally scheduled for July 24-31, but it makes sense to err on the side of caution. [USA Hockey]

• Ken Campbell believes the Wild took care of the present by dropping the interim tag from head coach Dean Evason, and secured the future by signing Kirill Kaprizov. I’d say the jury is still out on Evason, but getting Kaprizov signed is huge — even if COVID-19 presents more bumps in the road. [The Hockey News]

• How about some more detail on Evason, then? Tony Abbott breaks down why Wild GM Bill Guerin might have been impressed with Evason. In particular, it’s interesting to see that the Wild picked up the pace with Evason after firing Bruce Boudreau. [Zone Coverage]

• A fun one from John Matisz on various skills that hockey players find difficult to master. Some covet Nicklas Lidstrom’s ability to walk the line. Kevin Shattenkirk marvels at the deceptive “hitch” Nikita Kucherov can put on his shot. [The Score]

• Ranking the Detroit Red Wings’ jerseys, from worst to first. That 1928-29 Cougars logo is choice. [Hockey by Design]

NHL training camps, insight on playoff matchups, and free agency

• The Maple Leafs don’t view training camp as merely an opportunity to tune up. Instead, such activities are being framed as competition for playoff roster spots. I imagine players like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly don’t have to worry too much, though. [Sportsnet]

• Sin Bin Vegas transcribed key Robin Lehner quotes about his free agent future. Over and over again, it seems clear that Lehner craves term in contract offers, making me wonder if a savvy team might be able to bring his AAV down by giving him some stability. Goalies are unpredictable, but you could make worse bets than Lehner, who’s been outstanding since at least 2018-19. [Sin Bin Vegas/TSN 1200 interview]

Really, the biggest story for today’s PHT Morning Skate might be Lehner’s silly leg pads:

 

• Count Brenden Dillon among the pending UFAs who would prefer to stick with their teams. In Dillon’s case, it’s the Capitals, whom he’s still becoming acquainted with. Looking at the Capitals’ cap situation, Dillon returning isn’t out of the question, although that might boil down to what kind of deal the rugged defenseman expects. Also, it may hinge on other decisions, such as what to do with Braden Holtby. [Nova Caps Fans]

• As the Canadiens await, which players are the biggest X-factors for the Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• Being that the Flames and Jets only met in an outdoor game, Paul Maurice doesn’t believe there’s much video to use in preparing for Calgary. He also explains how NHL systems are like battleships. Hopefully the return to play doesn’t flop like that movie. [Winnipeg Free Press]

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.

NHL’s older coaches debate wearing masks, taking precautions

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After two days behind a mask and off his skates, Rick Bowness returned to his natural habitat on the ice with air inside the rink blowing against his face.

”You get out there and you miss it,” the Dallas Stars coach said. ”You realize how much you enjoy being out there.”

The NHL’s oldest head coach still worries about COVID-19 but not enough to stop doing his job. It’s a risk-reward proposition coaches and executives around sports are weighing, and while Florida assistant Mike Kitchen is the only one to so far opt out of hockey’s return, plenty of others are considering masking up behind the bench and taking other precautions in the middle of a pandemic.

”It’s a different world out there,” Bowness, 65, said. ”I’m going to have to adjust to it, there is no question. I just want to make sure I’m cautious, which we’ve been since this virus started, and I will continue to do that. My health – hey, I’m a grandfather now, my first grandkid. I intend on playing some golf with that kid down the road. I intend on being here a lot longer. So, yeah, am I going to be careful? Absolutely.”

The World Health Organization said the disease can be more severe in people 60 and over, and the NHL has four head coaches and a handful of assistants in that age range. The average age of the 24 head coaches in the playoffs is just under 54, the second-oldest behind the NBA among North America’s four major professional sports leagues.

With that life experience comes meetings like New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz held with his staff this week to talk about whether to don a mask for games and practices.

”I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do,” Trotz said Wednesday on his 58th birthday. ”I’m not too concerned. I’m in pretty good health, but it affects everybody differently if you do get it. I don’t want to get it, so there’s a good chance I could have a mask behind the bench, but I haven’t decided yet. I should say I don’t want to give it to anybody if I have it, but I don’t.”

Coaches are relying on frequent testing at training camp and in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, hoping before going into quarantine that players and their families can avoid contracting the virus that halted the season in March. All team staff are tested every other day for now and will be daily once games start.

”We’re all doing everything we can not to bring it into our locker room,” Bowness said. ”Give our players credit, as well, because this is a big sacrifice for everyone and they’re looking after themselves.”

The NHL reported 43 players tested positive during voluntary workouts from June 8-July 12. At least three of those cases came from the Tampa Bay Lightning and one from the Boston Bruins, though the league took over reporting statistics in the name of privacy and anonymity.

Outside practice facilities, coaches’ comfort levels might vary from a hotspot such as Texas to the Canadian province of Manitoba, where there have been zero reported cases in 13 of the past 14 days.

”It was possibly easier for me, because of the fact that I was pretty darn safe right from the start,” 53-year-old Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said. ”I’m really confident in what goes on in our building, tested every second day, I don’t feel particularly exposed.”

The only coach taking part in the NHL’s return older than Bowness is 67-year-old Pittsburgh assistant Jacques Martin, who was on the ice for camp practices this week like normal. Columbus’ John Tortorella, 62, Florida’s Joel Quenneville, 61, and Montreal’s Claude Julien, 60, also all felt comfortable enough to get back to work.

Tortorella, who along with Philadelphia’s 59-year-old Alain Vigneault and Boston’s 55-year-old Bruce Cassidy is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, brushed aside a question about himself and said, ”Safety is the priority” for all involved.

Kitchen made what he called ”a difficult decision to say the least, but the right decision for me and my family” in opting out, and Quenneville said he wished his longtime right-hand man nothing but the best.

Much like players, only a handful of whom decided not to play, coaches had to make their own determinations.

”I think this is going to be an individual thing,” Bowness said. ”We’re all going to deal with it in our own way. … We’re all going to have to make that call.”