Trade: Avalanche pay big price to get Kuemper; Coyotes rebuild soars

Trade: Avalanche pay big price to get Kuemper; Coyotes rebuild soars
Getty Images
0 Comments

The Colorado Avalanche balked at a big free-agent price for Philipp Grubauer, but they still made a big goaltending investment on Wednesday. The Coyotes confirmed that they traded Kuemper to the Avalanche, getting Conor Timmins and a 2022 first-rounder in return. There’s also a conditional 2024 third-rounder involved.

Trade: Avalanche receive Kuemper as Grubauer replacement

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Coyotes will retain $1 million of Kuemper’s salary in the trade with the Avalanche.

If true, that means that Kuemper will carry a $4.5M cap hit with the Avalanche in 2021-22. Kuemper, 31, is entering a contract year, and is eligible to become a UFA after this season.

With Kuemper and Pavel Francouz both under contract for 2021-22, the Avalanche have some clarity about their goaltending situation. Will they extend one or the other? If not, free-agent goalie departures could become a recurring theme for the Avalanche as they hope to win a Stanley Cup with Nathan MacKinnon.

[More on the NHL free-agent goalie carousel; Read up on Grubauer with Kraken]

It’s a steep price for the Avalanche to pay, although they might argue that it’s worth it to maintain some roster flexibility. Unlike other teams, they didn’t commit themselves to a medium or long-term free-agent goalie contract.

They also saw up-close how strong Darcy Kuemper can be in net. While he didn’t pull off an upset against the Avalanche during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kuemper kept the Coyotes in some one-sided games. For all we know, Kuemper could end up being a huge part of what the Avalanche are building.

(Or he could be a useful stopgap. We’ll see.)

Kuemper trade adds more useful building blocks in Coyotes rebuild

It’s remarkable how much rebuilding teams managed to snag from trades for players entering contract years.

The Blue Jackets landed an incredible haul for Seth Jones, who’s expected to sign an extension with the Blackhawks. It sure seems like the Coyotes sold-high on Darcy Kuemper, too.

Between taking on bad contracts and shipping out Kuemper, Conor Garland, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes are generally saving money in the short-term, while speeding up their rebuild. If they make the right choices in the upcoming drafts, and develop those talents properly, they could be dangerous in the future.

Not bad for a team that lost a ton of futures thanks to that strange recruiting violation under John Chayka.

It remains to be seen if Conor Timmins, 22, will be a key asset. The RFA has struggled with concussion issues, but has been hyped as a prospect. So far, he’s played in 33 regular-season games with the Avalanche, including 31 last season.

Simply enough, Timmins will receive a better chance to prove himself with the Coyotes than he would with the loaded Avalanche.

Overall, strong work from the rebuilding Coyotes, even if they have a very, very long way to go before they can look anything like the Avalanche.

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.

Habs await Ducharme’s return for Game 3 of final in Montreal

TAMPA, Fla. — When the Stanley Cup Final shifts to Montreal for Games 3 and 4, the Canadiens expect to have coach Dominique Ducharme back behind their bench.

Ducharme was required by provincial protocol in Quebec to isolate for 14 days after testing positive for the coronavirus. That two-week period ends Friday, just in time for Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning that night.

Canadiens players say Ducharme has actively participated in meetings virtually while assistant Luke Richardson handles the daily duties in person.

“He’s involved in the process,” defenseman Jon Merrill said Wednesday. “Not obviously as much as he was before he got struck with COVID, but he’s definitely still a big part of this team and we look forward to seeing him when we get back to Montreal.”

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he empathizes with Ducharme missing out on the opportunity to coach the first two games of his first final.

“I know personally it would be killing you inside to miss the grandest ball of them all, and that’s the Stanley Cup Final,” said Cooper, who is coaching in his third. “This is a time you should enjoy, and for him to have a team be in the final and not be part of it, I feel for him, even if he’s the competition. You want a team to have its full slate of players and the entire coaching staff. You really want guys to experience this and one day tell their kids, ‘I coached in the Stanley Cup Final.’”

SCARRED GALLAGHER

Brendan Gallagher got up from being body-slammed to the ice late in Game 1 with blood streaming from his forehead looking like the face of playoff hockey. The tough-as-nails 5-foot-9 Canadiens forward was still sporting scars from that Wednesday but said he not suffered a concussion.

“They obviously asked,” Gallagher said. “Any time you get hit in the head, they ask. I have a pretty specific way of reacting when I have a concussion. It usually involves me yelling a lot. I think the trainers understood, I was pretty calm. They’ve seen me when I have those things and there were no worries there.”

Gallagher said he was checked again Tuesday and doctors were not concerned.

“I took a pretty good shot,” he said. “The ice is pretty hard but felt fine and ready to move on.”

Richardson said Gallagher’s face “looks like a road map.” He was never worried about Gallagher missing time in the final.

“Gally is Gally — he’s got marks all over his face every game,” Richardson said. “He’ll be there battling and in everybody’s face at the crease the same as he always is. He is a warrior and we count on him to be that way.”

INCREASED CAPACITY

The Lightning got approval to host 18,600 fans for Game 2, up from 16,300 in Game 1. That’s almost full capacity and a far cry from the 3,500 currently allowed at Bell Centre in Montreal. Canadiens executive vice president and chief commercial officer France Margaret Bélanger said the team is in talks with local officials and asked to increase capacity to 10,500 for Games 3 and 4.

“We certainly hope to welcome 10,500 fans and we’ll be ready to because we’re preparing,” she said Tuesday. “We’re wishing with all our heart to welcome our fans, so that our fans in very large numbers can transmit their energy to their team.”

Blades of steel: Johns spotlights mental health in hockey

stephen johns
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Stephen Johns worked out at the rink, trying to get back to playing after a concussion. Dallas Stars teammates asked how he was doing but never quite understood.

“They kind of went on about their days not really knowing what was really going on, kind of the thoughts I was having and the severity of the depression and anxiety,” Johns said. “Once I started being more open about it, guys would come out and say, ‘Man, I had no idea you were going through that,’ and ‘I wish I would’ve known, wish I could’ve helped.’”

Johns figured out last year he couldn’t keep playing hockey, hung up his ice skates and eventually strapped on rollerblades with the goal of helping others. The 29-year-old who recently announced his retirement from the NHL is rollerblading across the U.S. and making a movie about it to bring awareness to depression and anxiety, which could be another major stride for a sport still trying to raise acceptance and management of mental health concerns.

“With mental health, it’s such a personal thing and it’s almost selfish in your eyes to make it about yourself,” Johns said by phone while traveling across South Dakota. “There’s a lot that needs to be talked about and changed.”

The deaths of players Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak within a five-month span a decade ago put fighting and head trauma in the NHL on the front burner and began to push mental health to the forefront. But hockey has been seen as slow to address this very specific “upper-body” injury.

“Ice hockey is about the last major sport to accept sports psychology and mental skills training,” said Ted Monnich, a retired goaltender-turned-sports psychology consultant who works with athletes and specializes in the mental needs of hockey goalies. “And that tends to be because it’s very insular and is a bit resistant to outside intervention.”

While tennis’ Naomi Osaka, swimming’s Michael Phelps and basketball’s Kevin Durant have put mental health among athletes in the spotlight, Johns and Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner are leading the charge to bring hockey up to speed. Lehner has shared his own mental struggles and been a proponent of fellow players talking about their problems.

“There are tools all the teams and organizations and stuff can implement to help with those things and make it better for their employees and players,” Lehner said Saturday. “We need as many people as possibly shining light on it. It’s something we all go through at certain stages and in different ways.”

It struck Johns on what he called probably the worst night of his life. It was Aug. 8, 2020, in the bubble playoffs in Edmonton, and he was a few shifts into his fourth NHL game after an absence of more than two years because of post-concussion syndrome.

He realized immediately when he got to the bench he couldn’t play anymore. Johns called his mother, cried and that was it.

“I knew my career was over in that moment,” he said. “That was pretty taxing on the soul.”

In the months since, Johns felt himself becoming self-destructive and said he ruined the relationship he built over four years with his girlfriend and lost many friends. Realizing he “let anxiety and depression pretty much strip away everything,” Johns decided to ’blade across the country so others in the sport and beyond could know his story and learn from it.

It’s something experts believe can help other athletes avoid a similar result. Dr. Kensa Gunter appreciates any steps that help sports crack the stigma of mental health that is even deeper than in society.

“We have to expand our idea that toughness is not just about powering through,” said Gunter, who is certified as a mental performance consultant by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “It is sometimes about asking for help and learning how to manage what’s going on so that you can continue to move forward.”

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association founded the Player Assistance Program in 1996 to give members ongoing assistance in their daily lives. Professional counselors are available in each NHL city, there’s a confidential phone line to call for help and the union added health and wellness team for extra assistance during the pandemic.

“No different than if they blow a knee — it’s all health,” said Monnich, who is also an adviser for “Lift the Mask,” an organization dedicated to providing free mental health and performance resources for goalies. ”(We) provide resources and we even provide fees for them to be able to see a consultant if they need that assistance and we can then refer them to counselors or therapists.”

That kind of help is needed, based on research done among Olympic and collegiate athletes. Trent Petrie, professor and director of the Center for Sports Psychology at the University of North Texas, said elite athletes “report levels of depression, anxiety, substance use, sleep disturbances that are comparable to the general population and in some cases higher than.”

“While we at one point had thought that athletes were protected from such mental health concerns and psychological distress, we’re seeing especially now with this younger generation — Generation Z and young millennials — that they are indeed experiencing the higher levels of mental health concerns that we’re seeing in the general population,” Petrie said.

Osaka, Phelps, Durant and others have brought those things to light in other sports. In hockey, Johns’ history of concussions and head trauma add another layer to the issue, with prominent voices like Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden making the case to penalize any kind of head contact, even if unintentional.

“When you talk about the impact of something like a concussion or head trauma, we know that there is such thing as post-concussive syndrome and we know that with that there may be some emotional impacts of that physical trauma,” Gunter said. “Wwe have to be more aware of attending to all of it at all times as opposed to separating a physical injury out from an emotional concern.”

It all blended together for Johns, who recently “started getting some dark thoughts again and was going down a bad path.” After coming to grips that mental illness “truly is a sickness” like any other physical ailment, Johns figured he could do something about it with his cross-country journey that he hopes to complete in early July, before the Stanley Cup is handed out.

“As soon as I announced what I was doing, I realized that this wasn’t even almost about me,” he said. “It’s way bigger than me.”

Point gets penalty, Varlamov shaken up after big collision

If you’re looking for some sizzle between the Islanders and Lightning, Game 2 took little time to provide it. In a memorable first-period moment, Brayden Point received a goalie interference penalty after a hard collision with Semyon Varlamov.

Plenty of people believed, reasonably enough, that Point should not have received a penalty for bumping Varlamov, being that Adam Pelech shoved Point.

Either way, there was a big impact — literally and figuratively.

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Tuesday’s Game 2 between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Islanders-Lightning Game 2 stream coverage continues on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Point, Varlamov collision in Game 2

During the remainder of the first period, Ilya Sorokin replaced Varlamov. To begin the second — possibly after entering concussion protocol — Varlamov returned for the Islanders.

[WATCH ISLANDERS – LIGHTNING GAME 2 ONLINE AND ON NBCSN]

The other impact was that Point indeed received a penalty, and the Islanders made the Lightning pay just about right away with a Brock Nelson PPG.

Earlier in the period, Point scored on a beautiful pass from Nikita Kucherov:

Whether you think Point deserved a penalty or it was on Pelech’s push, the bottom line is that after that collision with Varlamov, things really heated up in Game 2. We’ll see how the two teams react to a 1-1 tie through the first period.

ISLANDERS VS. LIGHTNING (NYI leads 1-0) – series livestream link

Game 1: Islanders 2, Lightning 1
Game 2: Tues. June 15: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Thurs. June 17: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 4: Sat. June 19: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 5: Mon. June 21: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Wed. June 23: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 7: Fri. June 25: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

*if necessary

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.

Price is right in the Canadiens’ run to Stanley Cup Semifinals

1 Comment

Don Nachbaur couldn’t help but reflect back on the cool, calm way Carey Price carried himself as a 16-year-old upon hearing the Montreal Canadiens’ goalie provide a short, to-the-point answer following his latest playoff shutout.

“It’s fun,” Price simply said with a grin in referring to the pressure of preserving a 1-0 win during a 30-save outing in Game 2 of Montreal’s second-round playoff series against Winnipeg.

As efficient in the crease as he is with his responses, Price was no different in 2003-04 during his first full season with the Nachbaur-coached Tri-Cities Americans of the Western Hockey League.

“The hockey part did all the speaking,” Nachbaur recalled.

“What really struck me was how off-the-charts calm he was when he played the game. That’s a quality you can’t teach,” he added. “He’s probably like a duck. I don’t know if he’s swimming below that surface. But he sure doesn’t show it.”

Nothing appears to be rattling the Vezina and Hart Trophy-winner in helping Montreal advance to the semifinals following a four-game sweep of Winnipeg. The Canadiens will face the winner of the West Division final, in which Vegas holds a 3-2 series lead over Colorado.

It’s a surprising run for Price and the Canadiens, who entered the playoffs considered after-thoughts following an injury- and distraction-filled season in which Montreal’s 24-21-11 record was the worst among the 16 postseason qualifiers.

Yet the Canadiens are the last Canadian team standing, and on a 7-0 run during which they’ve not trailed since 4-0 loss to Toronto in Game 4 of their first-round series. After allowing 10 goals in Montreal falling behind 3-1 to the Maple Leafs, Price has allowed just 11 since, with his steady, rebound-smothering demeanor feeding the team’s burgeoning confidence.

“He gives us a chance to win every game, always has a save that has us like, `Oh, come on,’” Phillip Danault said. “He gives us wings.”

That’s what is expected from the face of the Canadiens and team’s highest-paid player, who has on occasion been unable to deliver during his 15 seasons in Montreal.

That was especially the case this spring, when critics focused their attention on Price, who is in the fourth season of an eight-year, $84 million contract. The 33-year-old went 12-7-5 and missed much of the last month of the season with injuries, including a concussion that sidelined him for the final 13 games.

The Canadiens, however, have discovered a team-first identity, which interim coach Dominique Ducharme likens to a puzzle, with Price an invaluable piece.

“He’s our best player. And when your best player is at his top like this, whether he’s a forward or D or goalie, he’s a key part and brings confidence,” Ducharme said. “The confidence and calm that he shows really helps this team.”

Nachbaur saw Price have the same effect during his rookie season, leaving the coach little choice but give the youngster extra playing time ahead of 19-year-old Tyler Wieman, who was drafted in the third round by Colorado.

That included Price going 4-1 in a first-round playoff series win against higher-seeded Portland, before going 1-2 in a second-round series loss to eventual Memorial Cup champion Kelowna.

“I remember him single-handedly shutting down Portland’s 5-on-3 power play,” Nachbaur recalled. “Not only was he making saves from post to post, but he was burying guys in front of the net. And I was standing behind the bench going, `Wow.’”

Mike Babcock had a similar experience with Price while coaching gold medal-winning Team Canada at 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

“We practiced a 5-on-3, but we practiced it with no penalty killers because we didn’t want anyone to take a rocket off their foot. Well, we couldn’t score on him,” Babcock said. “I’ve never seen anything like that, that kind of size, that kind of read of the game, that kind of skating ability and that kind of ability for the puck to stick to him.”

Price allowed three goals over five games in Sochi, closing with shutouts in the semifinal and championship rounds. He provided yet another memorably concise answer when asked about the gold medal hanging from his neck: “It sure is heavy.”

Former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta insists Price is more outgoing in private, while noting his intensely focused public persona is a reflection of the goalie’s drive and leadership.

“You think he’s super quiet, but there were times throughout the years when he would get animated,” he said. “And then you knew it was that switch of, `Ok, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to smarten up.’”

The most important aspect of Price’s approach is an ability to tune out outside attention, especially in a ultra hockey-focused market such as Montreal, home to 24 Stanley Cup championships but none since 1993.

“Nothing fazes him,” Gionta said.

Price is a six-time NHL all-star, and earned MVP and top goalie honors in 2014-15, when he finished 44-16-6 with a 1.96 goals-against average.

The one thing missing is playoff success: Price is 38-39 overall, and has matched a career-best in winning eight games this postseason.

He also won eight in helping the Canadiens reach the 2014 Eastern Conference finals before being sidelined by a right knee injury in Game 1 of the series against the New York Rangers. Montreal lost the series in six, with Dustin Tokarski taking over in net.

This postseason represents a second chance for Price, something forward Brendan Gallagher said inspires the Canadiens.

“I’ve spent nine years with him, I’ve seen what he’s gone through, what he deals with every single day,” Gallagher said. “Those are the teammates you want to play for and want to win for. There’s not a single guy here that doesn’t feel the same way.”