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 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray has a lot to prove this season.
He has to prove to the NHL that he is still the goalie that backstopped his team to back-to-back Stanley Cups, and he has to prove to the Penguins that he is worthy of a significant long-term commitment after this season when his current deal expires.
Murray is an interesting player because he has already accomplished more in his first four years than most goalies will accomplish in an entire career. But for all of that team success there is still some debate as to what type of goalie he is and what his long-term prospects are as a No. 1 goalie.
His first two years in the league where as good as any goalie in the history of the league, maintaining a save percentage over .925 (regular season and playoffs) and winning two championships. He regressed during the 2017-18 season and playoffs and then stumbled badly out of the gate this past season before catching fire when he was finally healthy in mid-December, playing some of the best hockey of his career between mid-December and the end of the regular season.
Looking at his career from a big picture perspective, he has been mostly outstanding when healthy and his play over the final four months of the 2018-19 season was probably one of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest reason, the Penguins were even able to make the playoffs. He masked a lot of flaws the team had defensively and their success was driven mostly by how he played.
When he was good, the Penguins won. When he was not good, they did not win.
Barring something unforeseen he is going to continue to be the Penguins’ starting goalie for years to come because, 1) he is good, and 2) they have zero organizational depth behind him. It is his spot. So while it is a little odd that have not made a new contract a priority (Jake Guentzel, Mike Sullivan, Jim Rutherford all signed long-term contracts within the organization over the past year — but the starting goalie has not) they still have time to get it done.
And Murray has time to show just exactly what type of goalie he is and what he is worth.
He is definitely the Penguins’ biggest X-Factor this season because with the makeup of their defense he is probably going to be tested often. Again. The Penguins are not as strong in front of him as they were two or three years ago and have a much smaller margin for error, finishing just four points clear of the first non-playoff team this past season. Even playing on a team that has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang as the core there is probably not a single player that will impact what they are capable of more than Murray. They all showed this past season how much his play impacts them in the standings.
If he plays like he did from December-March of this past season, which is pretty close to how he played in 2015-16 and 2016-17 when he was lifting the Stanley Cup, he is going to be in line for a huge contract.
If he plays like he did between 2017 and the end of November in 2018, it might create a little more uncertainty for the Penguins and make his next deal a little more complicated.
Keep in mind that these round-ups aren’t necessarily comprehensive, what with there being 24 NHL teams undergoing training camps.
Oh, and It’s probably fair to say that a more detailed schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is the biggest hockey news for Tuesday. So check that out if you want to plan your viewing habits in late July and early August.
Bruins’ Pastrnak not yet practicing; others miss day two (or more) of NHL training camps
Look, it’s important to remember that NHL teams are keeping things unclear. They probably will up until the point that the 2020 Stanley Cup (ideally, safely,) gets awarded. So please keep that in mind anytime we note absences and players not fully participating.
With that out of the way (for now), a few notes:
For the second training camp day in a row, David Pastrnak didn’t practice with the Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that it seems like Pastrnak, as well as others like Ondrej Kase, are still going through the quarantine process after coming back from overseas. Pastrnak may not get to skate with the full Bruins group until Thursday.
“ … I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak, via Haggerty.
In some cases, players are still self-isolating. Sometimes players aren’t skating with full groups, for what could be a variety of reasons. There was some rumbling about Shea Weber missing portions of Canadiens practice time, and skating by himself. Such hand-wringing might end up overblown.
Should note that Claude Julien says he expects Shea Weber to be back at full practice Wednesday
Naturally, illnesses and injuries sabotage plans. There’s at least one planned absence, though: Capitals forward Lars Eller. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reports that Eller will leave the Toronto bubble for the birth of his child. The Ellers expect the child to be born around Aug. 8, which would fall around the Round Robin for Seeding as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. (Again, you can check out that schedule here.)
The Maple Leafs removed Timothy Liljegren from their return-to-play roster. Quite a bummer, as Liljegren could become an important part of their defensive future as the team braces for a cap crunch.
Golden Knights set for goalie battle? (And other bits)
Perhaps coach Peter DeBoer is merely being tight-lipped to the point of near-trolling, as seems to be the NHL way. Or maybe he really doesn’t know if the Golden Knights will tab Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.
DeBoer- "We have two starting goalies and we're going to play them both." #VegasBorn
If you’re weighing loyalty most heavily, then the Golden Knights would go with Fleury. His strong play ranked as a big reason they appeared in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
But if you look at recent play, Lehner’s ranked among the NHL’s best goalies since 2018-19. Meanwhile, “The Flower” wilted a bit lately. Also, DeBoer is still-new to the Golden Knights, and thus might not feel the same obligation to Fleury that, say, Gerard Gallant might have.
So we’ll see. There are plenty of goalie training camp battles to watch, but others feel more like battles of lesser evils than the interesting opportunities Vegas has.
It’s dangerous to read too much into line combination experiments as early as day two of NHL training camps. That said, it can be entertaining to picture how they’d work.
Signings continue to trickle in. That includes the excellently named Jack Rathbone signing with the Canucks, and the Ducks landing an extension with Troy Terry (granted, you may disqualify the Ducks from this post since they aren’t among the 24 teams involved in the return to play).
Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule. NHL schedule Stanley Cup
You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.
Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.
NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule
As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:
Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:
STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES
EASTERN CONFERENCE(all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)
(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens* Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers* Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers* Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
WESTERN CONFERENCE(all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD
* – if necessary
Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.
The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.
Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.
All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.
The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.
While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.
Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists
Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”
The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.
Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.
The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.
The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).
NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES • Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy • Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy • Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy • Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy • Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy