Looking back at the NHL’s shortened and postponed seasons

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Like pretty much every other sport in North America, the 2019-20 NHL season is currently suspended with little idea as to when — or if — it will resume due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This is not the first time an NHL season has been interrupted or cut short.

The league has been stopped by global pandemics, lockouts, and a strike. One thing that did not bring the league to a stop, though, was World War II as the league continued on as a means of attempting to boost morale in North America.

Let’s take a look back at the previous stoppages.

1919 Stanley Cup Final

This is easily the most similar example as to what we are dealing with right now — a global pandemic shutting down, well, everything.

During the 1918-19 season it was an outbreak of the Spanish Flu that impacted the Stanley Cup Final between the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans and the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

There had already been five games played in the series (each team won two games and tied one) with a deciding Game 6 set to be played on April 1 in Seattle. But several players on both teams had become ill, with Montreal’s Newsy Lalonde, Joe Hall, Bill Coutu, Louis Berlinguette, and Jack McDonald all either hospitalized or bed-ridden. Hall died four days later due to pneumonia that was brought on by the flu.

Game 6 was officially cancelled hours before the scheduled puck drop.

Montreal briefly considered using players from the PCHA’s Victoria team, but was ultimately prohibited from doing so. At that point Montreal attempted to forfeit the Stanley Cup to Seattle, a gesture that was refused by the Metropolitans due to the circumstances.

No Stanley Cup was awarded that season.

The 1919 season is included on the Stanley Cup with the following engraving:

1919
Seattle Metropolitans
Montreal Canadiens
Series Not Completed

The Hamilton Tigers walk out

Technically this wasn’t a league stoppage, but it did impact the on-ice results in a significant way.

During the 1924-25 season players for the Hamilton Tigers went on strike after demanding a pay raise due to the season being increased from 24 to 30 games. Players were not given a pay increase. The team’s argument was that players were contracted between specific dates regardless of the number of games played. The player’s sat out, with then-league president Frank Calder declaring the Montreal Canadiens league champions. Montreal went on to play in the Stanley Cup Final where they would lose to the WHL’s Victoria Cougars, making it the first time an NHL team had lost the cup to a team from a rival league.

Following that season the Tigers were purchased by a bootlegger named “Big Bill” Dwyer who moved the franchise to New York where they would become the New York Americans.

The 1992 Players’ Strike

This was the first time labor negotiations put a halt to the NHL season.

The NHLPA called the strike on April 1, just before the conclusion of the regular season and the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The major factors involved in the strike: free agency, arbitration, playoff bonuses, and how to share revenue from trading cards.

The players felt that by walking out so close to the start of the playoffs it would give them an advantage in negotiations because teams were so dependent on playoff revenue. A Federal Mediator eventually joined the negotiations and after 10 days the strike was settled, allowing for the completion of the regular season and playoffs.

The result: An expanded regular season from 80 games to 84 games, two neutral site games per season to gauge interest for potential league expansion, larger playoff bonuses for players, and changes to the free agency and arbitration process.

The Pittsburgh Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup, their second Stanley Cup championship in a row.

The 1994-95 lockout

At the conclusion of training camps for the 1994-95 season, the league locked the players out as CBA negotiations were unable to result in a new deal.

This would be the first time a league fight over a salary cap would impact the season. The league eventually softened on its hard cap stance and proposed a luxury tax system, something that the players viewed as another form of a cap on salaries.

The lockout lasted for more than three months, resulting in 468 regular season games being lost.

In mid-January, a 48-game season was started. It was, at the time, the shortest NHL season in more than 50 years.

The New Jersey Devils would go on to win their first ever Stanley Cup, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep.

The 2004-05 lockout

This turned out to be the first — and currently only — time a major North American sports season was cancelled in its entirety.

It was also the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup was not awarded.

The issue, just as it was in 1994-95, was the introduction of a league salary cap. The league eventually got what it wanted (a salary cap) with an agreement between the two sides finally being reached in July, 2005.

Along with the financial impact, there were several rule changes that followed, from the introduction of the shootout, to the elimination of the two-line pass, to the three-point game that gives teams a point in the standings for losing in overtime or a shootout.

With no season to play and no results, the league used a weighted lottery draft to give all 30 teams a chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. The system gave teams with the fewest playoff appearances and No. 1 overall picks over the previous three seasons the best chance to win it. It was ultimately won by the Pittsburgh Penguins who selected Sidney Crosby with the top pick.

The 2012-13 Lockout

The third lockout in two decades began on Sept. 16, 2012 and was finally resolved on Jan. 6, 2013. The main issues were the NHL’s attempt to cut player’s share of hockey related revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent, change the definition of hockey related revenue (cutting the player’s share even further), term-limit on contracts, free agency rights, and salary arbitration.

The new agreement ultimately put a limit on free agency contracts of seven years (eight years for players re-signing with current teams),  mandatory acceptance of arbitration awards under $3.5 million, and an amnesty buyout period that would allow teams to buy out contracts that did not fit under the new league salary cap.

A 48-game season was played beginning on January 19 with all games being played within each conference.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup, their second in three years, by defeating the Boston Bruins in six games.

The 2019-20 pause

Now we have the 2019-20 season, currently paused due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

There is still no timeline on when the season will resume.

Here is a look at where the season stands as of this moment.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19
Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

kris letang
Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

Kris Letang Penguins
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

“It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

“Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

“I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

“On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

“(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

“It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.