Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic has been the first player to opt out of the NHL’s Return to Play program.
“Earlier this evening Travis called me to inform us that he has decided to opt out of the NHL Return to Play Program,” said Flames general manager Brad Treliving. “Travis explained that due to family considerations, he has made the difficult decision not to participate in the Stanley Cup Qualifier and Playoffs.
“While we will miss Travis in our line-up, we understand and respect his decision. Our focus remains on preparation for training camp and our upcoming series in the NHL Qualifying Round.”
In a statement posted through his agent’s Twitter account, Hamonic cited a respiratory virus his young daughter battled last year and the recent birth of his son as the reasons why he will not be joining the Flames.
“My family has and always will come first,” he said. “Being my little kids’ dad every day is the most important job I have.”
The 29-year-old Hamonic, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season, played 50 games for Calgary this season. He recorded 12 points and was second the team in average ice time per game (21:12) behind Mark Giordano.
The Flames will face the Jets in a best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series in the Edmonton hub
Now that the 2019-20 NHL regular season is officially over, it’s awards season.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association were sent their ballots for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, and Selke Trophies, as well as the the NHL All-Star and All-Rookie Teams on Monday. (General managers vote for the Vezina Trophy and the NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes on the Jack Adams Award.)
The finalists and results will be announced at some point this summer on a date to be determined by the NHL.
On Monday, the PHWA announced the 31 nominees for the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award is given to the players “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
The 31 nominees are selected by each PHWA chapter.
While a lot can change between now and actual, meaningful hockey happening, the NHL announced its return-to-play plans on Tuesday. That means we learned the 24 teams who will be potentially playing hockey later this summer, with 12 from the Western Conference and 12 from the East. We also learned about the seven teams who will have a long wait until next season, and how the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be handled.
Most directly enticingly, we found out about 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 in round robin tournaments to determine seeding for the First Round.
For the Western Conference, the winners of each Qualifying Round will go on to face one of the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars.
Now that we know the teams, let’s take an overview of the four Western Conference qualifying round matchups.
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*
Regular season recap
The Oilers surged to the Pacific Division’s second spot on the strength of “The Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid Show.” A lot had to go right for that to happen, even beyond Draisaitl and McDavid dominating compared to their usual, lofty standards.
When it comes to judging the Blackhawks, it’s all about your expectations. If you were expecting the return of dynasty days, then sure, you’d be disappointed. Most have tempered such expectations, and with that in mind, the team at least found ways to scrap toward reasonable competitiveness. Sure, they can be a mess, but sometimes they snatched victory from the jaws of defensive defeat.
On paper, Chicago probably hopes to break even regarding special teams. Yes, both teams featured top-10 penalty kill units this season, but the Oilers boasted the most efficient power play in the NHL, while Chicago’s PP was almost the worst.
Even with Robin Lehner shipped away in a trade, the Blackhawks may hold a goaltending advantage. Corey Crawford finished 2019-20 on fire, while Edmonton’s options were merely average.
Considering the gap between McDavid and Draisaitl vs. Kane and Toews, cynics might groan when things are framed as the battle between a dwindling dynamic duo and a rising one.
But … c’mon. It is fun to picture how those rising stars will try to learn new tricks from those old dogs. The truth is that Kane and especially Toews already “passed the torch,” yet this could be a lot of fun. Really, the (mostly) flawed rosters around both duos could make the battles more fun to watch.
Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*
Regular season recap
After stumbling for much of the season, the Predators were starting to get their wits about them entering the pandemic pause. On the other hand, the Coyotes seemed to be running out of gas, and rank among the teams lucky to still be in the dance.
Even before COVID-19 disrupted life and sports, the Predators experienced plenty of drama. It says a lot about the ups and downs of the Predators’ season that they a) fired Peter Laviolette during the season, b) hired John Hynes, who was also fired during 2019-20, and c) managed to finish in the old wild-card setup entering the pause. Phew.
That goes for Laviolette to Hynes, and also improving on issues from 2018-19. Despite adding Matt Duchene and removing P.K. Subban, the power play remains a drag. New issues surfaced, too, with Pekka Rinne‘s play sagging to a worrisome degree.
Personally, the feeling with the Predators is “they made all of those changes to end up, basically, in the same spot?” You could say similar things about the Coyotes. Despite bringing in Phil Kessel and then Taylor Hall, the Coyotes continue to live off of goaltending (and to a lesser extent, defense).
At least Arizona’s goalies have delivered enough to make that living survivable, if not easy. Darcy Kuemper continued to quietly rank among the league’s best, while Antti Raanta came through when Kuemper got hurt.
The Coyotes and Predators split their season series 1-1. Nashville won the last meeting 3-2 on Dec. 23.
Predators: The 2019-20 season presented the Predators with injury issues, but they were healing up nicely around the time of the pause. Dan Hamhuis should probably be healed up, though.
Storylines to Watch
When you look at the way these teams are put together, both the Predators and Coyotes made bold moves to step forward. Instead, they’ve basically stood in place.
Will either team be able to argue that the gambles eventually paid off once play resumes? Can Duchene justify his price tag? Can Phil Kessel regain his scoring touch? How much money will Taylor Hall lose or gain in free agency?
The Predators and Coyotes have a lot to prove, and a lot to lose.
Also, “Coach vs. Player” doesn’t really do much for me when the two say glowing things about each other, but Hynes did coach Hall during Hall’s Hart season so …
(7) Canucks vs. (10) Wild
Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*
Regular season recap
As different as their paths and outlooks have been, it’s fascinating how little space there ended up being between the Canucks (78 points, 69 games played) and Wild (77 in 69 GP).
The Canucks already boast some of the premium pieces the sort-of-rebuilding Wild should clamor for. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes look like stars now, let alone later. Their development buoyed Jim Benning’s gambles, from ones that were brilliant (J.T. Miller, costly or not) to not-so-much (Tyler Myers, mainly costly). Pettersson, a few other skaters, and an on-point Jacob Markstrom have made things work just enough.
By most underlying measures, the Wild were actually a pretty competent team in 2019-20. They played well enough, collectively, that Bruce Boudreau probably didn’t deserve to be fired. That’s just how it goes for coaches in the NHL, though, especially since Bill Guerin didn’t hire Boudreau. (Frankly, Jason Zucker wasn’t the problem either, but at least trading him seemed like a gesture toward rebuilding.)
Really, you could argue that Devan Dubnyk was as responsible as anyone for Boudreau getting fired. If the Wild played at about the level they did — including Kevin Fiala rising to something approaching a star level — Minnesota could be a fairly tough out.
They’ll need better goaltending, though, whether they hope Dubnyk can rebound, or they stick with Alex Stalock, who was increasingly grabbing starts.
Wild won two of the three games, although one of those victories came via a shootout. That aforementioned (Wild won 4-3 [SO]) happened during their most recent meeting on Feb. 19.
Vancouver missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, and five of their last six. The Canucks also haven’t won a series since losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins. As much as it sometimes feels like these youngsters are skipping to the front of line for Vancouver, Canucks fans must be getting antsy.
While it only seemed like the Wild were headed toward two consecutive seasons without postseason appearances, their larger decline extends further. Minnesota won two first-round series in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but otherwise haven’t seen much from the Zach Parise – Ryan Suter era. (Who, for all the negative talk around them, remain top contributors for the Wild.)
A Parise trade didn’t work out. Mikko Koivu did not get traded, whether the Wild wanted to or not. As badly as the Wild need a rebuild, this unexpected opportunity opens the door for a last hurrah.
So, will it be one more ride for the Wild, or a chance for the Canucks to take big steps toward an even bigger future?
(8) Flames vs. (9) Jets
Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*
Regular season recap
When considering the Flames’ 2019-20 season, don’t compare their work to 2018-19 alone. Unless you want to be sorely underwhelmed.
That’s because, frankly, multiple Flames put together career seasons they weren’t likely to replicate. You could argue that all of Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan might have played over their heads last season. Those players cooled off considerably — maybe extremely — and the Flames suffered as a result.
In a twist, that drop-off didn’t explain why Bill Peters got fired.
Even so, that group remains pretty good, especially with Matthew Tkachuk steadily improving (and thus becoming that much more annoying). Cam Talbot‘s also been a nice addition for the Flames, who are seemingly always looking for that goalie.
That goalie in Winnipeg ranks as far and away the main reason the Jets didn’t totally crash. Connor Hellebuyck absolutely saved Winnipeg’s season, as the Jets were absolutely dreadful on defense. As in: even worse than you’d expect after subtracting Dustin Byfuglien (voluntarily or not), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.
Jets: How serious were Bryan Little‘s issues? If they were season-threatening, maybe he could come back? If they are closer to career-threatening, then who knows? Perhaps we’ll learn more in the next few weeks.
Storylines to Watch
Last season, the Flames ranked first in the Western Conference, while the Jets managed 99 points. For all the disappointments in 2019-20, and even with some key omissions in mind, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams putting something special together.
Two star-packed teams hoping to make the most of what is pretty close to a clean slate? That could be fun. Really, it could actually be the most exciting series for the Western Conference side if everything clicks.
Besides, Patrik Laine might say funny things, and Matthew Tkachuk has all that pent-up pandemic pest energy to release. (OK, that last part has me worried.)
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
In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are going look ahead to the 2020 free agent class and the top players that could be available.
This is a tough one at the moment because the remainder of the 2019-20 season — as well as the Stanley Cup Playoffs — is still uncertain on both if and when it will resume. That will obviously dictate the free agency timeline. Not only in terms of when it begins, but also what it will might like financially.
This year’s potential class of free agents is your typical group with a couple of big names at the top, some big-time risks, some bargains, and some wild cards.
We take a look at the top-15 names, as well as a few wild card options. Who makes the list?
To the rankings!
1. Alex Pietrangelo, St, Louis Blues. It is hard to imagine him playing anywhere other than St. Louis. He is the captain, he helped bring a Stanley Cup to the city, and he is still their top defenseman and one of their top overall players. In an ideal world he stays right where he is. But the salary cap complicates things and this is probably going to be Pietrangelo’s last chance to score another big contract from the highest bidder. Still a bonafide top-pairing defender.
2. Taylor Hall, Arizona Coyotes. The best forward that will be available on the open market. Hall can still be an impact player, should still have some big years ahead of him, and will no doubt be looking for a place where he can have a chance to win. He has played in just five playoff games in his entire NHL career. The Coyotes said from the beginning they would explore a new contract with him when the team is right — no numbers have been exchanged, but the two sides have talked — but that decision will ultimately come from Hall.
3. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins. Krug does not get as much recognition around the league as he should. He is one of the most productive blue-liners in the league and helps drives possession for what has been one of the league’s best teams. He could command a significant price tag on the open market. Can — or will — the Bruins match that?
4. Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights. He has been one of the league’s most productive goalies for two years now and should be able to get a multi-year deal after settling for one-year contracts the past two summers.
5. Evgenii Dadonov, Florida Panthers. He has done nothing but produce like a top-line player since returning to the NHL three years ago. He is a little older, and that will definitely carry some risk when it comes to a free agent contract, but he is a 25-goal, 60-point forward and there is no reason to expect him to drop off the cliff in the next year or two. Beyond that, it could get a little risky.
6. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. Markstrom is not one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has become a rock in net for the Canucks since taking over the starting job. He may not steal you a lot of games, but he is not going to lose them for you, either. There is a lot to be said for that.
7. Tyson Barrie, Toronto Maple Leafs. Expectations were sky-high for him in Toronto at the start and it almost seemed as if his play was never going to be enough. He has had a better season than he gets credit for having and can still be a very good top-four defenseman on a contender.
8. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers. Not the best all-around player, but he can score. A lot.
9. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. Unless he takes a huge discount it is hard to see him remaining with the Capitals. Ilya Samsonov is not only the future, he also might be their best goalie in the present. At his peak Holtby was one of the league’s best goalies and a game-changing talent. His play has rapidly declined the past couple of years, and when combined with his age there is a fairly significant risk there.
10. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks. Probably the most underrated player of the Blackhawks’ dynasty. Crawford can still be an outstanding goalie when healthy. There are some injury concerns over the past couple of years and he turns 36 next season. Still the potential for a short-term impact.
11. T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames. Brodie’s spent most of his career playing alongside Mark Giordano (and in his shadow) but has carved out an outstanding career for himself. Decent offensive production, solid defensive play, and a good all-around player.
12. Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning. After what can probably best be described as a frustrating tenure with the New York Rangers, Shattenkirk signed what amounted to a one-year “prove it” contract in Tampa Bay. He has been outstanding. Maybe he is not a No. 1 defender, but he showed this season with the Lightning that he can make an impact on a contender.
13. Tyler Toffoli, Vancouver Canucks. Never a big-time scorer, Toffoli is an intriguing player because his underlying numbers have always been sensational and has never really played on a team where his offense could shine. He has 10 points (including six goals) in his first 10 games with the Canucks and could shine in the right situation long-term.
14. Ilya Kovalchuk, Washington Capitals. His return to the NHL after his KHL stint did not start as he wanted. Los Angeles was a terrible fit for him given where they are in their development and the talent around him, and once he got out of there he started to play like he was expected when he came back to the league. Put him in the right spot where he can excel offensively and he still has something left in the tank.
15. Brenden Dillon, Washington Capitals. Do not expect much offense from him, but Dillon is as solid as you will find defensively. A stay-at-home, defensive defenseman for the modern era.
The Wild Cards
These players are free agents but their long-term future is in doubt. Retirement is on the table, and their potential destinations seem limited.
• Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks. Thornton was a little disappointed a trade did not work out at the deadline to give him a shot at the Stanley Cup. Technically he is a free agent and returning to San Jose seems like most logical, but there is always a chance he could make a move for one more great shot at the ring. Can still be a good third-or fourth-line center.
• Patrick Marleau, Pittsburgh Penguins. Back to San Jose or retirement? Tough to say that given he has played in Toronto and Pittsburgh in recent years, but seems likely.
• Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes. Williams can still play, and based on what we saw this past summer it seems like he is going to play in Carolina or nowhere.
• Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins. The chances of him playing elsewhere seems remote at best. If he plays anywhere next season, it seems 99.9 percent positive it is in Boston.
• Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild. The long-time Minnesota captain just turned 37 years old, and while he is not the offensive player he once was he can still play a strong two-way game. Is it Minnesota or bust?