Jack Campbell

Early returns: NHL players on getting back in small groups during Phase 2

As of Tuesday, we’re two days into Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. To put things mildly, not every NHL team has approached Phase 2 in the same way. Considering the protocols for opening things up, plenty haven’t gotten the puck rolling just yet.

This post aims to round up some of the perspectives from players who have gotten the chance to get back a bit, though. Please note that this isn’t a comprehensive list of every team back in action for Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

Matt Benning on the Oilers skating

One curious question is: how long does it take to shake off the rust. Considering that the NHL is still trying to hash out details for training camps (aka Phase 3), the answer appears subjective.

“If I’m off the ice for two days, it feels like I’ve never skated in my life before, so three months was a little bit nerve-wracking …” Oilers defenseman Matt Benning said.

Benning noted that it takes different players different amounts of time to get used to edgework and other skating factors. But it sounds like Benning specifically sits in the “more the merrier” camp. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

If you need a moment of zen, enjoy this footage of the Oilers beginning Phase 2:

*refreshed Ahhhhh*

Tavares doing Tavares things early in NHL Phase 2

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares is known for being something of a thinking man’s hockey star. Sometimes that drive can manifest itself in ways that are … honestly, kind of nerdy.

Tavares told reporters including TSN’s Karen Shilton that he quickly decided to start taping his sticks at home to get the most out of his time.

“There’s a pretty big-time crunch on being in the arena; you only have about 45 minutes to an hour to complete your workout and you’ve got about 40 minutes on the ice,” Tavares said. “The windows are fairly small, but the actual work we’re able to get in is going to go a long way in helping us prepare and get ready. The intensity is there.”

Shilton notes that Tavares is skating in a group with Jack Campbell, Cody Ceci, Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, and Jake Muzzin.

Josh Bailey among Islanders getting back to skating at facility

Bailey joined Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Thomas Greiss for small-group workouts. Bailey admitted feeling some rust, and that there’s no substitute for skating.

There’s also no substitute for family. Bailey acknowledged that the “hub city” system will take some getting used to. At least he’d have his Islanders teammates, though.

“It’ll definitely be different,” Bailey said, via Cory Wright of the Islanders’ website. “No matter how it all comes together, when, how, if, whatever the case may be. It won’t be what we are accustomed to. But when you’re with the team it kind of gives you that feeling of normalcy.”

Plenty still needs to be settled before NHL goes from Phase 2 to Phase 3

Overall, the Phase 2 return to ice seems more like a trickle than a stampede.

For every instance such as Marc-Andre Fleury getting geared up with the Golden Knights, there are players who want to avoid taking risks, or teams facing restrictions.

In some cases, players are able to skate on their own. During an appearance on “Lunch Talk Live,” Blake Wheeler explained that he’s been able to get some reps in with Adam Oates in the Boca Raton area in Florida.

MORE NHL RETURN TO PLAY:

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.

Long-term outlook for Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs long-term outlook Tavares Marner Matthews Nylander Hyman
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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 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Confession time. When I first started scrolling through the Maple Leafs’ forwards at Cap Friendly, I cringed.

Maybe it’s only natural. When you realize that Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander combine for more than $40M per year, it’s reasonable to feel bewildered for a second or two. That’s basically half of their salary cap.

Yet, if you’re going to invest a ton of money in any hockey area, go with star forwards. And while John Tavares awaits the aging curve at 29, Marner and Matthews are only 22, and Nylander’s merely 23.

While GM Kyle Dubas & Co. didn’t leave unscathed, you could say the Maple Leafs are out of the woods. Or … out of the most treacherous woods?

For a team that is so heavily invested in a few forwards, it’s interesting to see quite a bit of medium-term deals for supporting cast players.

You can’t pin that on Lou Lamoriello, either. Dubas retained Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen before hashing things out with Marner. He traded for a goalie with some term in Jack Campbell. Time will tell if it was wise to invest in an extension for Jake Muzzin, who’s already 31. Pierre Engvall and Justin Holl also received some interesting term.

Some significant “Who else will be a part of the core?” questions remain. Things could also change thanks to the cap uncertainty, not to mention the Seattle expansion draft. Still, a lot of the core is in place, and while it isn’t cheap, it’s quite impressive.

Long-term needs for Maple Leafs

Chalk it up to luck or coincidence, but the Maple Leafs don’t face too many big calls during an upcoming offseason thrown out of balance by COVID-19 fallout.

Further down the line, there are some key calls, though. Frederik Andersen, 30, needs a new contract after 2020-21, while Morgan Rielly, 26, awaits a big raise following 2021-22. The Maple Leafs need to find answers to those long-term (mid-term?) questions down the line.

Speaking of down the line, the Maple Leafs must hope that Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren develop into useful defensemen for them. Defense is a big problem for the Maple Leafs, and while (likely departing) Tyson Barrie disappointed, he also did so at a cheap clip of $2.75M. The Maple Leafs want to improve on defense, yet they don’t have a ton of cash to make such improvements, so it would be crucial to get the most out of two blueliners on entry-level contracts. Their respective developments seem pivotal.

Overall, the Maple Leafs need to squeeze every bit of value out of their robust analytics department.

That means finding useful, cheap players, like they did with Jason Spezza. They’ve burned significant draft capital in trades involving Muzzin and Patrick Marleau over the years, so they’ll need to unearth prospects through a mixture of luck and deft scouting.

Considering monetary limitations, they might also need to get used to saying goodbye to players they like, but don’t need. Would it really be wise to bring back Kyle Clifford, for instance?

Long-term strengths for Maple Leafs

Again, the Maple Leafs boast a formidable foundation of young talent thanks to their big three forwards (plus Tavares).

Frankly, their front office now appears to be a long-term strength, in my eyes. Rather than the mixed messages of old-school (Mike Babcock and Lamoriello) battling with Dubas, there’s now a unified viewpoint. Dubas has his analytics team, and he has his coach in Sheldon Keefe.

A more rigid team might panic with, say, Frederik Andersen. Maybe Dubas will make the right moves there, even if it comes down to going with Campbell and someone else instead?

It’s that kind of thinking that could really help Toronto sustain itself even with pricey top-end players. There’s already some promise, also, in seeing solid scouting. While placing 21st on Scott Wheeler’s Prospect Rankings (sub required) isn’t world-beating stuff, it’s not bad considering how many picks the Buds shipped off in trying to rise to that next level.

Of course, for Dubas & Co. to be a long-term strength, they need to remain in place for some time, and that might hinge on the Maple Leafs making short-term gains. Considering the teams in front of them in the Atlantic, that won’t be easy.

There’s a lot to like for Toronto … but is there enough? We’ll find out — eventually.

MORE ON THE MAPLE LEAFS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 36-25-9 (70 games), third in the Atlantic Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Auston Matthews – 80 points – (47 goals and 33 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Acquire Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings for Trevor Moore, a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 conditional third-round pick.
• Traded Aaron Luchuk and a 2021 conditional sixth-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Max Veronneau.
• Acquire Denis Malgin from the Florida Panthers for Mason Marchment.
• Traded Ben Harpur to the Nashville Predators for Miikka Salomaki.
• Acquired Matt Lorito from the New York Islanders for Jordan Schmaltz.
• Traded Martins Dzierkals to the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
• Acquired Calle Rosen from the Colorado Avalanche for Michael Hutchinson.

Season Overview:

The expectations for the Maple Leafs seemed to be very high in Toronto coming into the season. It wasn’t so much about what they’d do in the regular season as much as it was about finally making a deep run in the postseason. But things got scary at different times during the year.

There were nights in the middle of the season where the Leafs weren’t sitting in a playoff spot. Despite having offensive stars like Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, Toronto still couldn’t climb any higher than third in the division.

Tavares and Matthews is a solid one-two punch down the middle, but it seems like they miss Nazem Kadri. Yes, he crossed the line at critical times, but they didn’t replace him after he was moved.

Even with Kadri out of the picture, offense clearly wasn’t an issue with the Leafs. Defense, on the other hand, continues to be a major issue for this team. The Leafs’ number one defenseman, Morgan Rielly, missed an extended period of time, Jake Muzzin brought some stability to the unit, but the Tyson Barrie acquisition was a flop.

Starting netminder Frederik Andersen had to mask a lot of his defense’s warts. The 30-year-old has a 29-13-7 record with a 2.85 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage this season. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but he was forced to play a lot of hockey. He was on pace to play 61 games and he missed four games with a neck injury in February.

Again, what happened during the regular season wasn’t going matter unless the Leafs missed the playoffs entirely. It’s all about what they can do in the postseason. Are they able to get by Tampa Bay in the first round and Boston in the second round? It’s entirely possible, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them lose in the first round either.

The big issue for general manager Kyle Dubas is that he won’t be able to make his team better because they’re tight against the salary cap. To add someone, they’ll have to subtract someone. That’s not always easy to do.

Highlight of the Season: 

Putting a David Ayres highlight here would’ve been mean-spirited.

But how about we go with a another game between Toronto and Carolina. This one happened on Dec. 23, 2019. Toronto built up a 3-0 lead, fell behind 5-3 and eventually won, 8-6. That’s a 2019-20 Maple Leafs game if ever we’ve seen one. Throw defense out the window.

MORE MAPLE LEAFS:
2019-20 surprises, disappointments

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.

Los Angeles Kings: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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 surprises and disappointments for the Los Angeles Kings.

Even-strength improvement, winning streak rank as biggest surprises for Kings

For a significant chunk of the season, the Kings lingered as sneaky-competent based on their respectable-to-strong underlying stats.

Making that argument in April ended up being a lot easier than advancing it in, say, February. The Kings ended the season/entered the halt on a seven-game winning streak, the longest remaining active one in the NHL.

No doubt, the Kings dug themselves far too big of a hole to make that streak anything more than a curiosity. Still, seeing that snakebitten team rattle off that run ranked as one of their biggest surprises. Well, among the pleasant ones at least.

(Kings fans likely found it a pleasant surprise to see the Sharks and Ducks also far out of the playoff picture this season, by the way.)

Not much help for Kopitar

Credit Anze Kopitar with scoring more points (62) during this paused season than he did in leading the Kings last year (60). It becomes more impressive when you realize that Kopitar scored 19 more points than the team’s second-leading scorer (Alex Iafallo, 43), and that IaFallo was the only other King to reach 40+ points.

(Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty tied for third with 35 points, while Tyler Toffoli had 34 before being traded to Vancouver.)

Any hope that Ilya Kovalchuk might enjoy a clean slate in 2019-20 quickly evaporated. Seeing Kovalchuk seem semi-revitalized in other locales pointed to a possible scoring malaise for Los Angeles, if the stats didn’t already make that obvious.

The Kings needed to work harder than other teams to score. One could often see that effort in those formidable fancy stats, but the standings argued that this rebuild remains justified.

For Kopitar’s sake, here’s hoping he still has some gas left in the tank for whenever that rebuild accelerates.

Quick failing to rebound among biggest disappointments for Kings

Jonathan Quick suffered through a disastrous 2018-19 season. That said, so did almost all of his Kings teammates.

In 2019-20, Quick couldn’t blame his fellow Kings so easily. After suffering through a horrendous .888 save percentage in 2018-19, Quick lifted his numbers … to basically the level of a backup. His stats don’t look much better when you try to correct for context, such as Evolving Hockey’s Goals Saved Above Expectation, as visualized by Charting Hockey:

You can wedge a pleasant surprise under the subheading of Kings goaltending, though.

Jack Campbell didn’t enjoy much better luck than Quick this season. Despite that, the Kings managed to extract a decent trade package from the Maple Leafs for Campbell (and Kyle Clifford).

I’m not sure you’d consider the Kings committing reasonably well to a rebuild a surprise. If so, consider that one of their biggest positive surprises of 2019-20, though. There’s some hope for what the Kings are (re)building.

Getting a strong trade return for Quick seems less and less likely to be a part of said rebuilding efforts, though.

MORE ON THE KINGS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings.

2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

Record: 29-35-6 (64 points in 70 games), seventh in the Pacific Division, second-worst in West
Leading Scorer: Anze Kopitar – 62 points (21 goals and 41 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

After exceeding expectations in 2017-18, the Kings crashed to earth in 2018-19. Jarringly so, to many of us.

If you look at the Kings’ place in the standings alone, you’d probably assume that 2019-20 represents the team settling into the new normal. To some extent, that’s true. In the grand scheme of things, every time the Kings make an overture toward rebuilding, they’re likely being smart.

But unlike a lot of other cellar dwellers, the Kings actually held their own by many measures. The Kings ranked somewhere between respectable to downright impressive in analytics terms. Take, for instance, how solid Los Angeles looks in Charting Hockey’s Shot Shares chart, which uses data from Evolving Hockey:

Not bad for a team that sits second-worst in the Western Conference, right?

Through their Stanley Cup-contending years, the Kings hogged the puck but sometimes struggled to finish. Such a formula worked well during their postseason runs.

This version of the Kings is a weakened form of that, but if you squint, you could see glimpses of those former glories. Not enough to win a meaningful number of games. And, no, certainly not to the point that you’d want to sabotage their rebuild.

Yet it’s amusing that the bounces finally started to go the Kings’ way as 2019-20 came to a halt.

Highlight of the Season

How could it be anything other than rattling off a baffling seven-game winning streak to “end” their season?

Indeed, as 2019-20 ended, the Kings’ winning streak was far and away the longest active streak in the NHL.

The Kings authored a decent larger stretch, too, going 10-2-1 in 13 games from Feb. 12 – March 11.

That home-heavy stretch cemented that, if nothing else, they were pesky at home. The Kings ended up 19-13-2 in Los Angeles this season, versus 10-22-4 on the road.

Upsetting the Avalanche in their 2020 Stadium Series game ranks as a highlight for the 2019-20 Kings, too.

MORE ON THE KINGS:

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.