NHL offseason moves influenced by coronavirus’ impact on cap

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Jeff Skinner was enjoying an afternoon in his parents’ backyard when suddenly the Buffalo Sabres forward thought his father was pulling an April Fools’ joke on him in mid-September.

”My dad came out and told me that Eric Staal is on our team,” Skinner said upon learning Buffalo had acquired his former Carolina Hurricanes teammate in a trade with Minnesota. ”I thought he was joking with me at first.”

He wasn’t.

The Sabres’ addition of Staal was completed before the Stanley Cup was even awarded, and it wasn’t the most high-profile move made over the past four months.

But it was among the first of many trades and free-agent signings involving some of the league’s more notable players changing teams during a most unusual offseason. The draft was held in October, training camps opened in late December and the league is preparing to embark on a 56-game shortened season with four realigned divisions – all a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Don’t adjust your TV sets, which is where most fans will have to watch the action, with most arenas closed to the public. It may take a few weeks to get accustomed to some of the NHL’s more familiar faces playing in different places when the regular season opens Wednesday.

Zdeno Chara is no longer in Boston after the Bruins captain signed with Washington. Onetime Capitals goalie Braden Holtby is now in Vancouver. Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo has left St. Louis – where he was replaced by veteran Bruins defenseman Torey Krug – to hit the jackpot in Vegas.

Staal wasn’t even the only member of his family on the move, with younger brother Marc traded from the Rangers to Detroit. And the Sabres made an even bigger splash in free agency by landing 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall in October.

On the west coast, Patrick Marleau is back in San Jose for a third stint in four years, while the Sharks’ lineup for the first time in 15 years will be without Joe Thornton, who is now in Toronto.

”Just soak it all in,” said the 41-year-old Thornton, who grew up a 90-minute drive from Toronto. ”I feel like I’m young again.”

Though NHL stars switch teams every offseason, the moves this year were, in part, precipitated by the effects of COVID-19, which has frozen the salary cap at $81.5 million for at least this season and likely the next. That placed teams anticipating the cap to increase in a bind.

The effects were evident before free agency opened with teams not retaining the rights to some of their restricted free agents in fear of what the players might be awarded in salary arbitration hearings. That was the case in Buffalo, where the Sabres cut loose Dominik Kahun after the forward showed promise when playing six games after being acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh.

And while several players earned lucrative paydays in free agency, such as Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract, his deal proved to be an exception when it came to length.

Hall, for example, signed a one-year, $8 million deal with Buffalo after realizing the free-agent market was going to be tight.

”I came into it thinking that it was either going to be a six- or seven-year deal or a one-year deal, and see where the marketplace went to potentially next summer,” Hall said. ”I don’t know if I’ll get there.”

In Tampa Bay, the defending champion Lightning had to get creative with their roster.

They lost defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian to free agency and traded center Cedric Paquette and defenseman Braydon Coburn to Ottawa. The team acquired right wing Marian Gaborik and goalie Anders Nilsson from the Senators, but both will be placed on long-term injury reserve.

Oilers general manager Ken Holland chalked it up to the new economic realities facing the NHL.

”It’s salary-cap related, which is related to the pandemic, which has given us a hard, flat cap for the foreseeable future,” Holland said. ”The possibility of a flat cap for the next few years has a factor in all those factors.”

That left teams having to manage their caps by deciding whether it’s better to keep a high-priced veteran or fill the payroll slot with two lower-priced youngsters.

It’s a reason why several established players were left to wait until training camps opened before being signed to professional tryout contracts, which don’t count against the cap. They included defenseman Travis Hamonic (Vancouver), defenseman Michael Del Zotto (Columbus) and former Florida forward Mike Hoffman, who went on to sign a one-year, $4 million contract with St. Louis.

In Washington, defensemen John Carlson found it ”definitely weird” not to see Holtby open camp between the pipes, saying, ”I do miss him.”

And Krug was having difficulty envisioning the Bruins without Chara, while becoming familiar with his new surroundings in St. Louis after spending his first nine seasons in Boston.

”It’s a different challenge,” Krug said. ”From a personal standpoint, I pretty much could’ve done training camp in Boston blindfolded.”

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    Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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    San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer won’t take part in pregame warmups Saturday night, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

    Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

    “In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

    Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

    Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

    The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

    “As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

    The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

    “Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

    Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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    NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

    Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

    Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

    “When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

    The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

    “Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

    Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

    “This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

    Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

    As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

    Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

    Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

    Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

    New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

    After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

    Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

    “We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

    Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

    “It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

    Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

    “It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

    NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.

    UP NEXT

    Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

    Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

    Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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    TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

    The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

    Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

    The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

    Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

    The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

    Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

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    CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

    The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

    Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

    Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.