Kyle Okposo

Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now

Michael Peca knows all about NHL work stoppages.

The two-time Frank Selke Award-winning forward endured two lockouts and lost another season due to a contract dispute with the Buffalo Sabres during his 14-year career, which ended with Columbus in 2009.

Never could Peca have imagined a season – never mind essentially the entire North American sports schedule – being placed in limbo because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s weird because nothing like this has ever happened, and it’ll probably never happen again, hopefully,” Peca said Thursday, when the NHL joined numerous pro sports leagues in suspending its season.

“It’s like, `Is this even real?’” he added. “But there’s a big-picture purpose to it. … It’s about making sure we can slow down if not cease, but more likely slow down how quickly it’s spreading.”

The NHL placed the final month of its season on ice – for now – but hopes to eventually resume play and still award the Stanley Cup.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league followed the NBA’s lead after Utah Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for COVID-19.

With the two leagues sharing numerous facilities and locker rooms across North America, Bettman said: “It now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”

The NHL Players’ Association backed the decision, calling it “an appropriate course of action.”

The decision left numerous unanswered questions, ranging from when games might resume to what shape players might be in once they return. The stoppage also raised concerns over what the economic impact might be on the bottom line in the league’s 31 markets.

As Nashville Predators president Sean Henry put it: “We’re working through really uncharted territory.”

Henry wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the season not resuming.

“I think there’s a fear for all of us of that,” he added. “We all want answers. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of them.”

There have only been two years in which the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded since 1893. It happened in 1919, when the final was canceled after five games because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and then again in 2005, when an NHL lockout wiped out the entire season.

Though disappointed, players understood the reasoning.

“Nothing is more important than everyone’s health and safety. The league did the right thing today,” Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno wrote in a post on his Twitter account. “We have the best fans in the world, and we’ll get through this together.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

While players will continue to be paid, they won’t be allowed to practice together for at least the short term, the Predators’ Henry said.

The NHL has not said any player has tested positive for COVID-19. The Washington Capitals, who used the same visiting locker room as the Jazz at New York’s Madison Square Garden, said they will closely monitor the health of players, coaches and staff.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who followed the Jazz into two arenas last weekend and occupied the same locker room while in Boston, said deep cleaning and sanitizing was done before they arrived.

In Dallas, Stars forward Alexander Radulov has been sick, but team president Brad Alberts said no players had yet been tested.

Alberts said he’s encouraged a majority of employees to work from home. Players have also been encouraged to quarantine themselves in the event they might have contracted the virus.

Retired NHL forward and Minnesota Wild assistant director of player development Matt Hendricks noted how different this hiatus is to past stoppages.

“This is kind of no-man’s territory,” Hendricks said.

“When we were locked out, we had the ability to go and skate and train,” he said. “But this one’s a little bit different in the sense that you really don’t want to expose yourself if you don’t have to. … So going into public gyms that might not be the best thing to do to put yourself at risk and put others at risk.”

In Buffalo, former Sabres and Wild forward Jason Pominville said it can’t be easy for players to stop competing a month before the playoffs were scheduled to begin..

“They just want to play, they’re in a rhythm, not a lot of practices, playing a lot of games and then, all of a sudden, it’s shut down for who knows how long,” said Pominville, who hasn’t filed his retirement papers since completing his 15th NHL season last year.

He’s spent this season playing in a local beer league. Upon learning of the NHL pausing its season, Pominville playfully reached out to former Sabres teammate, Kyle Okposo.

“I was like, `Hey bud, if you or any of the boys are looking to skate, my beer league’s not canceled yet, and you guys are welcome,’” Pominville said, laughing. “We’re always looking to get better.”

Wednesday Night Hockey: Avs, Sabres took surprising deadline approaches

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche and Sabres were in very different positions heading into the trade deadline. Colorado was comfortably in a playoff spot, while the Sabres were far enough out of a postseason position that no one expected them to make a trade to bolster their team. But the NHL is an unpredictable place.

One of the first moves made on Monday morning was between Ottawa and Colorado. The Avs sent a 2021 draft pick to the Sens for Vladislav Namestnikov. That’s a solid, low-cost depth move by general manager Joe Sakic. The expectation was that the Avs would continue to swing a few deals throughout the day, but outside of a move for veteran goalie Michael Hutchinson, they didn’t do anything else.

Sakic’s team has been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Colin Wilson, Matt Calvert and Philipp Grubauer are all sidelined right now. Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, all they can do is wait for these bodies to get healthy again.

Rantanen is arguably the most important player of the bunch. Since he went down to injury though, the Avs have found a way to win all three of their games. As difficult as it must be to not have him and other key players in their lineup right now, these guys should all come back fresh for a playoff push. They just have to find a way to survive without them in the present.

As for the Sabres, they surprised us on deadline day by giving up one of their 2021 draft picks for pending unrestricted free agent Wayne Simmonds. Even though their odds of participating in the playoffs were slim, general manager Jason Botterill wanted to give his team some kind of spark.

“I think we made Jason’s job a little bit more difficult, which is what our goal was,” forward Kyle Okposo said after Sunday’s win over Winnipeg. “We like the group that we have in here. I think we’ve shown some resilience that’s been missing in the past.”

Simmonds is nowhere close to being the player he was with the Philadelphia Flyers a few years ago. That’s why he fetched a fifth-rounder two years from now. But for a young Sabres team, adding a veteran like him could help them immediately and potentially heading into next year if the marriage between these two sides works.

The 31-year-old has eight goals and 24 points in 61 games with New Jersey this year and five of his eight goals have been scored on the man-advantage.

Botterill also acquired forward Dominik Kahun from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues. The 24-year-old is currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

The Sabres were six points out of a playoff spot on Monday. They’re now eight points behind Toronto for the third place in the Atlantic Division, but they have two games in hand. Keep in mind, they’d have to leap over the Leafs, Panthers and Canadiens to get the job done. That’s not an ideal situation to be in, but they’ll have to make the most of it.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

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.

The Buzzer: Draisaitl carries Oilers again; Rinne shines for Predators

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. If the Draisaitl MVP train wasn’t already rolling along, it certainly is now. He scored a goal, assisted on the overtime game-winner on Sunday, and had another three-point game for the Oilers as he opened up a 13-point lead in the NHL scoring race. He is now on a 132-point pace for the season and is showing that he can absolutely drive the Oilers offense without Connor McDavid next to him.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. The goaltending has not always been there for the Predators this season. It was there for them on Sunday afternoon in a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. Rinne stopped 38 out of 39 shots for the Predators to help them climb to within a single point of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with still several games in hand. Improved play from Rinne down the stretch could be a season-changer for the Predators. Read more about the Predators’ win on Sunday right here.

3. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins. He thought he had a hat trick in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, but his first goal was later awarded to Sam Lafferty. So he has to settle for a two-goal, three-point, plus-three day for the Penguins. He has not always looked his sharpest this season — he still brings the energy and physical play — but he is still on close to a 30-goal pace this season. With Sunday’s win the Penguins are now just one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division with still one game in hand. Read more about the Penguins’ win here.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • Charlie McAvoy could not find the back of the net for the first few months of the season, and now he has three goals over his past few games. He opened the scoring in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday. Read more about the Bruins’ win right here.
  • On a day where the Devils traded away two key veterans (read about that here and here) Mackenzie Blackwood shined in net, turning aside 52 out of 55 shots in a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Highlights of the Day

The Anaheim Ducks are playing spoiler roll right now and handed the Vancouver Canucks a tough 5-1 loss on Sunday. It was highlighted by this play by Ryan Getzlaf to set up Derek Grant.

Turris scores the winner with just under three minutes to play in regulation.

Artem Anisimov helps the Ottawa Senators pull off the upset win over the Dallas Stars with an overtime goal.

Celebration of the day

Jack Eichel tells the Toronto fans in Buffalo to take a seat. The Sabres scored three goals in 1:31 (including one from Eichel) to get a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs. Kyle Okposo also scored a goal during that stretch to record his 500th career NHL point.

Factoids

  • Connor Hellebucyk stopped 31 shots to help the Winnipeg Jets get a huge win over the Chicago Blackhawks. It is his 25th win of the season, putting him in second place in the NHL. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin now has the second most points in NHL history for a defenseman before their 20th birthday. [Sabres PR]
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk‘s goal just 12 seconds into Saturday’s game is the third fastest goal to start a game in Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Boston Bruins 3, New York Rangers 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 5, Vancouver Canucks 1
Nashville Predators 2, St. Louis Blues 1
Ottawa Senators 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)
New Jersey Devils 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Winnipeg Jets 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Celebrating the Sedins; When will Canadiens sell?

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Examining the Hall of Fame credentials for Henrik and Daniel Sedin. (TSN)

• The numbers that defined the Sedin’s career. (Sportsnet)

• The Mighty Ducks sequel series. (Variety)

• The Jason Zucker trade makes sense for the Pittsburgh Penguins on every level. (Pensburgh)

• Tyler Seguin is lacking goals for the Dallas Stars. (Rotoworld)

• With Connor McDavid sidelined it is time for Leon Draisaitl to put the Edmonton Oilers on his back. (The Hockey News)

• Victor Olofsson and Kyle Okposo could return for the Buffalo Sabers. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• The Montreal Canadiens have to decide at what point they will start selling players. (Habs Eyes On The Prize)

• Cole Bardeau has been recalled by the New York Islanders due to Casey Cizikas‘ injury. (Lighthouse Hockey)

• Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha has an ambitious plan for the rest of this season. (Detroit Free Press)

• San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns shows Mario Ferraro how to better protect himself. (NBC Bay Area)

• Trading Josh Manson would be a very tough but also very beneficial move for the Anaheim Ducks. (Anaheim Calling)

• Carter Hart‘s new goalie mask for the Philadelphia Flyers honors Ray Emery. (NBC Philadelphia)

• Why a Josh Anderson trade should not be a priority for the Boston Bruins. (Bruins Daily)

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.

The Buzzer: Predators building momentum; Eichel nets milestone goal in loss

Matt Duchene #95 of the Nashville Predators
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Three Stars

1) Alex Iafallo, Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo scored the opening goal, the game-tying goal and eventually the game-winning goal as he recorded his first career hat trick in the Kings’ 3-2 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes. Los Angeles outshot Arizona 16-3 in the third period but couldn’t tie the game until Iafallo connected at 17:06 of the final frame. Kings captain Anze Kopitar added two assists as the Kings snapped a five-game losing streak.

2) Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators

Duchene recorded a goal, an assist and the game-deciding tally in the shootout to help John Hynes and the Predators capture a 6-5 victory against the New Jersey Devils. The 29-year-old broke a six-game goal drought when his shot deflected off a Devils defender in the third period. Duchene also converted a slick forehand-backhand maneuver in the extra session as the Predators overcame a third-period deficit for the second straight game.

3) Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Eichel reached the 30-goal milestone for the first time in his NHL career with a short-side snipe in the Sabres’ 3-1 loss against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday. The Sabres captain is quietly putting together an impressive season but is correctly left out of the Hart Trophy conversation due to Buffalo’s position in the standings. Rasmus Dahlin and Eichel are excellent building blocks, but the remainder of the Sabres roster leaves a lot to be desired.

Highlights of the Night

Pavel Zacha mesmerized the crowd at the Prudential Center with this forehand-backhand-forehand deke early in the first period.

The six-game absence didn’t affect Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher as he recorded the go-ahead goal with a clever backhanded shot.

Roman Josi won’t receive credit for the assist but he showed off his terrific vision with this beautiful cross-ice pass. Filip Forsberg would eventually net his first goal of the game following the play.

Injuries

  • Kyle Okposo exited Thursday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens after sustaining an upper-body injury early in the first period. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger told the media following the loss that Okposo did not suffer a concussion.
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson suffered a lower-body injury midway through the second period after a knee-on-knee collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown. Arizona’s captain finished his shift but then went to the dressing room and didn’t return.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Montreal Canadiens 3, Buffalo Sabres 1

Nashville Predators 6, New Jersey Devils 5 (SO)

Los Angeles Kings 3, Arizona Coyotes 2 (OT)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.