Aleksander Barkov started his hockey life as a 4-year-old for the Tappara club in his hometown of Tampere, Finland.
Two decades later, Barkov is investing in his roots.
The Florida Panthers captain has become the third-largest investor in the Tappara club, a deal that was announced Thursday. The exact amount he paid for his ownership share was not disclosed.
“This is a huge step for me and a big honor to become an owner of the team where I grew up,” Barkov said. “Obviously, if somebody wants to be an owner in the NHL you need to have a lot more money than I have right now. But this a big step for me and obviously like I’m new at this thing, so I’m going to learn every day.”
The news of the investment comes as Barkov and the Panthers are slowly ramping up for their return to the ice sometime this summer, as one of the 24 teams that will take part in the resumption of the NHL season. When play resumes, the Panthers will face the New York Islanders in a best-of-five series.
Barkov was one of the first Panthers back on the practice ice when facilities could reopen for small groups of players. He said the Panthers’ medical staff has taken precautions to minimize risks and that he feels safe being on the ice and in small groups of skaters again.
“For me, the Stanley Cup playoffs are everything,” Barkov said. “I would not leave my bed and just go to games and practices just to play in the playoffs and try to win a Stanley Cup. This is what I live for and this is what we live for as a team. We want to win and we’re going to do everything it takes.”
Barkov has 20 goals and 42 assists in 66 games this season with the Panthers, those 62 points making him Florida’s second-highest scorer behind Jonathan Huberdeau‘s 78.
NHL Return to Play: A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
With the NHL’s Return to Play announcement on Tuesday, we learned the eight Qualifying Round matchups if play is to resume in a few months. We also learned that the top four teams in each conference will play to determine seeding for the First Round.
For the Eastern Conference, the winners of each Qualifying Round will go on to face one of Boston, Tampa, Washington, or Philadelphia.
Now that we know the teams, let’s take an overview of the four Eastern Conference matchups.
At the time of the March 12 pause the Penguins were sitting in a playoff spot, four points behind the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division lead. The Canadiens, on the other hand, would be enjoying their off-season if we had the traditional 16-team playoff format.
How rough of a regular season was it for the Habs? Out of their 71 games played, they only won 19 in regulation. They were one of the league’s top possession teams (54% Fenwick, per Natural Stat Trick) but it was their own end of the ice where the issues popped up. Montreal was middle of the pack at 5-on-5 goals against (142) and shots against (1,710), save percentage (.917), and were bottom-10 in shooting percentage (7.49%).
The Canadiens experienced two eight-game losing streaks, a five-game skid, and went into the break losing 10 of their last 14 games. Pittsburgh also would be coming off a big-time slide having lost eight of their last 11 games. A several-month pause could certainly help break such a skid.
It was also a season of injury for the Penguins. Pittsburgh is currently third with 298 man-games lost to injury or illness, per ManGamesLost.com. Only seven players have played at least 60 games. But, in line with their season, one of those players, Dominik Simon, injured his shoulder in February and will be out at least six months following surgery.
Penguins lead season series 2-1-0. Last meeting: Feb., 14; a 4-1 Penguins victory.
Injured players who could return
Jake Guentzel suffered a shoulder injury in late December and was ruled out for 4-6 months. Should play resume in late July/early August that could be enough time to mend for the Penguins forward. Zach Aston-Reese, Brian Dumoulin, and Nick Bjugstad were all injured players who returned just before the pause. Unfortunately for Bjugstad, GM Jim Rutherford said on Wednesday the forward underwent an undisclosed surgery this week and will be out the rest of the season.
This will be a series featuring a team that dealt with major injuries seemingly every week, yet remained in contention for the division lead against one that has dealt with consistency issues. It’s a short series, so we know a hot goalie can steal games, which brings us to…
Carey Price, who became the focal point of a storyline about the Penguins fearing him in a short series, hasn’t been his usual dangerous self. He’s 32nd in even strength save percentage this season among goalies with 1,000 minutes played (.919) and 32nd in goals saved above average (.27). Why would Mike Sullivan’s team be scared of that?
(6) Hurricanes vs. (11) Rangers
Regular season recap
It was a tight race at the bottom of the Metro as well as for one of the East’s two wild card places. The Hurricanes played 68 games and earned 81 points, putting them in the top wild card spot with two games in-hand on the Rangers, who were two points behind Carolina.
New York is in the middle of a franchise transition rather than the tear-it-down approach to rebuilding. They’ve brought in youth to mix in with prime-age veterans and it resulted in a good step forward. There are plenty of decisions to be made in the off-season, but GM Jeff Gorton’s moves have set the team up well. Artemi Panarin is a Hart Trophy candidate, Mika Zibanejad scored a career high 41 goals, as did pending restricted free agent defenseman Tony DeAngelo (15 goals, 53 points). Chris Kreider, who was nearly dealt at the trade deadline before signing a seven-year extension, hit 20 goals for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Rookie Adam Fox, whose signing rights were traded from Carolina to the Rangers last summer, played his way into the Calder Trophy discussion with 42 points.
The Hurricanes were one of two NHL teams to vote against the Return to Play proposal. Player rep Jordan Martinook said the reason was because they felt it was unfair for a team already in a playoff spot to have an extra round to participate in. Carolina headed into the break with a three-game winning streak and were feeling confident about their final 14 games.
Whatever goaltender the Rangers play will be busy. The Hurricanes fired 300 more even strength shots on goal than New York. They’ll also be tasked with facing a tough offense with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov leading the way. Carolina likes to dominate possession, but like Montreal, their own zone tends to be where the issues develop. Their goaltender has been sub-par, leading to a .912 5-on-5 save percentage despite 1,549 shots allowed at even strength, fewest in the NHL.
Rangers lead series 0-4-0. Last meeting: Feb., 21; a 5-2 Rangers victory.
Chris Kreider fractured his foot on Feb. 28, but he should have enough healing and rehab time for a return to the lineup.
He wasn’t injured, but the Rangers will likely be without Brendan Lemieux for some portion of the series. The forward was suspended after the NHL pause for an undetermined amount of time. There will be clarity on that before games resume.
Storylines to watch
Is this the Adam Fox Bowl? Maybe the Brady Skjei Series? Whatever angle you go with, this is a divisional matchup with two teams believing in their bright futures. Part of the next generation for New York is goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who returned from injuries sustained in a car accident just before the pause. Will head coach David Quinn go with him in goal ahead of Alexandar Georgiev or Henrik Lundqvist, who has made one start since Feb. 3?
Neither team entered the break in a traditional playoff position, but they weren’t far off the pace. The Islanders were one point back of Columbus for the second wild card spot, while Florida sat three points behind the Blue Jackets.
Under new head coach Joel Quenneville, Florida remained on the playoff bubble, but one wonders how much further up the standings they would be if Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million deal in the summer, played better than his .900 even strength save percentage. Could he steal a short series? Sure, but his .904 career playoff save percentage doesn’t instill much confidence.
If we’re still counting losing streaks, the Islanders would enter a resumption in play on a seven-game losing skid. That slide goes back to mid-February as they won just twice in their last 13 games and have six total victories since Jan. 11. They lost a comfortable playoff position and found themselves fighting for a wild card place in a competitive Metro.
That 17-game point streak earlier in the season seems forever ago.
Veteran Andy Greene was added to help a defense that hasn’t been what you’d expect from a Barry Trotz team in 2019-20. Only Ottawa has allowed more even strength shots on goal and the Islanders have allowed the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances. That’s a big change from the team that swept the Penguins out of Round 1 a year ago.
The Panthers own the possession advantage here (50% Fenwick to 47%, per Natural Stat Trick) and have converted more 5-on-5 chances with an edge in shooting percentage at 9%. A huge factor will be in net with Bobrovsky against Semyon Varlamov. The Islanders netminder has a .921 ESSV% vs. a .903 for Bob. If New York, who has scored the third-fewest 5-on-5 goals among the Return to Play teams, can get their offense going, it could spell trouble for Florida.
(8) Maple Leafs vs. (9) Blue Jackets
Regular season recap
The Maple Leafs offense is potent, as we saw through 70 games. Auston Matthews put home 47 goals, followed by William Nylander‘s 31 and John Tavares‘ 26. Their top two lines are dangerous, but their goaltending will be among their biggest questions.
Frederik Andersen‘s .915 ESSV% puts him near the bottom among goaltenders with at least 1,000 minutes played. He had to play a lot of hockey given Toronto’s backup issues. Maybe the extra time off will allow him to get his game back? Consider his likely counterpart, Elvis Merzlikis, who posted a .931 in 32 games played. Or if John Tortorella could go with Joonas Korpisalo, who put up a .926 in 37 games.
Columbus was among the lowest scoring teams at 5-on-5, with 125 goals compared to that of Toronto’s 158. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though, as the Blue Jackets were right behind the Maple Leafs with 1,837 EV shots. Converting was the issue, as seen by their 6.8 shooting percentage. Even if Andersen isn’t on his game, Toronto can overcome that with a smothering offense.
The pause could allow the Blue Jackets to get healthy as their 352 man-games lost to injury led the NHL. Already dealing with the loss of Panarin and Bobrovsky in free agency, Columbus didn’t lose faith in their ability and persisted, even as players were being added to the injury list on a regular basis.
Maple Leafs have a regulation victory. Blue Jackets have an overtime win. Last meeting: Oct. 21; a 4-3 Columbus OT win.
On one hand you have a Blue Jackets team that was battered all season long, fighting for a playoff spot despite losing their two biggest stars in the summer. They surprised many and really played with a chip on their shoulders all season long.
On the other hand, there’s a chance that if Toronto win they could face the Bruins for the third-straight season — and we all know how much Maple Leafs fans love seeing Boston in the playoffs.
With the NHL just announcing how Phase 2 will work — but not even exactly when it will start — the NHL has a long way to go before a 24-team playoff format might actually happen. That “long way to go” part gives us a lot of time to mull over different possibilities, though. So let’s mull, then.
A lot must still be determined, but if everything holds, there will be eight “play-in” series (four per conference, featuring the 5th through 12th seeds). Each series would include a best-of-five format.
So which of those current, play-in series would be the best? Which would brim with drama, even with fans relegated to watch at home? Let’s rank them. You can also see the proposed 24-team NHL playoff format at the bottom of this post.
1. Penguins vs. Canadiens
Look, it’s true that there’s a lot of evidence that the Carey Price players imagine has not been the Carey Price players actually face most nights over the past, say, three years.
The actual, not just imagined, hockey would really sell it. Even with a more defensive bent at times in 2019-20, the Penguins remain one of the league’s most electric teams. Sometimes that electricity stems from the static energy of making mistakes. For all of the Canadiens’ flaws, they are the sort of smaller, speedy, skilled team that might carry upset potential during these uncertain times. Montreal boasts the possession numbers of a viable team, too.
Maybe Shea Weber can shoot a puck through a net and make us forget about the state of the world for at least a few moments?
Bonus points if this would set the stage for the Penguins facing the Flyers, who currently stand as the East’s fourth seed.
In a macro sense, there are some parallels between the way the teams are built, too. McDavid and Draisaitl often feel the burden of carrying not-so-balanced Oilers teams. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are a very top-heavy, deeply flawed team. But their top players are dangerous.
Corey Crawford‘s quietly strong finish to 2019-20 sprinkles in some extra intrigue as well.
If nothing else, this could be messy-but-fun.
3. Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets
Sometimes you stick to star power. Other times, you subsist on the potential for soap opera drama.
On one side, you have the explosive Maple Leafs, whose explosiveness can backfire. The media will seize on any of their stumbles, and this talented team nonetheless gives critics plenty to chew on.
On the other, you have John Tortorella, who basically has a quota for dramatic press conferences. The NHL basically owes us some controversial calls to leave Torts fuming. It’s basically an unwritten right for us hockey fans. Don’t let us down during this play-in series, then, NHL.
The contrast between a defensive-minded team and an explosive offense can let us olds rattle off “irresistible force vs. immovable object” references if we really feel saucy.
Speaking of saucy, it’s possible the Maple Leafs would go on to face the (gulp) Bruins.
4. Flames vs. Jets
If this happened a year earlier, it might take the top spot. Both teams have fallen quite a bit, though, making this a series where you wonder if they can reclaim past magic.
From an actual hockey standpoint, this series might deserve a better spot on the list.
5. Hurricanes vs. Rangers
You have to assume that the Hurricanes will come up with some sort of viral sensation, right? They’ll stumble upon something.
Luckily, the Hurricanes can back up that sizzle with the steak of good hockey. Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho also give Carolina more star power than most might realize.
All of that aside, it will be tough to resist this becoming “The Artemi Panarin Show.” He generated justified Hart Trophy hype, and the Rangers were finishing pretty strong this season.
(I’m admittedly artificially boosting this on the hope that we’ll get one last Rangers playoff run from Henrik Lundqvist, by the way.)
6. Canucks vs. Wild
I’m not sure the hockey world has totally clued in to how great Elias Pettersson is. The play-in for the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs seem like a great opportunity to see the light.
7. Predators vs. Coyotes
There’s no way we can sneak P.K. Subban back onto the Predators for entertaining purposes, is there? (*Puts hand to imaginary earpiece*) It appears there is no way.
These two teams can play some high-quality hockey when they’re on. For all of Nashville’s headaches, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were incredible this season. Maybe Pekka Rinne can get back on track, and create a memorable goalie duel with Darcy Kuemper? (Kuemper deserves more credit for his elite work from the past two seasons.)
Even with no Subban, there are players to watch. How might Taylor Hall perform with a lot to prove, and his next contract hovering? Will Phil Kessel rebound, or at least amuse us?
8. Islanders vs. Panthers
As much as people might want to replay John Tavares‘ series-clinching goal (it ruled), that clip might honestly bother both Panthers and Islanders fans at this point.
*cough* And yet I must …
There’s not really much of a rivalry here, yet even as the eighth-ranked NHL play-in series, it’s not that hard to find reasons to get excited.
Can the Islanders contain an explosive Panthers offense starring Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov? Maybe Sergei Bobrovsky can get his mojo back after a wildly disappointing first Florida foray? Joel Quenneville vs. Barry Trotz is kind of fun. And, really, take any excuse you can to witness the splendor of Mathew Barzal.
However you rank the NHL’s potential play-in series, the odds are strong that you’ll get some fun hockey. Will it be strange to watch it without fans? Sure, but the talent and intrigue might just make it all work.
Brushing up on the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff format, including play-in series
As a reminder, here’s how it might look, and what we’re basing the play-in series upon.
ROUND 1 BYES
vs. — Winner plays No. 4 seed
vs. — Winner plays No. 3 seed
vs. — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(8) Maple Leafs
vs. — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets
ROUND 1 BYES
vs. — Winner plays No. 4 seed
vs. — Winner plays No. 3 seed
vs. — Winner plays No. 2 seed
For a long time, agents in the NHL and other sports were demonized, often to the advantage of ownership. As many fans have started to realize a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, such viewpoints have become more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that agents can express their message — and their clients’ perspectives — more freely over social media.
NHL agent poll provides optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout
Puck Pedia polled 25 top NHL agents in late January to early February, so COVID-19 issues aren’t really touched upon. As they mentioned, it’s possible that the pandemic might push certain opinions a bit, but for the most part, I’d agree that these results are still worth mulling over.
Maybe the most important one is that 80 percent of NHL agents polled believe that there won’t be a 2022 lockout.
Reports indicate that the NHL and NHLPA underwent some CBA extension/new CBA talks amid the pause. So, to some extent, this shouldn’t be surprising.
Still, I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say that any positive lockout-avoidance talk remains good news. It probably always will be after 2004-05 was scuttled, and 2012-13 was shortened.
Other issues the poll covers
When it came to viewpoints on specific GMs, one former and one current Toronto Maple Leafs GM represented polar opposites.
Thirty three percent of NHL agents in the poll chose Lou Lamoriello as the most difficult GM to work with. Meanwhile, when asked about a GM you’d want to work with to get a great deal for a client, Kyle Dubas received 29 percent of votes. The closest GM behind Lamoriello was Bob Murray at 14 percent, while Dubas topped the other list by an even more dramatic margin (no other GM exceeded six percent).
As Puck Pedia notes, recency bias likely inflates Dubas. Recency bias surfaces in plenty of polls like these, including for players. (Though you won’t see players changing their minds about, say, Carey Price or Drew Doughty too quickly, either.)
But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Maple Leafs fans will grit their teeth at this. After all, you can spin that in a pretty negative way.
On the negative side, it was surprising to see Erik Karlsson garner more votes than, say, Sergei Bobrovsky. From a recency bias perspective, maybe absence made hearts grow fonder about David Clarkson? (I’m guessing absence made at least an NHL agent or 20 straight-up forget about Clarkson.)
This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN (5-7 p.m. ET) will feature memorable “on this date” games in playoff history.
Trailing the series 3-0, Philadelphia kept its season alive on Simon Gagne’s overtime goal to give Flyers a 5-4 win in Game 4. The victory was the first of four straight wins for Philadelphia, culminating in a historic comeback over the Bruins. The Flyers became just the third team in NHL history at the time to win a series after trailing 3-0.
Joe Beninati and Andy Brickley had the call from Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
The broadcast will feature commentary from Brian Boucher, who was the goaltender for the Flyers in the matchup, and a few of his Flyers teammates.
Thursday, May 7 on NBCSN
• NHL Player Gaming Challenge – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Boston vs. Philadelphia (2010 Round 2, Game 4) – 6 p.m. ET (Live stream)
Sunday, May 10 on NBC
• 2018 Olympics Women’s Gold Medal game: USA vs. Canada – 3 p.m. ET
NHL PLAYER GAMING CHALLENGE – THUR., 5 P.M. ET, NBCSN NBCSN will present the NHL Player Gaming Challenge at 5 p.m. ET, between Arizona vs. Boston. The competition features Clayton Keller and Conor Garland representing the Coyotes against Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins. The month-long initiative will pit NHL players from all 31 clubs facing off against each other in EA Sports NHL 20.
Following the hour-long broadcast at 5 p.m. ET, a matchup between Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers and Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals will be available on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the NBC Sports YouTube channel.
USA-CANADA (2018 OLYMPICS WOMEN’S GOLD MEDAL GAME) – SUN., 3 P.M. ET, NBC Team USA and Canada faced off in the gold medal game at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018. Behind the game-winning shootout goal by Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, the Americans won, 3-2, to claim their second-ever Olympic gold medal. The win also snapped the Canadians’ streak of four straight Olympic titles.
Airing on Mother’s Day, the broadcast will have numerous new elements, including NBC Sports’ NHL host Kathryn Tappen interviewing Team USA captain Meghan Duggan on her memories about the gold medal game and celebrating Mother’s Day as both a mother and as a daughter. NBC’s broadcast will also feature a Mother’s Day tribute essay penned by Mike Emrick, as well as a profile on American forward Hilary Knight, who scored the opening goal for Team USA in the 2018 gold medal game.
Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.