Andrew Copp

NHL players not rushing back to rinks for voluntary skates

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John Tavares took his sticks home from the rink in Toronto to tape them up so he wouldn’t waste his limited time there.

Across the border, Andrew Copp is waiting things out in the U.S. before returning to Winnipeg for the start of mandatory training camps because of Canada’s 14-day quarantine regulation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

NHL players could start participating in voluntary small-group workouts, and teams began opening their training facilities Monday. Players learned Thursday training camps can open July 10, pending an agreement on returning to play later this summer. Now, the players are expected to trickle back in preparation of the resumption of the season.

“We’ve obviously got quite a few of our guys here in town and here at the facility kind of getting on the same page, which is great,” said Tavares, the Maple Leafs’ captain. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are still trying to figure out their situation, but obviously have some very good setups and understand their importance to get things up to speed.”

The announcement of a potential start date for camps comes after the league and players already signed off on a 24-team playoff format, and approved protocol for initial workouts.

Next up will be selecting two hub cities which will play host to the games, with a decision expected to come within the next 10 days.

Of the 10 potential hubs, including three in Canada, Las Vegas is considered a strong candidate, a person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press on Friday night. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because talks are private and the selection process hasn’t been completed.

The league and players must also agree on testing and health-and-safety protocols amid the pandemic before games can resume.

Players started skating by the handful this week in places like Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Edmonton, while some teams waited to open their doors. Veteran Nashville general manager David Poile said that while almost a dozen players remained in the area, the NHL has instructed teams not to ask or encourage players to show up because this stage is voluntary.

GMs expect players to adjust along the way.

“Every situation will be different and unique depending on what they have available to them in the areas they are at,” New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said. “No different than a normal training camp when some players come in two weeks ahead of time because they don’t have the ice time in their area that maybe they can get here, and then other players will wait because they’re working out with a lot of players in the area they’re at.”

There might be a higher volume of participation in places like Toronto, with more players naturally in town. Sidney Crosby and some Penguins teammates are already on the ice at their shiny practice rink, and the Blue Jackets reported eight or nine players skating daily in different groups.

Up to six players are allowed on the ice at a time with a coach. Tavares described the slice of normalcy as “a breath of fresh air” even as others around the league opted to stay home and skate on their own.

“I’m not sure exactly how much you can do together out there to get a whole lot out of it,” Montreal captain Shea Weber said. “Who really knows, to be honest with you. There’s so many uncertainties with everything that’s going on, with everything that might be going forward here.”

Now that there’s a July 10 date to start camps, there could soon be a flood of players lacing up their skates and returning to their home cities. Canada requires anyone entering the country to quarantine for two weeks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the same for those returning to the U.S.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said 17% of players are overseas. Many are in Sweden and, as a result, have been able to skate for several weeks.

“If a player went back to Finland and he’s been training and ready to go and he comes back to Nashville and he has to sit at home for 14 days, that kind of defeated the whole purpose of going home in the first place,” Poile said.

Copp said recently from Michigan he was considering relocating to Florida to get his skating legs back but would try to wait out Canada’s quarantine before trying to get back to the Jets’ facility.

“I need to be on the ice,” Copp said. “We are building up right now. I’ve been training off the ice and I feel like going back and sitting in my apartment for two straight weeks in Winnipeg is not going to be good for me, mentally or physically.”

The Buzzer: Shesterkin shining on Broadway; Athanasiou, Wings upset Bruins

Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers covers the puck against the Los Angeles Kings
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Three Stars

1) Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

The Blueshirts have been very fortunate to have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes since 2005 and the goaltender of the future appears to be arriving on Broadway sooner than expected. Shesterkin made 42 saves to help lead the Rangers to a 4-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden Sunday. The young Russian netminder has improved to 5-1-0 in six starts this season and continues to push for more playing time. While Lundqvist is unlikely to be moved at the trade deadline, Shesterkin’s consistent play has allowed Jeff Gorton to consider moving Alexandar Georgiev in the next few weeks. A crowded crease creates playing time concerns for all parties involved, but for the rebuilding Rangers, it’s a good problem to have for the time being.

2) Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit Red Wings

Everyone knew wins would be tough to come by for the Red Wings this season, but the plan was to have a few pieces continue their development. Athanasiou was expected to be one of those players after scoring 30 goals last season. Sunday, he scored his seventh and eighth of the season in Detroit’s surprising 3-1 victory against the Boston Bruins. The 25-year-old broke a 1-1 tie with a short-side snipe midway through the third period. He later added an empty-net goal to seal the victory for the Red Wings.

3) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Blackhawks took an early two-goal lead, but the Jets stormed back in their third consecutive victory. Winnipeg scored five unanswered and moved into sole possession of the first wild card in the West with a 5-2 win against Chicago. Connor scored twice and added an assist, stretching his individual point streak to three games. The speedy winger benefitted from a terrific pass from Andrew Copp to cut Chicago’s two-goal advantage in half. Connor is two goals shy of reaching the 30-goal mark for the third consecutive season.

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday]

Highlights of the Night

Copp put the right amount of sauce on this pass to set up Connor for a shorthanded goal.

Kaapo Kakko ended a 13-game goal drought after Filip Chytil delivered a beautiful backhanded pass from the corner.

Rickard Rakell slid a puck through the legs of Jack Eichel to set up Ryan Getzlaf midway through the first period.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Detroit Red Wings 3, Boston Bruins

Anaheim Ducks 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

New York Rangers 4, Los Angeles Kings 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Colorado Avalanche 3, Minnesota Wild 2

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Stromes among this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Washington took Burakovsky with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but he never had much of a role with the Capitals. Burakovsky averaged 12:45 minutes over 328 career games with the Capitals and his best output was 38 points in 2015-16. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s been given 15:11 minutes per game and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. He’s scored eight goals and 16 points in 20 games this season. Despite that strong start, he’s owned in just 23% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re interested, the odds are in favor of him being available in your league.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Early in Ennis’ career, he was a solid top-six forward, but his role declined substantially over the last couple years, to the point where the Maple Leafs gave him just 9:56 minutes per contest over 51 games last season. He’s been given a chance to rebound with the Senators though and so far he’s done alright with it. He got off to a pretty slow start with just two goals and three points in 12 games, but has settled in with three goals and six points in his last eight contests. His long-term value is still in question, but he’s worth the risk while he’s hot. 

Andrew Copp, Jets – C/LW: Like Ennis, Copp is a player who is hot now and thus worthy of short-term consideration, but also with the potential of having some staying power. First off, he has two goals and five points in his last six games, so clearly things have been working out for him lately. He’s never recorded more than 28 points in a single season, but he’s still relatively young at the age of 25, and he’s getting a far bigger role this season. He’s averaging 16:52 minutes, up from just 12:10 minutes in 2018-19. If he continues to get that kind of ice time, then there’s a fair chance that he’ll average out to be a solid secondary scorer.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Senators – LW/RW: Namestnikov began the season with the Rangers, but they traded him to the Ottawa on Oct. 7th in exchange for Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick. He only averaged 13:30 minutes in two games with the Rangers prior to the trade, but he’s managed to carve out a sizable role for him with the Senators. He’s averaging 17:27 minutes per game since the trade and that’s led to him contributing six goals and 12 points in 18 games. His eligibility on both wings provides owners with some critical flexibility, making him a solid fallback option if you need injury relief.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman had 22 goals and 36 points in 78 games last season, which isn’t too exciting by fantasy league standards, but his contributions tended to come in waves. That hot-and-cold nature makes him a potentially decent short-term pickup if you get the timing right and right now might be such an occasion. He’s on a three-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s action.

Dylan Strome, Blackhawks – C: Strome looked great after being acquired by Chicago last season, scoring 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. He’s been somewhat hot-and-cold so far this season, but lately everything has been clicking for him. He has a goal and nine points in his last six contests. Unfortunately he only has center eligibility and that’s a rather deep position, but at the least he’s worthy of consideration while he’s hot.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: While you’re at it, you may want to consider Dylan’s older brother, Ryan. The elder Strome has certainly has had some low points in his career already, but he seems to have finally put it all together this season. He has six goals and 18 points in 18 games while averaging 19:09 minutes. If he’s still available in your league, you should grab him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have gotten off to an unreal start to the season, but the rest of the Oilers’ offense has been lacking. Kassian has been something of an unlikely exception to that. The 28-year-old has never reached the 30-point milestone, but he already has seven goals and 15 points in 22 contests. A big part of his success has been getting to play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl. Just one of Kassian’s 15 points didn’t involve Draisaitl or McDavid.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: The biggest knock on Danault is that he only has center eligibility, but he’s been good enough that he’s worthy of consideration in spite of that. He has six goals and 15 points in 20 games while averaging 18:23 minutes per contest. He set a career-high last season with 53 points and it’s not unreasonable to believe that he will top that this time around.

Charlie Coyle, Bruins – C/RW: Coyle had 18 goals and 56 points in 82 games in 2016-17, but he hasn’t come close to that since. I’m not confident that this will be a bounce back season for him, but if you’re looking for a short-term pick up, then Coyle is pretty hot right now. He’s on a four-game point streak with two goals and five points over that span.

Players You May Want To Drop

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin hit the ground running this season with three goals and eight points in his first eight games and 12 points in his first 13 contests. He was limited to three assists in six contests from Nov. 2-15 though and now he’s out with an upper-body injury. It’s not clear how long he’ll be sidelined for, but he was moved to the injured reserve list. Between the injury and his hot streak being over, it might be time to move on.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: This is a tough one. Barrie had 57 points in 2017-18 and 69 points in 2018-19, but he’s done very little offensively with the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, he has no goals and six assists. The big X-Factor here is what might happen with Toronto’s coaching situation. There are certainly Leafs fans calling for Mike Babcock to be fired given the team’s shaky start, but is that actually going to happen? If it does, the new bench boss could make substantial changes that might lead to Barrie bouncing back. Those are some big ‘ifs’ though and in the meantime, he’s not much help.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had an incredible nine goals in his first eight games this season, but his offensive contributions have dried up. He’s scored three goals and five points in his last 14 games and has only found the back of the net once in his last eight contests. It wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually got hot again, but that might not happen for a while and in the meantime he doesn’t have much value to fantasy owners.

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen is another player who got off to a great start with a new team.  The defenseman had two goals and five points in nine contests and eight points in 14 games to start the campaign. He’s fizzled out though with an assist over his last six contests. Niskanen does chip in offensively, but not enough to make him worth owning long-term in standard fantasy leagues.

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz had 21 goals and 52 points in 78 games in 2017-18, but he was limited to 40 contests last season. So far this season he’s stood out with four goals and 16 points in 21 games, but those numbers are skewed by a stretch from Oct. 10-Nov. 5 where he scored four goals and 14 points in 13 games. Over his last six games, he’s been limited to two assists. I’m also a little worried about his role with the Coyotes. He’s averaging 15:48 minutes, which is down from 18:14 minutes in 2017-18 when he had those 52 points and 17:50 minutes last season.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Jets’ turbulent offseason capped with injuries to Little, Beaulieu

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Few teams come into the very beginning of the 2019-20 season quite as bruised and bewildered as the Winnipeg Jets.

After a tough end to last season that included a Round 1 exit, the Jets absorbed body blows that were more than just flesh wounds during the offseason. They waved goodbye to some key players from rental Kevin Hayes to defensive mainstays including Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Things were bumpy, to say the least, with Patrik Laine, from ambivalent comments about his future, not-so-kind comments about linemates such as Bryan Little, and finally a very short-term truce with the team via a two-year deal. There was also uncertainty with Kyle Connor until he signed a lengthy pact. If that wasn’t all enough, Dustin Byfuglien is contemplating retirement, and didn’t exactly give the Jets a ton of notice about what’s either a soul-searching sojourn or the end of a truly unique NHL career.

After all the corny (yet inevitable) “day off” jokes that once followed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, one couldn’t blame the executive if he felt both relieved and exhausted as the season merely begins.

Unfortunately, the hits kept coming in the final days of an offseason that rarely felt like time off.

The Jets provided two unfortunate bits of injury news on Tuesday, as the team announced that Little is out indefinitely with a concussion, while defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is IR-bound with an upper-body injury that’s expected to sideline him for about four weeks. Both injuries happened during what ended up being a very costly 4-1 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild.

(This Luke Kunin hit injured Little, and Scott Billeck reports for the Winnipeg Sun that head coach Paul Maurice was understandably unhappy about it.)

All of these injuries, free agent losses, and Byfuglien-sized curveballs create some massive craters in the Jets’ lineup, which is troubling since Winnipeg looked so wobbly at times last season, even with the likes of Trouba in the mix. Money Puck’s month-to-month expected goals chart presented their plummeting play in a dramatic way:

Some of those months were without Byfuglien, but again, with Trouba. Taking Ben Chiarot and Beaulieu out of an already troubled group slices up that defense even more.

Meanwhile, the Little injury stacks the deck against Maurice and the Jets, too.

The team shared line rushes that would include Andrew Copp as a second-line center, with Adam Lowry possibly as the 3C.

That doesn’t inspire the highest level of confidence, although maybe this is a time where Maurice should be more willing to experiment. While this would be out of necessity, you never know when you might find different things that work, possibly giving you a Plan B (to Z!) for when matchups become tougher during playoff skirmishes.

What if Jack Roslovic could thrive in a 2C or 3C role? Is it possible that breaking up Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele could benefit the likes of Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers? Considering his traditionally impressive possession stats, would Mathieu Perreault be worth a look at one of those center spots, too?

It’s possible that none of those alignments would be optimal, but you don’t need to look too hard to see that these aren’t the most optimal times for the Jets.

Again, though, sometimes bigger challenges bring out the best in players. In the past, it might have felt like the Jets had a luxurious surplus of talent, maybe allowing some to believe – consciously or subconsciously – that they could “flip the switch” and turn things around, even with red flags waving.

Under the current circumstances, they’re going to depend on not just Scheifele and Wheeler, but also Laine, Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Connor Hellebuyck. Without pressure, you can’t get diamonds, and so maybe that thought will serve as the Jets’ silver lining.

Because, frankly, there are some uncomfortable forces bearing down on them as the season begins.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

It’s Winnipeg Jets Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Winnipeg Jets. 

2018-19
47-30-5, 99 points (2nd in the Central Division, T-4th in the Western Conference).
Playoffs: Eliminated in Round 1 by the St. Louis Blues in six games.

IN
Neal Pionk
Gabriel Bourque
Anthony Bitetto
Mark Letestu

OUT
Jacob Trouba
Kevin Hayes
Ben Chiarot
Matt Hendricks (retired)
Tyler Myers
Marko Dano
Nic Kerdiles
Joe Morrow
Brandon Tanev
Par Lindholm
Bogdan Kiselevich

RE-SIGNED
Laurent Brossoit
Seth Griffith
Andrew Copp
Cameron Schilling
Nathan Beaulieu
Logan Shaw
C.J. Seuss
J.C. Lipon

[MORE: Three questions | X-factorMaurice under pressure]

2018-19 Season Summary

As NHL teams headed out to enjoy the Christmas break last December, the Jets were sitting pretty. They had just won 11 of their previous 13 games and were atop the Central Divison, four points ahead of the Nashville Predators.

The winning ways continued into February, but the success slowed down and some real concerns started bubbling up. Patrik Laine, whose early season was highlighted by a hat trick in an NHL Global Series game in his home country of Finland and a five-goal performance three games later, saw his goal scoring come to a halt. After scoring 18 goals in the month of November, the sniper only scored nine times in the team’s final 58 games. The penalty kill’s success dropped 5% and Connor Hellebuyck, coming off a season that saw him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, couldn’t find consistency.

As Scott Billeck pointed out following the Jets’ playoff exit, there was 19-day stretch in February where the Jets lost twice to the Senators, twice to the Avalanche, and once to the Canadiens, Coyotes and Wild. Let’s not forget about some major injuries as well. Dustin Byfuglien missed 34 games due to a pair of ankle injuries. Josh Morrissey was out 20 games after taking a hit up high.

Despite a 99-point season, the Jets just didn’t feel like a team that was going to make noise in the playoffs. Something was just off.

The Jets finished with five fewer wins and 15 fewer points in 2018-19 than 2017-18. They banked enough points early on to help them remain in the dog fight for the Central Division title, which could be claimed by the Predators by a single point. The Stanley Cup playoff experience would be a short one as they were knocked out by the eventual champion Blues in six games sending them into the summer with questions.

What is Laine’s future? The forward was not happy about his year and remains a restricted free agent as September arrives. The Jets have $16M in cap space to re-sign him and fellow RFA Kyle Connor, who was second on the team with 34 goals. Will general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff go the bridge route with one or both? Will the negotiations bleed into training camp and even the regular season? Can Laine regain his scoring touch and can Connor build off a second straight 30-goal campaign?

The Central is once again shaping up to be one of, if not the toughest division in the NHL. The Jets can’t afford another disappointing season, otherwise there will be the desire for big changes. Will they be able to live up to their potential and make a run in the Western Conference?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.