Joonas Donskoi

NHL suspends Rangers’ Lemieux for two games

6 Comments

NEW YORK — New York Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux has been suspended by the NHL for the first two games of the team’s preliminary-round series against Carolina because of an illegal check that injured Colorado forward Joonas Donskoi in March.

The league’s department of player safety announced the suspension Monday, four months after holding a hearing with Lemieux. The NHL waited until return to play guidelines were in place before making a ruling.

The suspension means Lemieux will miss the first two games of the Rangers’ best-of-five series against Carolina, which opens in Toronto on Aug. 1. He will be eligible to play in New York’s exhibition game against the New York Islanders on July 29.

Lemieux was suspended for a late and blindside hit on Donskoi in the final minutes of regulation of the Rangers 3-2 overtime loss at Colorado on March 11. Donskoi entered the Rangers zone and cut into the middle, where he got off a shot on net before being struck from the side by Lemieux.

Replays showed Lemieux led with his shoulder and caught Donskoi on the left side of the head, while the player was looking forward. Donskoi did not return due to a head injury, and would have likely missed several games had the season not been paused a day later because of the pandemic.

Lemieux received a two-minute penalty for interference.

NHL Training Camp News: Domi returns; Lemieux finally suspended

When the Canadiens hit the ice on Monday they were joined by Max Domi. The forward, who is a Type 1 diabetic, had not taken part in Phase 3 after it was decided they would take time to make a decision if he would participate.

Head coach Claude Julien said Domi is on board to play, but complications could arise given his situation.

“He’s back, but we know that anything can happen,” Julien said. “If there’s something that comes up that would put him at risk, he can leave again.

“For now, it was a good first day for him. He figured out quickly that the pace was pretty good for a team that’s only been practicing for a week. It was good to see him out there, and he seemed very upbeat and very encouraged by the fact that we have a group that’s healthy.”

Also at Habs camp today, goaltender Michael McNiven took a Shea Weber slap shot to the mask. Ouch.

Julien said McNiven suffered a cut on his face but did not have a headache or any other injury.

Lemieux finally suspended

It’s been 129 days since Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux had his hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for interfering with the Sharks’ Joonas Donskoi. On Monday, he finally learned his fate as the league announced a two-game suspension.

Lemieux will be able to play in New York’s lone exhibition game on July 29, but will have to miss Games 1 and 2 of their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against Carolina.

Ferland inches closer to return

Concussions limited Micheal Ferland to only 14 games during the regular season. When the Canucks opened training camp opened last week the forward was deemed “unfit to play.”

But there Ferland was taking part in Sunday’s scrimmage with the team’s main group. A sign that he’s closer to returning.

“I’m feeling really good and looking forward to a couple of scrimmages and getting my cardio and game shape better,” he said before the game. “It’s obviously different in practice, but I’m ready to go. It’s just the stimulation. Seeing a bunch of bodies moving around and going at full speed. That’s what I need. “I need to re-wire my vestibular system and get out there with full pace and contact.”

Canucks head coach Travis Green is eager to see how Ferland progresses, leaving the door open for him to be part of the line up when they take on the Wild.

“If he’s ready to go, it’s another body we have to take into consideration,” Green said. “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions. The next couple of weeks are going to be important for a lot of guys, It’s no secret we signed [Ferland] for these type of games when things get heated. His physical presence is well known.”

Crosby remains out for Penguins

The Penguins captain was again absent on Monday as the team held an intrasquad scrimmage. Head coach Mike Sullivan gave the usual “unable to comment” answer when asked about Crosby’s status.

Meanwhile, the nine players who were held out at the beginning of training camp were cleared to join the team for Phase 3. Those players had been sidelined after possible secondary exposure to a person who had contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.

“We chose to give them an opportunity to get a couple of days of skating amongst themselves, first and foremost, before they rejoin the group,” Sullivan said. “We thought it made the most sense to give them a couple of days of an opportunity to skate and get their legs underneath them.”

Coaching in empty arenas

One interesting thing about playing hockey in rinks with no fans is the communication between players, and between players and coaches. A coach shouting directions to his team will likely be heard by everyone, as opposed to a normal situation where maybe it’s heard by those closest to the bench.

How does one adjust to that new kind of setting?

“There aren’t that many secrets,” said Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer. “Everyone’s got four guys on the bench and usually one guy on the other bench is watching your bench anyway. We’ll have to get creative with some of the stuff we’re trying to put in at different points.”

Brind’Amour using camp to “sharpen the blade”

As the Hurricanes continue preparing for the Rangers, there’s plenty of work to do after a four month break.

“I’d like to get sharp,” said head coach Brind’Amour. “I think we’ve covered a lot of stuff but it’s the sharpness. I think we’ve got to sharpen the blade.”

One area bolstered due to all the time off has been the blue line. Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen are healthy and Brady Skjei is getting more time to fit in following the February trade.

“We have a great, deep D corps right now,” said defenseman Jaccob Slavin via the News and Observer. “Through the playoffs, anything can happen and you see injuries happen and you see some guys get hot and some guys get cold. To have eight guys is going to be extremely helpful. It’s a deep corps and anybody can step into almost any role and play that.”

Anderson on ice

Josh Anderson was a surprise face at Blue Jackets practice on Sunday. The forward had shoulder surgery in March and still needs to be cleared for contact.

If Anderson can return at some point during the Stanley Cup Qualifier series against Toronto — or later on if they advance — that will be a big boost to their group up front.

“Although the break, no one really wanted this to happen, it certainly helped this team getting guys healthy,” head coach John Tortorella said. “We’re excited about that opportunity to play with a full team.”

MORE:
Two COVID-19 positive tests during  first week of NHL camps
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule
Teams hit hardest by flat $81.5M salary cap

————

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.

Roundtable: NHL Training Camp storylines; teams helped by break

2 Comments

What’s the biggest thing you’ll be keeping an eye on over these three weeks of training camp?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: To me, it boils down to: which teams are closest to “full-strength.” That’s a simple thought, but it gets more complicated when you factor in a lack of transparency in the NHL. “Unfit to play” is becoming the new “lower-body injury.” Does unfit to play mean injured, infected, both? Just a day off? Good luck getting many concrete answers from NHL teams. Or, if we do, does that mean every cagey answer equates to mistruths being told?

None of this is especially fun to follow, but it’s the elephant in the room. It might even just be the entire room, elephant, furniture, backwards talking and all.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The biggest thing to keep an eye on in the next three weeks is the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the NHL. I think there will be a few before the teams head into the two hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto and then it will just be a matter of controlling the infection rate among the rest of the player’s teammates. It will be more interesting once the players get to their bubble in their respective hub cities and if there are any cases after being in the bubble 14 days.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The foremost concern for me surrounds whether the 24 teams will be able to successfully transition from their home cities to the two bubbles, such that the Return to Play can proceed safely come August 1. Only time will tell there.

But in the meantime, one thing that’s got my interest early on in training camp is the young talent that, because of the hiatus and the expanded rosters, could be poised to make a big splash. Nick Robertson has made a strong impression early in Leafs camp; imagine if the 18-year-old, who scored 55 goals in junior this season, brought that offensive flair to Toronto’s lineup right away? Or if Peyton Krebs, one year after partially tearing his Achilles and falling in the draft because of it, could somehow earn playing time on the Cup-contending Vegas Golden Knights? The league is full of talented young stars, and we may get to see that list grow in this unique postseason environment.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I’m curious about how coaches facing goalie decisions will plan for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. If you’re Mike Sullivan, and you’re confident in both Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray, do you think of your Game 1 starter as the one you’ll ride with or in a game-by-game situation? Since the Qualifiers are best-of-five, there’s very little room for error, so if you’re a team like the Penguins, Rangers, Flames, Golden Knights, among others, how short is the leash if your Game 1 starter struggles?

Getty Images

Which teams benefited the most from the four-month break?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: My first instinct was to pick the Penguins, the perennially-injured powerhouse. The health issue moves the goalposts constantly, but actually got me to thinking more broadly.

It’s not just teams that are getting healthier since the pandemic pause. It also might be helpful for familiarity.

The Golden Knights and Maple Leafs rank among teams that made midseason coaching changes, so all that time off and training camps could really help new coaches.

So now I lean toward the Penguins (if they can shake off their outbreak) and the Maple Leafs, who were both unhealthy and dealing with tumultuous times. Of course, both the Penguins and Maple Leafs could get bounced during the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, so we’ll see how much any of that matters.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/EditorAny team that had a long-term injury will benefit from the break. Carolina got Dougie Hamilton back, while Pittsburgh added Jake Guentzel and Columbus welcomed Seth Jones and Oliver Bjorkstrand back. Tampa Bay should get Steven Stamkos back in time for the first round of the playoffs.

But the team benefiting the most are the Colorado Avalanche. At the time of the pause, Colorado had seven regulars out of the lineup including Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Andre Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Matt Calvert. While most likely would have returned in time for the playoffs in April, the Avs are healthy and are now considered one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’m in agreement with everyone else regarding teams that have had the opportunity to get healthy. So to offer another perspective, I’m going to off the board and say Florida. For starters, they faced an uphill battle to make the top eight in the East, so for a talented team with plenty of expectations, the new format obviously gave them a break. And perhaps the hiatus gave two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky the opportunity to move on from what had been a highly disappointing year. His GAA in the regular season was 3.23 – fourth-worst in the league. Bob is capable of shaving a full goal off that, but even with a more modest improvement, the Panthers would still become a much bigger threat. If he gets hot, watch out.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The Blue Jackets were already going to be underdogs against the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers round. We know how much John Tortorella loves to play that card any time he can. Now, with a four-month break, Columbus is just about healthy, though they will miss Josh Anderson. Getting Seth Jones and Oliver Bjorkstrand back will help both sides of the ice, as will Cam Atkinson, who dealt with an ankle injury during the regular season.

Columbus-Toronto was already was one the series I was most looking forward to, and a healthy Blue Jackets roster will help move this matchup into the “potential upset” column.

MORE:
2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule
NHL salary cap to stay flat at $81.5M

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche

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 Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado Avalanche

Record: 42-20-8 (70 games), second in the Central Division
Leading Scorer: Nathan MacKinnon 93 points (35 goals and 58 assists)

In-season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Michael Hutchinson from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Calle Rosen.
• Traded a 2021 fourth-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for Vladislav Namestnikov.

Season Overview: 

Last season, the Avs were a young team that did some damage in the playoffs when they upset the number one seed, the Calgary Flames, in the opening round of the postseason.This year, there were higher expectations for them.

Despite having to deal with a number of different key injuries, the Avalanche have found a way to stay in the mix for the Central Division crown. That’s impressive when you consider the fact that Gabriel Landeskog missed more than month with a lower-body injury. Also, Mikko Rantanen missed two long stretches (he was on injured reserve at the time of the pause). Nazem Kadri missed 19 games of his own and the list goes on and on.

Of course, most of the heavy lifting offensively was done by MacKinnon, who had accumulated 93 points in just 69 games. His impressive combination of skill and speed are tough to beat. There’s no doubt that he’s in the mix for the Hart Trophy this year.

The emergence of rookie defender Cale Makar has also helped take the Avs to another level this year. The 21-year-old is averaging a shade over 21 minutes of ice time per game and he’s picked up 12 goals and 50 points in 57 contests. Rookie of the year? He was definitely one of the two main contenders for the award.

General manager Joe Sakic also found a way to surround his stars with some solid depth players. Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare have all been nice fits on their new team. The Kadri acquisition also helped solidify things down the middle.

The biggest question mark heading into the season was goaltending. But the duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz have held up.

Grubauer, who was expected to be the starter heading into the year, has missed significant time due to injury. In his absence, Francouz has done a really good job, as he owns a 21-7-4 record with a 2.41 goals-against-average and a .923 save percentage.

Whether we see a conclusion to the 2019-20 season or not is almost irrelevant for the Avs. They’re not one of those teams that will fade next season. This is a group with a young nucleus that should compete for quite a while.

Highlight of the Season: 

There were a lot of positive moments for the Avs, but Jan. 2, 2020 has to be right up there with the best of them.

Not only did the Avs beat the defending champion St. Louis Blues, they made a statement. Colorado built up a 3-0 lead, but the score was 3-2 heading into the third frame. That’s when they turned on the afterburners and left the Blues in the dust.

They scored three more times in the third frame and beat St. Louis, 7-3. MacKinnon had four points.

They went on to beat the Blues again less than a month later.

MORE:
• Avs’ biggest surprises, disappointments this season
Long-term outlook

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.