Five players looking for a fresh start in 2020

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The year is winding down and some people around the NHL will be happier to see it come to an end than others. 2019 was kind to players like Ryan O'Reilly, Nikita Kucherov and Mark Giordano, but there are others who are ready for a fresh start and a new year.

Who needs a new beginning?

Let’s take a look:

Andreas Athanasiou – Detroit Red Wings: 

Athanasiou put together his first 30-goal campaign last season, which increased expectations for him heading into 2019-20. But things haven’t gone nearly as well for him this year. The Red Wings forward has scored just five times in his first 32 games. And although the plus/minus stat is no longer as relevant as it used to be, it’s hard to ignore his league-worst minus-35 rating.

As difficult as this season has been for him, there would be no shortage of teams willing to trade for him if the Red Wings made him available. He’s fast, he can score and Detroit would be silly to give him away.

General manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t born yesterday, so he knows that players like Athanasiou don’t grow on trees. The rebuilding Wings should be as patient as they can be with their speedy winger, but he needs the calendar to turn to 2020 in a hurry.

•  Alex Galchenyuk – Pittsburgh Penguins: 

Since the start of 2018, Galchenyuk has played for three different teams and he’s been traded twice. He went from Montreal to Arizona and then from Arizona to Pittsburgh. That’s not a good sign for any player, let alone someone who is still relatively young and who’s scored 30 goals in the NHL before.

The Coyotes gave up Max Domi to get their hands on Galchenyuk, who they believed could be a full-time center in the NHL. Not only did he not last down the middle, but the ‘Yotes decided they had seen enough of him in just one year. They didn’t give him away, as he was part of a trade for Phil Kessel, but that’s probably not the scenario they had in mind when they acquired him.

Things haven’t gone much better for him in Pittsburgh, either. He’s battled through injuries and a lack of consistency that has seemed to plague him for a while now. Even with all the injuries the Penguins are going through, Galchenyuk remains on the team’s fourth line.

Galchenyuk’s had multiple changes of scenery and they haven’t worked out well for him. What’s next?

•  Shayne Gostisbehere – Philadelphia Flyers:

Gostisbehere is a prime “change of scenery” candidate heading into the new year. The 26-year-old struggled last season under head coaches Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon, and not much has changed with Alain Vigneault behind the bench in 2019-20.

After scoring 65 points in 78 games in 2017-18, Gostisbehere managed to pick up 37 points in the same amount of contests last year. This season, things have gotten even worse offensively, as he’s amassed five goals and 11 points in 32 contests.

The Flyers defender was even made a healthy scratch in three consecutive games between Nov. 23-27. Yeah, that’s how bad things have been for him this season. Now that he’s put together back-to-back difficult seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Chuck Fletcher unload him before the trade deadline.

• Ilya Kovalchuk – Free Agent: 

Imagine signing a three-year, $18 million deal on July 1st 2018 and never even making it to the mid-way point of the contract. That’s exactly what happened to Kovalchuk in Los Angeles. The Kings were so fed up with the 36-year-old that they were willing to keep dead money on the cap this year and next year just to get rid of him.

The Russian winger put up respectable numbers last season when he scored 16 goals and 34 points in 64 games, but those didn’t justify the commitment they made to him two summers ago.

Now, Kovalchuk is reportedly willing to play for peanuts and he wants to be on a contender. The questions is, who is willing to take him on at this point?

If you pro-rate last year’s totals over 82 games, he was on pace to score 21 goals. You’d think that a team would be willing to take a shot at a 20-goal scorer if it were to cost them around $1 million. Will anyone do it? Is a general manager going to pull that trigger on that kind of deal?

P.K. Subban – New Jersey Devils:

Expectations around the New Jersey Devils increased once they acquired Subban from the Nashville Predators on Day 2 of the 2019 NHL Draft. Instead of taking them to another level, the veteran has struggled mightily. He’s accumulated just two goals and three assists in 33 games this season and he’s failed to pick up a point in 21 straight games.

The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $9 million. That means that he’ll probably have to work through his current issues in New Jersey, as it would be shocking to see anyone trade for him at this point.

Subban has dealt with a couple of different injuries over the last few seasons, including a back ailment he had to fight through over the last few seasons. Is that what’s slowing him down 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.

Crosby, Ovechkin among NHL stars helping CCM donate 500,000 surgical masks

CCM plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks for COVID-19 healthcare workers
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Hockey equipment company CCM announced plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks to healthcare workers. CCM states that they hope to donate the surgical masks “as early as the week of April 27.” They also stated that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other CCM endorsers helped make the donation possible.

“By teaming up with our roster of CCM athletes, we will be able to play a role in the collaborative effort to get past this crisis,” CCM Hockey CEO Rick Blackshaw said in a statement. “We focused on the best use of our network and our resources to have the quickest impact. Sourcing greatly needed equipment through our established supply chain partners in Asia is the most efficient way for us to support and keep our real heroes safe.”

CCM revealed the list of hockey players involved in the initiative: Mathew Barzal, Patrice Bergeron, Brock Boeser, Dani Cameranesi, Brandon Carlo, Thomas Chabot, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Sidney Crosby, Melodie Daoust, Alex DeBrincat, Brianna Decker, Matt Duchene, Matt Dumba, Marc-Andre Fleury, Filip Forsberg, Jake Gardiner, Miro Heiskanen, Filip Hronek, Jonathan Huberdeau, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Charlie McAvoy, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, and John Tavares.

CCM’s plan to donate surgical masks adds to list of contributions from hockey world

This continues atrend of hockey teams, players, and companies contributing in different ways to help people during the coronavirus crisis.

Bauer recently announced its own initiatives (with help from Jack Eichel) involving manufacturing face shields. Bauer even provided instructions on how to make the shields on their website. Mary-Kay Messier explained Bauer’s plans during a recent episode of the Our Line Starts podcast.

Earlier this month, Islanders players helped to donate more than 3,000 N-95 masks to assist local causes.

NHL teams have also taken measures to pay employees during the coronavirus pause, among other meaningful efforts.

None of this erases the sacrifices healthcare workers are making. And this still figures to be a lengthy, difficult process. But it’s fantastic to see many in the hockey world rise to the occasion, CCM included.

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.

What is the Wild’s long-term outlook?

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Minnesota Wild.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Wild are kind of drifting toward that middle ground where they are not a true contender and they are not exactly awful, either. They have good players, but they also have some pretty significant flaws.

One of the biggest might be the fact they have a lot money tied up in players that are on the wrong side of 30. Mikko Koivu is a free agent after this season, and no one really knows what his future is at this point, but Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Devan Dubnyk are some of their biggest contracts beyond this season and Spurgeon is the only one younger than 32 years old. It is not a stretch to believe that every single one of those players has already played their best hockey. Parise was also the subject of trade rumors on deadline day with the New York Islanders, something that could be revisited later.

Beyond that, the Wild do have some intriguing younger players making up a second-wave of talent.

Kevin Fiala has been an outstanding pickup and is having an outstanding year, while Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek are other younger players the Wild are hoping can become bigger contributors.

The most intriguing young player in the organization, though, has yet to even play a game in North America. That player is Kirili Kaprizov, the 22-year-old winger that has dominated the KHL for the past few seasons. He was a fifth-round pick by the team a few years ago and his arrival in Minnesota has been anticipated for some time now.

Long-Term Needs

Really what the Wild need is a difference-maker. A game-changing forward that can be the focal point of the offense and carry it. A franchise cornerstone to build around both in the short-and long-term.

They do not really have that player right now, and the ones that most closely resemble that player on the roster right now are older and on the downside of their careers. They are also not really well positioned to get one without a lot of luck going their way in the draft lottery. It is a tough spot to be in.

Their biggest hope for that sort of presence might be with the aforementioned Kaprizov. For as intriguing and exciting as his potential is, it is still just exactly that — potential. Even if he does eventually become that top-line standout player, it may not happen as soon as he arrives next season. There could be some growing pains and an adjustment period along the way.

Long-Term Strengths

When they are all healthy their defense has some intriguing players and can be really good with Suter, Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, and Jonas Brodin are all signed through the end of next seaon, with the former three names all being signed to long-term deals. When it comes to scoring chances against and expected goals against the Wild have been one of the league’s top teams this season. The only thing that has held them back from being an elite defensive team has been inconsistency in net.

The addition of Cale Addison in the Jason Zucker trade also adds another intriguing blue-liner to the long-term outlook.

If Fiala can duplicate his 2019-20 performance he could also turn into a pretty big strength. He has been one of the league’s most productive 5-on-5 players on a per-minute basis this season and is still signed for another year at a very manageable salary cap hit.

The presence of him, Kaprizov, a still productive Zuccarello and hopefully improvements from players like Kunin, Greenway, and Eriksson Ek could give the Wild a formidable group of forwards.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild surprises and disappointments so far

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Kunitz puts Penguins in Cup Final

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NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour continues this week with matchups featuring unsung heroes.

Chris Kunitz opened the scoring in the second period of Game 7, his first goal in over three months. After regulation, tied at two goals apiece, Kunitz recorded his third point, and second goal of the game, in double overtime to send the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight year.

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire called the matchup from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Wednesday, April 8
• Senators vs. Penguins (2017 Eastern Conf. Final, Game 7, Chris Kunitz) – 5 p.m. ET
• NHL: Pause and Rewind – 6 p.m. ET

Thursday, April 9
• NHL: Pause and Rewind (Encore) – 5 p.m. ET
• Rangers vs. Kings (2014 Stanley Cup Final, Game 5, Alec Martinez) – 6 p.m. ET

#HOCKEYATHOME: EPISODE 1 – NHL BROTHERS – TUESDAY, 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
Kathryn Tappen and Sportsnet host David Amber will co-host a 30-minute program about brothers in the NHL. The three sets of brothers interviewed and featured in the program are Eric, Jordan, and Marc Staal; Brady and Matthew Tkachuk; and Quinn and Jack Hughes.

NHL: PAUSE AND REWIND – WEDNESDAY, 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
The premiere of a one-hour special, NHL: Pause and Rewind, will take a look back at this past NHL season as well as how players are spending their time off in the current league hiatus. Highlighted segments will include a look at the current top five teams in each conference, reflecting on the season’s milestones, including Alex Ovechkin’s historic 700 goal accomplishment, as well as revisiting the Blues’ improbable Stanley Cup victory last season.

NBC Sports commentators conducting player interviews and sharing #HockeyAtHome social content will also be featured throughout the program.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

Alexis Lafrenière tops list of NHL draft-eligible prospects

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Alexis Lafrenière, as expected, maintained the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final ranking of draft-eligible prospects released Wednesday.

What remains uncertain for the 18-year-old Rimouski Oceanic forward and hundreds of fellow prospects is learning when and by whom they will be selected.

Forward Quinton Byfield and defenseman Jamie Drysdale, both from the Toronto area, were ranked second and third among North American prospects. Forward Tim Stuetzle, the German professional league’s rookie of the year, was ranked as the top European prospect.

At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds,

the NHL scouting bureau’s list of draft-eligible prospects.

When play ended, he was leading the Quebec Major Junior League with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games. He was the league’s rookie of the year in 2017-18, when he scored 42 goals – the most by a rookie since Sidney Crosby scored 54 in 2003-04.

Lafrenière would have the opportunity to become first Quebec-born player selected with the first pick since goalie Marc-Andre Fleury by Pittsburgh in 2003.

The NHL draft, scheduled to take place in Montreal in late June, has been postponed. So has the draft lottery to determine the top seedings and weeklong pre-draft combine in Buffalo, New York. The draft can’t feasibly be held until the playoffs are completed or the entire season canceled.

That places the likelihood of the NHL holding the draft in September or as late as October.

And there is uncertainty over whether draft will go on as normal, with teams and fans gathering in an arena or instead closing the event to the public. That happened in the summer of 2005 when teams held the draft in a ballroom after the previous season was wiped out because of a lockout.

The postponements hit home for Lafrenière, who is from suburban Montreal and was looking forward to hearing his name announced at the Canadiens’ Bell Centre in June.

He took the news in stride last month,by saying: “For sure if the draft is online, it’s going to be different for us. But we’re still going to enjoy our time and still be happy there.”

Overall, Lafrenière has 114 goals and 183 assists for 297 points in 173 games. In January, he captained Canada’s gold-medal-winning team and earned MVP honors at the world junior championships.

In the past, the draft order among the 15 non-playoff teams was determined by lottery balls, with the team with the worst record receiving the best odds to win the top pick.

Though the season is incomplete, the Detroit Red Wings had already assured themselves of finishing 31st with a 17-49-5 record and 39 points, 23 behind Ottawa. Only six points separate Ottawa and Buffalo, which sits 25th.