Pending free agents confront injury risk in NHL playoffs

Alex Pietrangelo and his wife had ongoing discussions about whether he should return to the ice when the NHL season resumes.

In addition to wanting to keep the couple’s infant triplets safe during the pandemic, the 30-year-old captain of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues is heading into free agency while in his prime. He decided to play.

”The focus right now is just kind of getting through this healthy and playing and we’ll see where things end up,” Pietrangelo said.

Staying healthy has added importance for Pietrangelo, Boston’s Torey Krug, Arizona’s Taylor Hall, Washington’s Braden Holtby and more than 100 other pending unrestricted free agents taking part in the 24-team playoffs. Instead of cashing in July 1 had this been a normal year, they face the risk of injury after several months off that could put big paydays in jeopardy.

”Being a free agent that goes into this situation, it’s definitely risky,” Krug said. ”I’d be lying to you if I said it’s not. Having three or four months off, and then going right into the most intense hockey you could possibly play at any level, there’s always risk for injury no matter when you play. But certainly in this moment you don’t have the normal training that you do, the preparation, all the work to make sure your body feels good and you can go in without any worries.”

The worries weren’t severe enough for most to opt out. Calgary’s Travis Hamonic and Edmonton’s Mike Green are pending free agents who decided not to play, but they cited family health concerns as the reason.

The thought of not playing never crossed Holtby’s mind. Two years removed from backstopping the Capitals to their first title, the 30-year-old goaltender is more focused on trying to win the Cup again than endangering his future earnings by doing so.

”My job right now is to win a championship with the Caps,” Holtby said. ”Everything else after that is completely irrelevant. I don’t think I’ve ever worried about injuries or anything like that. Any game that you get to play, you are pretty fortunate to get to play in this league.”

Florida teammates Evgenii Dadonov and Mark Pysyk are on that same page, too. Pysyk said he gave little to no thought about opting out, figuring this was no different from competing in the playoffs any other season. Dadonov said he’s ”not scared” about risking injury.

Washington defenseman Brenden Dillon doesn’t think he has it worse as a pending free agent than others around the league.

”There’s always a risk when you have a big layoff like this,” Dillon said. ”I think it just goes to the preparation for us as players in general, whether you are (a free agent) or a guy on a six-year deal.”

Nicklas Backstrom signed a new five-year deal with the Capitals in January, and had more than a few people tell him he’s lucky for getting that done. Under the collective bargaining extension the league and players’ union agreed to, the salary cap will remain flat at the current $81.5 million for at least next season and possibly beyond because of revenue lost during the pandemic.

That economic reality could mean Pietrangelo doesn’t get the kind of monster contract other elite defensemen such as Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and Roman Josi signed. Holtby might have to settle for something less than the $70 million, seven-year deal fellow Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky got from the Panthers last summer.

They might have to choose between taking less money from a championship contender or more from a rebuilding team. But they insist that will be a worry for after the season when free agency opens in October.

”I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Krug said. ”I’m just trying to take it day by day and worry about the playoffs right now and then I’ll probably prepare for free agency and see what happens from there.”

NHL announces zero positive COVID-19 tests during first week in bubbles

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The NHL announced on Monday afternoon that it has had zero positive COVID-19 test results since its 24 playoff teams reported to their bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton.

There were more than 7,000 tests administered since fourth phase of the league’s restart plan began on July 26 through August 1, when play resumed with the start of the qualifying round.

The league is testing all 52 members of each team’s traveling parties (including players, coaches, front office, team staff) on a daily basis and will continue to do so as long as the teams remain in their hub cities.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Previously, the NHL had announced that there were 43 positive tests results during the Phase 2 portion of the league’s return (which involved small groups of individual players skating at team facilities), and two positive tests that it was aware of during the first week of training camp. The league announced zero positive results during the second week of training camp and zero positive results when the teams arrived in their bubbles.

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.

Flames-Jets stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Flames and Jets. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Flames-Jets Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Flames jumped out to a 1-0 series lead, defeating the Jets 4-1 on Saturday. Andrew Copp opened the scoring for Winnipeg before the Flames scored four unanswered goals.

Calgary outshot Winnipeg 33-18 and went 2-for-4 on the power play and 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.

Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine both left Game 1 early with injuries. Scheifele suffered a leg injury and Laine left after a collision with Mark Giordano.

Scheifele went down awkwardly near the boards after a hit from Matthew Tkachuk. While Tkachuk contends there was nothing malicious about the contact, Jets coach Paul Maurice saw it differently: “It was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg. He went after the back of the leg. He could have cut his Achilles. He could have ended the man’s career. It’s an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit.”

It was reported late Sunday night that Scheifele’s injury was not long term, but that he and Laine were doubtful for Game 2

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
ON THE CALL: Chris Cuthbert, Louie DeBrusk
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flames-Jets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (Flames lead series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Canucks’ Ferland, Wild’s Kunin fined for Game 1 altercation

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Monday that Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin and Vancouver Canucks forward Micheal Ferland were fined for an incident that took place in the third period of Sunday’s game. The Wild won the game 3-0.

Kunin was fined $1,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Ferland was given a $5,000 fine for spearing Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman on the bench.

“I could see it from Ferland’s standpoint,” Hartman said Monday. “He’s the kind of guy that runs on emotion. Stuff happens.”

The incident took place in front of the team benches just after Ferland finished a check on Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

Ferland started the game by fighting Foligno just two minutes into the first period.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series will take place on Tuesday night (10:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

MORE:
Wild vs. Canucks series preview
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.

Hurricanes-Rangers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Hurricanes and Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Hurricanes-Rangers Game 2 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

In the first shot of the game, Jaccob Slavin scored 61 seconds in for the first NHL goal in an official game in almost five months. Sebastian Aho, who led Carolina in goals (38) and points (66) during the regular season, then scored in the second period to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead. The Rangers kept things close but ultimately could not overcome an 0-for-7 showing on the power play as Carolina defeated New York for the first time in five tries this season.

Perhaps the biggest development from Game 1 was the fact that the Rangers all-time winningest goalie was actually the one in net – as many expected newcomer Igor Shesterkin in that position. With Shesterkin, who watched Game 1 from the stands, deemed “unfit to play” – Henrik Lundqvist started his 128th consecutive postseason game with the Rangers – a single-team streak only bettered by Martin Brodeur (194 with New Jersey) and Patrick Roy (133 with Colorado).

Lundqvist will get the Game 2 start as Shesterkin remains out. Alexandar Georgiev will again serve as the backup.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Anson Carter
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (Hurricanes lead series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule