Sami Vatanen

Trade-deadline players aim to provide boost in NHL’s restart

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Vincent Trocheck was part of a wave of NHL players moved at the February trade deadline, jumping right into the lineup a day later for a learn-on-the-fly introduction to his new Carolina Hurricanes team.

Hardly an easy task.

”Obviously coming from a different team, you’re going to have a little bit of confusion,” he said. ”Different systems, different styles of play.”

Those new additions are in a different position as the NHL returns from its pandemic shutdown. They’ve had months to study film. They’ve had two-plus weeks of camp-style workouts to build chemistry with teammates. And that could provide a big boost for the teams that added them five months ago for a (delayed) run at the Stanley Cup.

”Anybody who got traded at the deadline for any team in this tournament, I think they’re going to benefit from it,” said New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz, whose team acquired center Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa.

That wasn’t the plan, of course, when teams made deals ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline, which saw a record 32 trades and a record-tying 55 players dealt that final day. The expectation for playoff-contending teams was for new arrivals to spend the final six weeks of the regular season carving out roles ahead of the postseason.

Instead, the coronavirus halted everything in March.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The league allowed teams to reopen facilities for voluntary workouts in June. Then came two weeks of training camp in July, leading to this weekend’s start of the playoffs featuring 24 teams divided between Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.

Amid the shutdown, some injured players had time to heal. Coaches who took over during the season got their own fresh start. And trade-deadline acquisitions have had a chance to catch up, too, from Washington winger Ilya Kovalchuk to Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner.

Fittingly, it was one of those players – Conor Sheary, back with the Pittsburgh Penguins – who scored the first goal of the NHL’s restart in Tuesday’s exhibition loss to Philadelphia.

”Players come in, it’s at the end of the season, there’s probably a little bit of pressure to perform,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. ”You don’t know anybody. You’re unfamiliar with the coaches, with the system, your teammates – and then all of a sudden, you get four months kind of off.

”But that didn’t mean you were four months away from your coaches or your teammates. Now you’re in the group chats, you’re communicating with everybody. You know everybody personally a lot better. And then when you come back, it’s almost like: wow, it’s your second year with the team.”

Cooper’s Lightning – part of the Eastern Conference’s round robin for top seeds – acquired forwards Blake Coleman (from New Jersey) and Barclay Goodrow (from San Jose) in February.

Coleman said they were ”kind of thrown the kitchen sink as far as systems and trying to pick things up on the fly.”

”Obviously having a camp here has been great because I’m able to focus on the systems and really not have to worry about it in-game,” Coleman said. ”You kind of want that stuff to be just second nature and not have to think about it. I think it’s been good. It feels like I’m part of the team now and not just the new guy, and it’s exciting that we have this chance.”

The Hurricanes made three deadline-day acquisitions, including defensemen Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei amid injury concerns about All-Star Dougie Hamilton, and fellow blue-liner Brett Pesce.

Trocheck, who had 31 goals two seasons ago with Florida, said the time off helped him more than his seven games with Carolina by providing time to study more film. Then came camp workouts with teammates to become ”100% acclimated.”

”I think they’re the ones that need the time the most,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”You put a system in place and you kind of expect all the guys to grasp it, but you realize quickly that you watch it 100 hours a day, four months, you know it inside-out.

”Players, that’s not how they get it. They get it from practicing the reps.”

In all, 29 players acquired on deadline day are on NHL playoff rosters, spread across 17 of 24 teams. Other teams, like reigning Cup champion St. Louis and Winnipeg, made moves earlier in February.

”It was almost like I forgot we traded for them because they just fit so well, fit in so nicely,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said of Cody Eakin and Dylan DeMelo. ”It feels like they’ve been part of the group from the beginning. And maybe it’s because you pause and you have the restart that we do here right now, that everybody’s on that even footing.”

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

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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.

Day 3 of NHL training camps sees Kaprizov talk, Fleury absent again

Day 3 of Return to Play training camps is another day closer to the puck being dropped for real. Teams are still trying to get back into game rhythm and rekindle the chemistry that was put on pause in mid-March.

The popular phrase “unfit to play” wasn’t uttered as much as it was on Monday and Tuesday. But given the “new normal” of injury reporting in the NHL now, we’ve certainly not heard the last of teams not expanding on why a player wasn’t on the ice.

Let’s take a quick skate around Wednesday’s happenings.

No panic over another Fleury absence

Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was not on the ice for the third straight day. The team stressed his absence was not COVID-19-related. Head coach Peter DeBoer said it’s just maintenance and he expects him to join the team before the weekend.

“He’s feeling good,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got a long runway here before we start. He really practiced hard. He doesn’t have anything significant. The plan is he will be on the ice before the weekend.”

Kaprizov signed, sealed, but yet to be delivered

Three head coaches and four general managers later, Kirill Kaprizov is finally a Wild player. The 2015 draft pick held a Zoom call with reporters and was virtually presented with his No. 97 jersey by GM Bill Guerin.

Wild TV

While Kaprizov is able to burn the first year of his two-year entry-level contract, he won’t be able to play in the Return to Play program. He will be able to practice with the Wild, pending he’s able to join the team before they head to Edmonton. The team is still working on visas for the 23-year-old forward. There’s also the issue of international quarantine once he arrives from Russia.

“He knows everybody’s waiting for him, and he can’t wait to put on the jersey himself, as well,” Kaprizov said through interpreter Alex Buzi. “He hopes that’s going to happen sometime as soon as next week, and he’s really eager and excited to join the team.”

What might Patrik Laine do during his down time in the bubble?

Maple Leafs getting into game mode early

There are roster spots up for grabs for the Maple Leafs, so what better way to help the selection process than a good old fashioned tournament.

That’s what head coach Sheldon Keefe did on Wednesday, splitting the squad up into two teams — Team Auston and Team Freddie — in a best-of-five series featuring officials.

“I think it was great. You’ve got to get used to where the refs are out there again. Coming into the zone, just setting up in the zone, it’s a little different when they’re not there,” said William Nylander said. “They take up some space so running our power play without would leave some extra space that we wouldn’t be used to once the games start. I think that was a great aspect to have included.”

The NHL has stepped in, however, and said no to officials in the future. The risk of exposure for both sides is too great of a risk.

Keeping up with the Kovalchuks

Ilya Kovalchuk played only seven games with the Capitals following the February trade from Montreal. After a forgettable time with the Kings, he was rejuvenated with the Canadiens, and there’s plenty of excitement to see him in that Washington lineup on an extended basis.

The 37-year-old was busy during the break with training and being occupied with his four kids.

“I gotta keep them busy and I want to lead by example, so we’re doing something every day,” he said. “No days off for our family.”

Even the training sessions became a family affair:

Vatanan healthy for Hurricanes

When the Hurricanes play the Rangers, Sami Vatanen will make his long-awaited debut for his new team. The defenseman has been out since suffering a leg injury Feb. 1. He was dealt from the Devils later that month but did not play for Carolina before the pause. Five months later, he’s good to go.

“Health-wise, I feel 100 percent,” Vatanen said. “I have no worries about that. Of course, it takes a little time to get to game speed, but we have a long time still until we start to play, so I will be ready.”

The Hurricanes’ blue line will be bolstered for their series with New York. Not only will they get Vatanen back, Dougie Hamilton will also make a return from injury. He fractured his left fibula in January.

“Dougie’s back, and now we’ve got to find somewhere else to put [Vatanen],” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “He’s a talented player. You’re talking power play. That’s what he does. He’s good at it, but there’s a learning curve, and we can’t wait five games to see if it will work with him.”

MORE: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.

NHL training camps, day 2: Pastrnak not at practice; Golden Knights goalie battle?

Day two of NHL training camps took place on Tuesday, and with all of that, also news and speculation. (Click here to read about day one of NHL training camps.)

Keep in mind that these round-ups aren’t necessarily comprehensive, what with there being 24 NHL teams undergoing training camps.

Oh, and It’s probably fair to say that a more detailed schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is the biggest hockey news for Tuesday. So check that out if you want to plan your viewing habits in late July and early August.

Bruins’ Pastrnak not yet practicing; others miss day two (or more) of NHL training camps

Look, it’s important to remember that NHL teams are keeping things unclear. They probably will up until the point that the 2020 Stanley Cup (ideally, safely,) gets awarded. So please keep that in mind anytime we note absences and players not fully participating.

With that out of the way (for now), a few notes:

  • For the second training camp day in a row, David Pastrnak didn’t practice with the Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that it seems like Pastrnak, as well as others like Ondrej Kase, are still going through the quarantine process after coming back from overseas. Pastrnak may not get to skate with the full Bruins group until Thursday.

“ … I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak, via Haggerty.

  • In some cases, players are still self-isolating. Sometimes players aren’t skating with full groups, for what could be a variety of reasons. There was some rumbling about Shea Weber missing portions of Canadiens practice time, and skating by himself. Such hand-wringing might end up overblown.

As always, these situations can change.

  • Naturally, illnesses and injuries sabotage plans. There’s at least one planned absence, though: Capitals forward Lars Eller. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reports that Eller will leave the Toronto bubble for the birth of his child. The Ellers expect the child to be born around Aug. 8, which would fall around the Round Robin for Seeding as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. (Again, you can check out that schedule here.)
  • The Maple Leafs removed Timothy Liljegren from their return-to-play roster. Quite a bummer, as Liljegren could become an important part of their defensive future as the team braces for a cap crunch.

Golden Knights set for goalie battle? (And other bits)

Perhaps coach Peter DeBoer is merely being tight-lipped to the point of near-trolling, as seems to be the NHL way. Or maybe he really doesn’t know if the Golden Knights will tab Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.

If you’re weighing loyalty most heavily, then the Golden Knights would go with Fleury. His strong play ranked as a big reason they appeared in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

But if you look at recent play, Lehner’s ranked among the NHL’s best goalies since 2018-19. Meanwhile, “The Flower” wilted a bit lately. Also, DeBoer is still-new to the Golden Knights, and thus might not feel the same obligation to Fleury that, say, Gerard Gallant might have.

So we’ll see. There are plenty of goalie training camp battles to watch, but others feel more like battles of lesser evils than the interesting opportunities Vegas has.

  • It’s dangerous to read too much into line combination experiments as early as day two of NHL training camps. That said, it can be entertaining to picture how they’d work.

In the case of Dallas Stars, we’re talking about extremes. The good: experimenting with a line that would combine Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, and Denis GurianovThe not-so-good: having Corey Perry (2020 Corey Perry) on the second line, while Alex Radulov and Joe Pavelski fester on the fourth. Seems like these Stars always titillate and frustrate, though.

  • Signings continue to trickle in. That includes the excellently named Jack Rathbone signing with the Canucks, and the Ducks landing an extension with Troy Terry (granted, you may disqualify the Ducks from this post since they aren’t among the 24 teams involved in the return to play).

More: Catch up on day one of NHL training camps.

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.

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.