Joonas Donskoi

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Rangers’ Brendan Lemieux to be suspended for hit on Donskoi

The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Friday afternoon that Brendan Lemieux will be suspended for his Wednesday night hit on Joonas Donskoi.

The only twist? We won’t know how long the Rangers forward will sit until the NHL resumes playing games following the coronavirus pandemic.

After Friday’s hearing, the DoPS Tweeted the following:

Following a hearing today, the DOPS has determined that Brendan Lemieux will be suspended for his hit on Joonas Donskoi Wednesday night. The precise parameters of the suspension will be determined and announced once resumption of play guidelines have been established.

Lemieux was called for an interference minor on the Avs forward following a hit up high.

Donskoi did not return to the game.

This isn’t the first time Lemieux has been punished this season. He was fined $2,000 in December for elbowing Golden Knights forward Cody Glass.

MORE:
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Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19
Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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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.

Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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Here we are, into the unknown…

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NHL to put the 2019-20 season on “pause.” When will see hockey again? How will the rest of the season play out? Will the Stanley Cup be awarded? Those are questions that will remain unanswered for the moment.

As we wait for hockey’s return, let’s remember where we left off after Wednesday night’s NHL action.

The standings

The Capitals, Bruins, Blues, and Golden Knights are your four division leaders and the Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Avalanche, Stars, Oilers, and Flames are your No. 2 and No. 3 divisional seeds. Rounding out the playoff picture we have the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Jets, and Predators as the four wild cards.

Eager to find their way into a playoff spot, the Islanders, Rangers, Panthers, Canucks, Wild, and Coyotes are just a few points out.

The NHL could contemplate several options if there’s a timely return to playing games again. 

• The remainder of the season could be played with the beginning of the playoffs being pushed back beyond the original April 8 start date. 

• Cut down from 82 games to something in the 70’s and go from there. 

• End the regular season and use points percentage to determine the 16 playoff teams and seeds.

• Remember all that talk about “play-in” games like the NCAA basketball tournament? If there will not be a resumption of the regular season, teams can play a mini tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.

This situation is obviously very fluid and the NHL is contemplating a range of situations as they hope for a green light to play again.

There is the sense, though, that if the season extends into summer, it won’t affect the start of the 2020-21 schedule. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Sportsnet that he expects 2020-21 to be a “normal season.”

[RELATED: NHL decides to ‘pause’ regular season due to coronavirus]

That Brendan Lemieux hearing

The Rangers forward was scheduled to have a Friday hearing with the Department of Player Safety for his hit on Joonas Donskoi of the Avs.

Will we hear that announcement on Friday? Or will Lemieux have a long wait to not only learn his fate?

UPDATE:

The scoring races

Leon Draisaitl holds a 13-point lead over Oilers teammate Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy:

Leon Draisaitl – 110 points
Connor McDavid – 97
David Pastrnak – 95 
Artemi Panarin – 95
Nathan MacKinnon – 93

Draisaitl is also in the mix for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but is five goals behind David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin, who each have scored 48 this season:

David Pastrnak – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin – 48
Auston Matthews – 47
Leon Draisaitl – 43
Mika Zibanejad – 41

If there was a Gretzky Award for most assists, Draisaitl would have an edge there with 67, four more than McDavid and Artemi Panarin.

Leon Draisaitl – 67 assists
Artemi Panarin – 63
Connor McDavid – 63
John Carlson – 60
Brad Marchand – 59

The draft lottery picture

Here’s where the race to draft Alexis Lafreniere No. 1 overall stands:

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Calgary Flames — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Pierre LeBrun on Friday that a decision on the draft and scouting combine has not been made at this point. He did add, “The only thought to conducting an on-line draft (or one conducted telephonically/technologically) would be if there would be a need to do so.”

The post-lockout 2005 NHL Draft was held in an Ottawa ballroom and featured no fans and only the top 20 prospects in attendance.

Bettman said on Thursday that he “expects” the league to resume at some point and he wants to award the Stanley Cup this season. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday that the league has reached out to teams to get arena availabilities through the end of July as part of preparing for what could happen next.

Then you also have the questions about what to do about free agency and when player contracts expire if the season goes beyond July 1? How is the 2020-21 salary cap, which was expected to rise, affected by this potential hit on revenue?

So many questions, and we don’t know when we’ll have any answers.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19

————

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.

Avalanche hold off Sharks as Colorado keeps close to Blues

The Avalanche were able to hold off a late push from the Sharks to win 4-3 on Sunday.

San Jose received a late opportunity after Evander Kane was struck by a high stick, and while the Sharks narrowed Colorado’s lead, the Avs ultimately won. With that, the Avalanche remain within striking distance behind the Blues (90 to St. Louis’ 92 points) while holding a game in hand.

[Read up on the Blues’ win here]

As is often the case, Colorado’s top guys delivered for the win.

MacKinnon, Landeskog key in Avalanche finding a way to hold off Sharks

Nathan MacKinnon looked especially dangerous while generating one goal and two assists. Gabriel Landeskog matched that production (1G, 2A), too. It’s not easy to push too much optimism about Mikko Rantanen being injured, but if Vladislav Namestnikov (1G, 1A) can fit in with MacKinnon like he once did with Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay, the Avs might be onto something. J.T. Compher also collected two assists, including on Joonas Donskoi‘s game-winner.

To some surprise, the Avalanche have enjoyed strong goaltending this season, even as Philipp Grubauer is on the mend. In Sunday’s case, Pavel Francouz merely needed to survive, getting the win while making 22 out of 25 saves.

If you need to sprinkle in some dopey humor into your Sunday night/Monday, consider that Joe Thornton reached the often unspoken milestone of 420 goals in this loss. The puns, they’ll probably be a little hazy.

Those who observe the Avalanche being powered by the usual suspects may believe that the team hasn’t come that far in 2019-20. On the contrary, they’ve shown quite well in rolling with various punches, and could be quite impressive if Rantanen can return close to full speed.

But, yes, make no mistake about it: MacKinnon is still the high-horsepower engine that still runs this team, and few moments in hockey are as exciting as when he’s in the driver’s seat.

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.

Goaltending surprising strength of this year’s Avalanche team

Avalanche
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche’s rise to the top of the Western Conference is not unexpected.

They have been an emerging superpower for more than a year now given their top-end talent and the salary cap flexibility they had to work with around them. The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog are all stars, with the former being a now yearly MVP contender.

They added to that core over the summer by strengthening their scoring depth with the additions of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Joonas Donskoi, while they also have potential superstar on defense in Cale Makar (and perhaps another one on the way in 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram).

When all of them are healthy (which is kind of a problem right now) it is one of the most impressive and talented rosters in the league.

They enter Sunday’s game (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) against the San Jose Sharks just two points out of the top spot in the Western Conference and are one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders.

But what really makes them a force right now is the fact their goaltending — which was probably the one question mark they had at the start of the season — has been outstanding.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Goaltending is the X-factor for any team. Great play at the position can turn an average team into a contender and a great team into a champion. Poor play at the position can sink a contender. The Avalanche’s opponent on Sunday night — the Sharks — knows that side of it all too well.

Colorado, though, has a chance to really do something special this season thanks in large part to the surprising emergence of its goaltending depth with Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz.

Together, they have been one of the league’s most productive duos.

The Avalanche enter Sunday’s game in the top-four in both all situations save percentage and even-strength save percentage.

Colorado always had high hopes for Grubauer after they acquired him from Washington more than a year ago, but the play of Francouz has been the especially surprising development. After spending most of his professional career in Europe, Francouz made the jump to North America last year and won the backup job at the start of this season. He has not only probably been more than the Avalanche expected, but he has been crucial for them in recent weeks with Grubauer sidelined by injury.

For the season, Francouz owns a .924 save percentage. Among the 57 goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games, that is fifth best in the league. Most recently, he is 7-1-2 in his past 10 starts since Grubauer’s injury and has helped the Avalanche keep pace with the equally white hot St. Louis Blues at the top of the Western Conference.

The Avalanche’s talent at forward and on defense is what makes them a contender.

The play of their goalies is what gives them a chance to be champions.

Randy Hahn and analyst Jamie Baker will call the action at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Kathryn Tappen will host Sunday night’s studio coverage alongside analyst and three-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Botterill.

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.

Joe Thornton’s Stanley Cup dreams dashed for another season

Joe Thornton
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Just before Monday’s NHL trade deadline the San Jose Sharks were able to find a match to help one of their franchise legends continue his quest for a Stanley Cup when they sent Patrick Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a conditional third-round draft pick.

They were not able to find a similar match for their other legend, Joe Thornton.

That development, and the realization that his Stanley Cup dreams will again be put on hold, was at least a little disappointing for the future Hall of Famer.

“Yeah, obviously I was willing to go somewhere, and try to win my first Stanley Cup,” Thornton said, via the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. “I’ve been dreaming about that ever since I can remember and it just didn’t come to fruition, for whatever reason.”

“I wanted a shot, believe it or not,” added Thornton. “I’ve been hunting this thing down for 22 years. I wanted another shot at it. I wanted to get something in return (for the Sharks), but it just didn’t work out. Back to the grind. That’s how it is.”

The biggest problem in finding him that shot seemed to be a lack of interest from the top Stanley Cup contenders.

In the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline it was speculated that Boston (Thornton’s original team) and Tampa Bay had kicked the tires on a possible trade, while Dallas emerged as a potential landing spot on Monday. Nothing ever came of it, with Pierre LeBrun reporting on Tuesday that a formal trade offer was never made by the Stars.

LeBrun also reported that of the handful of teams that did show interest in Thornton, none of them matched with what Thornton considered to be teams that would have given him the best chance to get him a championship.

So for now, he remains in San Jose to wrap up what has been a brutally disappointing season for the Sharks.

This was supposed to be an all-in kind of year for the Sharks, one that would get them — and the two greatest players to ever wear the team’s jersey — their first ever Stanley Cup. They were in the Western Conference Final a year ago, and even though they lost Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi from last year’s team, they still had what seemed to be a great core in place.

But injuries have added up, some players have regressed or declined, and the status quo situation in net with one of the league’s worst goaltending duos all combined to produce one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

It has also left Thornton still in pursuit of the one hockey prize he has yet to claim.

Thornton may not be the MVP caliber player he was during his peak (or as recently as the 2015-16 season), but he still has value as a player. His playmaking and passing ability is still there, and he still has a positive impact in his ability to drive possession and play defensively. He could still be a great third-or fourth-line center on a contender.

Now it is a matter of how many more chances he will get at it, and where he will get those remaining chances.

It is worth noting that he is once again an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he was willing to leave San Jose as a trade deadline rental this season to get his shot at a cup it at least stands to reason that he might pursue his options in free agency this summer. That does not seem to be his preference, but the possibility can not entirely be ignored. Especially if there is reason to believe the Sharks may not bounce back next season. But for as bad as this season has been, there is reason to believe that could happen.

As Thornton pointed out on Tuesday, the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs (2014-15 season) they came back the next year and won the Western Conference before losing the Stanley Cup Final in six games to the Penguins. It is not a stretch to believe that with better health, a little better luck, and finally doing something to address the goaltending situation could again make the Sharks a contender as soon as next season.

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.