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.
WHAT: New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto WHEN: Tuesday, August 4, 8 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 2-0)
Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap) Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap) 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.
Thursday’s NHL training camp news was highlighted by Canadiens defenseman Xavier Ouellet and Jets blue liner Anthony Bitetto revealing they both tested positive for COVID-19.
After testing negative once camp opened, Ouellet said he then tested positive, was asymptomatic, quarantined and then had multiple negative tests.
“I had zero symptoms, there was not one point where I felt sick or anything,” he said. “I don’t really know if I actually had it or not. But the protocols with the league and the governments are pretty strict and they’re there to keep it safe for everyone. So I had to isolate myself and wait a little bit before I could come back which is what I did. But since that positive test I’ve tested negative every day and felt healthy, zero symptoms.”
Bitetto joined his teammates for the first time in Phase 3 on Thursday. He explained his absence was due to contracting the virus while he was in Nashville last month. He added he did experience symptoms and quarantined for 29 days.
“I had very mild symptoms, I had shortness of breath, but otherwise there wasn’t really much to it for me,” he said. “I was pretty lucky with not having to deal with a lot of the more serious symptoms.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess being from Everett. I was hoping they would go with the Totems. Kraken’s different.”
While he may not love the name, the Capitals forward is happy to see pro hockey return to his home state.
“More importantly than the name, I think it’s very exciting for the people of Seattle and Washington and the Pacific Northwest to get a hockey team up there and another team to cheer about,” Oshie said. “Obviously, the Seahawks and Mariners are two of the sports (teams) I grew up with watching along with the Sonics so it’ll be nice to have another NHL team up there. Hopefully, I can see my family a little bit more too.”
Toews responds to report he voted “no” on NHL CBA/RTP
After taking a day for “maintenance,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was back on the ice Thursday. A Sportsnet report said that he was one of two members of the NHLPA’s Executive Board to vote against the Collective Bargaining Agreement/Return to Play package that was approved earlier this month.
Toews denied he was against the plan.
“I don’t know where he got that from,” he said. “I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know how much I want to get into my reasons why, but I wasn’t one of the guys who voted no. I voted yes. If anything, I kind of wanted the guys in our room to educate themselves on what was going on, to the best of their ability and ultimately make their own decision.
“But deep down, I wanted guys to really think about voting yes. That’s where I stood. So I don’t know where that came from and maybe who gave him the impression that I voted no.”
While players may have their issues with parts of either agreement, in the end there’s labor peace and we’ll have hockey in a week’s time. Toews certainly wasn’t a fan of everything that was voted on, but understood there was not going to be universal agreement.
“There’s no perfect scenario right now,” Toews said. “Am I happy that we’re returning to play? Am I happy the NHL and players agreed, even though the agreement and the details of everything are imperfect? You can stress out about it until the cows come home, but I’m happy that both sides were able to come to a place where we could agree to take that step forward toward eventually resuming what we all assume is somewhat of a normal life.
“I think for our fans in Chicago, they’re excited to watch Hawks on TV and I think it can provide some form of relief and inspiration and feeling of comfort. So I am happy that hockey’s going to be going again shortly. So yeah, I mean, we can all squabble about the details, the bubble, not all of that I agree with, but it’s neither here nor there. Like I said, it’s pretty much impossible to come up with a perfect scenario right now, but I’m glad we’re all on the same page and playoff hockey’s on its way.”
Tuch happy to be healthy
The Golden Knights forward was limited to 42 games this season due to various injuries. Three different times he was sidelined with a variety of lower- and upper-body injuries. Coming off a 20-goal, 52-point 2018-19 season, the forward could only muster 17 points while missing 29 games.
Tuch used the break to recover and really get back into game shape. He said he lost 10 lbs. and feels 100% healthy for the first time in a long time.
“It’s definitely a fresh start,” Tuch said. “Obviously, I found myself with a little bit of the injury bug this year. Obviously, in and out of the lineup. I think I missed 30 games or so. It’s something I just have to leave in the past.”
Now Tuch can focus on hockey without having to overcome another injury obstacle.
“Just going forward I’m just worried about playoffs,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what happened before or how many injuries I had, how many games I played or who I played with or anything like that. I’m just worried about winning now.”
Carboard cut-out fans or player faces on the glass?
Dougie Hamilton left Hurricanes’ practice early on Wednesday and sat out Thursday’s skate. The defenseman broke his left fibula in mid-January and missed the rest of the regular season.
Rod Brind’Amour did not elaborate on why Hamilton missed practice.
“He was certainly missed when he was out a large portion of the year,” he said. “He’s a huge part of the offense of our team. We’re hoping that this isn’t something that’s long-term.”
Torts back in form
It’s not been a happy week for John Tortorella. He wasn’t pleased with the Blue Jackets’ Monday practice and declined to speak to the media Wednesday.
What did Thursday bring? Classic Torts. He stopped practice early into the team’s first drill and, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, “brought everybody together, let loose [with] an expletive-filled rant and started practice over again.”
He’s in midseason form!
Afterward, Tortorella said a few “key” players haven’t performed up to standards, but Thursday was a better day.
“I thought we practiced better today,” Tortorella said. “I think we’ve just got to be really careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we can wade ourselves into this. Each day is an important day. This isn’t getting ready for regular season and then trying to find your game in 15 games. This is a sprint. I think some guys have been dead on right from the start; other guys, not so much. … We need to be ready to go.”
Quinn leaving goalie decision until late
While Igor Shesterkin has manned his own net the last few days, David Quinn isn’t ready to make his decision on who will start Game 1. The head coach said he won’t name his starter until the day of or day before their series against Carolina begins. Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev have been splitting a net between themselves this week, but things could change.
“This really is and will continue to be an open evaluation,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot of things that go into how we’re doing this. We’ve got eight more days, nine more days until we play for real, and those eight or nine days are going to matter.”
The New York Rangers were playing some stellar hockey coming out of the All-Star break to move into playoff contention. After four months away during the NHL’s stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic, team president John Davidson liked what he saw in their first practice back.
“I feel strong about the way we played at the time of the pause, and after what I saw today … I feel really good about things,” Davidson said Monday on a video conference call with reporters.
“I’m very proud of our group. Not just the players, but the training staff, the doctors, everybody involved. …. We’ve been going at this for eight weeks, 10 weeks. We’ve had Zoom calls, we’ve talked about the virus itself and how you can protect yourself, the players, the coaches, the staff, everybody has paid attention to it.”
The Rangers were 19-18-4 in early January after losing three straight on a trip through Western Canada. They picked up their defensive intensity and got into a groove after the All-Star Game with a 12-2-1 run to climb into the playoff race. A 2-4-1 stretch followed to leave them two points behind Carolina and Columbus for one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild cards when the season was interrupted on March 12.
When the league decided to go straight to a 24-team postseason in May upon resumption, the Rangers were seeded 11th in the East based on points percentage and drew a matchup with sixth-seeded Carolina in a five-game series in a play-in round for the Eastern Conference playoffs in Toronto starting on Aug. 1.
“Guys are excited for the opportunity we have right now,” Mika Zibanejad said. “There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of fun in that locker room. I’m hoping we’ll continue where we left off.”
The Swedish center had a career-high 41 goals in 57 games. His 75 points eclipsed his previous best of 74 set the previous season in 82 games.
“I felt obviously more confident and the puck went in,” Zibanejad said. “I didn’t do it by myself. I get put in pretty good situations, pretty good spots on the ice and teammates did an unbelievable job to get me the puck in that situation and I was able to score.”
One of those teammates was Artemi Panarin, the biggest prize in free agency last summer. Panarin had a stellar debut season in New York with a career-high 95 points in just 69 games. He finished with career bests in goals (32), assists (63) and power-play points (24).
Rangers coach David Quinn said he wants his team to pick up where it left off, but also preached caution during this training camp.
“We really liked a lot that was going on with our chemistry and our D pairings,” he said. “I want to give these guys an opportunity to find that again. That might take some time because every guy’s had an opportunity to do different things when it comes to staying in shape during this four-month break. … Some guys had more access to things than others.”
A big question remains concerning which goalie will get the start for Game 1 against the Hurricanes.
Veteran star Henrik Lundqvist struggled in the first half of the season and saw backup Alexandar Georgiev (17-14-2 with a 3.04 goals-against average) get increased playing time. Igor Shesterkin made his NHL debut in early January and went 10-2-0 with a 2.52 GAA to earn the No. 1 spot.
Davidson said all three looked “very sharp” in Monday’s practice, adding “it’s going to be up to the coaches when they put their heads together and make that decision.”
Lundqvist said the time away gave him a chance to work on his skills and conditioning, as well as his mental preparation.
“I feel coming back now I’m in a really good place in all three areas,” he said. “We’re three guys competing for one spot, so we’ll see who gets to play.
”I just take it day by day here and work as hard as I can and see if it’s enough to play. And if it’s not enough to play I’ll try to be very supportive and just go from there.”
Quinn plans to let the competition play out during training camp before deciding on his starter for the series opener.
“I had a meeting with all three of them about how important the next three weeks are going to be,” the coach said.
Prospects like Kaprizov, Romanov, Sorokin won’t be eligible for NHL return, playoffs
NHL teams hoping to get a playoff/return-to-play boost from the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Wild), Ilya Sorokin (Islanders), and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) seem to be out of luck. At least for what’s left of 2019-20 for the NHL, aka the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others can’t play yet — but can burn a year off ELCs
There is a wrinkle, though.
Such reports indicate that Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov and others could burn a year off of their entry-level contracts, even though they can’t participate in the NHL return to play to wrap up 2019-20.
Now, would it be logical to burn a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Sorokin, and Romanov? Probably not. Overall, there are likely too many drawbacks for the players, teams, or both.
Take Kaprizov and the Wild, for example.
If you want detail about the Kaprizov/Wild/KHL situation, Russo’s covered those bases multiple times at The Athletic, including here (sub required). But to simplify things, the Wild and/or Kaprizov probably won’t go for burning off 2019-20 from a two-year entry-level deal because:
The Wild would only really have Kaprizov signed for 2020-21. While that would finally draw him to the NHL, it would merely give them a single season to gauge Kaprizov’s value. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic looming as a continued threat to stability, who knows if they’d even get that season?
Considering that the 2020-21 NHL season might start in December or January, Kaprizov would be stuck idle since March. Meanwhile, the KHL aims to begin its 2020-21 season around September. Kaprizov would risk serious uncertainty for limited gain.
So … yeah, teams have some reason to at least consider burning a year off of entry-level deals for the likes of Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. But it just doesn’t seem like the wisest path, generally speaking.
With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Kaprizov and the Wild, Sorokin and the Islanders, Romanov and the Canadiens.
Waiting game continues for Wild, fans, Kaprizov
Plenty of people deem Kaprizov, 23, as the best player in hockey not playing in the NHL.
Kaprizov ranked first in the KHL in goals (33 in 57 games), also finishing close to the scoring title with 62 points. This was no fluke, as Kaprizov also scored the most goals (30) in the KHL during the 2018-19 season. Doing so at such a young age only leaves Wild fans even more anxious to see him.
And, unlike other young scorers, it doesn’t sound like many critique Kaprizov’s overall game. Back in May, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin collected some rave reviews about Kaprizov, noting comparisons to “Artemi Panarin‘s mind” combined with Vladimir Tarasenko‘s tank-like body.
Sounds pretty good! The Wild should probably think about bringing Kaprizov over, eh? *Ducks*
But, yeah, a Wild team searching for good news and breakthrough talent could sure use Kaprizov. Maybe next season? Sadly, it sounds like at least a medium-sized maybe.
When you compare immediate concerns, Ilya Sorokin seems more like a luxury for the Islanders.
After all, the Islanders enjoyed another season of above-average goaltending. Semyon Varlamov was solid, and much like in 2018-19, Thomas Greiss provided comparable work to the Islanders’ would-be No.1. The sum result wasn’t at the level of what Greiss and Robin Lehner accomplished, but plenty of NHL teams must envy the Islanders’ goaltending.
So they don’t “need” Sorokin, seemingly.
But we’ve seen teams put together big playoff runs with rookie goalies intermittently since at least Ken Dryden swooped in, dominated, and leaned pensively on his goal stick for the dynasty-era Canadiens. That thought goes for goalies of various pedigrees, but particularly someone like Sorokin.
Besides, at 24, Sorokin’s getting to that age where the Islanders want to see what they have. Varlamov is 31, and Greiss is on an expiring contract and is 34.
However unlikely, a Sorokin-powered playoff run would’ve been the dream. Getting a better idea of where Sorokin ranks on the depth chart would have been nice, too.
Canadiens won’t get to make defense deeper with Romanov
How much of an impact would Alexander Romanov make for the Canadiens? Answers may vary.
The Ahtletic’s Scott Wheeler barely squeezed Romanov on his top 50 drafted prospects list at No. 48 (sub required). That said, Wheeler admitted that he’s lower on Romanov than many in the hockey world. This seems to be true, as Romanov placed 10th on The Hockey News’ future watch list, representing a meteoric rise from 45th the previous year.
Perhaps some of that variance comes down to how much weight given experts put on tournaments vs. season play.
The now-20-year-old defenseman earned top defenseman billing at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and excelled during the 2020 tournament, as well.
On the other hand, Romanov’s KHL stats have been modest, including a single goal over two KHL seasons (86 regular-season games).
But, in cases like Romanov’s, it’s often a debate regarding “How good?” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote that Romanov “looks like a future top-pair defenseman.” Wheeler sees Romanov more as a “sound defenseman” who could help in transition, yet probably won’t put up big numbers.
Either way, the Canadiens absolutely could use a player like Romanov. The better he ends up, the happier they are, of course. But even a steady presence would have helped against the Penguins.
Plenty of other prospects not involved in NHL return beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin
Naturally, there are noteworthy players who won’t get to participate in the NHL return to play beyond Kaprizov, Romanov, and Sorokin. This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but two other players come to mind:
Grigori Denisenko – The Panthers share some of the same space as the Wild and Canadiens as bubble-adjacent teams who could use a boost. Denisenko isn’t considered as surefire as Kaprizov, but there’s a lot to like about the 20-year-old forward. That said, this would hurt even more if Denisenko was a defenseman, because Florida is pretty brutal in that area.
Jack Dugan – Like Romanov at 48, Dugan snuck into Wheeler’s top 50 at 47 (Denisenko ranks at 36, Kaprizov sits at six). Wheeler ranks among those that wonder if Dugan would make an immediate impact for the Golden Knights out of the NCAA. Some wonder if Dugan can eventually become a top-six forward. In other words, this isn’t necessarily a Cale Makar-style instant success story.
But Dugan breaks from some of the others on this list in being a prospect for a more proven team. The Golden Knights rank among the top four Western Conference teams, thus they’ll participate in the Round Robin for Seeding. I’d argue that Vegas stands out as one of the best of even that smaller group.
So imagine if Dugan can merely give them a boost? It’s arguable that Dugan could be a bigger deal than maybe a better prospect for a more needy team.
We won’t get to find out, though. While it’s the safer move, it’s a letdown for teams hoping for Kaprizov, Sorokin, Romanov, Denisenko, Dugan, and others.
Monday would have marked the latest day that the NHL’s buyout period would open. Per the CBA, the window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded or “the later of June 15.”
Well, since this season is like no other, we won’t be seeing Commissioner Gary Bettman handing out the Cup until the fall — if that even happens at all.
The financial implications of the COVID-19 shutdown will have a major affect on the NHL’s salary cap going forward. Before the pause, it was believed that the 2020-21 cap ceiling would rise to between $84-$88.2 million. Now? It may remain at $81.5 million, squeezing some teams who have money committed and more extensions to give out.
That will cause plenty of teams to get creative in trying to get under the ceiling and be able to ice a competitive roster. Compliance buyouts have been discussed but owners are reportedly against them. While keeping the compliance buyouts costs off your books may not be an option once the NHL’s regular business resumes, traditional buyouts will still remain a tool for teams to ease the pressure on their salary cap picture.
In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at five players who would make for prime buyout candidates this off-season.
1. Karl Alzner, Canadiens: It has been not a fun ride for Alzner in Montreal since signing a five-year, $23.125M deal in 2017. Since cashing in during free agency, the 31-year-old defenseman has played 95 games over three seasons with the Canadiens. He’s played nearly as many (87) with their AHL affiliate in the last two seasons. Alzner has two years left on a contract that carries a $4.625M cap hit, which includes a $1.5M signing bonus due this off-season.
A buyout would put a heavy hit on the Canadiens’ cap for next season — $3,958,333M — but for 2021-22 that would go down to $1,958,333M and then $833,333 in the final two years. Montreal is already at $63M committed for next season and that doesn’t include extensions for restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete.
Anaheim is attempting to trend towards youth, and while a Backes buyout won’t free up a large amount of cap room ($3M in 2020-21, $750K in 2021-22), the move would open up a roster spot and ice time for one of their younger players. It would also help a team that is currently tied to nearly $76M in cap space for next season.
3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The emergence of Igor Shesterkin has put Lundqvist’s future in New York in doubt. The 38-year-old netminder has one year remaining on his deal, which carries a pricey $8.5M cap hit. Considering the Rangers are in a transition phase and looking to get younger, getting out from Hank’s number would assist long-term in easing cap pain and helping continue to build for the future.
Buying out Lundqvist would mean $5.5M on the Rangers’ books next season, plus Shesterkin’s $925K and either a few million for Georgiev to be part of the picture or a cheap, veteran backup. New York’s cap picture in 2021-22 would see Lundqvist’s buyout hit drop to $1.5M.
Before any move happens with Lundqvist he has to agree to waive his no-move clause. GM Jeff Gorton could always seek a trade, but the goalie’s cap hit would make that difficult.
4. Kyle Turris, Predators: Nashville has $72M committed for 2020-21 and it’s clear Turris’ place in their lineup has diminished. He’s been a healthy scratch at times and still has a $4M cap hit with him for the next four seasons. A buy out would put $2M on the Predators’ cap picture through 2027-28.
In a normal off-season there would always be the possibly of David Poile looking to dump Turris’ contract to a team looking to get above the cap floor. But that will likely not be an option for teams looking to unload money in a tight-cap world.
5. Loui Eriksson, Canucks: Part of that rich 2016 free agent class, Eriksson has not been able to recapture the scoring touch that saw him net over 25 goals four straight seasons in Dallas and hit 30 in his final year with the Bruins. In 245 games with the Canucks he’s scored only 38 times. If compliance buyouts were a thing, he’d be a no-brainer, but a regular buyout? That decision would be a tough one for GM Jim Benning.
Eriksson has two years left with a $6M cap hit per season. The Canucks would be stuck with $5,666,667M and $3,666,667M on their cap the first two seasons post-buyout before a more palatable $666,667 in the final two years. Right now they have almost $64M tied up for next season and have UFAs and RFAs to decide on like Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Chris Tanev, and Troy Stetcher.
As Benning navigates this off-season for his transitioning Canucks, he’ll more certainly be keeping an eye on the summer of 2022. That off-season is when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes can become RFAs. Cap room will be needed to re-sign those two cornerstone pieces.