Ilya Kovalchuk

Trade-deadline players aim to provide boost in NHL’s restart

Leave a comment

Vincent Trocheck was part of a wave of NHL players moved at the February trade deadline, jumping right into the lineup a day later for a learn-on-the-fly introduction to his new Carolina Hurricanes team.

Hardly an easy task.

”Obviously coming from a different team, you’re going to have a little bit of confusion,” he said. ”Different systems, different styles of play.”

Those new additions are in a different position as the NHL returns from its pandemic shutdown. They’ve had months to study film. They’ve had two-plus weeks of camp-style workouts to build chemistry with teammates. And that could provide a big boost for the teams that added them five months ago for a (delayed) run at the Stanley Cup.

”Anybody who got traded at the deadline for any team in this tournament, I think they’re going to benefit from it,” said New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz, whose team acquired center Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa.

That wasn’t the plan, of course, when teams made deals ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline, which saw a record 32 trades and a record-tying 55 players dealt that final day. The expectation for playoff-contending teams was for new arrivals to spend the final six weeks of the regular season carving out roles ahead of the postseason.

Instead, the coronavirus halted everything in March.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The league allowed teams to reopen facilities for voluntary workouts in June. Then came two weeks of training camp in July, leading to this weekend’s start of the playoffs featuring 24 teams divided between Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.

Amid the shutdown, some injured players had time to heal. Coaches who took over during the season got their own fresh start. And trade-deadline acquisitions have had a chance to catch up, too, from Washington winger Ilya Kovalchuk to Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner.

Fittingly, it was one of those players – Conor Sheary, back with the Pittsburgh Penguins – who scored the first goal of the NHL’s restart in Tuesday’s exhibition loss to Philadelphia.

”Players come in, it’s at the end of the season, there’s probably a little bit of pressure to perform,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. ”You don’t know anybody. You’re unfamiliar with the coaches, with the system, your teammates – and then all of a sudden, you get four months kind of off.

”But that didn’t mean you were four months away from your coaches or your teammates. Now you’re in the group chats, you’re communicating with everybody. You know everybody personally a lot better. And then when you come back, it’s almost like: wow, it’s your second year with the team.”

Cooper’s Lightning – part of the Eastern Conference’s round robin for top seeds – acquired forwards Blake Coleman (from New Jersey) and Barclay Goodrow (from San Jose) in February.

Coleman said they were ”kind of thrown the kitchen sink as far as systems and trying to pick things up on the fly.”

”Obviously having a camp here has been great because I’m able to focus on the systems and really not have to worry about it in-game,” Coleman said. ”You kind of want that stuff to be just second nature and not have to think about it. I think it’s been good. It feels like I’m part of the team now and not just the new guy, and it’s exciting that we have this chance.”

The Hurricanes made three deadline-day acquisitions, including defensemen Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei amid injury concerns about All-Star Dougie Hamilton, and fellow blue-liner Brett Pesce.

Trocheck, who had 31 goals two seasons ago with Florida, said the time off helped him more than his seven games with Carolina by providing time to study more film. Then came camp workouts with teammates to become ”100% acclimated.”

”I think they’re the ones that need the time the most,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”You put a system in place and you kind of expect all the guys to grasp it, but you realize quickly that you watch it 100 hours a day, four months, you know it inside-out.

”Players, that’s not how they get it. They get it from practicing the reps.”

In all, 29 players acquired on deadline day are on NHL playoff rosters, spread across 17 of 24 teams. Other teams, like reigning Cup champion St. Louis and Winnipeg, made moves earlier in February.

”It was almost like I forgot we traded for them because they just fit so well, fit in so nicely,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said of Cody Eakin and Dylan DeMelo. ”It feels like they’ve been part of the group from the beginning. And maybe it’s because you pause and you have the restart that we do here right now, that everybody’s on that even footing.”

NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference round-robin preview

Leave a comment

The NHL Stanley Cup round-robin begins August 2 as the Eastern Conference’s top four teams battle for First Round seeding. This week, PHT look at one question facing each of the top four seeds in the East and West.

Round-robin — TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 3:
Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

Eastern Conference Round Robin preview: Questions facing Bruins, Capitals, Flyers, Lightning

Bruins: How will Pastrnak follow up career regular season?

David Pastrnak could have easily hit 50 goals and 100 points for the first time in his career if the pause hadn’t robbed him of 12 more games. He split the Rocket Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin and his next goal is to help the Bruins win a different kind of trophy a year after coming up one win short.

Pastrnak practiced with the full Bruins team Tuesday for the first time since Phase 3 began. Quarantine rules after arriving back in Boston from Europe prevented him from skating early on, and then he was deemed “unfit to participate” days later. Boston’s three round-robin games will be important for him to get the chemistry back with his linemates and settle him back into a goal-scoring groove.

The Bruins employ very good depth, one reason why they made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season. That depth helped them to the NHL’s best points percentage (.714) at the time of the pause. You still want your top players producing, and Pastrnak did that during the 2019 playoffs with 19 points in 24 games. Along with Brad Marchand, the duo will look to lead the offense yet again.

Capitals: What impact will Kovalchuk make?

After being acquired via a February trade, Ilya Kovalchuk only played seven times for the Capitals before the pause. He scored a goal and added three assists in limited time. The 37-year-old forward can become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, so a big postseason could payoff with a nice (final?) contract.

Kovalchuk has featured mainly with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. But head coach Todd Reirden hasn’t been shy about powering up and putting him with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov to really put an opponent on their heels at 5-on-5. He can give the Capitals scoring depth and, if his play in Montreal is any indication, a bit of a spark once the First Round arrives. At even strength and on a second power play unit, the veteran was a low-risk gamble by GM Brian MacLellan that could pay off big time.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

Flyers: Will Hart be the answer in net?

Since he made his NHL debut last season, a lot has been placed on Carter Hart‘s shoulders. He’s been dubbed the franchise goalie for a franchise that has a long history of that position being an Achilles’ heel. But in two seasons in Philadelphia the 21-year-old has played well. His .915 even strength save percentage since 2018-19 puts him top 10 among all netminders with at least 70 appearances.

The postseason is always a different animal, but the Flyers have exceeded many expectations in their first season under Alain Vigneault. Hart has handled the pressure of the position well and now he gets his first taste of NHL playoff hockey. He had some injury concerns during Phase 3, but said he feels fine now and the three round-robin games will be a good opportunity to get up to game speed.

Lightning: How will they handle the pressure to win?

Tampa was on pace for a third-straight 100-point campaign before the pause, cementing themselves as a Stanley Cup contender yet again. Last season’s 128-point campaign that put them as heavy favorites ended in a disastrous four-game sweep by the Blue Jackets. They responded with 92 points in 70 games in 2019-20 and the third-best points percentage in the NHL.

But as has been the case for several years now, the regular season is a warmup for the Lightning. It’s what they do in the postseason that will matter. GM Julien BriseBois bulked up, adding Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow, while getting a bounce-back year from Kevin Shattenkirk and see Anthony Cirelli take big strides in his third season.

Does another playoff disappointment result in BriseBois, in his second full season as the team’s GM, making sweeping changes?

MORE:
NHL announces zero positive COVID-19 tests during second week of Phase 3
Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
A look at the Western Conference matchups
Previewing the Eastern Conference

————

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.

Day 3 of NHL training camps sees Kaprizov talk, Fleury absent again

Day 3 of Return to Play training camps is another day closer to the puck being dropped for real. Teams are still trying to get back into game rhythm and rekindle the chemistry that was put on pause in mid-March.

The popular phrase “unfit to play” wasn’t uttered as much as it was on Monday and Tuesday. But given the “new normal” of injury reporting in the NHL now, we’ve certainly not heard the last of teams not expanding on why a player wasn’t on the ice.

Let’s take a quick skate around Wednesday’s happenings.

No panic over another Fleury absence

Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was not on the ice for the third straight day. The team stressed his absence was not COVID-19-related. Head coach Peter DeBoer said it’s just maintenance and he expects him to join the team before the weekend.

“He’s feeling good,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got a long runway here before we start. He really practiced hard. He doesn’t have anything significant. The plan is he will be on the ice before the weekend.”

Kaprizov signed, sealed, but yet to be delivered

Three head coaches and four general managers later, Kirill Kaprizov is finally a Wild player. The 2015 draft pick held a Zoom call with reporters and was virtually presented with his No. 97 jersey by GM Bill Guerin.

Wild TV

While Kaprizov is able to burn the first year of his two-year entry-level contract, he won’t be able to play in the Return to Play program. He will be able to practice with the Wild, pending he’s able to join the team before they head to Edmonton. The team is still working on visas for the 23-year-old forward. There’s also the issue of international quarantine once he arrives from Russia.

“He knows everybody’s waiting for him, and he can’t wait to put on the jersey himself, as well,” Kaprizov said through interpreter Alex Buzi. “He hopes that’s going to happen sometime as soon as next week, and he’s really eager and excited to join the team.”

What might Patrik Laine do during his down time in the bubble?

Maple Leafs getting into game mode early

There are roster spots up for grabs for the Maple Leafs, so what better way to help the selection process than a good old fashioned tournament.

That’s what head coach Sheldon Keefe did on Wednesday, splitting the squad up into two teams — Team Auston and Team Freddie — in a best-of-five series featuring officials.

“I think it was great. You’ve got to get used to where the refs are out there again. Coming into the zone, just setting up in the zone, it’s a little different when they’re not there,” said William Nylander said. “They take up some space so running our power play without would leave some extra space that we wouldn’t be used to once the games start. I think that was a great aspect to have included.”

The NHL has stepped in, however, and said no to officials in the future. The risk of exposure for both sides is too great of a risk.

Keeping up with the Kovalchuks

Ilya Kovalchuk played only seven games with the Capitals following the February trade from Montreal. After a forgettable time with the Kings, he was rejuvenated with the Canadiens, and there’s plenty of excitement to see him in that Washington lineup on an extended basis.

The 37-year-old was busy during the break with training and being occupied with his four kids.

“I gotta keep them busy and I want to lead by example, so we’re doing something every day,” he said. “No days off for our family.”

Even the training sessions became a family affair:

Vatanan healthy for Hurricanes

When the Hurricanes play the Rangers, Sami Vatanen will make his long-awaited debut for his new team. The defenseman has been out since suffering a leg injury Feb. 1. He was dealt from the Devils later that month but did not play for Carolina before the pause. Five months later, he’s good to go.

“Health-wise, I feel 100 percent,” Vatanen said. “I have no worries about that. Of course, it takes a little time to get to game speed, but we have a long time still until we start to play, so I will be ready.”

The Hurricanes’ blue line will be bolstered for their series with New York. Not only will they get Vatanen back, Dougie Hamilton will also make a return from injury. He fractured his left fibula in January.

“Dougie’s back, and now we’ve got to find somewhere else to put [Vatanen],” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “He’s a talented player. You’re talking power play. That’s what he does. He’s good at it, but there’s a learning curve, and we can’t wait five games to see if it will work with him.”

MORE: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.

No NHL return for Pavel Datsyuk, who signs one-year deal to stay in KHL

1 Comment

If there was a glimmer of hope that Pavel Datsyuk might return to the NHL for 2020-21, that is now gone. Datsyuk signed a one-year deal with Yekaterinburg Automobilist (or Ekaterinburg Avtomobilist) keeping the former Red Wings star in the KHL.

Considering that Datsyuk will turn 42 on July 20, we may have seen the last of him in the NHL.

For one thing, playing close to home appeals to the veteran forward. It’s also possible to wonder how many NHL teams would be interested in the 42-year-old. Datsyuk’s already four seasons removed from the NHL (spending three with St. Petersburg SKA, and this past with Automobilist).

After putting up some pretty strong offensive numbers from 2016-17 to 2018-19 with SKA, Datsyuk’s numbers dipped this past season. He scored five goals and 22 points in 43 KHL games, although he managed four points in as many playoff contests.

Then again, most hockey fans attest that scoring numbers only tell part of what made Datsyuk a “magic man.”

It’s difficult to find “fancy stats” for the KHL, so it’s difficult to tell if Datsyuk remains a two-way standout. (It certainly would be difficult for anyone — even Datsyuk — to approach his peak-level work at an advanced age.)

But, frankly, it would have been a delight to see Datsyuk put together an NHL farewell tour. Even a diminished Datsyuk. Consider how fun it was to see Ilya Kovalchuk score some big-time goals during his redemptive run with the Canadiens.

That said, it’s easy to see why Datsyuk decided to stay in the KHL. Even if he was holding out hope for an NHL return, who knows if the league will be able to hold a 2020-21 season (in December, or otherwise)?

Datsyuk staying in KHL, not returning to NHL, is coherent part of a strange summer

It’s already been an odd summer of sorts for Datsyuk. M Live’s Ansar Khan points out that Datsyuk’s agent Dan Milstein shot down rumors about Datsyuk being … “holed up” at a monastery that had been seized by “Father Sergei,” a priest pushing a COVID-19 conspiracy?

Milstein tweeted this:

After these rumors circulated:

It all seems strange, either way. But then again, so is 2020.

Datsyuk not returning to the NHL? That’s not nearly as odd — quite understandable, actually — but it’s still a bit of a bummer.

How about a fun exercise to fill your time? If he returned to the NHL, but not with the rebuilding Red Wings, where would he make sense? (Even parsing through hypotheticals doesn’t keep this from being a bummer, though.)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Top Draft Lottery memories

2 Comments

Hockey fans will get something to obsess about on Friday, June 26, as the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will air on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. If one of the NHL’s bottom seven teams wins the first draw, we might know where Alexis Lafrenière is headed (assuming, reasonably safely, that he goes first). As promising as Lafrenière is, history shows that winning a draft lottery isn’t the only part of putting together a championship team — if you even get that far.

I mean … don’t get me wrong, as this list shows, it often helps. A lot.

The latest PHT Power Rankings list breaks down top memories that have come from draft lotteries. Sometimes we’ll see big winners, losers, or both. Sometimes there will be tragic comedy, or incredible luck (*cough* or both).

The experience of seeing your team’s luck swing on the bounces of lottery balls can be agonizing. It also makes just about every experience a personal one. So, if you have draft lottery memories that didn’t make the cut, absolutely share them.

Try not to ruin your day going over such memories, though.

[How the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will work. It could get complicated.]

1. Penguins land Crosby in strange 2005 NHL Draft Lottery

You know it’s an odd, memorable draft lottery when Sports Illustrated gives it the oral history treatment.

Sidney Crosby also ended up justifying the hype, making the 2005 NHL Draft lottery possibly the most pivotal since the format began.

On one hand, the Penguins received some of the best odds to win. They received three of the 48 lottery balls in the NHL’s strange setup, ranking among four teams with the most. Even so, they had a 6.3 percent chance to win the Crosby sweepstakes. (Somewhere, Brian Burke is still fuming about this.)

You can probably set off a brushfire of hockey debate by asking how much the Penguins’ success hinged on luck — not just landing Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin second in 2004, and a bucket of other high picks — and how much hinged on solid management. There’s no debate that the Penguins came out of the lockout with two enormous additions.

You can also entertain yourself with some Ducks alternate history. What if they did land Crosby? Imagine if Burke’s alleged aims to trade for Joe Thornton worked out? Would Burke still be challenging Kevin Lowe and others to barn brawls as Ducks GM to this day?

*Loosens tie over the whole thing*

Also:

  • The Canadiens only received one lottery ball, yet eventually drafted Carey Price fifth overall.
  • The Sabres had three lottery balls, but chose (*moves imaginary glasses from forehead to eyes*) … Marek Zagrapan? Oof.

That 2005 NHL Draft tops the list of lottery memories. There are plenty of other dramatic swings to mull over, however.

2. Blackhawks lose big in 2004, then win big in 2007

It’s easy to zero in on the top pick of a draft versus the second when you look back at draft lottery swings. But don’t sleep on the third pick, and on, because that’s where the deepest belly laughs and cringes often lurk.

Consider 2004. The Capitals rocketed back to relevance thanks to Alex Ovechkin. Malkin served as the first of the Penguins’ two superstars (but far from the only high picks, as the Penguins marinated in those during a run of profound ineptitude).

The Blackhawks? They chose Cam Barker third overall. Brutal.

Luckily, the Blackhawks ended up trading Barker for a future building block in Nick Leddy. Amusingly, fourth overall pick Andrew Ladd also helped Chicago down the line.

But most luckily, the Blackhawks landed the top pick in 2007 despite having the fifth-best chances (8.1 percent). Chicago selected Patrick Kane, pairing him with Jonathan Toews on their way to three Stanley Cups.

The Flyers suffered through a miserable season, yet instead of drafting Kane, they ended up with James van Riemsdyk. There’s a kinship, oddly, between JVR and Bobby Ryan: two New Jersey natives, who were second overall picks, and enjoyed bumpy-but-productive careers that probably didn’t soothe the wounds of those who were mad about draft lottery results.

Did we mention they were from New Jersey? (Crowd boos.)

[NHL Mock Draft: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class]

3. The Oilers land McDavid, McDavid makes classic McDavid face

Compared to the Sabres’ 20-percent chance, the Oilers were underdogs to land Connor McDavid with the third-best odds (11.5). But the Oilers’ rain and reign of first overall picks continued.

As you may remember, McDavid looked thrilled.

There’s a sound argument for this rankings second, not third, among draft lottery memories. After all, McDavid ranks as the biggest star to emerge first overall since Crosby.

He also made that face.

But the other factor that looms large is the deep failure of the Oilers and the Sabres. Edmonton achieves borderline art in poor development (Nail Yakupov, first in 2012) and poor decisions (trading Taylor Hall, first in 2010) to squander so much good fortune. Only now are the Oilers flirting with the success they were practically gifted, and that hinges a ton on McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Sabres have been a mess for about a decade. They can’t pin that on getting Jack Eichel instead of McDavid, even if they clearly tanked for McDavid.

Hockey fans might want to attribute the success of teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks to premium picks alone. Yet, the Sabres and especially Oilers show us that you can squander such riches.

4. Taylor Hall, lottery ball specialist

Taylor Hall, one-time MVP and himself the top pick of 2010, became a good luck charm for his teams — at least when it came to draft lotteries. The biggest win came when the Oilers won the McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, while the Devils also landed Nico Hischier and most recently Jack Hughes in lotteries with Hall in the fold.

Hall hasn’t just shown a good sense of humor about it. He’s done so multiple times.

In 2015, McDavid:

After 2017, when the Devils eventually added Hischier:

Hall still provided some great barbs in 2019, though he wouldn’t spend much time with Jack Hughes:

So, a question: do we gauge Hall’s continued lottery ball dominance based on where the Coyotes draft, or if he signs with a different team in free agency? This is important, I think.

[PHT Roundtable: Draft Lottery format reactions]

5. Flyers make biggest jump ever

Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, the Flyers held the 13th rank. Despite that standing, they jumped all the way to the second pick. Philly had a 2.4 percent chance to do that.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a Blackhawks Barker-to-Kane flip. Early in his career, Nolan Patrick has been some combination of inconsistent and injured (his career outlook is still foggy because of migraines).

Patrick’s health issues make it seem way too harsh to throw the word “bust” around. But that jump to No. 2 definitely didn’t deliver for the Flyers quite like they dreamed.

The next three picks turn the knife deeper for Flyers fans. The Stars drafted a defensive pillar in Miro Heiskanen. Then the Avalanche got a pillar of their own in Cale Makar. Finally, the Canucks might have drafted the “real” top pick in Elias Pettersson.

Ouch.

Honorable mention NHL Draft Lottery storylines and memories

To reiterate, good draft lottery luck doesn’t always translate to the standings. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean you’ll choose the right player.

  • The Thrashers (Patrik Stefan) and Islanders (Rick DiPietro) followed back-to-back blunders, and made blunders around those moves. Trading Roberto Luongo, giving DiPietro a ruinous contract, and so on showed that winning the lottery isn’t everything. Granted, Atlanta eventually struck gold with Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) — at least for a while.
  • Buffalo suffered some bad luck, but they need more than lottery wins. Rasmus Dahlin (2018) looks legit, yet he hasn’t been able to solve the Sabres’ problems. That takes multiple shrewd moves … and, yes, some luck.
  • You could rank the Canucks among the teams that have been burned by bad draws. Even so, some of their best recent picks came outside the true no-brainer range. They selected Elias Pettersson fifth in 2017, and he’d probably be the top pick in a re-draft. The Quinn Hughes pick (seventh in 2018) looked smart then, and brilliant now.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.