Colin Wilson

The Wraparound: Rask out for Bruins opener vs. Flyers

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

UPDATE: While Cassidy said Rask is feeling better, Jaroslav Halak will start Sunday. Dan Vladar will serve as the backup. “He’s not going to play today. Hopefully he gets back on the ice as early as tomorrow.”

The Bruins may be without Tuukka Rask for their opening round-robin game against the Flyers on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream).

Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that the netminder felt ill and did not join the team for practice on Saturday.

“He wasn’t feeling well, so unfit to participate today,” said Cassidy. “As an afternoon question tomorrow, the natural next question is ‘will he start?’ I’ll have to talk to Tuukka later and see where he’s at. If [he cannot play] then Jaro [Halak] will be ready to go.”

A fractured finger during summer training camp forces Rask to missed a handful of practices. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have Halak to fall back on in case their No. 1 can’t go. The two netminders combined to win the 2019-20 Williams Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed since they both played at least 25 games.

Because the Bruins have three round-robin games before the First Round begins, Halak was expected to get at least one start. Both goaltenders split time during Thursday’s exhibition game against Columbus. Boston’s next game will be Wednesday against the Lightning (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

As far as definite absences go with the Bruins, Ondrej Kase finally arrived in the Toronto bubble and will not be ready. Same goes for Nick Ritchie, who has been “unfit to participate.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 1: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET (USA Network; livestream): The Predators are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season – the longest active streak in the West and behind only Pittsburgh in the entire league. Arizona making the 24-team tournament is also notable as the Coyotes snapped what was the second-longest active postseason drought in the NHL. The Coyotes sat four points out of the final wild card spot when the season paused.

Round-robin: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): The defending champs will benefit from the return of forward Vladimir Tarasenko. The 28-year-old underwent left shoulder surgery in late October and was on pace to return for the playoffs even before the season was paused. He played just 10 games this season. The Avalanche were a banged up team before the pause, missing Mikko Rantanen, Andrew Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert and Nazem Kadri. But the long break has allowed the club to heal up, and now the only forward missing is Colin Wilson, who’s been out since October.

Game 1: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, (joined-in-progress) 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team in the Qualifying Round to switch coaches mid-season as they hope the move will produce similar results to the Blues last season, winning the Cup after Craig Berube took over in November. Last summer, the Blue Jackets lost four of their top players in free agency, with Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky all leaving Columbus. Despite losing those players, the Blue Jackets had the exact same point total through 70 games (81 points) as last season.

Game 1: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): Minnesota is back in the postseason after falling short last year following six straight playoff appearances from 2013-2018, while Vancouver is in the tournament for the first time since 2015. Neither of these teams have had much playoff success in recent years as the Wild have been bounced in the opening round in each of their last three postseason series. Likewise for the Canucks, who have lost three straight opening-round series since losing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to Boston.

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Round-robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Round-robin: Stars-Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

Predictions for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Why your team won’t (and will) win the Stanley Cup this season
NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Pucks and masks prevalent as 24 NHL teams open training camp

St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is so accustomed to wearing a mask, he didn’t mind doing so for the past four months during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Sometimes, I forgot I’m wearing it while driving,” Binnington said Monday, when the Blues were among the NHL’s 24 teams to open training camp for the upcoming playoffs. “You make fun of those people who are driving by themselves with a mask on, but I sometimes forget.”

Goalies weren’t the only ones wearing masks as the NHL hit the ice, en masse, in the first full glimpse of hockey’s return since the regular season was placed on pause March 12.

Masked equipment managers patrolled the benches, clearing them of water bottles and towels following practices. In Nashville, general manager David Poile, 70, wore one while watching the Predators practice from a private suite.

And in Dallas, Stars interim coach Rick Bowness wore a mask while observing practice from an empty bench. At 65, he wasn’t taking any chances.

“I was going to err on the side of caution. I’m still very nervous about the COVID, and we haven’t tested our players since last Thursday,” Bowness said. Once results come back, he intends to return to the ice, perhaps as early as Wednesday

Players and staff all have their eyes on resuming the season with an expanded 24-team playoff set to begin in two hub cities – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, — on Aug. 1.

“On the ice is normal,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “On the ice is same rules what we have before. But soon as you step off the ice in the locker room, everybody have to wear a mask. It’s kind of weird, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to get used to it.”

Players and everyone else who will be spending up to two months inside the “bubble” — including hotel staff, bus drivers and arena workers — will have no other choice but to get accustomed to the new reality if the NHL hopes to complete its most unique season. Once games resume, they will be played in empty arenas, with as many as three games played per day at each site, and with the Stanley Cup awarded in late September at the earliest.

There is no guarantee the league will be able to pull it off.

Though the familiar sound of pucks, skates and sticks echoed through arenas once again, the reminders of COVID-19 were also prevalent.

The NHL announced that 43 players had tested positive for the coronavirus from June 8 through the end of the league’s optional workouts. In Toronto, star forward Auston Matthews confirmed he tested positive while spending the break at his home in Arizona last month.

“It was the safest place to be,. And then obviously things flipped pretty quickly there,” Matthews said. “I did my quarantine, and I’m feeling healthy now, so it’s all good.”

In Pittsburgh, the Penguins voluntarily sidelined nine players after learning they may have had secondary exposure to a person testing positive for COVID-19. NHL rules barred the Penguins from revealing who the players were, but the most notable player not on the ice was forward Patric Hornqvist.

Captain Sidney Crosby remained upbeat.

“It’s a matter of everyone working together and doing our best to be safe,” Crosby said. “Whether you are a player or a fan, you miss the game. You also have to understand the seriousness of what’s around you. We’re trying to find a balance for that… I’m optimistic.”

It was a far different story in Denver, where the Avalanche had nearly a fully complement of players practicing, which is a considerable turnaround. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar and goalie Philipp Grubauer were among the formerly injured players back on the ice, with only center Colin Wilson deemed not fit to play.

“The fun thing about returning now, after having some time off and jumping right into the most important time of year, is that you’re going to see everyone’s best players healthy, rested,” coach Jared Bednar said. “We’re all anxious and champing at the bit ready to go, which should be a lot of fun.”

In St. Louis, the defending champion Blues welcomed back scoring star Vladimir Tarasenko, who sustained a major injury to his shoulder 10 games into the season and was projected to miss five months.

“It’s a nice little secret weapon we’ve had all year, waiting to come back,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Tarasenko. “Seemed like a pretty seamless transition, jumping back in with the rest of us.”

In Nashville, coach John Hynes drew out plays on a white board at the edge of the ice, with players gathered closely around him. Inside the arena, half the seats inside the lower bowl stayed stacked away, leaving concrete around much of the ice.

Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said the unknowns and questions left him concerned during his return from his native Finland to the United States. Now, the 37-year-old goalie feels much more comfortable after seeing the protocols being used.

“We come to the Bridgestone Arena and you could eat off the floor,” Rinne said. “I mean, it’s clean. It’s a safe place so far.”

What is the Colorado Avalanche’s long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Colorado Avalanche.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

It might be the best long-term outlook in the entire NHL. They are young, they are good, and they have a ton of salary cap space to work with. At the top of the lineup is the three-headed forward monster of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. Each player is a star on their own, and when they are put together on a line they form the most dominant offensive trio in the league. All three are signed through the end of next season at a combined salary cap hit of around $20 million. For the production they get out of those three it is an absolute steal against the cap.

MacKinnon is the foundation and still has three more full seasons remaining at $6.3 million per season. It makes him one of the most valuable players in the entire league because he not only gives them MVP, superstar level production to carry the offense, but his contract is so far below market value that it creates additional flexibility under the salary cap.

The same is true with Landeskog who has one year remaining at just a little more than $5.5 million.

Rantanen is the big-money player for now at over $9 million per season for the next five years.

The big question after them was their secondary scoring, but that was addressed over the summer with the additions of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin. Kadri and Donskoi are both signed long-term, while Nichushkin — very pleasant surprise this season — and Burakovsky will still be  restricted free agents after this season with plenty of salary cap space to work with to re-sign them.

Beyond that, the Avalanche are set on defense with the quartet of Cale Makar, Samuel Girad, Bowen Byram, and Ryan Graves.

Long-Term Needs

While the goaltending duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz has been outstanding this season, with both signed through at least next season at a very manageable salary cap number, it might still be the one position that gets a second-look from outsiders as a weakness.

Even that is probably a stretch because it is not really a true weakness right now, and if anything has been one of their biggest strengths this season. But given the contract situation beyond next season for Grubauer, and the fact Francouz is already 29 years old with less than 40 games of NHL action on his resume, it could be something that needs to be addressed over the next year.

A lot of it probably depends on how Grubauer plays when he returns this season and in the playoffs (we are still hoping for the remainder of this season and the playoffs) and through next season.

Long-Term Strengths

The obvious answer here is the top trio of forwards, and especially MacKinnon. Superstar talents are the toughest pieces of a championship team to acquire, and the Avalanche not only have those players, they are still in the prime of their careers — or just entering their prime — and signed long-term for team-friendly salary cap numbers.

What really starts to separate the Avalanche is the makeup of their defense.

Cale Makar looks like he is going to be a star and might have a Norris Trophy in his future. Samuel Girard is a fine No. 2 or 3 on a contending team. Bowen Byram, the No. 4 overall pick from this past year as a result of the Matt Duchene trade, is loaded with potential. Ryan Graves has been a huge development this season and only adds to the strength of that young blue line. Out of that quartet Graves is the only one over the age of 21, and even he is still only 24 years old.

The other big strength is simply the fact they are still swimming in salary cap space, even with the new long-term contracts for Rantanen and Girard (which begins next season). Having a team that is already among the best in the league and still having more salary cap space than almost every other contender is going to give them a significant advantage over their biggest competition, not only when it comes to keeping their secondary players, but also adding to their core.

No team is ever guaranteed a championship, but the Avalanche have everything in place to be a top Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche
Surprises and disappointments

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Avs, Sabres took surprising deadline approaches

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche and Sabres were in very different positions heading into the trade deadline. Colorado was comfortably in a playoff spot, while the Sabres were far enough out of a postseason position that no one expected them to make a trade to bolster their team. But the NHL is an unpredictable place.

One of the first moves made on Monday morning was between Ottawa and Colorado. The Avs sent a 2021 draft pick to the Sens for Vladislav Namestnikov. That’s a solid, low-cost depth move by general manager Joe Sakic. The expectation was that the Avs would continue to swing a few deals throughout the day, but outside of a move for veteran goalie Michael Hutchinson, they didn’t do anything else.

Sakic’s team has been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Colin Wilson, Matt Calvert and Philipp Grubauer are all sidelined right now. Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, all they can do is wait for these bodies to get healthy again.

Rantanen is arguably the most important player of the bunch. Since he went down to injury though, the Avs have found a way to win all three of their games. As difficult as it must be to not have him and other key players in their lineup right now, these guys should all come back fresh for a playoff push. They just have to find a way to survive without them in the present.

As for the Sabres, they surprised us on deadline day by giving up one of their 2021 draft picks for pending unrestricted free agent Wayne Simmonds. Even though their odds of participating in the playoffs were slim, general manager Jason Botterill wanted to give his team some kind of spark.

“I think we made Jason’s job a little bit more difficult, which is what our goal was,” forward Kyle Okposo said after Sunday’s win over Winnipeg. “We like the group that we have in here. I think we’ve shown some resilience that’s been missing in the past.”

Simmonds is nowhere close to being the player he was with the Philadelphia Flyers a few years ago. That’s why he fetched a fifth-rounder two years from now. But for a young Sabres team, adding a veteran like him could help them immediately and potentially heading into next year if the marriage between these two sides works.

The 31-year-old has eight goals and 24 points in 61 games with New Jersey this year and five of his eight goals have been scored on the man-advantage.

Botterill also acquired forward Dominik Kahun from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues. The 24-year-old is currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

The Sabres were six points out of a playoff spot on Monday. They’re now eight points behind Toronto for the third place in the Atlantic Division, but they have two games in hand. Keep in mind, they’d have to leap over the Leafs, Panthers and Canadiens to get the job done. That’s not an ideal situation to be in, but they’ll have to make the most of it.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Trades: Senators send Pageau to Islanders, Namestnikov to Avs

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The Ottawa Senators have been busy on trade deadline day, as they’ve already made a pair of moves.

First, the team traded center Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the New York Islanders. The return, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, is a first-round pick in 2020 (top three lottery protected), a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional third-round pick in 2022 (the Sens get this pick if the Islanders win the cup this year).

It’s hard to envision Pageau in any other team’s jersey because he’s been a productive player for Ottawa for so long, but the two sides couldn’t agree on a contract extension. That made him one of the best rental options available on the market.

(UPDATE: Pageau has signed a six-year, $30M extension with the Islanders.)

 

The 27-year-old is having a career year. He’s already scored a career-high 24 goals and he’s up to 40 points in 60 games this season.

So, assuming the Islanders don’t finish with a top three draft pick, the Senators will have three picks in the first round in 2020 and they’ll have 14 picks in the entire draft.

As for the Islanders, it’s easy to see why they’d make this move. They’re currently in the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, but their margin for error is slim. They’re two points ahead of Carolina (second Wild Card team) and two points ahead of Columbus (outside the playoffs). The Isles are also only one point behind the Flyers for third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

This trade gives the Islanders another quality center. They can now roll out Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Pageau as their top three centers. This will allow them to move Josh Bailey back to the wing.

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

General manager Lou Lamoriello paid a premium to get Pageau, but it’s one he’s hoping with pay off this season.

The Senators made another move minutes earlier, as they shipped center Vladislav Namestnikov to the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth-round draft pick in 2021.

Like Pageau, Namestnikov was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

The 27-year-old has 13 goals and 12 assists in 56 games this season. He’s served as a healthy scratch in each of Ottawa’s last two games because the team wanted to keep him healthy before the trade deadline.

Colorado has been dealing with injuries to Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen, Matt Calvert and Colin Wilson. Adding depth was necessary for general manager Joe Sakic.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.