Without Shannon Doyle, Whale defense will have to adapt

Shannon Doyle said she was likely to retire after the sixth NWHL season, and though the offseason into season seven doesn’t have a clear free agency start yet, the Connecticut Whale are going to have to start thinking about how to build their defense.

The Whale have never had a blue line where Doyle, their captain, wasn’t leading it.

Connecticut has been the basement dweller of the NWHL since season one. In Lake Placid, they played some of their best hockey ever, including the defense in front of rookie goalie Abbie Ives.

Then, they lost 7-0 to the Whitecaps in the Isobel Cup semifinals. There’s plenty of reason why, but one look at Minnesota’s shot chart shows a clear issue.

Via InStat

The Whitecaps easily scored underneath the circles and in front of the crease. Minnesota is fast and they can make a lot of defenses look rough, but since the Whale are already likely losing Doyle, this seems like an obvious issue to address.

This offseason is particularly tough since as of now, no one has any idea who is eligible for the draft. Coaches within the league have said “95%” of college seniors are returning for another year. So the idea of adding defense in the draft who can step in and play isn’t terribly reliable.

Free agency hasn’t been announced yet either, but if it’s like any other year, everyone is up for grabs if they want to play there. Connecticut historically hasn’t landed huge free agents, but given what they’ve started to build, and roster spots being filled primarily where they’d contend for players — Boston and Metropolitan — perhaps there’s more leeway.

[MORE: Boston Pride made big strides from first Isobel Cup to 2021]

For players likely to return, though, there are some building blocks.

Tori Howran was one of Connecticut’s strongest rookies, and she projects to be a terrific defender long term at the pro level. She’s a candidate to see even more time going forward and be relied upon as a defensive leader. The 22-year-old had three points in her four games to begin her Whale career, where she averaged over nearly 23 minutes of ice time per game.

Elena Orlando is the Whale’s most senior player without Doyle, as an original NWHLer herself. The 28-year-old defender doesn’t sound like she’s ready to retire just yet, so it’s probably a safe bet she will return next season.

She averaged just over 15 minutes on the ice this season, averaging a minute and a half on the penalty kill when she was out there. She’d be a key piece to that part of the game going forward.

Hanna Beattie would be going into her fifth season with the Whale, after she averaged two minutes on the penalty kill per game and more than 20 minutes total. A Division III player in college at Williams, she’s carved out a solid NWHL career for herself as a top four defender with the Whale. She often played with Doyle until Howran took that position this season.

Taylor Marchin, going into her fourth season, has also been a stay-at-home defender the Whale have needed, with 61 percent of her time coming in the defensive zone, with some strong zone entry ability, too.


That leaves Maggie LaGue, who played her first four career NWHL games this season, and Laurel Hill, who has been the seventh defender for the Whale the past two seasons.

They need some more depth, especially without Doyle, but the top four is a solid mix. Orlando is a veteran leader and potentially the next captain. Beattie has become one of the most solid defenders in the league, and Marchin has continued to improve, while Howran has a ton of upside.

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Even with LaGue and Hill, if they return, they likely need another piece. If that comes from the draft, it’s impossible to project.

The Whale haven’t drafted defense too often, either; last year they selected just Howran at defense. In 2018, they selected LaGue and Dominique Kremer, who signed with Buffalo after going to the SDHL and never playing a game with the Whale. The year prior, they drafted entirely forwards. They had bad luck losing Amanda Boulier, too, who went to the Whitecaps when she got a coaching job in Minnesota.

It’s tough to project who might be available or looking to switch teams. Briana Mastel on Boston is from Connecticut and there might be a squeeze on the Boston defense, but she’s also been an integral part when she does play. The Riveters also might see a roster shakeup that leaves a few defenders available, but it’s still impossible to predict. It’s going to be a challenging offseason all around, being an Olympic year and potentially more PWHPA lineup spots opening, and a difficult college draft. For teams with definitive need, even more so.

It’s not going to be easy to replace their captain in Doyle. It probably won’t be possible. The Whale have some building blocks on defense but a long way to go, and it’s going to be a challenge for the front office to piece it together.

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.