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Boudreau needs to get Wild turned around quickly

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild. 

Most head coaches in the NHL don’t get to stay on the job longer than two of the organization’s general managers, but Bruce Boudreau clearly isn’t “most head coaches”. Boudreau, who was hired by former GM Chuck Fletcher in May of 2016, got to stay on staff when Paul Fenton took over in the front office last summer.

Now, Fenton’s gone and the Wild are still looking for their next general manager. We know that GMs will typically bring in their own head coach, but it would be mildly surprising to see the next person replace Boudreau with someone else so deep into the offseason. That doesn’t mean that the next GM will hesitate to fire the veteran coach if the team gets off to a bad start in 2019-20.

Based on what we saw from Minnesota last season, it’ll be difficult for them to get themselves on track quickly. The Wild finished outside of the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season and they were also last in the Western Conference’s Central Division.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | Three Questions | X-Factor]

The other thing that won’t play into Boudreau’s favor, is his lack of playoff success since taking over in Minnesota. Since he took over behind the bench, the Wild have not made it beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (they were eliminated by the Blues and the Jets in five games). Combine that with the Wild’s recent difficult campaign and their search for a new general manager, and you can easily understand why Boudreau is very much on the hot seat.

So what has to happen for them to become one of the eight best teams in the West?

“Our lack of scoring was probably the biggest difference I think, from the two previous teams we’d had,” Boudreau told NHL.com last week. “It wasn’t any one thing. You can take Jason Zucker and say he had an off year production wise, but he had as many chances as he’s had in the previous years, he just hit 13 more posts than he did the year before. Things just weren’t going in and that happens.

“A lot of people are counting us out, and that’s great. I’m really happy they are counting us out because I think we’re going to come more mad and with a chip on our shoulders. We’ve got a lot to prove to a lot of people and I think we’re going to do it.”

Technically, he has a point. The Wild ranked 11th in the NHL in CF% and third in high danger CF% behind the Vegas Golden Knights, who made the playoffs, and the St. Louis Blues, who won the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for them, their high danger GF% was 46.39 percent, which was 24th best last season. So they clearly didn’t convert on their high number of high danger chances.

When their backs are against the wall, a lot of coaches prefer to rely on veteran players and that’s exactly what Boudreau will be able to do during the pressure-packed time. Whether you think it’s good news or not, Minnesota has a long list of veteran players that they’ll have to rely on this season.

Mats Zuccarello, who was their big free-agent acquisition this summer, will be 32 next month. They also have Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, and Devan Dubnyk, who are all at least 33 years old right now. Whether or not that helps them remains to be seen, but this is an older group with some injury concerns. How will Koivu look once he returns from a knee injury? Can Parise stay healthy? Are the Wild good enough? Can Boudreau survive a slow start?

Those questions are all legitimate (the PHT team will tackle them throughout the day).

We don’t know how things will shake out in Minnesota this year, but they’re definitely a team to keep an eye on right now.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

NHL free agency likely for Alex Pietrangelo after Blues contract talks stall

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Back on Friday, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the St. Louis Blues told Alex Pietrangelo to “pursue unrestricted free agency” after contract talks broke down. In an interview with The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford, Pietrangelo confirmed that report.

The Blues star defenseman told Rutherford (sub required) that he hasn’t totally ruled out having a “change of heart” and returning to St. Louis. But it doesn’t really sound like the player and team see eye-to-eye on contract negotiations.

“We just think right now, with where things are at, that maybe it’s best for both sides to see what’s going on in free agency, what the team can explore, what I can explore and if there are better fits for each side,” Pietrangelo said, via Rutherford.

“ … We’re two weeks away. Not saying anything can’t change, but as of right now, that’s kind of our plan, and we’ll see where things go.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

What to know about Pietrangelo as Blues departure, free agency likely

Rutherford points to rumblings that Pietrangelo and the Blues didn’t just struggle with raw contract numbers, such as signing bonuses and cap hits. Apparently there likely were stumbling blocks, such as the topic of no-trade/no-movement clauses, term, and ways to protect against a buyout.

So, it’s likely worth considering that Pietrangelo would prefer term and a big number. Being that he’s been massively underpaid at $6.5M per year since 2013-14, it’s understandable that Pietrangelo wants to strike it rich.

And, even with massive pandemic-related financial uncertainty, Pietrangelo could get what he wants, or close to it. Defensemen like Pietrangelo simply do not hit free agency very often in the NHL’s salary cap era.

By just about every measure, Pietrangelo is an excellent defenseman. While he may struggle to maintain his 2019-20 scoring pace (career-high 16 goals, 52 points overall in 70 games), Pietrangelo can really benefit an offense. And he’s generally quite competent defensively, to boot.

But Pietrangelo is also 30.

If it’s term-or-bust, then some contenders might feel a little trigger shy. Or, frankly, they should.

Basically, signing Pietrangelo to big term and money could be very high-risk, high-reward. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that multiple NHL teams would be willing to roll the dice, even during these shaky financial times.

If Pietrangelo leaves Blues for free agency, which NHL teams might pounce?

This isn’t a comprehensive list, yet let’s consider teams under two broader categories.

Potential Pietrangelo suitors with a lot of cap space and chances to contend

  • Colorado Avalanche: As of this writing, Cap Friendly places the Avs’ cap space at more than $22.3M. While Andre Burakovsky and Ryan Graves rank among those who should eat up a healthy portion of that surplus, Colorado sits in a position to exploit an unstable market. This is close to the ideal situation if Pietrangelo prizes Stanley Cup contention.

But finding the right term could be the sticking point, and the Avalanche might make more sense as a fallback plan if Pietrangelo can’t thread the needle between contending and getting the biggest, longest deal possible.

At least, the Avalanche should really push for huge money, but short term. With Cale Makar‘s rookie deal set to expire in 2020-21, and other concerns (only three more seasons of stealing Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog due for a raise after next season), Colorado needs to be smart here.

  • Dallas Stars: After making it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (currently leading 1-0), the Stars rise as a credible future contender. Imagine a defense with Pietrangelo, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg. Considering the Stars’ near-$15.5M in cap space, it’s not outrageous, even after dealing with RFAs like Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. Dallas may want to figure out what Heiskanen’s next deal looks like, as he is entering a contract year much like Makar.
  • Calgary Flames: Maybe Calgary takes a wild swing with some concerns about their window closing?
  • Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck obscured serious issues on defense last season, yet you wonder how often he can pull a rabbit of a hat. Pietrangelo could patch up (some of) the crater left behind by defensive departures.

Lots of cap space, maybe not the best hockey fit from Pietrangelo’s perspective

  • Buffalo Sabres: Following that shrewd Eric Staal trade, maybe the Sabres can improve their defense by adding Alex Pietrangelo? Kevyn Adams boasts an estimated $34.46M in cap space, and only a few players to worry about re-signing. Granted, like with Makar and Heiskanen, the Sabres need to pencil in money for Rasmus Dahlin‘s second contract.

Yes, Buffalo has been burned badly by big free agent bets over the years. Still, with an angsty fan base and room to give Pietrangelo the blockbuster deal he craves, they could be an outside-the-box fit.

  • Florida Panthers: Hey, you’re dug in with Sergei Bobrovsky, why not try to protect that investment by giving him some defensive support? Sure, it could also mean about $20M spent on aging free agents but … uh … *trails off*
  • New Jersey Devils: What if this team isn’t quite as bad as it looked last season? That may be a stretch, but New Jersey has a ton of cap space.
  • Montreal Canadiens: When in doubt, assume Marc Bergevin has something weird and wild up his (challenged-by-muscles) sleeves.

A cap-strapped team gets creative?

OK, this is honestly meant to be a catch-all for the dreamers out there. Could the Toronto Maple Leafs really jump through hoops and sign Pietrangelo in free agency? It’s tough to imagine that if Pietrangelo steadfastly demands a long-term, big-money deal.

Now, if those deals aren’t out there? Maybe Pietrangelo accepts a short-term fix to have fun and chase a Stanley Cup. Then, ideally, he’d get that mega contract when things (hopefully) settle down.

(Take the money and run, Pietro.)

Any other teams or scenarios stick out as possible destinations for Pietrangelo in free agency? Could the Blues pull off a stunner and bring their captain back? Do tell.

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.

Bettman: Next NHL season could start in December or January

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Gary Bettman will take his first sigh of relief in months when he presents the Stanley Cup.

”Maybe I’ll get a full night sleep,” the NHL Commissioner said.

Maybe one, and then the work begins on next season. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly had more questions of their own than answers next season, though it’s always been questionable if it will start on Dec. 1 as tentatively planned.

Bettman on Saturday raised the possibility of a start sometime later in December or even January, though the plan remains for each team to play 82 games and the league hold a full playoffs.

Much like its plan to resume this season, the league hopes to adapt to the pandemic circumstances in the U.S., Canada and worldwide and is open to adjusting on the fly as the situation evolves. Acknowledging there are factors like the U.S.-Canada border and local jurisdictions out of his control that could affect travel and attendance, Bettman indicated Saturday he wouldn’t be surprised if the season begins later than scheduled but would like to avoid playing deep into next summer.

”If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said during his annual pre- Stanley Cup Final news conference. ”It’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point and by some point in time maybe our buildings are open.”

There’s no way to know yet what a 2020-21 NHL season will look like, and the league is watching what’s going on in European hockey and the other North American professional sports leagues and college athletics to see what’s possible.

”Our goal is to get back to as great a sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented,” Bettman said.

One of the circumstances at play is the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel, which has more of an effect on the NHL than other pro sports leagues because it has seven teams in Canada and 24 in the U.S. until Seattle becomes the 32nd franchise in 2021.

Canada did not allow Major League Baseball’s Blue Jays to play in Toronto this season because of cross-border travel by them and other teams. The Canadian government approved the NHL holding its playoffs in quarantined bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton but has not allowed family members who aren’t Canadian citizens join, as had been planned by the league and players.

”That application remains pending,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. ”I think at this point, I don’t have a high level of expectation that it will be approved. But it has not formally been denied at this point, either.”

The league is less than two weeks away from pulling off a successful return, after the season was halted March 12. More than 30,000 tests inside the bubbles turned up zero positive coronavirus test results.

Before the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning opened the final, Bettman acknowledged he’s not taking a victory lap yet. He’s still focused on getting through this series even as preparations begin for next season.

Bettman said the league has ”started informally thinking” about it and conceded there will be a financial hit because attendance makes up at least 50% of revenue. He’s not worried about any franchises not making it through this and said Seattle joining the league won’t be pushed back.

”While we know it’ll be less (money), we know there’s a substantial revenue impact, I’m comfortable that our franchises will be strong enough to weather this,” Bettman said. ”Our franchises will get through this and will come out stronger on the other side.”

Those franchises will be better off when they can have some fans in their buildings, and Daly said everything will be done in the name of safety and in conjunction with national and local health authorities.

”We’re going to see what the circumstances are like and do the best we can,” he said. ”We certainly want to maximize efforts to create circumstances where fans can attend our games and we can wait a certain amount of time to try to accommodate that. But at the end of the day, we also want to play a season, so we’re going to see what circumstance are like and make decisions when we need to make decisions.

Anton Khudobin continues to be ‘a rock’ in goal for Stars

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Anton Khudobin preferred the postgame spotlight to be on the Stars’ effort in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, not him. But when you watched how the Dallas goaltender kept denying the Lightning’s never-ending scoring chances, it’d be hard to talk about much else.

The Stars are three wins away from their first Cup title since 2000 in large part because of the 34-year-old Russian’s play. As Ben Bishop deals with an injury, Khudobin has been the No. 1 star more often than not most nights. He stopped 35 of 36 Tampa shots during their 4-1 win Saturday night to continue his Conn Smythe Trophy worthy play since the Western Conference Final.

Via Natural Stat Trick, at even strength in his last six starts he has a .956 save percentage and stopped 130 of 136 shots faced. 

[Stars stifle Lightning in Game 1]

Keeping their goaltender busy has ended with good results for the Stars. Game 1 was the fourth straight game Khudobin made at least 30 saves and the team has won nine in a row when he’s turned aside that many shots. 

As the Lightning pressed and kept coming in waves, Khudobin was a calming presence amid all the chaos in the Stars’ zone. He even got to flash a little glove.

“His play’s been speaking for itself,” said Jamie Oleksiak, who scored Dallas’ second goal. “It looks like whenever he’s out there, he’s just having fun. I think we’re feeding off that energy. He’s been great. I can’t say enough about him.”

The Stars needed their goaltender big time in the second and third periods. Tampa outshot Dallas 23-7 at 5-on-5 over the final 40 minutes, including 14-1 in the third. Each time the Lightning tried to make a breakthrough, Khudobin was there to deny a chance.

“When he’s on, which he was today, he’s reading the play. He’s getting there, anticipating the shot,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “He’s not late, he’s not chasing the game around, he’s focused on where it’s coming from and he’s meeting the puck. His positional play has been great. His reads have been great, but more importantly, he’s a competitive guy, and he’ll do whatever he can to stop the puck. That’s why he’s so effective.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Dallas did their part to try and help Tampa get back into the game with three third-period power plays. But the Lightning could only muster four shots with the man advantage, all of which were stopped by Khudobin.

The Stars have received contributions from their depth players all playoffs. That was on display in Game 1 with Joel Hanley scoring his first NHL goal, and Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta adding to their postseason totals. They’re thriving with the “next man up” mentality, and Khudobin stepping in to the No. 1 spotlight in net is further evidence of that.

“He’s been a rock for us all playoffs, it was no different tonight,” said Stars forward Blake Comeau. “We got into penalty trouble there in the third and he was there to bail us out, and that’s been the storyline this playoffs. Every time we’ve needed a big save, he’s been there for us. 

“We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s playing great for us right now, and we’re going to need him to continue that moving forward.”

Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final is Monday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream)

MORE: 3 Takeaways from Lightning-Stars Game 1

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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.